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.

There's more...

Congressional Sparring Ignores Practical Reasons For Miranda

As lawmakers in Congress duke it out over whether the Times Square bombing suspect ought to have been read his Miranda rights, it's worth considering the real-life impact of reading a suspect his rights - and of withholding them. The consequences of not reading rights to terrorist suspects that we later want to prosecute are now on display at the military commissions in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And it's not looking good for the government.

Omar Khadr, whose pre-trial hearing continues, was not read his rights, pursuant to Bush administration policy. Of course, Khadr was captured in Afghanistan, following a deadly shootout with U.S. forces. The Obama administration isn't reading Miranda rights to battlefield captures either.

Withholding Miranda rights makes sense in the heat of a battle, because we don't usually prosecute warriors; instead, we try to defeat their forces, and send prisoners home when the war is over. But once the government decides it may want to prosecute someone and bring him to justice - whether he's captured in an Afghan desert or at JFK airport in New York - there are very practical reasons for informing him of his rights.

In the case of the Times Square suspect, Faisal Shahzad, U.S. officials initially questioned him without reading him Miranda rights, under what's known as the "public safety exception" to the Miranda rule. Statements made in that initial period when the FBI is collecting information about any imminent threats are still admissible in court later. But once investigators determine that the imminent threat is over, they must deliver those Miranda warnings if they want to use any of the evidence they gather from the suspect later in a prosecution. In Shahzad's case, they did - and hereportedly kept right on talking.

That's typical - as Human Rights First's report "In Pursuit of Justice" notes, empirical studies from both supporters and opponents of the Miranda rule have found that giving the warnings has little real effect on whether a suspect speaks to police without a lawyer.

Still, to some, the idea of telling a suspected criminal that he has the right to remain silent sounds kind of silly. After all, why would you want to encourage him not to talk?

But the Miranda rule developed for a very good reason, and has withstood several legal challenges. The Constitution (and the Uniform Code of Military Justice) provides suspects the right against self-incrimination, and the right to the assistance of an attorney. By informing a suspect of those rights, the FBI basically immunizes itself - anything the suspect says afterwards can then lawfully be used against him.

The Miranda rule means the government doesn't later have to spend months arguing in court over whether a suspect's statements were voluntary or coerced, as it's now forced to do in the Khadr case. Because even military commissions forbid reliance on involuntary confessions, except those made at the point of capture or during active combat - a rule that's similar to the federal court's public safety exception.

The Khadr case is a perfect example of how hard it is for the government to show that a suspect confessed voluntarily if he was never told of his right not to.

Khadr, who was 15 when he was captured, claims he was mistreated in custody and coerced into saying things that weren't true. His hearing is ongoing, and although some evidence has emerged to support his claims, it's impossible to know yet what really happened. (As I've explained before, themilitary commission rules make finding the truth in such cases particularly difficult.) But if Khadr can show that he was coerced into confessing, his statements have to be thrown out even under the military commission's rules. That's because coerced statements are considered inherently unreliable - in any U.S. court of law.

To argue that Shahzad shouldn't have been read his Miranda rights, as Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) did yesterday, makes even less sense than in a case like Khadr's, because Shahzad is a U.S. citizen who cannot legally be tried in a military commission. (Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who reportedly said Shahzad should be tried in a military commission, apparently didn't understand that.) So the result of not reading him his rights after the public safety threat has subsided would be to undermine his subsequent prosecution - and to risk having to let him go free.

Surely Sen. Christopher Bond of Missouri, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence committed, didn't mean to suggest we should free terrorists when he said yesterday that the U.S. has "got to be far less interested in protecting the privacy rights of these terrorists than in collecting information. . . ." But that could be the logical result of the current campaign to deny terror suspects basic rights.

Even Glenn Beck, the conservative Fox News commentator, defended the Obama administration's handling of the case yesterday, saying that "we uphold the laws and the Constitution on citizens....We don't shred the Constitution when it's popular."

Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman's response to that, of course, was that Shahzad, who hasn't yet been convicted of anything, should be stripped of his citizenship. (In fact, if he were convicted of fighting with an enemy military force he would be stripped of his citizenship anyway.)

Setting aside the many compelling arguments for why the United States on principal shouldn't be cowed by terrorists into abandoning our own Constitution, it's worth remembering that the Miranda rule serves a very important practical purpose: it ensures that suspects' confessions are usable in court against them, and that terrorism convictions in any U.S. legal forum will stand.

Next Up: A Climate Bill

Woo-hoo. The healthcare bill is done. People will see many of the provisions go into place immediately and then they can decide how they feel about these reforms based on realityinstead of frenzied, uninformed rhetoric. Let's just take a moment to recognize this historic occasion.

Unfortunately, just when we see Congress starting to pass bills promised during the last election, we get an unwelcomed glimpse of some of the ugliest parts of politics. It disgusts and frightens me that not only were Members of Congress spat upon as they walked to the Capitol, but lunatics threatened to kill the family members of our elected officials. I am disheartened by the actions of my fellow Americans in the last week but I am not without hope because despite all of these threats, they made real progress and that is something to celebrate.

