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Clean Energy Bill Released: Now It’s Time for Leadership

Frances Beinecke

Posted May 12, 2010 in Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming

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Today, Senator Kerry and Senator Lieberman released comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation. The bill provides a good starting point, and we look forward to working with Senator Majority Leader Reid and President Obama to build on this foundation without delay to deliver legislation that puts Americans back to work, reduces our dependence on oil, and creates a healthier future for our children.

We need that legislation now more than ever. As the Deepwater Horizon disaster continues to unfold with tragic consequences, it has become painfully clear that America needs a safer, cleaner approach to energy development. Congress must enact a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill this year that puts America back in control of our energy situation.

This draft legislation gets us moving in the right direction.

It is too soon to say where NRDC stands on every aspect of the bill. As I write this, NRDC experts are combing through the document, and I imagine they will discover things in it that NRDC likes and things we don’t. Here's where we stand on what we've seen so far.

  • The bill’s core carbon pollution limits are solid. These emission limits get tighter every year and will drive investments in clean energy that create jobs, cut pollution, and end our addiction to oil from dangerous locations, both offshore and overseas.  
  • The bill would be more effective if its overall pollution limits were backed up by minimum performance standards for the largest polluters. We will work to strengthen the bill to preserve more of the Clean Air Act's proven approach to cutting air pollution.
  • The bill must not create incentives for offshore oil drilling or push forward drilling before we understand the risks involved for specific areas.  The current Presidential moratorium does not go far enough, and does not, for example, stop the drilling planned for this summer in Alaska.
  • The subsidies for nuclear power in the draft bill are excessive and the proposed weakening of safety and environmental licensing reviews is ill-advised. NRDC will oppose these provisions.
  • The energy efficiency and forest protection provisions should be more robust, and NRDC will work to strengthen these provisions as the process moves forward.

Senators Kerry and Lieberman have done a remarkable job of building the foundation for clean energy and climate action and overall, I believe the bill is a good start. But to realize the promise of the bill, we need leadership from the top.

We need President Obama and Majority Leader Reid to guide a process that brings Senators of good will from both sides of the aisle together around a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill--one that draws on the best elements of this bill as well as other proposals so the Senate can pass effective legislation without delay.

This is the kind of solution Americans are looking for. According to a new poll conducted by Belden, Russonello & Stewart for NRDC, seven in ten American say it’s time to fast-track clean energy legislation that begins to break our dangerous addiction to oil by increasing our use of sustainable and renewable power and fuels.

NRDC will work to build on today’s proposal to achieves these clean energy results. Done right, a comprehensive bill could create nearly 2 million jobs for American workers-- good-paying jobs coast to coast that can't be shipped overseas.

It could slash our reliance on dirty oil, thereby protecting marine life and coastal communities from future offshore oil disasters. It could position America to dominate the global clean energy market, which is expected to attract $230 billion in annual investment by 2020. And it will strike a blow against the most pressing environmental challenge of our time --climate change.

By promoting the development of the next generation of energy efficient cars, homes and workplaces, this legislation will put us, as a nation, back on track for growth.

But we need our leaders to pass the bill this year, so that Americans can start reaping these rewards as soon as possible.

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Comments

Trina BlakeMay 13 2010 08:12 PM

I cannot believe NRDC is getting behind this bill. As the Center for Biological Diversity correctly states: "[this bill] would provide only a fraction of the greenhouse-gas reductions that would get our atmospheric CO2 to below 350 ppm, the only level scientists say would keep us under the climate-catastrophe tipping point. The proposal would also ban successful Clean Air Act programs from reducing greenhouse pollution, thwart state and local efforts to tackle warming, spur increased oil and gas drilling -- including offshore drilling -- subsidize dangerous and costly nuclear energy, and incentivize the destruction of forests for biomass energy production."
This is NOT a good bill!

Jerome M and Maria R GauthierMay 13 2010 10:02 PM

As legacy members of NRDC we are very disappointed with the initial statements of NRDC supporting this bill.

It is a boon to dirty energy industries with weak emissions targets, huge incentives to drill and weak caps. This bill guts the EPA by preempting the EPA from setting tougher emission standards than the federal government. It also preempts the states from setting their own targets and programs! The bill allows offshore drilling; provides $2 billion for "clean coal" incentives; has terrible renwable energy targets and terrible energy efficiency targets. The nuclear energy credits and "giveaways" are mind numbing. We live in Portland, Oregon. A state that for 27 years sucessfully fought any nuclear plant development. Instead of a $54B madness for the nuclear industry how about spending that money on smart grid technology, public transportation, energy efficiency measures and renewable energy?

