Breaking: Kerry-Boxer clean air, clean water, clean energy jobs bill sharply departs from House bill with deeper 2020 pollution cut and stronger economic protection for consumers and businesses

The final bill will not be unveiled until tomorrow, but Senators Kerry and Boxer (and their cosponsers) have managed to put together a bill that I believe is environmentally, economically and politically stronger than the House bill.

The Washington Post reports:

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will unveil a bill Wednesday that aims for a 20 percent reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by the year 2020, according to several sources and a close-to-final version of the bill obtained by The Washington Post.

Note: While that 800-page bill linked to above may be “close to final,” it will change in many places, so I would not rely on it too heavily for specific details.  Indeed, Greenwire (subs. req’d) reports an aide to Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) saying, “It’s a snapshot in time of our restructure of the [House] bill, but it doesn’t really reflect where the bill is now.”

Certainly 20% is better than the House’s 17% — and more than justified by both the science and recent emissions trends (see “EIA stunner: By year’s end, we’ll be 8.5% below 2005 levels of CO2 “” halfway to climate bill’s 2020 target“).

Unlike the Waxman-Markey bill, the Senate proposal preserves the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate large sources of greenhouse gases, such as coal-fired power pants.

That’s a good change, but it’ll be a huge fight to keep it.

“It’s clearly stronger than the House bill,” said Frank O’Donnell, who heads the advocacy group Clean Air Watch. “This very well may be the high-water mark for strong action on climate in this Congress, since it will face many efforts to erode it as it moves through the Senate.”

CP readers will not be surprised if that target changes as the bill winds its way through the Senate — and your 60 seconds to cry about that political reality is over …. now.  The bill keeps the key House targets of 42% cut by 2030 and 83% by 2050.

The Senate bill also aims to ease concerns among both Democrats and Republicans about the expanding carbon footprints of China and India, by requiring the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to issue a report each year “regarding whether China and India have adopted greenhouse gas emissions standards at least as strict as those standards required under this Act.”

If the administrator of the agency “determines that China and India have not adopted greenhouse gas emissions standards at least as stringent as those set forth in this Act, the Administrator shall notify each Member of Congress of his determination, and shall release his determination to the media,” the draft bill states.

Not quite how I might have phrased the language, but then I didn’t write it.

The bill makes a monumental improvement over the House bill by adopting a version of the carbon collar I proposed, as discussed here:  In a “a sharp departure from the House measure,” Boxer climate bill to adopt a price collar for allowance auction.

The floor price is $11 (the draft bill above is, as I say, not final) and the ceiling is $28 — and they both starting rising 5% plus inflation each year.  The draft bill adds an excellent twist — from 2018 on the ceiling rises 7% plus inflation each year.  I hope that is true of the floor, also.  I’ll report back on that as soon as I know.

Fence-sitting Senators and industries can legitimately see the Carbon Collar as achieving stronger cost-containment protection than their analysis suggests the House bill now provides, including protection against speculators running the permit price up, while progressives can legitimately see it as achieving better environmental outcomes than their analysis suggests the House bill now provides. Win-win.

The bill also has stronger oversight of the carbon market, and since this is a major sticking point for many senators, I’m sure the language will get tougher:

Boxer and Kerry propose a different approach for oversight of the carbon market, which in the House bill is shared between FERC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, with FERC regulating the cash market for allowances and offsets and CFTC handling the derivatives market.

The draft Senate plan, in contrast, would place the carbon markets under a single regulator — the brief carbon market section would have CFTC regulate both markets. It also broadly empowers the regulator to prevent manipulation of these markets and eliminate “excessive speculation” that adds to price volatility.

Lawmakers are likely to seek more detailed provisions that place controls on these markets.

The bill will have more support for coal with CCS (see “Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) joins key Dems in proposal to boost carbon capture and storage in climate bill“).  The sponsors are working hard to get Byrd to agree to support cloture, to be one of the 60 Senators needed to stop the inevitable, immoral filibuster by anti-science conservatives.  I mostly don’t care how much money they offer to CCS, since I doubt many such plants will be built, so I doubt most of that money will be spent.  The key point, though, is to make sure the final bill only subsidizes and incentivizes the incremental cost for CCS — and not the coal plant itself.

