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Dec. 28 2009 - 8:56 am | 1,870 views | 1 recommendation | 12 comments

China mandates renewable energy while U.S. deepens its dithering

NANTONG, CHINA - JUNE 02:  A man walks under a...

A windmill in Nantong, China. Image by Getty Images via Daylife

As often as socialism and communism are evoked to discredit the Obama Administration’s agenda, it can be illustrative to observe how communist governments actually behave.

China’s National People’s Congress convened on Dec. 22. Three days later it passed a law requiring China’s energy companies to buy all energy generated through renewable sources–wind, solar power, hydropower, biomass, geothermal and ocean energy.

What if that energy is more expensive? Buy it anyway, the legislature told the energy companies, or pay twice its cost in fines.

What if that energy can’t be accessed with the existing power grid? Improve the grid, China told the energy companies.

Details of the new law were published this weekend by Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency. Every year China will determine what percentage of its energy will come from renewable sources, and every year, China’s energy companies will be expected to make it so.

In contrast, the Obama Administration is struggling to squeeze a market-based cap and trade bill laden with incentives for business through a stingy Senate, even with the enthusiastic support of Exelon, Duke, Con Ed, and other traditional American energy companies.

In its latest effort the administration is sweetening the deal with more allowances for offshore oil drilling, coal, and nuclear plants. Still, Republicans stung by defeat in the health-care debate have threatened to withhold support, and now conservative Democrats in the Senate are urging their colleagues and the White House to drop the bill.

A boon for business, cap and trade apparently is not a big enough boon for business to hold onto even one Republican vote, which makes you wonder: if government is the tyrant in China, who is the tyrant here?

American Spectator f0under Bob Tyrrell has argued that cap and trade is socialism. Newt Gingrich has likened cap and trade to communism in Poland. Here is Gingrich last summer, trying to fend off the American Clean Energy and Security Act by evoking totalitarianism:

Instead of rewarding innovation, this bill punishes Americans into living lives that the government wants them to live.

Notice what Gingrich considers the opposite of totalitarianism, welfare for dirty energy:

Instead of opening up America’s vast resources of oil, natural gas, and coal, this bill guarantees that American will remain reliant on foreign dictators if we want to continue to drive cars, heat our homes and run our appliances.

via Newt Gingrich | Washington Examiner.

Gingrich also ridicules the idea that American efforts to reduce carbon emissions will encourage the Chinese to do the same. He must think his audience rather dim to oversimplify foreign relations that way. Neither nation, which together produce more than half of the world’s greenhouse gas pollution, can make a dent in global pollution if the other continues to pollute.

Stung by criticism that it obstructed the Copenhagen Climate Talks, China’s legislature acted in less than a week to improve the country’s image and lower its carbon intensity.

The new Chinese law amends earlier legislation that encouraged the development of clean energy sources in China, only to find many of them isolated from the nation’s power grid by cost and access.

In 2007, China committed to deriving 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Last year those sources accounted for 9 percent, according to Xinhua. Most of China’s energy, an estimated 65-70 percent, derives from coal, and global demand for coal has soared because of imports by China.

Just over 7 percent of U.S. energy comes from renewable sources, according to the Department of Energy. About 44 percent derives from coal.

When EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson signed an endangerment finding for carbon dioxide earlier this month, some American commenters compared the prospect of regulation to dictatorship. The New York Post described Administration officials as “carbon commissars” wielding an “extremist fist.” Texas Gov. Rick Perry called the action “aggressive federal encroachment into every farm, business, church and household in America.”

It was like Jackson had tried to steal the hot apple pie right off of America’s kitchen table. The next day, speaking in Copenhagen, she assured the world that Congress would lead the effort on cap and trade. The world, as it was represented in Copenhagen, was not particularly thrilled by that news. Desperate for American action, Copenhagen had given her a standing ovation in the wake of the endangerment finding.

Two days later, Senators Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham announced a new proposal for a comprehensive energy bill including cap and trade–the very bill that the health-care debate has imperiled.

Cap and trade may or may not happen in America in the forthcoming year. So if you want to see what “federal encroachment” looks like, you’ll have to go to China.


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  1. collapse expand

    Good perspective and info. I’m happy to share it with those I know who have been confused by all the shouting. Thank you. Though I agree (a member of the choir, I am), progressive voices on this topic are good to hear, especially when so many others are working so hard to make us all into disbelievers.

    Extreme hyperbole and bald-faced lies are all we get from the republicans and conservatives and, who knows, maybe the whole bunch of them. I’m sick of trying to understand why. I don’t know that you or anyone else pointing to reason and reality makes any difference at all to the cacophony caused by all the political maneuvering. They know. The naysayers Just have other more important means to other more important ends (themselves, most likely).

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    Environmental reporting recruited me 25 years ago—on my first day as a reporter for my college newspaper, when I discovered my college was discarding radioactive waste in the regular city trash. Since then I've written hard news for dailies, including the Arizona Republic, and slanty news for alternative weeklies, including Newcity. I've written a column for New Times, stories on the Web for Forecast Earth, essays for PEN International and other magazines. I lived in an idyllic California village nestled among volcanoes and vineyards until my batteries were full of sunshine, and then I returned to my origins on the South Side of Chicago, where hope persists with no illusions about the struggle ahead. I cross the asphalt jungle by bicycle and el, mostly to get to the University of Chicago, where I teach journalism. But what matters more than any of this is a lifelong love for the natural world. We are all born with it, I believe, but some turn away.

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