Fighting back, several Senators are working to strengthen the climate and clean energy bill

Guest blogger Brad Johnson has an excellent summary of efforts to make the American Clean Energy And Security Act stronger in a post first published here.

Kerry: Yes to Climate ActionEven as some of their colleagues try to place roadblocks on energy reform, several members of the U.S. Senate are attempting to strengthen the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the green economy legislation passed by the House of Representatives this June. As Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) take the lead to write the Senate draft, many of their fellow senators are fighting back against the armies of lobbyists and paid “grassroots” rallies of the oil and coal companies:

EMISSIONS LIMITS: Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) are calling for the legislation to strengthen its 2020 target for greenhouse pollution reductions to 20 percent below 2005 levels, instead of the current 17 percent target. “I like the House bill, don’t get me wrong,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD). “But I think we can do better.” Lautenberg told reporters: “That’s the objective, as far as I’m concerned, because the glide path has to be established that enables us to get to 80 percent in 2050. You can’t get there unless you start aggressively pushing.”

GREEN TRANSPORTATION: Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) is working to strengthen the bill’s funding for green transportation, pushing language that would “devote a guaranteed share of revenues from carbon regulation to transit, bike paths, and other green modes of transport.” The Clean, Low-Emission, Affordable, New Transportation Efficiency Act (S. 575 / H.R. 1329) would auction ten percent of carbon market allowances for clean transit improvement. Senators Arlen Specter (D-PA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Ben Cardin (D-MD) have co-sponsored the legislation.

COAL POLLUTION: Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) is working with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) to add language to “regulate power plant emissions of mercury, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide.”

CARBON MARKET REGULATION: Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) have introduced legislation to “prevent Enron-like fraud, manipulation and excessive speculation” in the carbon market that the ACES Act would establish. Boxer has told reporters she intends to include the Feinstein-Snowe language in her legislation.

RENEWABLE STANDARD: In February, Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced legislation (S. 433) to set a federal standard of 25% renewable electricity by 2025, much stronger than the House bill. “The bill’s not perfect, but it is a beginning,” Mark Udall recently told reporters. “The Senate now has to work its bill, and there are a number of elements we could put in the Senate bill that would improve the House bill including passing a [stronger] renewable electricity standard for the nation.” Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), John Kerry (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have cosponsored the legislation.

GREEN MANUFACTURING JOBS: Sen. Sherrod Brown‘s (D-OH) Investments for Manufacturing Progress and Clean Technology (IMPACT) Act creates a “$30 billion Manufacturing Revolving Loan Fund to help small and medium-sized manufacturers finance retooling, shift design, and improve energy efficiency.” The IMPACT Act has been added to the Senate legislation. Ten Democratic senators, led by Sens. Brown and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), have urged President Obama to ensure the legislation includes “strong provisions to ensure the strength and viability of domestic manufacturing,” including a “border adjustment mechanism” if “other major carbon emitting countries fail to commit to an international agreement requiring commensurate action on climate change.” Brown and Stabenow are supported by Sens. Russ Feingold (D-WI), Carl Levin (D-MI), Evan Bayh (D-IN), Robert Casey (D-PA), Arlen Specter (D-PA), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Robert Byrd (D-VW), and Al Franken (D-MN).

A number of senators have committed to passing strong climate and clean energy legislation, including Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD), who is “optimistic we can turn energy potential into reality and help create new job opportunities at home by producing more clean energy in the United States.” After telling a global warming skeptic that “climate change is very real,” Stabenow was eviscerated by the right wing. Both Brown and Specter have committed to voting against a Republican filibuster of climate legislation “” a key move for President Obama’s progressive energy agenda.

After Boxer introduces her draft of the legislation in the beginning of September, the bill must pass out of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which has a strong Democratic majority with many liberal Democrats. “The move on the Senate floor will be rightward,” Sen. Whitehouse noted. “And therefore, we’ve got to do our job to keep as many possibilities open for the floor as possible.”

