Alternative Energy, Energy Independence and Global Warming Reduction

Setbacks Expose a Nation Ill-Prepared for the Future

Americans don't want new power plants, and climate legislation would throttle back those in place. Are we looking at a future of power shortages and brownouts? (story)

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Debate Looms on an Enormous Bill as...
Congress Turns to Climate Change

When the U.S. Congress returns from its Memorial Day Recess, the subject of climate change will be on the Senate calendar for the first time in many years. Late last year, the Senate’s Environment and Public Works committee ordered the Warner-Lieberman bill (S.2191) reported, but that action was put in abeyance while behind-the-scenes negotiations were pursued in the hopes of finding a majority vote to support the bill.
     Now, Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) feels she has the support necessary to proceed, and released a so-called Boxer Substitute just before the recess began. It is drafted in a way that promises a 66 percent reduction of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. That is less than the 80% reduction originally sought by Boxer and others, but fits with the idea of seeking broader support.
     The substitute amendment, worked out with all of the bill’s sponsors and supporters, will be offered in lieu of the original Warner-Lieberman text when the bill comes up on June 2nd. A number of changes have been made to the bill to try and garner support, including the following:

While still structured as a cap-and-trade measure in which upstream users of energy will need to obtain allocation permits from an ever-diminishing pool, permits will be allocated by auction. This will bring about market pricing of the permits and should set a cost for carbon emissions that will spur reductions. At the same time, the receipts from this auction create a massive pool of funding to cover consumer and industry impacts.
While shifting to an auction system, the Boxer Substitute does recognize political impacts of these costs, and will include some form of “safety valve” process, under which additional permits will be released into the market to lower their price, made up by future reductions as technologies mature.
Many provisions have now been added or strengthened to provide assistance and support to affected individuals and industries. Expressed in billions of dollars over the next 40 years, the amounts are Brobdignagian:
  • Worker Impacts: $190 billion
  • Carbon Intensive Industries: $213 billion
  • Fossil Fuel Electric Generators: $307 billion
  • Petroleum Refiners: $34 billion
  • Natural Gas Processors: $20 billion
And, capping off the support levels, an $800 billion tax relief fund to help consumers in a way that will be developed by the Senate Finance Committee.
Other provisions are designed to support a variety of state efforts in reducing impacts and supporting conservation through
  • Consumer assistance: $911 billion
  • Transition funds for industrial and coal producing states: $254 billion
  • Mass Transit funding: $171 billion
  • Energy efficiency grants: $702 billion
  • Adaptation grants for climate change impacts: $253 billion
  • Protection of Wildlife: $237 billion
Other initiatives within the bill will
  • Reimburse firms who have already invested: $30.7 billion
  • Support efficient and renewable energy in buildings, appliances, and industries:
    $303 billion
  • Support research and development for improved generation of electricity,
    cleaner coal and carbon capture/sequestration(CCS), more efficient vehicles, and
    better fuels: $223 billion
  • Protection of Federally managed natural resources: $288 billion

Totaling almost $5 trillion over the 40-year life of the bill, there is as yet no clear analysis of the expected economic impacts and climate change effectiveness of the efforts, but this will certainly be a point of debate. It’s likely that the Congress has never taken action on amounts this large in a single bill—committing an average of $110 billion annually over the life of the bill.
     Other aspects of the bill deal with the technical, managerial and governmental issues. Independent oversight boards are created to oversee both the economic and technological aspects of the program.
     The President is directed to re-enter international negotiations to establish binding reductions; allowance credits are required to cover imports from non-compliant countries.
     States are permitted to impose their own climate change measures so long as they are more stringent than the federal requirements, thus permitting the imposition, for example, of a California-based emissions standard. And, as expected, there are numerous studies and reports to be provided over the years.
     Early reactions from affected parties were predictable. Environmental groups were supportive but said that the bill doesn’t go far enough. Business interests argued that the economic impact would be too great in comparison to the outcomes. Supporters of nuclear power generation note the absence of any supportive provisions for their technologies, although Senator Boxer has stated that she is willing to consider such provisions (which must come from another Senate Committee) while the bill is on the floor.

 enough to defeat a filibuster, but not bush's veto

The White House has thus far been silent, but certainly will issue its pronouncements as the bill goes forward, and especially if it shows signs of moving forward. The major test for the bill comes when the Senate seeks to limit the inevitable filibuster, a step which takes 60 votes to overcome. Senator Boxer has expressed some optimism that the necessary votes will be there. She points to when the Senate was considering the recent Budget Resolution. An effort to attach instructions to Congress prohibiting cap-and-trade legislation until China and India had acted to limit emissions, reminiscent of the amendment that killed U.S. endorsement of Kyoto, was tabled by agreement of 61 Senators, including 12 Republicans. Perhaps that group will permit debate and a vote on the Boxer Substitute. If there is such a group of Senators, there should be enough votes to pass a bill, but not likely the 67 votes needed to override a Presidential veto.
     In discussing her substitute, Senator Boxer is realistic about the prospects for even getting a bill through both Houses of Congress and to President Bush before this Congress adjourns. But with positive views about climate change from all three remaining Presidential candidates, she is very optimistic about prospects in 2009.

 The House? Another matter

Should a bill pass the Senate, it’s not clear what may happen in the House. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, under Congressman John Dingell (D-MI) has held hearings and issued several white papers, but it is not clear what they ultimately might support. Democratic leadership has been supportive of action. And in a surprising development, an influential House Republican, Congressman Tom Davis (R-VA) recently issued a long memorandum criticizing his party’s leadership and performance, suggesting among other things that if the Republican program were a dog food, the groceries would take it off the shelves. Davis suggests strongly that the Republican Party could improve its image with the voters by taking reasonable and proactive positions on issues like climate change.
     With only a few months remaining before the Congress goes home to campaign, the likelihood of action is probably limited, but what happens this year will set the stage for the debate after the new President and Congress take office next January.

  Morton L. Downey, Washington