Kerry-Lieberman Climate Bill Generates Praise and Outrage
WASHINGTON, DC, May 12, 2010 (ENS) – The American Power Act, a bill proposing a cap and trade system for reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, was introduced today in the U.S. Senate. Written by Senators John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Independent, the bill aims to reduce emissions by 17 percent in 2020 and by over 80 percent in 2050.
Senator Kerry said, “We can finally tell the world that America is ready to take back our role as the world’s clean energy leader. This is a bill for energy independence after a devastating oil spill, a bill to hold polluters accountable, a bill for billions of dollars to create the next generation of jobs, and a bill to end America’s addiction to foreign oil and protect the air our children breathe and the water they drink.”
Senator Lieberman said, “The American Power Act is fundamentally different from previous energy and climate bills, and not just because it will be the one that actually passes.”
At the news conference announcing the American Power Act, from left, Senator Joe Lieberman, Larry Schweiger, head of the National Wildlife Federation, Senator John Kerry (Photo by Chris Kleponis courtesy NWF)
“Our bill will create jobs and transform the American economy; make our country more energy independent, which in turn will strengthen our national security; and improve the quality of the air we breathe,” Lieberman said. “We are proud to have support from a growing and unprecedented coalition of business, national security, faith, and environmental communities, who are energized to work hard to pass this bill this year.”
President Barack Obama said, “This legislation will put America on the path to a clean energy economy that will create American jobs building the solar panels, wind blades and the car batteries of the future. It will strengthen our national security by beginning to break our dependence on foreign oil. And it will protect our environment for our children and grandchildren.”
“The challenges we face, underscored by the immense tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico, are reason to redouble our efforts to reform our nation’s energy policies,” Obama said.
President Obama said, “I look forward to engaging with Senators from both sides of the aisle and ultimately passing a bill this year.”
Last June, the House of Representatives passed its energy and climate change legislation, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, known as the Waxman-Markey bill.
Senator Kerry is counting votes in the Senate. “The path to 60 votes in the Senate has been long, but despite Washington conventional wisdom, we are closer than ever to a breakthrough,” he said. “Two Congresses ago, we had 38 votes for energy and climate legislation. Last Congress we had 54 Senators prepared to vote yes.”
“Now we’re asking this Senate to hold a debate and insist on a vote again, with a fundamentally new policy approach that should secure bipartisan support. This is the time.”
Republican Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina worked for months with Kerry and Lieberman on drafting the measure, but backed away just weeks ago to focus on immigration legislation.
“When it comes to our nation’s policy on energy independence and pollution control, I don’t believe any American finds the status quo acceptable. Many senators from both parties have stated that Congress should set energy and carbon pollution policy, not the EPA. I could not agree more,” said Graham.
“I believe the broad concepts we came up with before are transformational and are the most consumer and business-friendly effort to date in dealing with carbon pollution,” Graham said. “Most importantly, they can serve as a framework in allowing America to lead in the creation of alternative energy jobs and significantly reducing our dependency on foreign oil.”
But Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma said, “It’s the same old cap-and-trade scheme that the Senate has defeated three times since 2003. Along with paying skyrocketing electricity prices, consumers will pay a gas tax. It will destroy millions of good-paying jobs, many of which will be lost in regions, such as the Midwest, South, and Great Plains, which depend on coal for electricity.”
“Given these facts,” said Inhofe, “it’s no wonder that this massive energy tax is opposed by Republicans and Democrats alike, and that is has virtually no chance of passing the Senate.”
The American Power Act seeks to keep atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations below 450 parts per million carbon dioxide equivalent. It also seeks to hold the global average surface temperature rise to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above the preindustrial average.
The bill would accomplish these goals by requiring the largest sources of pollution – those that produce more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually – to comply with emissions reduction targets. This means the program only focuses on 7,500 factories and power plants.
The bill regulates seven greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and the even more potent fluorinated gases: two families of fluorinated gases: the hydrofluorocarbons and the chlorofluorocarbons, as well as the most damaging gases, sulfur hexafluoride and nitrogen trifluoride.
All the gases will be measured and reported in terms of metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, MTCO2e.
Starting in 2013, a cap would be placed on total emissions allowances of 4.722 billion MTCO2e. This rises to a high of 5.524 billion MTCO2e in 2016, and then falls to a low of 1.043 billion MTCO2e by 2050 and each calendar year thereafter.
Emissions allowances could be bought and sold, and may also be satisfied by the purchase of offset credits for up to a maximum of two billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually for either domestic or international projects that reduce the amount of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere.
The bill continues to support offshore oil drilling near much of the U.S. coastline and provides $10 billion for clean coal development.
The measure has met with a wide range of reactions from the environmental community.
“The Kerry-Lieberman bill fails the acid test of climate legislation, which is to provide clear signals on emission prices. Investors, entrepreneurs and households all need certainty in future fuel and energy prices, but Kerry-Lieberman hides these crucial price signals behind a curtain of cap-and-trade,” said economist Charles Komanoff, co-founder of the Carbon Tax Center, one of the members of the Price Carbon Campaign.
