May 13, 2010
As the Gulf oil spill steadily grew larger this week, the attention of elected leaders and activists in Washington was directed at new climate and energy legislation. The week’s offsetting images – a growing spill that exemplified the costs of America’s oil addiction; senators proposing comprehensive measures strong enough to make a difference but sufficiently finessed to win enough votes for passage – defined again just how arduous the path to a low carbon economy has become.
On Wednesday, and with all of the political and media bunting that they could muster, Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman introduced The American Power Act. The big bill, 987 pages in its draft form, is intended to change the direction of some of the nation’s toughest systemic problems — economic competitiveness, energy security, job loss, and environmental safety.
A Big Auspicious Bill…
The proposal encompasses development of the full menu of conventional and alternative energy sources. The crucial element: A proposal to cap and price greenhouse gas emissions. The bill sets targets for reducing carbon emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.
Other provisions of note to climate and clean energy advocates include investing $6 billion annually to increase energy efficiency and decrease oil consumption in the transportation sector; $6 billion for industrial energy efficiency and clean energy manufacturing; and $7 billion for clean vehicle production.
The bill also contributes a small amount of allocations, starting in 2019, for domestic and international adaptation, but no funds for REDD or clean technology cooperation. That provision was viewed as too little and too late by Oxfam America and other climate action organizations. USCAN this week published an analysis of five options that could help lawmakers contribute substantially more to an international finance system.
Needs Substantial Work
Indeed, a number of features of the American Power Act – large federal incentives to build 12 nuclear plants, support to the coal and electrical utility industry for carbon capture and sequestration projects, plans to withdraw some authority from the EPA to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act, steps to allow more offshore drilling – attracted skeptical critiques that environmental organizations said they would work to fix.
The introduction of the American Power Act comes 11 months after the House passed its version of a comprehensive climate and energy bill, and six months after the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed a climate and energy proposal. In addition, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February 2009, which included over $100 billion in clean energy, energy efficiency, research, clean car, and CO2-reducing transit investments. Veteran environmental leaders noted that the American Power Act has generated the most substantive negotiations in the history of the Senate’s consideration of climate change, and its contents reflect a steadfast effort to resolve disputes that previously blocked passage.
Oil Ban, Carbon Emissions Limits
As the week drew to a close, a flurry of other energy and climate-related actions stirred Washington. West Coast Democratic Senators Maria Cantwell, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Jeff Merkley, Patty Murray, and Ron Wyden introduced legislation to permanently ban offshore drilling in all federal waters off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson issued new rules under the Clean Air Act that specified which big air polluters – power plants, refineries, large industrial plants – would be required to install best available control technology to limit their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The rules also clarify that small emitters — mom and pop businesses, small industrial and manufacturing facilities – will not be covered by the rule.
In a related action, environmental groups stepped up their organizing to convince the Senate not to act on a “resolution of disapproval” introduced in January by Alaska Republican Senator Linda Murkowski that would prevent the EPA from using the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions. Senator Murkowski proposes to veto the endangerment finding that the EPA issued in December that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases “threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations.” The senator could call the resolution up for a vote next week.
And while all of this occurred, one million more gallons of oil poured into the Gulf, according to federal estimates. The slick, which has already closed fishing grounds and begun to wash up on shorelines, expanded by thousands of square miles.
Until next week, take care, Keith Schneider