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Climate Politics Heating Up
Sunflower Electric Cooperative's coal-fired power in Holcomb, Kansas. (AP)

Sunflower Electric Cooperative's coal-fired power plant in Holcomb, Kansas, seen in 2007. (AP)

President Obama came to Washington promising to break the gridlock on climate change. He claimed an historic victory last week, when the first bill ever to cap carbon emissions passed the House on Friday.

But the celebrations were short lived. Critics, left and right, say the bill is a mess: that it will weigh down a struggling economy. That it’s so riddled with giveaways that it does little to address global warming.

So what exactly is in the bill? Will it stand up in the Senate? And what does it mean for a warming planet?

This hour, On Point: unpacking the climate bill.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Joining us from Washington is John Broder, a reporter for The New York Times. He’s been covering the climate bill in Congress, and his piece in today’s paper takes a close look at the horse trading behind the House bill’s passage.

From New York we’re joined by Elizabeth Kolbert. She’s a staff writer for The New Yorker, where she reports extensively on climate change.  Her most recent piece, “The Catastrophist,” profiles climate scientist and activist James Hansen.

And with us in our studio is Robert Stavins. A top environmental economist, he’s a professor of business and government at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and director of its Environmental Economics Program. He also co-chairs the Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements. His forthcoming book is “Post-Kyoto International Climate Policy.”

More links:

Climate blogger Joseph Romm says passing the House bill involved some real twisting of arms. The Wall Street Journal’s “Environmental Capital” blog explains how the bill helps green building efforts. And the environmental news site Grist reports that efficiency efforts were weakened as the bill was hashed out.

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  • http://tombstone001.blogspot.com MIOHAMMED N. RAZAVI, DALEVILLE, AL

    Wikipedia defines terror as such

    Terror is an overwhelming sense of imminent danger. It is shock, horror and/or fear so intense that it elicits an acute stress reaction and a combat, faint or escape response in place of rational thinking. In relationship to terrorism, the provocateur aims to elicit terror for the purpose of using the three responses of combat, faint or escape to his advantage.

    So then it follows that is not just the ordinary street crime we should be talking about,
    take look at the economy of this country, the banking system, the health care, the global warming, the war on drugs, the war on terror, all designed to terrorize you in to submission. All designed to scare you in to giving up your rights, and to taking away your rights

  • DonaldB

    A good selection of guests so the truth that this bill is vital and needed now, no matter that it is not perfect; it is more than good enough and the public will demand that it be improved in the near future as the effects of Climate Change become more evident.

    I hope the real advantages of Cap and Trade are made clear to those who have not had time to explore it; those like the first commenter are probably beyond understanding either the usefulness or the need.

  • DonaldB

    Paul Krugman has a post to the effect that, just like a VAT tax is allowed to be applied to imports, taxes on goods from countries not acting on CO2 will be allowed by the WTO,

  • Steve Mangion

    At one point carbon emission credits were going to be sold by the US Gov. And the money was to be used to finance health care, for instance.
    Oh Well
    more give aways to business.

  • Greg

    No one even knows what’s in this bloated 1300+ page bill. To describe it as ‘imperfect’ doesn’t even begin. Please address those critics (like Lou, Rush, Alex, et al) who say this is the introduction of a global tax.

    Also, can we talk about John Boehner’s speech on the floor where he displayed a diagram that detailed the labyrinthine interactions among myriad government agencies (old and new). Is it not true that this is the most convoluted, bureaucratic setup we have ever seen in this country?

  • Greg

    The elephant in the room here is the very question of global warming, or should I say climate change. Should we not be having the debate thousands of scientists have already had about the truth of C02′s effect in the environment?

  • Margaret McCasland

    We are making all the same “mistakes” (from an ecological perspective) that were made in Europe and then in Australia. Safety-valves which make renewables NOT competitive and offsets which are generally NOT ecological and NOT enforceable make this bill totally meaningless except as a “greenwash.”

    My daughter WAS a corporate lawyer in AUstralia working on carbon trading and offsets, but she also was trained as an ecologist and knew how unecological most of the offsets were, and saw the trading as “permission to pollute.” Then she resigned.

    An upstream carbon royalty (AKA a carbon tax at the point fossil fuels are mined) would be far more effective at BOTH reducing heat-trapping pollution and at improving the ways fossil fuels are extracted. The royalties could be assigned partially to everyone with a SSN to help offset higher fuel costs, to help fund both conservation and renewables, and lastly, to make it acceptable to corporate lobbyists, help the coal, oil and gas corporations transition to themselves providing renewables or some other way of “earning a living” which is not so dangerous to life on Earth.

