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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Climate Bill Hits Capitol Hill

Air Date: Week of May 14, 2010

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Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman unveil a long-awaited climate bill which places a cap on greenhouse gas emissions, and encourages states to support offshore oil and gas drilling. Living on Earth's Mitra Taj reports on the Senators’ attempts to get both industry and environmental lobbies on common ground with the American Power Act.

Transcript

YOUNG: Secretary Salazar says he will complete a review of the drilling plans for Alaskan waters and make a recommendation within a month. On Capitol Hill, six senators from Pacific coast states introduced legislation to permanently ban drilling off the west coast. Well, the drilling dispute has roiled the political waters just as a long awaited bill on climate change was finally launched in the U.S. Senate. Living on Earth’s Mitra Taj reports from Washington.

TAJ: It’s taken eight months, but it’s finally ready: Senate legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions. And the bill’s co-sponsor, Democrat John Kerry, says it aims to do much more.

[APPLAUSE]

KERRY: This is a vote for clean energy. This is a vote for billions of dollars for the next generation of jobs in clean coal and safe nuclear power. This is a vote to end America’s addiction to foreign oil and to safeguard the air that our children breathe and the water they drink...

TAJ: The American Power Act’s biggest ambition is a hard target—cut climate change pollution by 17 percent in ten years and by 83 percent in 40 years. To get us there the proposal puts a price on carbon dioxide…and helps consumers pay for higher energy bills.

KERRY: It’s the polluters, not the people who should pay.

TAJ: But the unveiling of the Senate climate change bill wasn’t supposed to happen like this. Kerry and Independent Senator Joe Lieberman were supposed to release it weeks ago, with a Republican co-sponsor, and standing beside them—representatives of the oil industry. Instead Kerry faced this question from a reporter at the press conference:

KERRY: Why are no oil companies here today? Because one CEO of an oil company is very busy dealing with what’s going on in the Gulf, and the others had board meetings—we have a number of executives who are not here today...

TAJ: The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico might have nixed the planned photo op with oil executives, but the industry’s mark is still visible in a few of the thousand plus pages of draft legislation. It offers states that sign up for oil and gas drilling off their shores 40 percent of industry royalties. That could mean billion-dollar incentives for some very revenue-hungry states, which worries Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth.

PICA: It doesn’t take long for oil money to seep into states and states to realize they can make more money off this before you kind of see the greasy slope of oil money encouraging these states to open up the offshore. And I think the Gulf of Mexico spill proves the oil industry doesn’t know what it’s doing and runs the risk of sacrificing communities and fisheries around the United States if they mess up. And they will mess up and they do mess up.

TAJ: After the BP oilrig accident, some environmental groups and legislators hoped the offshore provision would be tossed from the bill, but it’s remained, albeit with a caveat: any “directly impacted state” can veto an offshore drilling project within 75 miles of its shores. That doesn’t impress Pica:

PICA: 75 miles? The oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico is over 200 miles right now. An oil spill travels. And so—we’re disappointed by the Kerry Lieberman bill.

TAJ: But that’s not all groups like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace don’t like about the proposal. The bill also strips the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases, and overrides state plans to cut their own emissions.

But more than 20 environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council have decided to endorse the bill, though their support runs a little lukewarm. Dan Lashof is director of the climate center at NRDC.

LASHOF: We think that incentives for states to expand offshore drilling have no place in the bill, but what makes this bill important is its fundamental limits on carbon pollution. You know, obviously deeper reductions faster would be better but it’s a good start on what we need to do.

TAJ: It’s not just green groups that are divided over the bill. It’s also industry. Kerry and Lieberman have struggled to get all relevant energy interests on board with loan guarantees for new nuclear plants, research money for a cleaner way to burn coal, and expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling.

Representatives of utilities and nuclear industries have been vocal about their support of the climate bill, but the response from oil is mixed. BP and Shell have endorsed it—others remain silent. The oil refining industry is pretty clear in its position:

SCOTT: We are strongly opposed to it.

TAJ: Greg Scott is vice president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association.

SCOTT: Clearly, we are emitters. From our point of view if we are going to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050, it is going to harm our industry and it’s going to harm consumers.

TAJ: Under the bill the oil industry would have to buy a limited number of allowances in order to pollute, and that, Scott says, is bad for business. But the bill’s support for more offshore drilling does make it more appealing.

SCOTT: Certainly having increased access to domestic resources is a great positive step. It heats up competition and competition brings down prices and that’s good for all of us. But it is a positive step—it is not enough.

TAJ: All eyes are now on the Senate’s swing votes—especially the handful Republicans that Senators Kerry and Lieberman have been courting. Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, the climate bill’s former Republican co-sponsor.

David Jenkins, the political director for Republicans for Environmental Protection, says it’s time Republicans come on board.

JENKINS: We released a poll that showed that 52 percent of Republicans support a bill that increases domestic energy production and at the same time puts controls and limits on carbon dioxide pollution, and actually more Tea Party supporters are in favor of this kind of comprehensive approach to energy legislation than are opposed to it right now. You know, this is an opportunity, and you got to seize it.

TAJ: The draft of the American Power Act will probably pick up additional pages when the Senate takes it up for debate and more compromises are struck. But whether it will also pick up enough votes—remains to be seen. For Living on Earth, I’m Mitra Taj in Washington.

[Brian Auger “Happiness Is Just Around The Bend” from Closer To It (Fuel 2000 2006)]

 

Links

To read all or part of the bill, click here.

For more of the mixed reaction to the bill...click here for a response from the Union of Concerned Scientists...

Response from the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Response from the American Lung Association.

Response from Dan Lashof of NRDC.

Response from Erich Pica of Friends of the Earth.

Response from NPRA.

Response from Republicans for Environmental Protection.

 

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