Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tidwell, Chris Van Hollen and Global Warming, Part One

By Marc Korman.

On a recent morning, the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Breakfast Club heard from Mike Tidwell, the founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN).

CCAN was founded in 2002 to address climate change and its effects. When the organization began, their primary mission was one of education. As time has gone on and the general populace has learned more about climate change, CCAN has shifted to a solutions oriented mission. Tidwell points to multiple reasons the public has woken up about climate change: Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Hurricane Katrina, and All-State’s decision to no longer furnish new home insurance properties for coastal Maryland due to the threat of rising seas and increased hurricanes. In Tidwell’s view, the multiplier effects of addressing climate change include improvement to the environment, reduced costs of healthcare due to better health due to cleaner air, a stronger economy, and improved national security.

Taking a page from Bethesda-resident Tom Friedman’s Hot, Flat and Crowded, Tidwell said that the proliferation of magazine articles about going green and lists telling people ten ways to be green are not enough. Transformative legislation is needed to stop climate change. Comparing climate change to civil rights, Tidwell asked if anyone told George Wallace when he stood outside the University of Alabama to prevent its integration that there were ten easy ways he could integrate. Rather, the country responded with transformative legislation such as the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Tidwell wants to see a similar response to climate change. Voluntary and independent action is good, but it is not enough.

Tidwell’s goals are ambitious as he looks to Congress for national action. He wants a ban on new coal-fired power plants, which according to the Energy Information Administration provide almost half of US electricity today. Although he believes the cap-and-trade proposal, known as Waxman-Markey, passed by the House of Representatives earlier this year is better than nothing, he is not enamored with it. In his view, pressure by utility companies led to a convoluted bill with lots of protections for legacy generators, is unfair to the middle class, and does not appear to be built to last. Tidwell also condemned the length of the bill, which was 1,428 pages.

Instead of Waxman-Markey, Tidwell supports Congressman Chris Van Hollen’s Cap and Dividend Act of 2009, which Tidwell happily told us was only about twenty pages. Apparently, the length of legislation has some type of relevance to its effectiveness. We will take a look at the Van Hollen bill and why Maryland is already a leader on climate change policies in Part Two.