Offsets in Climate Bill Undermine Clean Energy, Green Jobs

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Environmental Groups Urge Waxman/Markey to Close the Floodgate on Carbon Offsets, 1 Sky, California Communities Against Toxics, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Church World Service, Eco-Justice Collaborative, Energy Justice Network, Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative, Essential Action, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Friends of the Earth, GAIA, Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, Greenpeace, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Indigenous Environmental Network, Institute for Energy & Environmental Research, International Rivers, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Native Forest Network, Nuclear Energy Information Service, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Public Citizen, Rainforest Action Network, Safe & Green Campaign, Shalom Center, Sustainable Energy & Economy Network, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

For Immediate Release.

A coalition of environmental and social justice groups delivered a sign-on statement today to the offices of Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Ed Markey (D-MA), which warns that a giant loophole in the climate and energy bill the lawmakers authored could actually result in an increase in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions until 2026. The offset provisions in the "American Clean Energy and Security Act 2009" allows U.S. polluters to exceed the federal emissions cap by up to 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year by buying offset credits. Two billion tons of carbon dioxide is about 30 percent of annual U.S. emissions; this amount would create the world's largest single market for carbon offsets.

"While the U.S. needs to help developing countries invest in a clean energy future and adapt to climate change, the international carbon offsets market is not the appropriate vehicle for this," said Daphne Wysham, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. "We urge Congress to renegotiate the bill by enacting strong domestic climate legislation that excludes offsets, thereby ensuring true emission reductions."

"At a time when we need to both ensure our energy independence and solve the problem of climate change, this bill would increase the pollution burden on poor communities instead of bringing them green jobs," said Jane Williams, director of California Communities Against Toxics.

The draft bill allows one billion offsets each year to come from developing countries and one billion from domestic sources. Almost all offsets from developing countries currently come from the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The CDM and other carbon offsets have been strongly criticized by many analysts, including the U.S. Government Accountability Office, for generating large amounts of carbon credits which do not represent real reductions in emissions. Many projects, such as hundreds of large hydropower dams in China, would have been built regardless of receiving offset income.

"It is very likely that most CDM offsets are from business-as-usual projects. Because they do not represent emission reductions, most carbon offsets are junk ‘subprime carbon' that allow big polluters to avoid cutting their emissions while tricking the public into believing that action is being taken," according to Patrick McCully, executive director of International Rivers.

"All our hard work around recycling waste in Bali is threatened by offset credits," says Yuyun Ismawati, a recent winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. "The credits are backing a landfill gas system, and the local environment agency has told me that we need to shut down our recycling operation in order to send more waste to the landfill to generate CDM credits. This will not only throw people out of work and increase toxic emissions, it will greatly increase greenhouse gas releases to the atmosphere."

Although offset credits are supposed to represent real emissions reductions, the rules and enforcement are so lax that they often do not. Offsets effectively raise the emissions cap, undermining the very purpose of a climate change law. The Waxman-Markey draft proposes to create a regulatory structure for U.S. offsets similar to one that has failed to stop cheating and harmful projects under the CDM. International emissions offsets are fraught with corruption.

By allowing 2 billion tons in carbon offsets, the bill would create the world's largest single market for carbon offsets.

For more than four decades, the Institute for Policy Studies has transformed ideas into action for peace, justice, and the environment. It is a progressive multi-issue think tank.

International Rivers' mission is to protect rivers and defend the rights of communities that depend on them.

California Communities Against Toxics is one of the oldest and most successful environmental justice networks in the country, and advocates for environmental justice, pollution prevention.

The Goldman Prize annually honors grassroots environmental heroes from the six inhabited continental regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands and Island Nations, North America, and South and Central America. The Prize recognizes individuals for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk. Each winner receives an award of $150,000, the largest award in the world for grassroots environmentalists.

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Click here to see the sign-on letter.

Click here for a blog on the International Rivers/RAN initial analysis of the offsets provisions in the Waxman-Markey bill.