US prez candidate Hillary Clinton lets loose with the K-word

frontpageingressimage_HillaryClintonGetty.jpg Photo: clinton.senate.gov

Speaking out on the Kyoto Protocol – which has acquired the status of the “K-word” within inner beltway circles thanks to George Bush’s aggressive stance against signing it, and the further reluctance of big industry vote purchasers and well-heeled special interests to back it – possibly marks a dramatic departure from Washington’s insular climate politicking.

"This (tackling global warming) is too important," she said. "We cannot afford to wait two more years."

As opposed to the other candidates that have put climate change high on their agenda, Senator Clinton argues that deep reductions in US emissions would not hurt the economy, by rather create 5 million jobs. She hopes to establish a cap and trade system that will cover all CO2 sources, and by ramping up the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations standard to 55 miles pr gallon by 2030.

CAFE was established in 1975 in the wake of the Arab Oil Embargo against the United States and established auto industry standards for improved fuel economy.

“This is not overly aggressive considering that commercially available plug-in hybrids with Litium batteries today clock more than 150 miles per gallon, and China today has a 30 mile per gallon average,” said Bellona’s Svend Soeyland. “Anyway, it is a step up from the new CAFE standard set to improve the fuel efficiency to 35 miles per gallon by 2020.”

Clinton also argues for doubling the funding for research and development into new green technologies and clean coal. Clean coal will be limited to coal-fired power plants with carbon capture and storage (CCS). She would assist in getting the 10 first plants built. Opposing contender for the Democratic presidential nomination Barack Obama, Illinois’ junior Democratic Senator, faltered some months ago when he embraced a coal to liquids approach – which is a high carbon producing measure.

Several environmental groups were aghast at the usually savvy candidate’s apparent lapse, and he later amended his comments, insisting that coal to liquids need to be a carbon neutral process.

The true cost of oil addiction
The Washington Post argued this week that several presidential candidates do not shy away from giving the electorate a “tough love” lesson on energy and climate, and are pitching their sound bites to indicate some sacrifices will be expected.

Former Senator John Edwards, another contender for the Democratic ticket, has been one of the most outspoken. On the campaign trail this Monday, Edwards said he would tell the truth: ”It won’t easy but it’s time for a president who asks Americans to be patriotic about something other than war.”

Obama told a crowd in Iowa in October: "There’s going to be some costs, and we can’t pretend like there’s a free lunch.”

An 80 percent emissions reduction from 1990 levels by 2050, which is what some candidates are arguing for, will affect almost all characteristics of the American dream; transportation, mega-houses and America’s jealously guarded culture of convenient and conspicuous consumption. Another candidate, Bill Richardson, is swing for even tougher cuts, arguing for a 90 percent reduction over 1990 levels by 2050.

The Congressional Budget Office pointed out last week that climate legislation based on a cap and trade system proposed by Senators Joel Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut and Virginia Republican Senator John Warner could pave the way for a profit windfall for energy companies as witnessed in the European Union, which would become especially painful for low-income families.

Tax or Cap and Trade or both?

At a hearing held by the Council on Foreign Relations last week, economists put cap and trade and carbon tax approaches head to head. Speakers agreed that both instruments had some merit, but anything labelled tax in US was unsavoury in political terms. It worth noting that Chris Dodd – one of the democrat presidential candidates – supports a carbon tax approach.

Svend Soeyland wrote and reported from Washington, DC. Charles Digges wrote from Oslo.

Svend Søyland

svend@bellona.no