Senate Climate Bill Finally Unveiled

After weeks of teasing and rampant speculation about the bill’s actual contents, Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman finally released the draft of their long awaited energy bill today, known as the “American Power Act.” The two have lost their Republican counterpart, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, though according to The Hill, “Graham praised the package, although he cautioned that he didn’t know all the details.”

Until earlier this month, I was paid by an Episcopal Service Corps program to work with Repower America, Al Gore’s clean energy campaign. (Disclaimer: That program is done, and Repower has nothing to do with this post - they probably disagree with it.) I like to think that my environmental credentials are pretty strong – but I oppose this bill as currently written. Fortunately, it wouldn’t take much to get me to support it. This post will contain both a summary of the bill from Senator Kerry's office and my own reaction.

According to Kerry’s office’s (emphasis added), “Rather than allowing a patchwork of conflicting state and federal regulations, it lays out one clear set of rules for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  States will not be permitted to operate cap-and-trade programs for greenhouse gases. Those states that have already taken a leadership role in implementing emission reduction policies will receive compensation for the revenues lost as a result of the termination of their cap-and-trade programs. “

This anti-federalist ban on state action may or may not be unconstitutional, but it certainly turns this bill into a last step rather than a first step. It’s the states, not the Congress, the Department of Energy, or even the EPA that have taken the lead in the combating climate change and our addiction to oil. Without California’s aggressive actions on energy or the northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, we’d be nowhere. The Kerry-Lieberman bill gets the ball rolling on national climate action, but by banning future state regulation, it also stops the ball as soon as it starts. I can support the bill’s oil and coal giveaways if it’s just a first step, but not if it’s a last step.

As for the rest of the bill, Senator Kerry’s office has made executive summaries and section-by-section summaries available. Select bullet points in the short summary include (emphasis added):

  • We include a hard price collar which binds carbon prices and creates a predictable system for carbon prices to rise at a fixed rate over inflation. Introductory floor and ceiling prices are set at $12 (increasing at 3 percent over inflation annually) and $25 (increasing at 5 percent over inflation annually), respectively.
  • To provide environmental integrity and ensure meaningful emissions reductions, we include a strategic reserve to complement the hard price collar and ensure the availability of price-certain allowances in the event of unusually high carbon prices.
  • We provide over $7 billion annually to improve our transportation infrastructure and efficiency, including our highways and mass transit systems.
  • We also address our use of foreign oil in our trucks and heavy-duty fleet by providing significant tax incentives for conversion to clean natural gas vehicles.
  • Mindful of the accident in the Gulf, we institute important new protections for coastal states by allowing them to opt-out of drilling up to 75 miles from their shores. In addition, directly impacted states can veto drilling plans if they stand to suffer significant adverse impacts in the event of an accident. States that do pursue drilling will receive 37.5 percent of revenues to help protect their coastlines and coastal ecosystems.
  • Industrial sources will not enter the program until 2016. Prior to 2016, allowance value is dedicated to offset electricity and natural gas rate increases for industrial rate-payers and to improve energy efficiency in manufacturing – to keep power bills down in the future.

More summary and analysis below the jump.

  • Farmers are exempt from the carbon pollution compliance obligations in the bill.
  • The American Power Act funds critical investments in clean energy research and development, including renewable energy technology, advanced vehicle technologies and carbon capture and sequestration.
  • We empower the U.S. to lead the world in the deployment of clean coal technologies through annual incentives of $2 billion per year for researching and developing effective carbon capture and sequestration methods and devices.
  • We have included a broad package of financial incentives to increase nuclear power generation including regulatory risk insurance for 12 projects, accelerated depreciation for nuclear plants, a new investment tax credit to promote the construction of new generating facilities, $54 billion in loan guarantees and a manufacturing tax credit to spur the domestic production of nuclear parts.

