Senate Climate Bill Finally Unveiled
by Nathan Empsall, Wed May 12, 2010 at 04:32:52 PM EDT
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.