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New Senate Climate Bill Is “Slap in the Face to Everything that Earth Day Stands For”

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Today is the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day. In the years following the first Earth Day, the Nixon administration passed a series of major environmental legislation, including the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act. On Monday, Senators John Kerry, Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham plan to introduce a climate bill that will eliminate the EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. We speak with Daphne Wysham, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Cochabamba, from Cochabamba, Bolivia, where the World Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change and Rights of Mother Earth is taking place, here in the village of Tiquipaya.

While 15,000 people have gathered here for the peoples’ summit, millions of people across the globe are expected to take part in Earth Day events today honoring the protection of the environment. Forty years ago today, on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day events were held. The years following the first Earth Day saw the Nixon administration pass a series of major environmental legislation, including the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act.

As environmentalists mark Earth Day, Democratic Senator John Kerry, Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman and Republican Lindsey Graham are putting the finishing touches on their long-awaited climate change bill, which is expected to be introduced Monday. The bill aims to reduce US smokestack emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, but many environmental and anti-nuclear groups have expressed concern over the legislation.

Daphne Wysham joins us here in Bolivia. She is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, and co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network. She hosts the radio show Earthbeat Radio on WPFW, Pacifica Radio.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! Why are you here in Bolivia? And talk about your concerns about this bill.

DAPHNE WYSHAM: Well, you know, four months after so many people gathered in Copenhagen at the climate negotiations, which failed, 15,000 of us have gathered here in Bolivia to really put on the table the concerns that people have around the solutions that have been offered up at the UN negotiations. And one of the main solutions that’s been put on the table is this notion of cap and trade and offsets, carbon offsets.

Cap and trade is where polluters trade with each other and theoretically reduce emissions domestically. Offsets are where they put money aside and claim that if they direct that money at, say, a rainforest in Brazil, they’ll claim that that forest would have been cut down if they hadn’t put that money towards that rainforest. So it’s a — it’s sort of a —-

AMY GOODMAN: That allows them to continue polluting in the north.

DAPHNE WYSHAM: And it allows them to continue to pollute.

Now, what’s going to happen on Monday, when Kerry, Lieberman and Graham introduce their bill? First of all, one of the conditions of the bill we’re hearing is that it will eliminate the EPA authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, which is a slap in the face to everything that Earth Day stands for, which is, as you mentioned, putting in place these very strong laws. Secondly, it will include cap-and-trade provisions between utilities, so you could have a nuclear power company trading with a coal power company, but if it’s too expensive for them to meet their emissions targets, they could buy offsets.

And what people here in Bolivia are saying is “Hands off our forests. We don’t like carbon offsets.” And unanimously, all of the statements that are coming out of the different working groups here are condemning carbon markets. They say they failed in the European Union, they are not a solution, we don’t have the atmospheric space to continue imagining that offsets are going to get us to where we need to go, which is 350 parts per million CO2. And so, here in Bolivia, there’s a lot of hope that Earth Day actually means something, that it does mean, you know, reclaiming the right to controlling our natural resources. The indigenous people have made that claim. And unfortunately, that message is not being heard loudly and clearly enough in Washington.

AMY GOODMAN: Who is influencing this legislation? Who has the ear of these senators, and who gets heard?

DAPHNE WYSHAM: Well, right now, they are paying very close attention to the usual suspects: the US Chamber of Commerce, who has in its ranks the American Petroleum Institute, some of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the country. They’re paying attention to some of the large environmental groups, like Environmental Defense, Natural Resources Defense Council, others that are in favor of this cap-and-trade approach. So there are other groups.

In fact, I’m part of a no-offsets coalition in the United States that includes people from all over the country who recognize that this two billion tons of carbon offsets that are in both the House and the Senate bill represents 30 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions. That means the US could do nothing verifiable, no verifiable emissions reductions, until 2030.

We could buy our way out of the problem by, for example, gas flares. In Nigeria, gas flares are illegal. They’ve been claiming that they’re going to end gas flaring in the Niger Delta for decades. Now, along comes the World Bank, through their Global Gas Flare Reduction Partnership, and they’re going to actually pay corporations like Chevron to end gas flaring, which is illegal, and those credits will then count toward Chevron continuing to emit in the Global North, and they can claim emissions reductions. So, in fact, a carbon offset credit project like this has already been approved involving Eni, which is an Italian oil company. The UN CDM has approved a carbon offset credit involving gas flare reduction.

So what we’re saying is these are not meaningful emissions reductions. We need to have strong rule of law, whether it’s in Nigeria or in the United States. And we need to make emissions reductions at home and make the transition to a clean, green economy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, Daphne Wysham, for joining us here in Cochabamba.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re at the Universidad del Valle, known as Univalle. It’s in Cochabamba -— actually, the town of Tiquipaya. And it’s where thousands of people come in and out every day for this massive peoples’ summit on climate. Daphne Wysham is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network.


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