Kerry-Lieberman climate bill wins praise —and outrage
The American Power Act, a bill proposing a carbon trading system for reducing US greenhouse gas emissions, was introduced May 12 in the Senate. Written by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), the bill aims to reduce emissions by 17% in 2020 and by over 80% in 2050. President Barack Obama endorsed the bill, saying, "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 proposed legislation 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 pre-industrial 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—hydrofluorocarbons and the chlorofluorocarbons—as well 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 under the bill, and could also be met by the purchase of offset credits for up to a maximum of two billion tonnes of 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 along much of the US coastline and provides $10 billion for "clean coal" development.
The measure has met with a wide range of reactions from environmental organizations. "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 US to keep burning coal and other dirty fuels."
The campaign also said the Kerry-Lieberman bill fails to adequately protect 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."
Kerry and Lieberman insist that under their legislation, "Consumers will come out on top." They said in a joint statement: "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 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."
The American Power Act also seeks to promote "safe nuclear power," proposing a package of financial incentives to increase nuclear power generation. These include risk insurance for 12 projects, new tax credits, and $54 billion in loan guarantees.
In a policy address hosted by Resources for the Future the day the bill was unveiled, Exelon 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 and religious organizations as well as small businesses 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," said Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. "We need to direct our resources to the fastest, cheapest, cleanest and safest means of reducing carbon emissions—this bill does just the opposite.
"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 issue their own statement, saying 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. Also on board were Audubon, the 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.
Republicans for Environmental Protection also 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.
But some voices in support of the bill are only hardening opposition to it. Kevin Kamps of the group Beyond Nuclear 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." (Environment News Service, May 12)
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