    BTW, we already know how to sequester carbon: KEEP IT IN THE GROUND. We do need some coal and natural gas during the transition period, but it should be mined and pumped RESPONSIBLY, cradle to grave. Only a carbon tax/royalties would pay attention to fossil fuel mining at every stage.

  • Todd

    Good point Greg! House Reps. were denied an opportunity to even read this Bill before the vote! Besides, carbon dioxide is NOT a pollutant! This is just another phony ruse by the government to levy yet another tax. I cannot believe that people are so gullible to swallow this BS hook, line, and sinker!

  • david

    I find that the most difficult problems we face can be solved with much more simple solutions. I can’t see this Waxman bill doing anything other than creating a massive government program that will bankrupt the average American. Most Americans have a breaking point and that will be reached when they look at their electric bill and see it triple. Then they will quickly vote out the “Waxman” types and vote in people that will dismantle this mess.

  • Sally

    Oh? CO2 is not a pollutant?

    I suppose this is because it’s “natural” and “non-toxic”?

    Like Nitrogen, or Phosphorus?


  • Todd

    Since humans are carbon-based beings, shouldn’t we impose a special tax on women who bear children? Doesn’t giving birth now fall under the definition of being a carbon emission?

  • paul b

    Can we allow the new coal plants to be added to our national grid/supply system and even funding for it. I dont see C capture/sequestration as a viable CO2 plan just a political theory to garner money.
    What about giving 85% give aways in allocations? thanks for reactions Paul B.

  • John Pitkin

    James Hansen has said that coal must be phased out within 20 years “to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted.”

    Unless he is mistaken (and he has been proven right about many things), isn’t President Obama mistaken in saying that the bill will “prevent the worst consequences of climate change”? Won’t it only postpone the worst consequences, i.e., the end of civilization, for a few years?

    I think we should forget Al Gore’s admonition that the planet “has a fever.” It now seems evident that the planet “has an aggressive cancer” and much stronger and, unfortunately painful, medicine is needed.

  • Todd

    No Sally, CO2 is not a pollutant because it doesn’t pollute! It’s that simple.

  • Sally


    All you’re doing with your comments is revealing that a.) you have no understanding of the carbon cycle and other basic scientific principles and
    b.) you enjoy parading your ignorance as if it’s a virtue.

  • Sally

    Nitrogen is a valuable fertilizer, essential for proper plant growth.

    Yet we regulate its presence in water bodies.

    Why is that, Todd? How could Nitrogen, a non-toxic, essential fertilizer, possibly also be a pollutant?

  • A. Richard Hunter

    If all the news, all day on all networks were real, substantive, civil and factual coverage of climate change (with its entwined environmental and energy relationships), it might be too much to bear, but two things might start happening.
    First, we would BEGIN to appreciate its life and death importance. Second, we just MIGHT begin to move in the right direction.
    The scientific debate is OVER. With real dedication and creativity, we have a chance to discover the opportunities: not only to solve a real problem, but to create whole new businesses and employments, in a more humane and more comfortable planet. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate.


    Rick Hunter

  • Rachel

    Rick, thanks for the chuckle…may irony never go out of style.

  • Mike

    maybe this can help some people views on whats pollution and whats not.

    Major primary pollutants produced by human activity include:

    Sulfur oxides (SOx) – especially sulfur dioxide, a chemical compound with the formula SO2. SO2 is produced by volcanoes and in various industrial processes. Since coal and petroleum often contain sulfur compounds, their combustion generates sulfur dioxide. Further oxidation of SO2, usually in the presence of a catalyst such as NO2, forms H2SO4, and thus acid rain.[2] This is one of the causes for concern over the environmental impact of the use of these fuels as power sources.

    Nitrogen oxides (NOx) – especially nitrogen dioxide are emitted from high temperature combustion. Can be seen as the brown haze dome above or plume downwind of cities.Nitrogen dioxide is the chemical compound with the formula NO2. It is one of the several nitrogen oxides. This reddish-brown toxic gas has a characteristic sharp, biting odor. NO2 is one of the most prominent air pollutants.

    Carbon monoxide – is a colourless, odourless, non-irritating but very poisonous gas. It is a product by incomplete combustion of fuel such as natural gas, coal or wood. Vehicular exhaust is a major source of carbon monoxide.