You can bet on both a strong natural gas title and a strong nuclear title in the final Senate bill — neither of which can be found in the House bill.

The Senate draft also has a modest nuclear title, although pro-nuclear senators are likely to push for significant incentives in the final measure. The bill’s nuclear title would steer money to the Energy Department for implementing programs to expand expertise in the nuclear field. Advocates of expanding U.S. nuclear power say there are not enough nuclear engineers and other experts to work on the hoped-for buildout of new reactors.

The nuclear title also has a section titled “Nuclear Waste Research and Development,” but it is left blank, stating “to be supplied.”

Again, one can throw money at nukes, but they have priced themselves out of the market for the foreseeable future — see “Nuclear Bombshell: $26 Billion cost “” $10,800 per kilowatt! “” killed Ontario nuclear bid.”

UPDATE:  E&E News PM (subs. req’d) reports on the natural gas incentives in the bill:

In an attempt to lure new advocates for the bill, the latest Boxer-Kerry draft would provide incentives for deploying natural gas-fired power plants beyond what the House climate bill provides.

The bill would establish an incentive fund to reward power generation sources that “replace or retire” power plants whose emissions exceed the 2007 average greenhouse gas emissions per megawatt-hour rate of the U.S. electric power sector and that do not receive a production or investment tax credit the year they are placed in service or in 2009. To receive the incentives, the replacement units must reduce emissions by increasingly steep levels below the 2007 targets through 2030.

Natural gas could qualify under the provision both as a fuel that produces 50 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than coal and as backup generation for wind, solar and other intermittent renewable energy. Intermittent backup resources are another category that would qualify for the incentives.

The draft is going to change many, many times in the coming weeks:

Both the early draft and the Boxer-Kerry bill due for release tomorrow will leave blank key information about how the senators intend to distribute hundreds of billions of dollars in emission allowances. Following the path of Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, those figures will come next month when Boxer releases a chairman’s mark of the bill before an EPW Committee markup….

Boxer plans to release another version of the legislation in mid-October as a chairman’s mark. Hearings are also expected next month, with an EPW Committee markup before November. Several other Senate committees are also planning to weigh in, with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) the ultimate judge on what the bill looks like before the floor debate.

And it may not change in ways that progressives like:

Tony Kreindler, spokesman for the advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund, sent an e-mail to reporters Tuesday morning cautioning that the bill likely would change markedly in the coming weeks as the Senate Finance and Agriculture Committee weighs in, along with several centrist legislators who want to modify it, such as Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.)

“Though the process sounds daunting, complex processes are part and parcel of passing major legislation,” Kreindler wrote. “The most important thing is that the draft be taken for what it is: a starting point that Senators can work with, tailor, and pass.”

Exactly.  What matters is the bill that ends up on Obama’s desk.

I’ll end with an excerpt from the post I wrote after Waxman-Markey passed the House:

My Salon piece, “One brief shining moment for clean energy” [notes] “the country can only contemplate serious environmental legislation when we have the unique constellation of a Democratic president and [large] Democratic majorities in both houses, an occurrence far rarer than a total eclipse of the sun.

This bill would complete America’s transition to a clean energy economy, which was begun in the stimulus (see “EIA projects wind at 5% of U.S. electricity in 2012, all renewables at 14%, thanks to Obama stimulus!“).  Within four decades, the vast majority of American’s carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel consumption will be replaced by the technologies discussed here:  “An introduction to the core climate solutions.”

This bill makes possible an international deal in Copenhagen this December….

As Nobelist Gore wrote earlier today, there was no “backup plan”….

The Kerry-Boxer bill is now the only game in town.

If you want a clean energy future with millions of clean energy jobs, this is the bill.  If you want a chance at a global climate deal and hence a chance at preserving a livable climate, this is the bill.  If you want to shut down most of the dirty coal plants in this country in two decades, this is the bill.

