This week, hearings begin in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (S. 1733). This comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and committee chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA), will establish a mandatory global warming pollution reduction market that will fund clean energy and climate adaptation, as well as establish new renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. The 19 members of the committee — 12 Democrats and 7 Republicans — are overseeing a three-day marathon of legislative hearings this week, starting with Administration witnesses today.
The committee members can be sorted by their degree of support for clean energy, progressive reform, and strong climate action:
— STRONGEST ACTION: Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
— STRONG ACTION: Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Tom Udall (D-CO)
— CENTRIST: Max Baucus (D-MT), Tom Carper (D-DE), Arlen Specter (D-PA)
— ANTI: Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Mike Crapo (R-ID), George Voinovich (R-OH)
— EXTREME ANTI: John Barrasso (R-WY), Kit Bond (R-MO), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), David Vitter (R-LA)
Below is the Wonk Room’s summary of some key issues that will be debated at the hearings, ranging from support for policies to ensure a clean energy future to favored attacks on any action by the Republican members.
CLEAN AIR: “We must act to reduce black carbon,” Carper says, “a dangerous pollutant emitted by old, dirty diesel engines like those in some school buses and thought to be the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide.” “Among my top priorities was to be sure that we not only address challenges that carbon dioxide poses to our planet, but sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide and mercury.”
COAL PLANT GREENHOUSE GAS REGULATION: Kerry-Boxer follows Gillibrand‘s call that “the EPA has to have authority to regulate coal plants under the Clean Air Act.” Baucus opposes the retention of this authority.
EMISSIONS LIMITS: As Sens. Cardin, Lautenberg, Merkley, Sanders, Whitehouse requested, the 2020 target for greenhouse pollution reductions has been strengthened to 20 percent below 2005 levels, instead of Waxman-Markey’s 17 percent target. Baucus has criticized the stronger targets.
GREEN TRANSPORTATION: Kerry-Boxer includes Sen. Carper‘s push for green transportation, devoting “a guaranteed share of revenues from carbon regulation to transit, bike paths, and other green modes of transport.” The SmartWay Transportation Efficiency Program is modeled on the Clean, Low-Emission, Affordable, New Transportation Efficiency Act (S. 575 / H.R. 1329), co-sponsored by Sens. Specter, Merkley, Lautenberg, and Cardin.
NATURAL RESOURCE ADAPTATION: Whitehouse and Baucus have submitted language to support efforts for natural resource adaptation.
ALLOWANCE ALLOCATION: As chair of the Finance Committee, Baucus can assert authority over emission allowance distribution. Baucus has raised the possibility of “auctioning allowances to cut taxes by cutting marginal rates, by cutting capital gains rates, by cutting payroll taxes or by doing all of the above,” although he doubts there will be “major” changes to the House allocation formula, which is supported by the Edison Electric Institute, the main utility trade group. Baucus has supported additional allocations to rural electric cooperatives and “solid relief to low-income Americans.” Carper supports the existing allocation formula, saying, “I thought the utility industry did a great service by coming up with a compromise that all of them could live with.”
COAL SUPPORT: Carper led what he calls the “clean coal group,” an “ad-hoc group that helped craft the coal provisions,” including a change that “allows for advanced distribution of the bill’s bonus allowances” for carbon capture and sequestration projects with at least 50% efficiency. The National Mining Association still says the legislation “doesn’t work for coal.”
NUCLEAR SUPPORT: Carper wants “an expanded role for nuclear” and is “working with Joe Lieberman and others to create a more robust nuclear title when the bill comes to the floor.” However, he recognizes that “there’ll be a lot of incentives, just from the way the allowance system will be set up,” and has called for expanding the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, rather than increasing subsidies for the nuclear industry. Alexander believes “we should build 100 new nuclear plants” but has offered no proposal on how to achieve that, while dismissing estimates that the legislation under consideration would accomplish his goals.
TRADE: Baucus supports “ways to make sure U.S. companies are not taken advantage of, or discriminated against.” Specter supports “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.”
CLIMATE DENIAL: Barrasso, Bond, Crapo, Inhofe, and Vitter question the consensus that manmade climate change is a significant threat. Barrasso has said: “I don’t believe it is a problem at this point.” “None of the farmers I have talked to in Missouri,” said Bond, “have expressed concerns about human-caused global climate change.” Crapo argues “the underlying cause of these climactic shifts is ultimately not well-understood and is a matter of vigorous debate.” “God’s still up there,” said Inhofe. “We’re going through these cycles.” “I don’t think it is clear and settled,” Vitter has said, “the extent of the human impact on temperature trends.”
EPA AND CAROL BROWNER: Barrasso, Crapo, Inhofe, Vitter, and Voinovich have repeatedly criticized the EPA and their analyses of the legislation. Voinovich has a hold on EPA deputy administrator nominee Robert Perciasepe. Inhofe, Barrasso, and Vitter have attacked Browner as an unaccountable “czar” and are requesting White House documents about her actions.
FILIBUSTER THREAT: The Republicans on the committee were all co-signatories of a letter in March that called for the preservation of a GOP filibuster threat against climate legislation. None of the seven Democratic signatories are members of the environment committee.
FUEL COSTS: Bond co-authored a report that argues clean energy legislation is the equivalent of a $3.6 trillion gas tax, totalling over 40 years extremely pessimistic estimates of fuel prices based on a National Black Chamber of Commerce report, without taking into account fuel economy. Other studies predict that gas prices will fall, as demand lessens and oil company profit margins are lessened.
JOB ASSISTANCE: Inhofe and Voinovich argue that provisions for unemployment benefits and job relocation provide evidence that the legislation will destroy jobs. “There’s no credible analysis that suggests this bill will be a net job creator,” claimed Voinovich. “Less energy production,” says Barrasso, “will mean fewer jobs for Americans.”