This bill sucks. Agriculture, which emits more carbon than transportation, is exempt. Industry is exempt for a few years. There’s not nearly enough for clean energy – a problem made worse by the fact that they’ve lumped carbon capture in with wind and solar. It funds non-existent clean coal, which is absolutely sickening. Yes, the same type of offshore drilling currently destroying the Gulf of Mexico is reigned in, but it’s still allowed.

But I can swallow literally all of that. This bill, for the first time in American history, prices carbon pollution, and that’s huge. Even more importantly, it gives us something we can take to the next international climate conference as hard proof of our commitment, something we lacked at Copenhagen.

What I can’t swallow is this lie that exempting agriculture and expanding coal and oil will indeed reduce our carbon footprint 17% in 10 years or 80% in 40. That’s a joke. As Andrew Revkin writes, “The long-term target of an 80-percent cut in emissions by 2050 is in the realm of fantasy baseball so is not worth pondering.” The bill is a nice start, but it’s not enough, so it can’t be the finish. If the bill allowed for further innovation by not blocking the states and/or EPA from taking their own action, than we’d have room to move forward. Defeat this bill, or better yet, remove the anti-federalist provision and pass it.

For more on the bill’s contents, the Wonk Room has a cool table comparing it to Obama’s campaign proposals and the House bill that passed last year. I'll post the reaction of environmental groups once they've had time to read the 990 pages and respond.

Tags: John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, Climate change, Global Warming, Environment (all tags)



really regretting the time I spent

as a volunteer for the Kerry campaign.

This is a bad deal that will accomplish nothing on climate change, and Kerry is smart enough to know better.

If Repower America gets behind this bill, I will lose all respect for Al Gore.

by desmoinesdem 2010-05-12 05:10PM | 0 recs
RE: really regretting the time I spent

Honestly, what would accomplish anything on climate change?  No one has the stones it would take to dramatically reduce C emissions in the range that would be required to really curtail global warming.  Plus, the IPCC estimates that those cuts would need to last 80+ years, surviving more than 20 Presidential Elections.  Think about that.  How much of our legislative infrastructure is in place from 1930?  The best things that could come out of this bill is a "business as usual" in the carbon emissions front, much tighter regulation on drilling & digging practices, plus some extra funding for alternative energy and mass tranportation.  If this results in a decrease in air & water pollution of the traditional variety (lead, mercury, sulfates, nutrients, sediments, polluted runoff), then it'll be a remarkable success.  If anyone really wants to curtail the obscene ag practices out there, that almost certainly has to be done in the Ag Bill.

by the mollusk 2010-05-12 05:50PM | 1 recs
When the water if at their front door step...

...then people will change their mind. Until then, good luck.

My main argument, with all these progressive issues, is that a lack of civic concern is the main enemy of progress.

Until things directly affect Americans, they don't care. Even the current economic crisis spares a great majority of our population from being directly effected.

by NoFortunateSon 2010-05-13 07:01PM | 0 recs
But it is directly effecting Americans

and they still don't oil washes up on the shores of the South, 60%+ still want more drilling. Americans will drown before they admit they're wrong.

I envy places like my former adoptive home country of Britain that can elect people like Zac Goldsmith to the right-wing party.

by DTOzone 2010-05-13 07:45PM | 1 recs
When Americans cared

September 11, 2001.

OMG! Terrorists mught blow up school busses. Let's invade a country at a tremendous cost in blood and treasure. Heck, we even re-elected that guy over John Kerry in 2004. Remember that?

We will do anything to protect our way of life, even if it is completely irrational and makes everything worse in the long run. the Republicans know this, too.

by NoFortunateSon 2010-05-13 08:16PM | 0 recs

After seeing polls on offshore drilling in the wake of the Gulf coast, I'm at the point of just dropping the issue altogether and letting the people reap what they sow.

We're never, ever, going to get a good piece of legislation on climate change, precisely because the public is too conservative and too reliant on fossil fuels as a means of getting around and a means of livlihood. Doing this requires the American people suffer a bit, but getting rid of that SUV, by paying a little more in taxes in fossil fuels, but conserving energy...and Americans don't like being told what to do by their government.