Healthcare Reforms' passage also clears the way for the Senate to take up climate and they are thankfully wasting no time. According to E&E senior reporter Darren Samuelsohn, "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is inserting himself into the energy and climate debate with a series of meetings [on Tuesday and Wednesday] with key players engaged in the closed-door negotiations."

Senator John Kerry (D-MA) is also doubling down on climate saying, "In the wake of health care's passage, we have a strong case to make that this can be the next breakthrough legislative fight. Climate legislation is the single best opportunity we have to create jobs, reduce pollution and stop sending billions overseas for foreign oil from countries that would do us harm."

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the undecideds are starting to vocally call for Congress to consider a bill. Earlier this week, Senator Tom Udall lead a group of 22 moderate Senators in calling on Senator Majority Leader Reid to bring up comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation for a vote. The letter is especially significant because most of these folks hadn't been saying much about climate legislation before. And if those in the middle remained silent, that would have deadened any momentum. But they didn't.

Although none of this guarantees that we will get a bill and it certainly doesn't guarantee that any bill that moves will be strong enough to address the problems, it represents significant progress. Members of Congress have had a hard week so I hope that they go home over the Easter recess and take a few days to recuperate. When they get back, there is much to do and a lot of momentum to build upon.

Weekly Mulch: New bills and old money

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Climate legislation is returning to the Senate’s docket, and leaders on Capitol Hill are hoping that this version, a compromise bill spearheaded by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), can pass without getting caught in the morass of money and politics that has delayed action so far.

A long, long time ago…

Remember, there was a time when Congress was going to pass climate legislation before the international climate change negotiations in Copenhagen. President Barack Obama was going to show up with a bill in hand and lead the world towards a better climate future. After the House passed its climate bill in June 2009, the Senate began discussing climate change, and a first stab by Sen. Kerry and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) went nowhere. Now, Kerry has turned to less liberal colleagues to draft an alternative that would appeal to moderates and even Republicans.

Now the Massachusetts senator is promising that climate change isn’t dead. A new bill is coming—more information may be in the offing as early as today, as Kate Sheppard reports at Mother Jones.

Third time’s the charm

Sen. Kerry is trying a new tactic to pass climate legislation. He’s waiting to release his plan until he knows the bill has the 60 supporters it needs to circumvent a filibuster. The details have not been hammered out yet, and even the Senators who’ve been in talks with Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman don’t seem to have a clear sense of what will be in the version that will emerge.

In the House, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, released an ambitious draft of the legislation, let lobbyists and members of Congress fight over it, and passed a much-changed edition months later. Sen. Kerry tried a similar plan on his side of Capitol Hill (that was the Kerry-Boxer bill), but it did not work.

With this piece of legislature, Sens. Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman are working out the compromises before they release the legislation. Both reporting and speculation about their bill say that it will abandon the cap-and-trade system passed in the House. Cap-and-trade restricts carbon emissions across the economy; a variation on that policy that the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill may favor will limit the system to a few sectors.

Will it work?

Kerry’s expected bill may be a much weaker plan than any proposed so far, yet it is still not certain that the Senate will support it. The lead authors of the bill have been meeting with conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans, as Sheppard reports, but those targets have not promised support yet. Coming out of a meeting, Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) told reporters: “There were some interesting things that were discussed in there and like everything else in the United States Senate, the devil is in the details.”

From a distance, banner-day climate legislation still seems possible. Environmental groups like the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Foundation, and the National Resources Defense Council believe that they will see a bill this year that caps carbon. These green groups would be able to live with the incentives handed to industry groups so far, according to Campus Progress’ Tristan Fowler.

“There are compromises [that can go] too far. Fortunately, I don’t think we’re getting near that territory at the moment,” Josh Dorner, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, told Fowler.

Sickly green

Before getting too excited about stamping a green seal of approval on Congress’ legislation, consider Johann Hari’s testimony in The Nation about the relationships between environmental groups and the industries that they oppose.

Hari has reported on climate change issues for years, and at first, he “imagined that American green groups were on these people’s side in the corridors of Capitol Hill, trying to stop the Weather of Mass Destruction. But it is now clear that many were on a different path—one that began in the 1980s, with a financial donation.”

Hari argues that as environmental groups began to reach out to polluters, handing them awards for green behavior and accepting support from their deep pockets, they learned to compromise too readily and accept political excuses for delaying action on climate change. While in other realms these compromises might fly, when the stakes are as high as they are on environmental issues, that behavior turns the stomach.

“You can’t stand at the edge of a rising sea and say, ‘Sorry, the swing states don’t want you to happen today. Come back in fifty years,’” Hari writes.

