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Latest Draft of Senate Climate Bill: What's Good and What Needs Work

Frances Beinecke

Posted October 27, 2009 in Solving Global Warming

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Last Friday, Senators Kerry and Boxer released a more detailed draft of the clean energy and climate legislation they introduced last month. This new version brings welcome clarity and offers an excellent starting point for Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to begin their deliberations.

The Draft Gets Key Features Right

I am especially pleased to see that the bill ensures the vast majority of allowances go to well defined public purposes, such as helping consumers, providing a level playing field for energy intensive industries, deploying low-carbon technologies, and preventing deforestation.

The bill has some other key features:

  • It includes dedicated investments in energy efficiency, clean transportation, and renewable energy deployment.
  • It has an effective mechanism to keep allowance prices from spiking too high, with a bigger allowance reserve and a greater clarity about when this reserve will be tapped than in the House bill.
  • The bill's consensus approach to promoting the deployment of carbon capture and storage technology should garner added political support.

The Bill Is a Clean Energy Bargain

Perhaps most important of all is the fact that the EPA has concluded the bill is affordable. Its analysis shows that the legislation brings an average cost of less than $120 per year per household.

The agency also found that it will be more effective than the House bill at avoiding excessive allowance price volatility, and it will result in an increase in net farm income--a key finding for the prospects of the bill in the Senate.

Two Elements that Still Need Work

I see two areas for further work. First, the bioenergy loophole must be closed. Right now, the bill assumes that renewable biomass is always carbon neutral, and as a result, it fails to distinguish between the carbon footprint of burning biomass from a mature forest and burning crop waste. (See my colleague Dan Lashof's recent post on this topic.)

Second, the bill's energy efficiency provisions could be even stronger. A new study by University of California economists shows that the legislation could produce up to 1.9 million jobs with strengthened energy efficiency provisions. In fact, the study found that "the stronger the federal climate policy, the greater the economic reward."

What to Watch For in the Coming Weeks

The new draft of the Kerry-Boxer bill indicates that the pace is picking up on climate legislation. To find out if the momentum will continue to build in the next few weeks, follow these three developments:

  1. The Senate Environment Committee will hold hearings on the bill this week. Expect to see opponents try to score political points by using overheated rhetoric and making ridiculous claims about the cost of the legislation. But watch to see if the concrete facts of the bill and the recent EPA analysis drawn out these naysayers.
  2. Both the pace and level of consensus on health care reform will influence the fate of the Kerry-Boxer bill. Assume that the better Congress and the White House feel about health care, the easier it will be to turn to climate legislation.
  3. Pay close attention to anything that President Obama and the White House say about climate as we head into the international negotiations in Copenhagen. Just last Friday, the president singled out the Boxer-Kerry bill in a major speech he gave at MIT, saying that it would boost America's economy and put us in the forefront of the clean energy market. Obama is giving another clean energy address in Arcadia, Florida on Tuesday. Listen to hear if President Obama encourages the Senate to take up legislation that will help America move toward a clean energy future with greater national security and less pollution.  
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Comments

Peter StaatsOct 27 2009 10:49 PM

Now it starts in earnest, the final drive for government control of energy. This bill will do more to destroy capitalism than government controlled healthcare because energy permeates every corner of the economy. Much of the discussion is now on how to make the economic impacts equitable and tolerable.

This bill is presented as a crusade to save the planet from scientific predictions of climate disaster. If one looks into the science behind climatology you realize that climatology is really pseudo-science. Without experimental verification climatology cannot be called a science. You cannot verify a theory with computer models. Climatology and economics have a lot in common in this regard—they both attempt to forecast the future of a chaotic system and have had little or no success to date. They both are convinced that government action can remove the natural cycles in a complex, unstable process. Fortunately Americans are beginning to realize that the apocalyptic climate forecasts are not credible. The politicians are now rushing to get a bill passed before the realization is complete.

Dr. James SingmasterOct 28 2009 01:56 AM

I regret to say that this bill will do little as it has no program to remove some of the overloads of heat energy and GHGs already in the biosphere. Those overloads are already throwing the biosphere out of balance with nastier weather and faster melting of ice while NRDC "Scientists" claim that just curbing emissions will do something significant. We can cut emissions in half, but the other half will still be adding more to the overload. That will just result in slowing the worsening of GW effects and will in no way even just stall them. Can't someone at NRDC understand this simple concept.
I have many comments on this blog and others especially the Green, Inc. NYTimes one pointing to making the massive never-ending messes of organic wastes and sewage solids into a resource for removing slowly some carbon and heat energy from the cycling and adding to the overloads already in the biosphere. You can not reverse GW effects until you remove some of the fuel already driving it.
Dr. J. Singmaster

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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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