We’re all going to have to fight as hard as possible to keep this bill as strong as possible.  This bill is key to taking back control of America’s future from Big Oil, the corporate polluters and their lobbyists, and you can be sure they are going to fight as hard — and as dirty — as possible to kill it.

7 Responses to Breaking: Kerry-Boxer clean air, clean water, clean energy jobs bill sharply departs from House bill with deeper 2020 pollution cut and stronger economic protection for consumers and businesses

  1. Peter Bellin says:

    Excellent post, and analysis.

    I concur that passage of this bill is important. Write letters, offer support to Senators who advocate for passage of this bill, discourage the extent of alterations. This bill is more important that health care insurance reform – if that is delayed, we will not fundamentally change the world we live in.

    Kudos to Boxer and Kerry

  2. lgcarey says:

    Begin contacting your Senators – you can bet that the “brown economy” folks in the fossil fuel industries will be sparing no expense to lobby, spread disinformation (“the economy will collapse!!!!”), energize the denialbot base, and do whatever else they can to kill this bill or dilute it into irrelevance. The politicians need to know there are voters on the other side of the issue, supporting this bill and ready to direct their votes on the basis of this issue.

  3. Cynthia says:

    This is off the subject but I don’t know where else to write it as no one ever answers emails I send… Can I please have my name omitted from posts I write and just have may email name there instead? or at least, use only my first name? Just a little more comfortable in writing anonymously. Thanks!(??!)

    [JR: No anonymous comments. Just use your first name.]

  4. Steven Biel says:

    I agree it will be tough lift to fight back rollbacks of the Clean Air Act’s limits on CO2 from stationary sources, but let’s not forget that in that one part of the bill, we’re talking about just keeping the law the way it is. That’s an important difference from all the other fights in play here. Boxer’s bill is merely silent. Whoever wants the rollback will have to propose it and explain why they want to go after a law most Americans feel is sacrosanct.

  5. Roger says:

    Yes, hats off to Boxer and Kerry!

    Now, when is the government going to broadly publicize the results of the $20 billion worth of research ( that they’ve done relating to climate change? (Yes, there was a press release and news conference earlier this year, but the media considered it ‘old news’ and not one Joe Sixpack I know ever heard about it.)

    IMHO, a key problem preventing Congress from moving a stronger climate bill forward is that our average citizen, the folks who are going to suffer most of the consequences of ‘hell and high water,’ are totally misinformed and confused when it comes to climate change.

    This is just how the opponents of climate progress want it. Their lobbyists can deal with the environmentalists, and the handful of informed citizens who read this blog. They cannot deal with millions of Americans knowing the truth about what almost certainly lies ahead, and the fact that we are in uncharted climate territory, uncertain of where the tipping points lie.

    It’s high time for a self-preserving, government-sponsored citizen’s
    education program about climate change, in the form of TV and radio ads.
    We have ads against smoking, thanks to the government. We’ve had ads about how to be able to continue watch TV in the digital age, thanks to the government. Why shouldn’t we have ads about how to preserve human life as we know it, thanks to the government? It seems important, no?

    I bet Joe and others would even be happy to volunteer their time and talent to help write the ads! — “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we interupt this program for an important message about your home planet…”

  6. Peter Wood says:

    The new Strategic Reserve provisions look good.

    I am very disappointed in Senator McCain’s comment that he would never support the bill. As Kevin Conrad said at Bali: “If you’re not willing to lead, then get out of the way.”

  7. Rockfish says:

    “Their lobbyists can deal with the environmentalists, and the handful of informed citizens who read this blog. They cannot deal with millions of Americans knowing the truth…”

    Actually, take look at the health care debate to see how much Congress really cares about what millions of Americans want. A climate bill will be hashed out between the administration and the coal/oil industry.

    Since Obama’s strategy on every issue thus far has been “capitulate first, claw back later” good luck getting a decent climate bill…