The green future

When Kerry, Lieberman and Graham do release the compromised bill, watch for a tsunami of money and influence that could pack the bill with prizes for specific industries—or derail it altogether. Just this week, the natural gas industry’s lobbyists told The Hill, a D.C.-based newspaper, that they were ready to fight with the coal industry over incentives in the Senate bill. At AlterNet, Harvey Wasserman writes that the nuclear industry spent $645 million in the past decade to get back into the energy game, according to a new report from American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop. (Hint: that $645 million is working in their favor.)

In the Senate, the influence of oil companies will play an important role, according to David Roberts at Grist.

“While coal has a lot of power in the House, oil has enormous power in the Senate, particularly over the conservadems and Republicans needed to put the bill over the top,” Roberts explains.

No matter what legislation passes and what incentives it contains, environmentalists need to continue putting pressure on their representatives in Congress and on national environmental groups to push back against polluting industries and work to fix the world’s climate.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: New bills and old money

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Climate legislation is returning to the Senate’s docket, and leaders on Capitol Hill are hoping that this version, a compromise bill spearheaded by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), can pass without getting caught in the morass of money and politics that has delayed action so far.

A long, long time ago…

Remember, there was a time when Congress was going to pass climate legislation before the international climate change negotiations in Copenhagen. President Barack Obama was going to show up with a bill in hand and lead the world towards a better climate future. After the House passed its climate bill in June 2009, the Senate began discussing climate change, and a first stab by Sen. Kerry and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) went nowhere. Now, Kerry has turned to less liberal colleagues to draft an alternative that would appeal to moderates and even Republicans.

Now the Massachusetts senator is promising that climate change isn’t dead. A new bill is coming—more information may be in the offing as early as today, as Kate Sheppard reports at Mother Jones.

Third time’s the charm

Sen. Kerry is trying a new tactic to pass climate legislation. He’s waiting to release his plan until he knows the bill has the 60 supporters it needs to circumvent a filibuster. The details have not been hammered out yet, and even the Senators who’ve been in talks with Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman don’t seem to have a clear sense of what will be in the version that will emerge.

In the House, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, released an ambitious draft of the legislation, let lobbyists and members of Congress fight over it, and passed a much-changed edition months later. Sen. Kerry tried a similar plan on his side of Capitol Hill (that was the Kerry-Boxer bill), but it did not work.

With this piece of legislature, Sens. Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman are working out the compromises before they release the legislation. Both reporting and speculation about their bill say that it will abandon the cap-and-trade system passed in the House. Cap-and-trade restricts carbon emissions across the economy; a variation on that policy that the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill may favor will limit the system to a few sectors.

Will it work?

Kerry’s expected bill may be a much weaker plan than any proposed so far, yet it is still not certain that the Senate will support it. The lead authors of the bill have been meeting with conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans, as Sheppard reports, but those targets have not promised support yet. Coming out of a meeting, Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) told reporters: “There were some interesting things that were discussed in there and like everything else in the United States Senate, the devil is in the details.”

From a distance, banner-day climate legislation still seems possible. Environmental groups like the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Foundation, and the National Resources Defense Council believe that they will see a bill this year that caps carbon. These green groups would be able to live with the incentives handed to industry groups so far, according to Campus Progress’ Tristan Fowler.

“There are compromises [that can go] too far. Fortunately, I don’t think we’re getting near that territory at the moment,” Josh Dorner, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, told Fowler.

Sickly green

Before getting too excited about stamping a green seal of approval on Congress’ legislation, consider Johann Hari’s testimony in The Nation about the relationships between environmental groups and the industries that they oppose.

Hari has reported on climate change issues for years, and at first, he “imagined that American green groups were on these people’s side in the corridors of Capitol Hill, trying to stop the Weather of Mass Destruction. But it is now clear that many were on a different path—one that began in the 1980s, with a financial donation.”

Hari argues that as environmental groups began to reach out to polluters, handing them awards for green behavior and accepting support from their deep pockets, they learned to compromise too readily and accept political excuses for delaying action on climate change. While in other realms these compromises might fly, when the stakes are as high as they are on environmental issues, that behavior turns the stomach.

“You can’t stand at the edge of a rising sea and say, ‘Sorry, the swing states don’t want you to happen today. Come back in fifty years,’” Hari writes.

The green future

When Kerry, Lieberman and Graham do release the compromised bill, watch for a tsunami of money and influence that could pack the bill with prizes for specific industries—or derail it altogether. Just this week, the natural gas industry’s lobbyists told The Hill, a D.C.-based newspaper, that they were ready to fight with the coal industry over incentives in the Senate bill. At AlterNet, Harvey Wasserman writes that the nuclear industry spent $645 million in the past decade to get back into the energy game, according to a new report from American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop. (Hint: that $645 million is working in their favor.)

In the Senate, the influence of oil companies will play an important role, according to David Roberts at Grist.

“While coal has a lot of power in the House, oil has enormous power in the Senate, particularly over the conservadems and Republicans needed to put the bill over the top,” Roberts explains.

No matter what legislation passes and what incentives it contains, environmentalists need to continue putting pressure on their representatives in Congress and on national environmental groups to push back against polluting industries and work to fix the world’s climate.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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