Local energy workers jammed a downtown Houston theater today to protest climate change legislation that the U.S. Senate will take up in the coming weeks.
The Energy Citizens rally, promoted by some major energy companies and business organizations as well as the Greater Houston Partnership, is the first of several such events planned in 19 states in the coming weeks.
About 3,500 people, or 1,500 more than expected, filed into the facility, many donning yellow T-shirts that were being handed out that read "I'm an energy citizen." Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr. was the keynote speaker.
Organizers of the event, billed as a dialogue on energy and the environment, told the Chronicle on Monday that legislation the U.S. House passed last spring will destroy millions of U.S. jobs and raise costs without reducing greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change.
“It's a dangerous piece of legislation,” said James Hackett, chairman and CEO of Anadarko Energy, which is busing employees to the event.
Hackett said he supports reducing greenhouse emissions and developing alternative sources of fuel.
“But I do think there's a virtual reality that's being portrayed to most American citizens about how quickly we get there and how we get there,” Hackett said.
The rally is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. at the Verizon Wireless Theater downtown, with doors open at 11:30.
The climate change bill the House passed earlier this year sets a steadily decreasing cap on emissions from factories, power plants and other industrial sources and lets companies trade any excess emissions allowances. The price of those emissions allowances would most likely be passed on to consumers.
The measure also would set up a system for creating extra allowances, called offsets, through other projects that reduce emissions, and would include incentives for renewable energy sources and home and business energy efficiency.
But opponents say the bill won't reduce greenhouse gas emissions because it doesn't secure promises from developing nations, like China and India, to put controls on their growing emissions.
It also makes no mention of encouraging nuclear power generation, which some rally organizers believe will be key to meeting the country's electricity needs without creating more greenhouse gases, and doesn't discuss a role for natural gas, which typically has lower carbon emissions than other fossil fuels.
Opponents also say the cost of the legislation is ill-timed in a weak economy.
A study released by the National Association of Manufacturers last week says the law would cost 1.8 million to 2.4 million jobs by 2030 and would cost each U.S. household up to $1,248 a year by 2030.
Other estimates of annual household costs have differed — $83 per year according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration; $88-$140 according to the Environmental Protection Agency; and $175 a year projected by the Congressional Budget Office.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, both major party nominees — Republican John McCain and Democratic winner Barack Obama — said they favored a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions.
One of the scheduled speakers at today's event, National Black Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Harry Alford, said his organization has been on the record against such a bill since 1996 when it opposed the Kyoto Treaty that led to the emissions trading system now operating in Europe.
Chevron has invited Houston employees and retirees to participate in the event, and will provide transportation, so they can be part of the policy discussion, said spokesman Scott Walker in an e-mail.
“Chevron supports a national climate change program that is transparent, promotes energy efficiency and conservation measures, treats all participants fairly and protects our economy and energy security,” he said.
Shell Oil has been outspoken in support of climate change legislation, and is a member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, which has supported a cap and trade program.
Shell is “neither encouraging nor discouraging participation in the rally,” spokesman Bill Tanner said.
The Greater Houston Partnership is “still in the process of formulating an official position on the cap and trade plan in the energy legislation,” according to a release concerning the event, but is encouraging dialogue because of the legislation's potential effect on the region.