The bill dictates technology choices in automobiles by providing large incentives to "natural gas" cars - another boon to a "fossilized" economy. We sincerely hope NRDC reassess this bill very, very soon.

Larry ChamblinMay 15 2010 05:16 PM

I understand the position of those who oppose the bill. Their position is as pure as fresh snow. I join them in standing for clean energy and against dirty energy. I agree that the bill provides too much support for dirty energy (as a transition) and not enough support for clean energy.

However, we need real action and we need action soon. We cannot afford to wait. We are reaching a tipping point beyond which all our efforts will do little to avoid the worst consequences of global warming. Sadly, the current bill before the Senate is flawed, to be sure, but it is the best possible in the current political climate. Even this bill will have very tough sledding, and many see only a very slight chance of its passage. What gain is there in opposing this bill? I believe that old cliche applies: don't allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good (or maybe not so good but the best possible at this time).

I will do what I can to support the bill and look for every opportunity to push for amendments that eliminate some of the more egregious elements, such as support for nuclear and off-coast drilling.

Larry Chamblin
Pensacola, FL

Jim BullisMay 16 2010 10:10 PM

I wonder if anyone in Washington knows how much CO2 comes from burning a ton of coal.

The word "carbon" rolls nicely off the tongue, but it does not bode well for the public when nobody seems to know that carbon is a very different thing from CO2, and when one sets out to try to put quantitative thinking to work on this, the difference is enormous.

So the price for emitting "carbon" is going to be $12 to $28 per ton of carbon? Huh? A ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) has only 545 pounds of carbon in it. (I assume we are talking about the kind of tons that weight 2000 pounds.)

Let me guess: The proposed laws are talking about weight of CO2. Can anyone tell us how much carbon there is in coal? There is no single correct answer other than: "It depends on the coal." Anthracite, bituminous, lignite? Well don't leave out "sub-bituminous" which seems to be the description of the very abundant and cheap coal from the Powder River Basin. But forget the exact category. Powder River Basin coal is said to contain about half carbon and half a lot of other stuff. Let's assume it is true.

So a ton of coal gives a thousand pounds of carbon which produces 3700 pounds of carbon dioxide. (Atomic weight of carbon is 12 and oxygen is 16, so 44/12 = 3.66.)

What does this mean? Well, at a $20 per ton penalty (for example), that means that a ton of coal that costs $12 to start with will end up costing an extra $37 for a total of $49 per ton to get it and use it. That works out to a cost of fuel for generating electricity in the existing power plants will go up by a factor of more than 4.

Of course the power companies have a lot of cash lying around so they will be happy to absorb this factor of four increase in fuel cost. (Yes, I am being sarcastic.)

To make this seem real, think about gasoline that we put in our cars going from $3 to $12 per gallon. Yes, I said $12 per gallon. Does that get anyone's attention? Imagine how excited a fuel intensive industry will be to set up shop in the USA.

Maybe we might think about some other effects. Hm. I guess running up the fuel bill for industry by a factor of 4 might snap us out of our economic slump.

Sorry to the well intentioned folk who think this is the way to solve the problem. And some might think I am against serious action to reduce CO2. I am not. However, this is not an action that we can afford at this time. Maybe it will be appropriate later, but maybe there is a way to cut back by using less energy, not by imposing onerous penalties on industrial operations.

Jim BullisMay 17 2010 11:20 AM

I wonder if anyone in Washington knows how much CO2 comes from burning a ton of coal.

The word "carbon" rolls nicely off the tongue, but it does not bode well for the public when nobody seems to know that carbon is a very different thing from CO2, and when one sets out to try to put quantitative thinking to work on this, the difference is enormous.

So the price for emitting "carbon" is going to be $12 to $28 per ton of carbon? Huh? A ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) has only 545 pounds of carbon in it. (I assume we are talking about the kind of tons that weight 2000 pounds.)

Let me guess: The proposed laws are talking about weight of CO2. Can anyone tell us how much carbon there is in coal? There is no single correct answer other than: "It depends on the coal." Anthracite, bituminous, lignite? Well don't leave out "sub-bituminous" which seems to be the description of the very abundant and cheap coal from the Powder River Basin. But forget the exact category. Powder River Basin coal is said to contain about half carbon and half a lot of other stuff. Let's assume it is true.

So a ton of coal gives a thousand pounds of carbon which produces 3700 pounds of carbon dioxide. (Atomic weight of carbon is 12 and oxygen is 16, so 44/12 = 3.66.)

