Has Joe Romm Gone Missing?

May 27th, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

I’ve come to depend upon Joe Romm for ideological rigidity and his unwavering faith in his own infallibility. Such commitment provides a useful touchstone in the climate debate. So I have been dismayed to see Romm not just abandon some of his most firmly held views, but sprint in the opposite direction while at the same time lambasting those who would have the gall to espouse views that he only recently held. Such relativism smacks of kowtowing to political expediency while ignoring policy outcomes or even something even more sinister, maybe even involving the . . . deniers.

Perhaps the real Joe Romm has been kidnapped, and an offset-loving, climate-delayer-eq, fossil fuel drinking replacement has been quietly spirited into his place? A look at the recent flip-flopping by Joe Romm might help us understand the transformation, and with some luck, locate the real Joe Romm and return him to his proper place in the climate debate.

When a coalition of middle-of-the-road environmental groups and large businesses came out with the USCAP proposal for cap and trade, Joe Romm came out in his usual forceful way against their proposal (and especially its reliance on offsets):

The U.S. Climate Action Partnership — a coalition of businesses and enviros once though to be important — have released their wimpy Blueprint for Legislative Action.

I can sort of understand why, say, Duke Energy, signed on to this, but NRDC and EDF and WRI have a lot of explaining to do. As we will see, this proposal would be wholly inadequate as a final piece of legislation. As a starting point it is unilateral disarmament to the conservative politicians and big fossil fuel companies who will be working hard to gut any bill. Kudos to the National Wildlife Federation for withdrawing from USCAP rather than signing on.

It turns out that the USCAP proposal “was the basis for the Waxman-Markey” bill, according to Romm. At some point Romm’s views changed, and not just by a little — his rhetoric on USCAP/Waxman-Markey has flip-flopped 180 degrees, going from labeling USCAP/Waxman-Markey as representing “unilateral disarmament to the conservative politicians and big fossil fuel companies” to a cryptic message explaining “How I learned to stop worrying and love Waxman-Markey.” Particularly odd is Romm coming out in strong defense of the potential use of domestic and international offsets to fulfill the bulk of the “emissions reduction” requirements of Waxman-Markey, given that Romm has been/was among the most vocal opponents of the use of offsets to represent “emissions reductions” — and rightly so in my view.. Has Romm joined the board of Duke Energy? What gives? Is he now a “denier-eq 1000″ (to speak in Romm-ese)?

To remind readers of what Joe Romm had once said about offsets, here are a few selected quotes that leave absolutely no ambiguity:

On the use of offsets generally:

Q: What is the difference between carbon offsets and mortgage-backed securites?

A: Lipstick.

Carbon offsets and mortgage-backed securities are quite similar in that is impossible for the vast majority of people, even experts, to know what value they have, if any.

On the use of offsets in last year’s Lieberman-Warner bill:

Now when I redo the math, it seems the most likely outcome of this bill is that U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions in 2025 would we about the same as they are now, and possibly higher. If that’s the best we can do for a piece of legislation that’s deader than a dead parrot — it is a dead parrot whose body has been given to a veterinary anatomy class for dissection and had its heart removed — why bother?

On the use of offsets in the USCAP proposal:

The USCAP plan would call for a reduction of 1.0 to 1.4 billion tons of U.S. GHGs in 2020, while allowing 2 billion or more tons of offsets, at least half of which don’t even have to be in this country. When would US carbon dioxide emissions see serious reductions under this plan? Who knows?

And on offsets via forestry:

Offset projects should simply not include tree planting.

On an earlier McCain cap and trade plan:

If emissions reductions can be done through a rigorous and verifiable process, then they can and should be included in the overall cap. The probability that there are offset-like emissions reductions floating around the ether that are both abundant and cheap is quite small. That is why a major offset-based strategy would “involve substantial issuance of credits that do not represent real emissions reductions,” as the Stanford study concluded. That report’s policy conclusion:

We argue that the U.S., which is in the midst of designing a national regulatory system, should not rely on offsets to provide a reliable ceiling on compliance costs….

Offsets can play a role in engaging developing countries, but only as one small element in a portfolio of strategies….

The entire foundation of McCain’s climate plan is built on quicksand.

On the use of offsets in cap and trade:

Let’s hope Congress actually listens to GAO and sharply scales back the use of offsets in future climate bills.

So please, help us find the real Joe Romm. He was right on offsets and USCAP/Waxman-Markey before he was wrong about offsets and USCAP/Waxman-Markey.

6 Responses to “Has Joe Romm Gone Missing?”

  1. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Over at CP a reader says to Joe:

    “By endorsing a bill which will give the appearance of significant reductions in emissions without actually doing so, Joe Romm has proven himself to be one of the delayers.”

    How silly.

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  3. Maurice Garoutte Says:

    The real Joe Romm is revealed by those conflicting statements, not concealed.

    Joe Romm in his position of Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress serves a political organization. His positions have consistently been to get the best political outcome from the climate debate. Any criticism of his changing positions on control of carbon may be true but not relevant to his actual goals. When the W/M bill passed out of committee, it became the “best we could do” to people with politically driven agendas.

    To people who believe in CO2 forced AGW the W/M bill is woefully inadequate. To people who believe that the warming since 1850 is due to natural causes the W/M bill is monstrously expensive without any redeeming social value.

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  5. Sylvain Says:

    Maybe the idea that he could have share the same point of view than you was to much for him to handle. In is black and white world he can’t possibly agree with his arch enemy.

  6. 4
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