And all this is just tree-hugger hippie stuff anyway.

by DTOzone 2010-05-12 09:29PM | 1 recs
RE: Honestly

Problem is, you'll also be reaping what they sow. This is not an issue we can avoid; it affects all of us. And worse yet, inaction is undemocratic on a global scale. The majority of people on the planet want to act, but a minority hold the power, even though the majority will also be affected more (Africa, SE Asia, etc.).

by Nathan Empsall 2010-05-12 10:51PM | 1 recs

We'll be held responsible for destroying the world and killing millions...Americans are very stubborn, ignorant, selfish people, if that's how they want to go down in history, short of armed revolt, that's what's going to happen.

by DTOzone 2010-05-13 08:07AM | 1 recs
RE: really regretting the time I spent

Once I remember Bush, nothing makes me regret supporting Kerry in '04. And he does blather on that this isn't the bill he'd write solo, but he thinks it's the best negotiation possible (whatever). More to the point, though, disagreeing over what is and isn't efficient doesn't lead me to lose respect for people. I'll always respect Gore - but that doesn't mean I won't fight this provision and all its supporters, including those I respect tooth and nail and even tongue.

by Nathan Empsall 2010-05-12 11:07PM | 1 recs
RE: really regretting the time I spent

50% of Americans still want more offshore drilling. After this disaster.

by NoFortunateSon 2010-05-13 09:16AM | 0 recs
Considering how bad it is,

it isn't worth eliminating the right of California to make its own reforms. It would be worth it with a halfway decent bill, but not this. I hope Boxer fights that provision.

by bay of arizona 2010-05-12 08:29PM | 1 recs
RE: Considering how bad it is,

My thoughts exactly. If the bill wants to be the last word, it had better be good enough to deserve it. A crappy bill gets the ball rolling, but only if it's not the last word.

by Nathan Empsall 2010-05-12 10:53PM | 0 recs
RE: Considering how bad it is,

Would such a provision even be constitutional?

by NoFortunateSon 2010-05-13 09:17AM | 0 recs
RE: Considering how bad it is,

My guess? Commerce clause. Because to be fair, if a state set up cap-and-trade, the trading would be across lines or at least with intrastate companies that have out of state business. And if nothing else, the carbon doesn't stay in state.

by Nathan Empsall 2010-05-13 01:29PM | 0 recs
RE: Considering how bad it is,

yes, it's not even a close question.


The ONLY reason CA got to have it's own limits is because Congress specifically autherized CA to be able to do it in the Clean Air Act (CA could get a waiver from the Federal preemption). The CAA also let other states do whatever CA wanted to do.

But besides CA and states adopting CA's measures, states can't do what they want on this, and even with CA, they still have to get the waiver (which they always got until's Bush put a tobbacco guy at the head of the EPA).

by jeopardy 2010-05-13 05:01PM | 0 recs
bad bill

I'm not thrilled about preempting state regulation, especially California.  This is exactly why Congress is so unpopular, too many carve-outs, exceptions and exemptions, deals, and reduces state regulatory powers.  I really don't think this bill is going anywhere.

by esconded 2010-05-12 09:04PM | 1 recs
RE: bad bill

Waxman-Markey only barely passed in the House, with several Democrats feeling it didn't go far enough. I doubt there are 218 votes in the House for this kind of bill, even if you assume a few extra Blue Dogs vote for it because it sucks so much.

by desmoinesdem 2010-05-12 10:02PM | 0 recs
By my count

6 Democrats voted no because it didn't go far enough (one of whom has since left Congress), versus 38 who thought it was too radical, plus 8 Republicans voted for it, two of them are in Senate races, so you've lost their votes on any bill period.

Even if they had crafted a bill to get those six votes, they would've lost dozens on the other side.

Waxman-Markey is by the far the most progressive bill that would ever pass the House, and that's not saying much.

by DTOzone 2010-05-12 10:20PM | 0 recs


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