What does this mean? Well, at a $20 per ton penalty (for example), that means that a ton of coal that costs $12 to start with will end up costing an extra $37 for a total of $49 per ton to get it and use it. That works out to a cost of fuel for generating electricity in the existing power plants will go up by a factor of more than 4.

Of course the power companies have a lot of cash lying around so they will be happy to absorb this factor of four increase in fuel cost. (Yes, I am being sarcastic.)

To make this seem real, think about gasoline that we put in our cars going from $3 to $12 per gallon. Yes, I said $12 per gallon. Does that get anyone's attention? Imagine how excited a fuel intensive industry will be to set up shop in the USA.

Maybe we might think about some other effects. Hm. I guess running up the fuel bill for industry by a factor of 4 might snap us out of our economic slump.

Sorry to the well intentioned folk who think this is the way to solve the problem. And some might think I am against serious action to reduce CO2. I am not. However, this is not an action that we can afford at this time. Maybe it will be appropriate later, but maybe there is a way to cut back by using less energy, not by imposing onerous penalties on industrial operations.

Jim Bullis, Miastrada Co.May 17 2010 11:44 AM

The duplicates above happened due to web site problems.

Slightly moderating my previous, #7 above, I should include the cost of shipping for coal, which varies widely, but an average might be reasonably estimated at about $5 per ton for the Powder River Basin coal and its distribution over much of the Midwest and West. Now the cost of buying, transporting, and using that coal is $12 + $5 + $37 given the assumed $20 per ton of CO2 penalty. The ratio of cost of fuel now is $54 / $17 = 3.2. So this would be like making gasoline go from $3.00 to $9.60. Still not so easy to sell.

Julie NuttMay 20 2010 06:19 PM

The Kerry/Lieberman energy bill has had a few changes since a week ago. Does anyone know where I can locate a good up to date summary. As I understand it now it is not a bill I would support. Can I ask a question and get some feedback? Why do we need a bill other than the Clean Air Act which if enforced would keep carbon emissions lower than the K/L bill is stating? Isn't the problem with the lobbists petitioning government offical not to do the policing of the environment that they have the authority to do.? Doesn't the President need to step in and say EPA do your job! I feel the Kerry/Leiberman bill is not serving the public as much as it is big carbon belching businesses and nuclear power plants. What are we going to do with nuclear waste...dump it in the gulf too? (sorry , scarcasm). I am also getting tired of the comment,"Well, this bill isn't perfect, but..." I feel it's a little to late for such low expectation. I feel we must expect much, much more. Thanks and awaiting feedback...

Mark MillMay 21 2010 11:19 AM

If what I heard on NPR this morning is true I am shocked at the irresponsible in-action of congress and DC in general (yes I am naive) and I want to shake my nieve at congress and even at NRDC if it true...NPR said congress has not had a conversation addressing saftey issues of Offshore drilling since 1989 and it appears even then there was no reference to the 135F disaster off Mexico which leaked 137million gallons of crude for 281 days before controlled. So this all well predates the weakining of regulations and control that happened in the 8 years of the Bush admin.

What the heck has been going on and why do we not have the imposed accountability in place like most other countries in the world who have offshore exploration concerns. Seems there has been way too much focus on stopping offshore drilling and having clean-up action plans in place instead of imposing and enforcing some funimental saftey and basic, sound blowout prevention proceedures. We may be up on 5th generation offshore technology - but if the rigs are not operated with even 2nd generation downhole management for prevention...just look at the results.

Frances BeineckeMay 21 2010 04:40 PM

Julie, thanks for your questions. You can get a good summary of the bill right here on Switchboard: my colleague David Doniger wrote an overview of it and several other colleagues have assessed specific aspects of the bill on their Switchboard blogs.

I agree with you that the Clean Air Act is an essential tool--one that has saved hundreds of thousands of lives over the past four decades. Yet the Clean Air Act alone will not offer the incentives or unleash the private investment we need in order to make clean, renewable energy solutions the norm. That said, NRDC will resist any efforts to weaken the Clean Air Act. America expects dirty power plants to control their pollution, and we will not let industry eviscerate the best law we have for holding them accountable.

I understand your impatience with bills that do not seem strong enough, but make no mistake: our window for acting is small. Given the politics of election-year cycles, if we don’t pass a bill this summer that gets America moving down the road to low-carbon energy technologies, then we may not get another chance for several years. NRDC is working relentlessly to make sure the bill that gets to the floor is as strong as it can be.

Comments are closed for this post.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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