WASHINGTON, DC, December 10, 2009 (ENS) – Three U.S. senators – a Democrat, a Republican, and an Independent – today released their framework for climate change and energy independence legislation in advance of President Barack Obama’s trip to Copenhagen next week to participate in the United Nations climate change conference.
Senators John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Independent, outlined their plan in a letter sent today to the President, saying, “As you depart for Copenhagen, we wanted to provide an assessment of where we see the debate heading in the United States Senate.”
The Senate has not yet passed climate legislation, although the House of Representatives passed its climate and clean energy bill in June.
“Over the past month, we have been working together to develop consensus on a comprehensive pollution reduction and energy independence plan,” the three senators wrote. “Support is building to simultaneously create jobs, protect our national security interests, and improve our environment.”
“From the longest serving member in the history of Congress, Senator Robert Byrd, to James Murdoch, a senior officer of News Corporation, to General Anthony Zinni, former U.S. CENTCOM Commander, Americans are uniting to say that now is the time to address climate change and secure our energy independence,” wrote the senators.
Senators announce their framework for a climate bill. From left, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Sen. John Kerry, Sen. Lindsay Graham. (Photo courtesy Office of Senator Kerry)
They recognized, “Carbon pollution is altering the Earth’s climate. The impacts have already been seen and felt throughout our country and around the world.”
Governing the emission of greenhouse gases should be done by Congress through legislation, they said, rather then by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Air Act.
On Monday, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced that greenhouse gases endanger the public health and welfare of the American people, a determination that clears the way for the agency to regulate the heat-trapping gases without waiting for Congress to pass legislation.
“Monday’s endangerment finding by the Environmental Protection Agency underscores the importance of Congressional action to address greenhouse gas emissions before the EPA moves unilaterally,” the three senators wrote. “By failing to legislate, Congress is ceding the policy reins to the EPA and ignoring our responsibility to our constituents.”
“It is our belief that a market-based system, rather than a labyrinth of command-and-control regulations, will allow us to reduce pollution economically and avoid the worst impacts of global climate change,” they wrote.
They say a market-based system can help companies and consumers transition to a low-carbon economy without using taxpayer dollars or driving up the national debt.
The three senators endorsed the near term emissions reduction target specified in the House bill – in the range of 17 percent below 2005 emissions levels – calling it “achievable and reasonable.” This is the figure President Obama said he will offer at the Copenhagen climate summit.
The three senators approved a long term target of approximately 80 percent below 2005 levels, which is the figure endorsed in July by the Group of Eight industrialized nations to be achieved by 2050.
The senators called for a “robust investment” in the development and deployment of clean energy technologies, quoting business executives such as David Cote, the CEO of Honeywell, and Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, to back their position.
In their letter, the senators argue for more and safer nuclear power plants alongside development of wind and solar power and clean coal technology.
South Carolina’s coal-fired Cross power plant pumps greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. (Photo courtesy Santee Cooper)
“Coal’s future as part of the energy mix is inseparable from the passage of comprehensive climate change and energy legislation,” they wrote. “We will commit significant resources to the rapid development and deployment of clean coal technology, and dedicated support for early deployment of carbon capture and sequestration.”
Emissions from agriculture will not be regulated, the senators wrote, but green jobs for rural Americans as well as green manufacturing jobs will result from placing a price on carbon emissions.
The senators pledged renewed efforts to resolve the issues that have long blocked the passage of a climate change bill in the Senate. “Together, we can and will pass climate change and energy independence legislation this Congress.”
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, “The President believes this is a positive development towards reaching a strong, unified and bipartisan agreement in the U.S. Senate.”
Environmental groups see the effort as a step in the right direction. Center for Biological Diversity Executive Director Kierán Suckling said, “The unlikely trio of Senators Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham has an historic opportunity to inject reality into the Senate deliberations by requiring the deep, swift pollution reductions necessary to avert catastrophic global warming. We are concerned, however, that earlier statements by the senators suggest they will weaken an already too-weak approach to climate change.”
“If a Senate bill is to have any chance of heading off the climate disaster threatening millions of people, it must guarantee that the planet’s carbon dioxide level is reduced to 350 parts per million by reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2020,” said Suckling. “It must preserve all of the Clean Air Act’s proven mechanisms for reducing air pollution.”
Dan Lashof, director of the Climate Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “While we do not support all elements, this framework embraces key principles for sound legislation that will create jobs, enhance energy security and cut carbon pollution, while protecting consumers.”
Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope had a mixed reaction, saying, “Through these senators bold action, our country is moving closer to a clean energy economy,” but adding, “However, there are some provisions in the plan, such as investments in coal, nuclear and off-shore drilling that we think would be better spent on cleaner, safer alternatives.”
Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, was enthusiastic about the senators’ framework proposal. “The principles released by Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman today are a roadmap for climate legislation that can win broad support in the Senate. Their plan to reduce pollution while bolstering our economy and energy supply is precisely what Americans are looking for in a bill.”
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