“Instead of making needed investments in renewable energy, utilities will have the much cheaper option of investing in third-world projects aimed at cutting carbon,” said Tom Stokes, coordinator of the Climate Crisis Coalition. “Most of these offsets do nothing to reduce current emissions, and they allow polluters in the U.S. to keep burning coal and other dirty fuels.”
The campaign also said the Kerry-Lieberman bill fails to adequately protect American households from rising energy costs.
“We need to cut CO2, but we shouldn’t stick hard-working families with the bill,” said Marshall Saunders, founder and president of Citizens Climate Lobby. “We believe all the revenue derived from pricing carbon should be returned to everyone, either through direct payment or payroll tax reductions.”
The Price Carbon Campaign supports the People’s Climate Stewardship Act, introduced by climate scientist Dr. James Hansen at the Earth Day Network Climate Rally in Washington.
The Hansen proposal calls for a “simple, honest” carbon fee, collected from fossil-fuel companies upon the first sale at the mine, wellhead or port of entry. The money collected via this fee would be distributed to the public as a monthly “dividend” or “green check,” said Hansen.
Kerry and Lieberman say if their bill becomes law, “Consumers will come out on top.”
“The American Power Act sends two-thirds of all revenues not dedicated to reducing our nation’s deficit back to consumers from day one,” the two senators said today. “The rest is spent ensuring a smooth transition for American businesses and investing in projects and technologies to reduce emissions and advance our energy security. In the later years of the program, every penny not spent to reduce the deficit will go directly back to consumers.”
To encourage energy generation that does not emit greenhouse gases, the American Power Act provides a 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 for domestic production of nuclear parts.
In a policy address hosted by Resources for the Future today, Exelon Chairman and CEO John Rowe announced his support for the bill. “As the nation’s largest nuclear operator, Exelon also appreciates that the senators have recognized nuclear power as a low-emission source of baseload electricity with an important role to play in the country’s transition to a low-carbon economy. We encourage the Senate to act on the senators’ bill quickly and hope the effort becomes bipartisan once again.”
But a coalition of 200 environmental, peace, consumer, religious organizations and small businesses. today blasted the bill as “a taxpayer bailout of the nuclear power industry and other dirty energy interests that would be ineffective at addressing the climate crisis.”
“This bill is just business-as-usual: taxpayer giveaways to giant nuclear and other energy corporations wrapped in the guise of doing something about our climate crisis. To call this a climate bill is greenwashing in the extreme. We need to direct our resources to the fastest, cheapest, cleanest and safest means of reducing carbon emissionsthis bill does just the opposite,” said Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, a national organization that coordinated the statement.
“The climate crisis won’t be solved by increasing reliance on the dirty energy technologies of the past.” said Michael Keegan of the Michigan-based Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes, “What we need is an all-out effort to implement the clean technologies that already exist and are improving daily – solar and wind power, distributed energy systems, smart grids, increased energy efficiency – these are the energy technologies of the 21st century.”
But some of the largest and most influential environmental groups in the country said now is the time to “get serious about a comprehensive clean energy and climate policy that will reduce our oil dependence, enhance our security, revitalize our economy and protect our environment.”
These groups said, “Every day the Senate fails to pass comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation we put our economy, our national security and our environment at greater risk. Americans overwhelmingly support action on clean energy and climate. Inaction is too costly, and the challenge is too urgent. The Gulf Coast oil catastrophe is yet another reminder that the United States must reduce its dependence on oil to protect our security, economy and environment.”
This coalition of groups includes Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection, the League of Conservation Voters, and Ceres, which represents investors who handle trillions of dollars and also: Audubon, Center for American Progress Action Fund, Climate Solutions, Defenders of Wildlife, Environment Northeast, Environment America, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Fresh Energy, Green For All, National Tribal Environmental Council, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, Oxfam America, Sierra Club, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, The Wilderness Society, Union of Concerned Scientists, and the World Wildlife Fund.
“The millions of Americans we represent demand a Senate vote on comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation,” they said today. “President Obama and leaders of both parties in Congress must provide the leadership necessary to develop a clean energy and climate solution that becomes law this year.”
Republicans for Environmental Protection supports passage of the American Power Act. “We believe that the legislation moves us towards the important goals of capping carbon pollution, diversifying America’s energy portfolio, and laying a foundation for lasting economic growth,” REP President Rob Sisson.
A recent poll conducted by Bellwether Research & Consulting, a Republican public opinion firm, shows that majorities of Republicans and of self-identified conservatives (52 percent) support the approach taken by this legislation – a comprehensive national energy policy that boosts domestic energy production while limiting carbon dioxide emissions.
The poll also found more support (47 percent) than opposition (42 percent) among self-identified supporters of the Tea Party movement.
One opinion that runs deep among environmental groups was summed up by Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear, who said, “The fact that the bill continues to support so-called ‘clean coal’ and offshore oil drilling, despite the recent deadly coal mine disaster in West Virginia and the still unfolding oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Kamps, “shows just how much dirty, dangerous and expensive energy industries control this so-called climate bill.”