    Carbon dioxide (CO2) – a greenhouse gas emitted from combustion but is also a gas vital to living organisms. It is a natural gas in the atmosphere.
    Volatile organic compounds – VOCs are an important outdoor air pollutant. In this field they are often divided into the separate categories of methane (CH4) and non-methane (NMVOCs). Methane is an extremely efficient greenhouse gas which contributes to enhanced global warming. Other hydrocarbon VOCs are also significant greenhouse gases via their role in creating ozone and in prolonging the life of methane in the atmosphere, although the effect varies depending on local air quality. Within the NMVOCs, the aromatic compounds benzene, toluene and xylene are suspected carcinogens and may lead to leukemia through prolonged exposure. 1,3-butadiene is another dangerous compound which is often associated with industrial uses.


    u can


  • Frank the Underemployed Professional

    Basically, the federal government wants to increase taxes on people and businesses during an economic depression. That’s just brilliant.

    I also find it sad that in this entire debate, no one wants to use the N-word. If Congress and the President were actually serious about reducing carbon emissions while improving the economy then they should encourage the development of NUCLEAR POWER. They should open Yucca Mountain (now that billions of seemingly wasted dollars have been spent on it) and do what they can to encourage nuclear power.

    Also, completely lost in this debate is the issue of POPULATION EXPLOSION and MASS IMMIGRATION (both legal and illegal) which drives population explosion. Very simply, having a higher population means an increased demand for electricity, and, in general, increased carbon emissions. If Congress and the President were serious about reducing carbon emissions they would end illegal immigration and either drastically reduce or impose a moratorium on legal immigration. We should also advocate for population stabilization and reduction worldwide.

    Sadly, as is almost always the case, instead of actually acknowledging and addressing our real issues and instead of promoting the rational selfish economic interests of the American people, our government is going to burden the economy with new taxes during an economic depression, taxes that will probably prove to be regressive in nature.

    Also, any carbon reduction benefits will probably be more than made up for by our nation’s third world rate of population explosion (we’ll have even higher carbon emissions).

  • david

    Wake up America! Government is getting bigger and will soon develope an insatiable appetite for money. We the people are becoming more and more dependant on the govt. and they are more than happy to deliver. Washington is turning out trojan horses right and left and we the people are flocking to them by the masses. We are jumping for joy at the sight of these programs. My fear is this,what will fall out of the belly of these trojan horses? Even congresspeople have no clue because many have never read the bills entirely. No wonder we are kept in the dark, we don’t care, we trust our government, they have never lied to us. My fear is that whatever drops out of these trojan horses may not come from its belly but more towards the rear end of it. What about the story that the EPA is sitting on a report that shows that global warming has peaked and that temps are starting to decrease. If this is true, stay away from the rear of this trojan horse.

  • Joe B.

    Lies, lies, lies. Barack Obama promised during the election that he wouldn’t raise taxes on anybody making less than $250,000 a year. Yet his “Cap and Trade” is nothing more than a gas and energy tax that will only lower the standard of living for millions of Americans and have no effect on cleaning the enviorment.

  • Worried for the country

    All this money will be spent as a stealth tax and to what end! Certainly it will have little effect on global temperatures.

    The science is NOT settled. Check out today’s Globe:

    Not convinced? Here is prestigious climatologist who was a key author of the UN IPCC report. He doesn’t buy the hype :

    We have the new administration EPA censoring scientific reports from a 40 year career researcher for political reasons. They have the emails to prove it (Isn’t suppressing science what they accused the last administration of doing?):

Sep 2, 2014
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., talks with Mark Wilson, event political speaker chairperson, with his wife Elain Chao, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, at the annual Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., Saturday, August 4, 2012. (AP)

Nine weeks counting now to the midterm elections. We’ll look at the key races and the stakes.

Sep 2, 2014
Confederate spymaster Rose O'Neal Greenhow, pictured with her daughter "Little" Rose in Washington, D.C.'s Old Capitol Prison in 1862. (Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

True stories of daring women during the Civil War. Best-selling author Karen Abbott shares their exploits in a new book: “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy.”

Sep 1, 2014
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (95) recovers a fumble by Carolina Panthers quarterback Derek Anderson (3) in the second quarter of the NFL preseason football game on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 in Pittsburgh. (AP)

One outspoken fan’s reluctant manifesto against football, and the big push to reform the game.

Sep 1, 2014
This Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 photo shows a mural in in the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago dedicated to the history of the Pullman railcar company and the significance for its place in revolutionizing the railroad industry and its contributions to the African-American labor movement. (AP)

On Labor Day, we’ll check in on the American labor force, with labor activist Van Jones, and more.

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