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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Keep Waxman-Markey Alive
distributed 6/24/09 - ©2009

I'm sending this special mid-week commentary to address a fast-breaking political situation. In a reflection of my own divided feelings, it is with both passion and reluctance that I urge you to contact your US Representative in support of the Waxman-Markey climate bill. (See Project Vote Smart for phone, fax and email contacts for your representative.)

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If you're signed up for alerts from any environmental political action group, I'm sure that you have been getting a flood of emails this week about Waxman-Markey. Over the last few days, some major compromises have been reached on HR 2454, "The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009", and it is now scheduled for a vote by the full House this Friday, June 26. It is time for us all to decide -- and it is a very difficult decision.

None of the sources that I respect and trust are enthusiastic about Waxman-Markey. Especially after the most recent political deal-making, the bill has too many concessions, too many dubious provisions, and does not move the US quickly toward a dramatic reduction in greenhouse emissions. From the many, many discussions that I've seen, the two camps (among those who want to see decisive climate action) are (1) that this is the best legislation that is possible for now, and it needs to be supported as a first step, or (2) that the legislation is so far removed from what is needed that it should be defeated.

I have seen compelling arguments from both sides.

  • Pass it -- A group of 20 U.S. climate scientists and experts -- including many that I deeply respect -- have come down on the side of "pass the bill as a necessary first step." Our close and trusted colleagues with Interfaith Power and Light are asking for calls to Congress with the clear and simple message "that global warming is a moral issue people of faith care deeply about."
  • Defeat it -- The Clean Coalition is calling for the bill to be defeated because of a long list of failings. Friends of the Earth says that Waxman-Markey "would actually be a step backwards in the fight for a clean energy future."

My recommendation to support Waxman-Markey in this week's House vote acknowledges the truth being voiced on both sides. (Yes, I do want to "have my cake and eat it, too!") I am convinced both that the US must take strong action, and that the current bill is not adequate. This means that the debate must be kept alive.

If HR 2454 is defeated in the House -- through the combined votes of those who don't want to see any climate action and those who think the bill is not strong enough -- I do not think it is likely that a re-crafted and substantially different bill would emerge this year. The discussion would be over, and the US would not take legislative action. If, however, Waxman-Markey is passed by the House, the discussion about possible climate action will move on to the Senate, with a different set of political dynamics, and a fresh opportunity to target actions.

What's more -- because of the complexity of the legislation and the large number of last-minute amendments being made -- we will only be able to see and evaluate many of the critical details of the House legislation after the vote. The Sunlight Foundation notes that, once amendments are consolidated into a manager's amendment, "the final version of this bill will likely only be available for less than 24 hours." Strangely (and this is not what the Sunlight Foundation is advocating), passing the bill through the House is the only way that citizens can know what is really being proposed, and what interests are being served! With that information in a public form, we can have a much more informed discussion about the Senate version of any legislation.

It is for the sake of a continuing process that I will be asking my Congresswoman to vote for Waxman-Markey. The US needs stronger and less compromised action on climate change. For the moment, moving the legislation on to the Senate seems to me to be the only way to maintain an option for decisive action.

NOTE: Green for All and the 1Sky Coalition are calling for specific steps to strengthen Waxman-Markey before a final vote. When you contact your representative, you might use some of those talking points to indicate that you want a stronger bill.

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In an Eco-Justice Notes about two years ago (Absolute Zero) , I contrasted the political compromise that is inherent in the development of legislation with the "zero tolerance" of abolitionists in the face of slavery. I said then, and I affirm now, that we need to live in the tension between moral absolutes and political realities.

Moving the deeply flawed Waxman-Markey bill out of the House provides the opportunity for continued debate and refined action. In that imperfect option, I find some hope.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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