Climate change legislation moving through Congress would give refiners free permits to emit greenhouse gases under a compromise engineered by a Texas Democrat whose Houston district includes many petrochemical plants.
Rep. Gene Green led the push for refiners along with Democratic Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, who represents San Antonio -- home to the corporate headquarters of refiners Valero Energy and Tesoro Corp.
The two lawmakers got the deal added to a climate change bill agreed to by most Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and backed by the measure's two sponsors, Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Ed Markey, D-Mass.
Green and Gonzalez also scored a major concession sought by oil companies when committee leaders scrapped a proposal that would impose steadily stiffer limits on transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions -- and make the industry pay for allowances to cover the excess pollutants released when their fuel is burned.
The Waxman-Markey bill, which the Energy and Commerce Committee is slated to consider next week, would cap carbon dioxide emissions at 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050.
Power plants, refiners, manufacturers and other operations could exceed the limits by buying and exchanging emissions allowances on a new carbon-trading market.
To defray costs for some polluting industries, Waxman and Markey agreed to give away more than half of those allowances in the early years of the so-called "cap-and-trade" plan, with the bulk of them -- 35 percent -- going to local electricity distributors.
An additional 15 percent would be donated to trade-sensitive industries, and 3 percent would be given to automakers.
Eventually, companies would be weaned off the free allowances and would then have to buy the permits from the federal government at auction.
Under the deal with Green and Gonzalez, refiners would get 2 percent of the free allowances starting in 2014 and ending in 2026.
On Friday, that agreement was being attacked by both oil industry leaders, who said it wouldn't offer enough economic protection, and environmentalists, who complained it was an unnecessary giveaway.
Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said the 2 percent free allowances is "inequitable" because it falls short of the roughly 4.3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions estimated to come from refiners.
The result, he said, will be "greater costs on consumers and producers of oil and gas."
A coalition of environmental, social justice, labor, health, and religious leaders and organizations gathered at Hartman Park to urge Congressman Gene Green to work in the best interests of his constituents, not the oil industry, to strengthen, not weaken, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. Frustrated over Congressman Green's repeated refusals over a six month period to meet with them to discuss the need for strong global legislation, a number of Green's constituents along with other Houstonians staged a press conference to highlight the necessity for reducing greenhouse gases and benefits of doing so. Martina Cartwright of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services highlighted the disproportionate impacts of climate change on the poor and people of color in Gene Green's district. Approximately 21.9% of the total numbers of residents in 29th District live below the poverty level. The median household income is $31,751 as compared to $41,994 for the U.S. Latinos, she pointed out, comprise more than 65% of Green's district. Only a third of Latinos in Texas have insurance and many of the residents in Green's district are below the poverty line so when hurricanes and flooding damage homes and property or injure people, low income residents are severely affected by such impacts. Cartwright said, "Green's district is in a region where more than 75,000 children--mostly African-American and Latino--suffer from asthma. Finally, Green's district is located in a state which has seen an increase in the frequency and intensity of hurricanes in the last ten to fifteen years. It has seen an increase in storm events, which have paralyzed Houston and cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in damage." Charles Stillman of Texas Climate Emergency Campaign, sited concerns about the free pollution permits that Green has sought for the petrochemical facilities, believing that the giveaways will result in more greenhouse gas pollution and dirtier air for the Congressman's constituents and negatively affect the very workers and middle and low-income families which Green says he is looking out for. "Every dollar that is given away to the petrochemical companies in the form of free pollution allowances," said Stillman, "is another dollar that could have gone to middle and low-income families in the form of rebates raised through the auctioning of permits, to help defray the higher energy costs associated with carbon regulation. The money raised from auctioning the permits will also go towards aiding workers in carbon-intensive industries to transition to a low-carbon based economy." Stillman also pointed out that claims from Green and the oil industry that the petrochemical facilities will simply pack up and move their operations to China or another country where carbon regulation has not been enacted in order to save the company money are most likely untrue. "It will cost far more to shutdown operations in Houston, build refineries elsewhere and ship the refined products back to America than it ever would to simply purchase the pollution permits," said Stillman. Another speaker, Bill Crosier, co-chair of the Progressive Action Alliance, pointed out that Gene Green has yet to give any commitments on anything he would do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution from the oil, gas, and coal industries. "Instead," Crosier remarked, "he's stated that he wants to give them a free pass, and allow them to keep spewing CO2 and pollutants into the air just as they are now. Just look at the houses around you here in the Manchester neighborhood, and ask yourself how many of them are properly insulated and how much the residents probably pay each year in energy costs. Why doesn't Green help the people who live here in his district, and why doesn't he work to help create green jobs right here this year, to help make homes and businesses more energy efficient? Why is he instead doing what the oil, gas, and coal companies tell him to do?" Crosier finished by saying, "In 20 or 30 years, our grandchildren are going to ask us, 'Why did you let Congress give permission to those giant enormously profitable industries to use up the world's supply of resources as fast as possible, and leave us with an environmental mess that we'll have to clean up? Why didn't you do more to stop the terrible effects of climate change?' So today, we're again asking Rep. Gene Green to work with others on the House Energy and Commerce committee to give us a climate change bill with real teeth, and which will create green jobs to put Houstonians to work helping residents to save money and preserve what's left of our planet for future generations."Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 17, 2009 to National news