"I feel there are some strong elements in Sen. Lugar's bill but that it falls well short of the comprehensive plan that we really need to address climate change and to move the nation into a clean energy economy."

That's the message that Ron Burke asked people to convey to Senators Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) in the next few days when he spoke to an audience of about 25 on July 21 at Bloomington's Unitarian Universalist Church.

Burke, who has a master's degree in environmental policy, is director of the Midwest Office of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) Climate and Energy Program. Before that he was deputy director of the Illinois division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. There he worked on energy and climate change policy on the state level. Before that he worked on air-quality policy at the American Lung Association.
"Senators have heard more from the opponents, and it's time to 'turn the tide.'"
Burke described the main goal of UCS as "try[ing] to bring good science decisions to the table" when important policies are made. The goal of the Climate and Energy Program is to procure a clean energy/climate change bill.

It's been about 20 years since either congressional chamber first considered the topic of energy and climate change. Last year the House of Representatives passed an energy/climate bill by only a few votes. The House bill applies a limited cap on greenhouse gas emissions for power plants initially and eventually for industrial facilities.

The House bill is watered down beyond what UCS had hoped for, but is "still a pretty good bill," Burke said. By 2020 it ratchets down greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent of 2005 levels. The House bill's "advantages far outweigh the disadvantages."

Many large corporations -- among them Duke Energy, Indianapolis Power & Light, Cummins, Dow, Alcoa, Caterpillar and John Deere -- support the House bill. One might think it's a weak bill if those polluters support it, "but the reality is that you can't get a bill passed without that broad support," Burke said.

***


Ron Burke from the Union of Concerned Scientists says Indiana's two U.S. senators are key votes in the debate over climate change and energy legislation in Congress.

Burke said UCS hopes to eventually see a bill that incorporates four items:

1. Some type of cap on greenhouse gas emissions,

2. Incentives and requirements for energy efficiency,

3. Incentives and requirements for renewable energy, and

4. Measures to reduce oil consumption.

UCS will let the constituents know if a final bill is too weak for the organization to support. Currently there are two or three bills "kicking around" the Senate, Burke said.

Bayh and Lugar are critical because they're both swing votes. "They're sitting on the fence or near the fence," Burke said.

Bayh is concerned about utilities passing on costs to residential customers and businesses, but as Burke pointed out, the Congressional Budget Office found that "households will pay a few more dollars a year" for a bill that contains a cap. Bayh is also concerned about global economic competitiveness.

Lugar has been a proponent of clean and renewable energy and fuel efficiency, Burke said. His position now is that we're not going to get a cap on emissions because it's not "politically feasible."

The bill that Lugar introduced into the Senate contains no caps, and both the renewable energy and fuel efficiency standards are "very weak," Burke said; however, the energy standards are "pretty good."

Burke said that we could end up with an energy-only bill, one that sets no caps on greenhouse gas emissions and entails policies on only renewables and energy and fuel efficiency.

***

Senators have heard more from the opponents, and it's time to "turn the tide," according to Burke.

Constituents can take several actions to motivate Indiana's two senators to support a strong bill, and Burke asked them to tell their friends to do the same."The bill that Lugar introduced into the Senate contains no caps, and both the renewable energy and fuel efficiency standards are 'very weak,' ... however, the energy standards are 'pretty good.'"
The action part of Burke's presentation began with people signing for each senator a postcard with a printed message urging a strong Senate bill with a cap.

He then asked the group to go into the hallway and use their cell phones to leave the senators' voicemail messages calling for a strong bill that includes a cap. He also requested that they call the offices the next day during regular business hours and ask to talk to the senators' energy advisers, Scott Morrison for Bayh (202-224-5623) and Aaron Whitesel for Lugar (202-224-4814).

Burke also advised sending letters to the senators, and the information packet he handed out contained a sample letter. He urged people to write letters to the editors of their respective newspapers, and the packet included a sample.

***

The day after Burke's presentation, July 22, an article appeared in the New York Times titled, "With No Obama Push, Senate Punts on Climate." It noted that "Today Democrats conceded there was no chance for a broad energy bill this session."

In an editorial that same day the Times said, "Last year, the House passed a decent if imperfect bill that would have placed economywide caps on greenhouse gas emissions. John Kerry (D-Mass,) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) offered an equivalent bill in the Senate. [Senate majority leader Harry] Reid (D-Nev.) counted noses and decided his best chance was with a stripped-down version that caps only emissions from power plants. Now even that bill has fallen by the wayside.

"Reid's latest version is not even a pale shadow of what is needed. It will include useful reforms related to the oil spill, and possibly some land conservation and energy efficiency provisions. But there is no cap of any sort. Without that, industry will have little incentive to reduce emissions or invest in cleaner energy sources or new technologies. The bill also fails to require utilities to derive a significant percentage of their power from renewable sources."

Linda Greene can be reached at lgreene@bloomington.in.us.