Climate Change Bill: A Victory For Fossil Fuels

Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) unveiled their long anticipated climate change proposal. They changed the name and are referring to it as the American Power Act. The draft is said to reduce greenhouse gases by 80 percent by the year 2050. Meanwhile, it calls for an expansion of coal, offshore oil drilling, natural gas and nuclear energy.

The proposal would cap green house gases and set a price for carbon, also known as cap and trade. The transition is slow to be implemented. The manufacturing sector would not have to comply for another 6 years.

Not until the fourth section of the draft proposal is renewable energy mentioned.  It calls for a study on renewable energy and for a voluntary investment.

This is a stark contrast to the deliberate government investment of traditional fossil fuels and nuclear power in the Kerry/Lieberman proposal.

In response to a question by NJP, Senator Lieberman says the bill would enable the free market to shift toward a renewable economy because the measure would put “a price on carbon that reflects its real price.”  Lieberman said the cost of carbon would make it “financially attractive” to move from carbon to renewables.

While the proposal would leave the expansion of renewable energy to the free market, the government would provide direct support to oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear power:

- $54 billion dollars of loan guarantees to nuclear power.

- Domestic offshore drilling would be expanded to 75 miles off the coasts.

- $2 billion dollars for clean coal investment.

- Transition the government fleet and heavy trucks to natural gas fuel.

In addition, the measure preempts states from setting their own standards and takes power away from the EPA by prohibiting the agency from regulating green house gases emissions.

At a news conference to unveil the measure, Senators Kerry and Lieberman stood without a key player, Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC). He dropped out of the discussions a few weeks ago.

Although he was absent, a broad array of players stood in his place. They ranged from CEOs of utility companies to environmentalists.  A packet was handed out to press with statements of support from dozens of supporters: from Republican environmentalists to military officials.

It is an attempt to sell a controversial bill that will likely see resistance from Senators with regional energy and economic needs.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had that kind of support and we think it’s very, very important,” Senator Kerry said.

Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, said the proposal provides a predictable and slow transition from coal. Carbon would have a set price and offsets are available for industries that don’t meet emission standards.

“If we’re going to go to a low carbon world, we have to make the transition in a way that smooths the cost impact out, because the cost will go up over time,” Rogers said.

Some environmental groups are on board. Dan Lashof, Director of NRDC’s Climate Center, said, “The emission limits in the bill are a solid core for any legislation to come to the Senate.”  Lashof said he has reservations but he thinks “it’s really important to move it forward.”

But not all groups are so diplomatic. Tyson Slocum with Public Citizen said this measure has nothing to do with renewable energy. “We’ve got a polluter friendly climate bill and that just doesn’t make any sense,” Slocum said.

It is unclear when or if this proposal will come before the full Senate for a vote.

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