Mixed bag: Sigh of relief and disappointment in response to aborted climate bill

The Senate Democrats have taken the climate bill off the table. At least, they have abandoned the climate bill that would have instituted emissions caps on greenhouse gasses and promoted renewable energy production. In its place will be what Bradford Plumer of the New Republic calls a “very pared-back bill” focused on oil spill response, with a bit of money for home energy-efficiency retrofits (maybe some benefits for our residential window folks?).

Should industry (including the glass industry) be issuing a sigh of relief that emissions cap legislation has been delayed for the foreseeable future? (See Closer look: Climate bill, cap and trade could hurt industry). According to Lisa Reisman from MetalMiner in a July 26 column, yes. The discarded bill would have capped emissions domestically without including any provisions to move the country away from energy imports. “We can’t see how climate legislation focused on limiting emissions will reduce our dependence on foreign sources. In fact, we could assume the cost of energy would increase, thereby further opening up alternative sources of supply to fill the gap (e.g. imports),” Reisman said. And the original bill, if passed, could have put metals producers (and glass producers, as well as all of industry, I presume) in an “international competitive disadvantage,” Reisman said.

However, I worry the big picture news is not all good for our industry—or the U.S. economy in general.

On the emissions cap front, I want to re-state a warning I heard from a National Association of Manufacturers official during Glass Week that emissions regulations are coming (eventually) and can come from many sources, including the Environmental Protection Agency. Manufacturers should be prepared, even if this particular bill has fallen to the wayside.

Additionally, what about the segments of the glass industry that are investing in renewable initiatives, particularly the solar power industry? (See Max Perilstein’s blog from a couple weeks ago, Solar is here to stay)? How much longer will the solar industry be able to thrive without a major governmental push for renewables? And will solar no longer be a place of opportunity in our industry? (On the other hand, perhaps the emissions caps would have hurt glass companies more than a major boost in solar would have helped?)

What about the overall U.S. economy? We’ve been hearing that green jobs could be the key to reviving the economy. Are these jobs lost? And what does that mean for economic recovery? In a June 24 column lamenting the tabled bill, Thomas Friedman shared one anecdote about green jobs. “A day before the climate bill went down, Lew Hay, the C.E.O. of NextEra Energy, which owns Florida Power & Light, one of the nation’s biggest utilities, e-mailed to say that if the Senate would set a price on carbon and requirements for renewal energy, utilities like his would have the price certainty they need to make the big next-generation investments, including nuclear. ‘If we invest an additional $3 billion a year or so on clean energy, that’s roughly 50,000 jobs over the next five years,’ said Hay. (Say goodbye to that.),” Friedman said.

And finally, what about the United States’ future ability to compete in a green world economy? While the U.S. is postponing climate legislation, China is moving forward on its own domestic carbon trading program, Friedman said. Even if the United States is able to pass emissions reduction legislation in the next five years, the country and its industry will be noticeably behind China.

While I do issue a sigh of relief for our manufacturers, I issue a greater sigh of disappointment and trepidation. Climate change legislation that pushes our country away from carbon power and toward renewable is inevitable. I just hope it doesn’t come too late for the industry, the United States, and, yes, this world of ours. (Take a peek at this report from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences to see one worst-case scenario that results in large fractions of the planet, including most of the eastern United States, becoming uninhabitable).

What are your thoughts? Join the discussion.

--By Katy Devlin, associate editor

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