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In Rubble of Cap-and-Trade, Big Green Taking a Beating

In the search for what's next, a range of options including civil disobedience, state-level action, and continued work on Capitol Hill

By Elizabeth McGowan

Nov 23, 2010

“People need to understand what EDF is and treat them accordingly,” he said. “If they were the environmental policy arm of Blue Dog Democrats’ caucus, I wouldn’t begrudge them that role.”

Cap and trade and market-based solutions were EDF’s “baby,” because the organization’s staffers had the “policy firepower,” he said, adding that Krupp’s employees are not nearly as well versed on renewable electricity standards and other regulatory solutions.

Calls to the Environmental Defense Fund seeking comment for this article were not returned.

One of EDF’s harshest critics is Rachel Smolker, whose now-deceased father, Robert Smolker, co-founded the organization decades ago during discussions in her childhood home on Long Island.

Smolker, an activist with the United Kingdom-based Biofuelwatch accuses EDF of being extremely cozy with industry and unwilling to listen to grassroots voices outside the nation’s capital.

“Cap and trade is a dangerous approach because it gives control to Wall Street,” she said in an interview from her Vermont office. “It’s the least painful and most profitable route for industry.”

Smolker is also active with Climate SOS, which borrowed a line from James Hansen when labeling the Waxman-Markey bill as “worse than nothing.” Hansen, who has been arrested for climate activism, heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City.

“Many grassroots groups have no confidence in Washington,” she said. “Once, the idea of working with markets was a good idea and there were some successes. But attitudes toward cap and trade have changed in the last year.”

Copenhagen a Lost Opportunity

Krupp is correct that the environmental community has an urgent need to mobilize more broadly, Friends of the Earth’s Moglen said. Still, Moglen is flabbergasted that the climate situation has deteriorated so drastically since there was such consensus for action a year ago. Green groups are certainly culpable for losing control of a prime opportunity, he said, but he places the onus on President Obama.

“At the very moment (environmental organizations) created a debate space, this Congress and this president were AWOL,” he said. “The people who flooded into that void were the corporations. Then the flat-Earthers were inhabiting the debate space.”

If Obama had been as vociferous in a call for action at the Copenhagen climate conference in December 2009, as he is being now with the nuclear-arms treaty with Moscow, Moglen is convinced strong legislation would be in place now.

“The president failed on that front,” he said. “He could have gone to Copenhagen and changed the course of human history. It was his moment and he chose to hide behind Congress. Then the whole house of cards came tumbling down.”

Without national legislation, he continued, Obama now has to go to the mat for the Environmental Protection Agency so its authority to regulate greenhouse gases via the Clean Air Act isn’t blocked.

With a fractured House and a weakened Senate, Moglen suspects that cutting-edge solutions to global warming will bubble up from the states instead of trickle down from the federal level.

And as much as other observers see the political spectrum’s left and right as polar opposites, Moglen thinks the two could bond over their opposition to subsidies and tax breaks for the coal and oil industries. That common ground might be a starting point for the beginning of a climate conversation.

“We need to hold the fossil fuels industry accountable,” he said, adding that nobody asked corporations for their help when drafting civil rights legislation in the 1960s. “But we need to hold leaders accountable.”

“(The environmental community) bears responsibility and our leaders bear responsibility for not holding up our end of the bargain.”

Needed: Faster Ship With Bigger Guns

DeChristopher, the Utah activist, said he is encouraged that grassroots groups have finally realized they need to step out of the shadow of large, Washington-centric environmental organizations.

“Watering things down and making allies with corporations that really are enemies hasn’t worked,” he said. “We might as well work for something that will make a difference.”

Capital Idea

Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) bonds could be the "think locally act globally" solution that this article is insinuating.

Basically, this law, already enacted by some municipalities in the US, creatively provides local capital to implement local renewable energy and efficiency projects on a community scale.  The "bond" / loan to make the renewable energy transition happen successfully overcomes the biggest hurdle towards implementation of clean energy technologies – and this hurdle for the most part is capital.  I want solar, wind, geothermal, micro-hydro, and biomass – everyone I know does! But no-one has the money for it unfortunately.  PACE really offers a solution to this problem by providing a mechanism for citizens and businesses to voluntarily raise that capital.  Not by enforcement, taxation, regulation,  fines, or incentivized manipulation, but a local funding mechanism by which everyone can get the capital they need to make the transition – provided their municipality approves the measure (like Boulder, Berkley, and others did).

So you are probably not be surprised that “Big Money” and real-estate lobby is fighting this – because they haven’t figured out how to sufficient profit from it.

You can learn more and get you and your municipality involved at:

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