As Cap and Trade Falters in Congress, Celebs Throw in Fresh Support
Key Senate Democrats say they will support an existing energy bill that does not include a cap and trade provision, and are trying to convince their colleagues to do the same, an article on the website MotherJones.com reported on Tuesday. Buzz about a climate change of heart on the part of the Democrats grew louder last week, when the media reported that Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who are trying to win bipartisan support for their own compromise energy and climate legislation in the Senate, were planning to do away with cap and trade altogether. The two anti-cap and trade movements represent a larger trend in the Democratic caucus: the perception that dropping cap and trade (or any carbon dioxide emissions limits) from climate legislation is the only way to get it passed.
Possible elimination of the cap and trade provision from the American Clean Energy Leadership Act (ACELA), which was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last June, raises several concerns. For starters, doing away with a carbon cap may spell doom for an international climate treaty. Other big carbon emitters, most notably China, want to see the U.S. make meaningful reductions in carbon emissions before they commit to their own reductions. In November, China agreed to curb its carbon intensity 40–45 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, although it does not want these emissions targets to be legally binding.
Another potential problem with the bill, according to environmentalists, is that it could increase, rather than decrease, carbon emissions by making too many concessions to big energy interests. The bill would lift a ban on drilling on the eastern Gulf of Mexico, just 45 miles off the Florida coast. In addition, an expansion of federal authority over the placement of power lines called for in the bill could increase emissions, said David Lashof, director of the climate center at the National Resources Defense Council. He explained that more electricity infrastructure without a corresponding cap on carbon would make it easier to bring new coal plants onto the grid and increase output at existing plants.
ACELA also contains few provisions for clean, renewable energy. Although it requires utilities to produce 15 percent of power from renewable resources within the next 11 years, solar and wind advocates say that renewable electricity standard is not ambitious enough Grist.com reported.
Although the bill would establish an agency called the Clean Energy Deployment Administration, or CEDA, it also would empower the Department of Energy to distribute an unlimited number of loan guarantees to underwrite the construction of nuclear power plants without congressional review. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the chance of default on these loans is at least 50 percent, so the bill could wind up costing taxpayers billions of dollars.
Those who support ACELA include Democrats Jim Webb (Va.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Evan Bayh (Ind.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Byron Dorgan (N.D.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.). Republicans Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Sam Brownback (Kan.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), and Jeff Sessions (Ala.), who voted the bill out of committee, could also come on board.
Supporters of the bill argue that getting the measure passed is more politically feasible than getting a cap and trade provision thorough the Senate. In an omission that cold signify the White House’s quiet assent to the elimination of cap and trade from climate legislation, President Obama did not refer to a cap and trade system or any plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions in last week’s State of the Union speech.
Obama did, however, praise the House of Representatives for passing the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), also known as the Waxman-Markey bill, which includes a cap and trade provision. He also urged the Senate to make a bipartisan effort to do the same.
ACES calls for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the US to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. It also requires utilities to generate an increasing amount of power from renewable sources and reduce dependence on foreign oil.
The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (CEJAPA), sponsored by Sens. Kerry and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and a companion bill to ACELA, would begin with the same 3 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2012 as ACES, but would require a sharper cut of 20 percent by 2020. Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham have proposed cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 by about 17 percent of 2005 levels, the same goal put forth in the Waxman-Markey bill.
Both ACES and CEJAPA would establish a system of carbon credits, in which regulated industries would have to acquire carbon permits. However, the Waxman-Markey bill would establish a relatively free carbon market, allowing emitters to purchase carbon credits as needed, while the Boxer-Kerry measure would try to control costs to polluting industries by capping the price of credits at $28 per unit. Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham initially pledged continued support to the concept of a cap and trade system, although the senators said that they do not support the name “cap and trade.” Take a look at this comparison of the various climate bills in Congress posted in October of last year to get a more detailed description of each piece of legislation.
As cap and trade loses favor in Congress and the chances of passing comprehensive climate and energy legislation appear as bleak as ever, the Natural Resources Defense Council has stepped up efforts to force legislative action. The NRDC’s Action Fund this week launched a web-based video in which Leonardo DiCaprio and a host of Hollywood stars, with Cornell West of Princeton University thrown in the mix, exhort Americans to urge their senators to support comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation.
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The campaign uses online tools such as social networking, blogs, and e-mail to tell the Senate that the country needs legislation that will reduce carbon pollution and create clean energy jobs. It appears that the NRDC believes that grassroots action by green-minded citizens reinforced by major star power could turn around the fate of climate legislation. However, the way the political winds are currently blowing in Washington, it would take no less than a hurricane of constituent pressure to change the minds of senators who have taken up firm positions against the enactment of any greenhouse emissions reduction laws any time soon.