4 Responses to Fighting back, several Senators are working to strengthen the climate and clean energy bill

  1. Andy Velwest says:

    It’s a great list, however, the return of EPA Authority over Carbon Emissions is not on it. I know several Senators (Gillibrand (D-NY) for one) have supported this as a strong statement that new and existing power plants must move quickly to reduce emissions, not just buy offsets. It looks like no Senator has actually introduced legislation to this effect. Why is that? (I’m a member), Sierra Club, 1Sky, Green For All, and many true grass roots organizations have backed this improvement. Hopefully we’ll see this as part of the markup of the ACES bill.


  2. Andy, it looks like you didn’t read the discussion of this issue yesterday, when JR criticized Carl Pope’s editorial about it. See

    I have sent a couple of emails to moveon saying they are missing the main point by focusing on this issue instead of on strengthening the short-term 2020 target, which is much more important.

  3. I just got email from the Sierra Club with the subject line “Just Say ‘No,’ to a Free Pass for Old Coal” which make this same misguided point:

    “Right now the clean energy jobs bill does nothing to address the 30% of our nation’s global warming pollution that comes from old, dirty coal plants. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper and make sure everyone, including your Senator, knows that cleaning up dirty coal plants must be a top priority.”

    I replied:

    This statement is false:

    “Right now the clean energy jobs bill does nothing to address the 30% of our nation’s global warming pollution that comes from old, dirty coal plants.”

    ACES gives free emission allowances to utilities that burn coal to reduce the hardship for ratepayers. The savings must be passed on to the rate payers.

    Even with these free allowances, the utilities have an incentive to shift to cleaner fuels. Reducing their CO2 emissions will let them make a profit by selling the allowance. In fact, the economic incentive to shift to cleaner fuels is exactly the same whether they get the allowances for free or pay for them.

    The most important change needed in W-M is to increase the short term goal from 17% to at least 20% reduction by 2020. I hope you work on this issue rather than continuing this misguided campaign against allowances for coal.

  4. Andy Velwest says:

    Charles: Thanks for the reply. I did miss the post on Aug 24. I’ve read it now but still find value in preserving EPA Authority. I agree with Joe that the Carl Pope op-ed used misleading or incorrect language, but it is true that there are no hard requirements to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants, just incentives to do so. Is that a distinction without a difference? Well, read on for my opinion.

    I’m just a MoveOn rank and file member, so I can’t speak to the complete motivation behind pushing this issue, but I can tell you why it makes sense to me.

    First of all, it is not the only improvement MoveOn is pushing for. They also want to
    – increase of the RPS, and
    – move the remaining percentages of allowances going straight to oil and coal energy producers (not the utilities) into either consumers pockets, or funding for RE and EE research and/or deployment.

    Restoring EPA Authority is a third prong of the attack, and while Joe Romm puts it 5th on his list of improvements in terms of effectiveness, I put it higher for two reasons. First, it would put an additional cost to coal based energy production that can’t be sidestepped with offsets. Existing Coal Power Plants don’t have to be taken off line, they can implement efficiency improvements which will greatly reduce CO2 emissions such as biomass or natural gas cofiring, or replacement of antiquated components. I understand that EIA and CBO analysis shows this will happen just due to the Carbon Cap, but no matter where the near term Cap ends up, it will not be low enough. The more reasons to fix existing power plants, or replace them with RE or EE, the better, because these changes mean jobs, and new jobs that will be useful in the future is what our country needs to truly revive the economy.

    Second, why have all our eggs in one basket? The levels set by ACES are in the hands of the Legislature. If we need to make changes (and we will), that means getting a new bill passed, and look how hard that is now, even with the odds in our favor. While the effectiveness of the EPA can be sabotaged by a hostile administration, it can at least act independently from Congress.

    I think MoveOn continues to push on this front because there is already movement within the Senate on the others, and doesn’t want this one to get lost. Also as a grassroots organization, you can’t deny that “Keep the EPA Authority over CO2” is more compelling than “Raise the RPS from 17% to 20%”. If we are to get improvements to the ACES bill passed, we’ll need to rally true grassroots (not astroturf) support for Clean Energy in much larger numbers that we see now. I agree we shouldn’t rally people with wrong information, but I do think that EPA Authority is worth pushing for.