Yesterday, Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) disparaged President Barack Obama’s efforts to fight global warming and build a green economy. The Senate, bogged down by Republicans and conservative Democrats, has become the key impediment to the passage of an international climate treaty and clean energy legislation. Unveiling a $100 billion nuclear-industry subsidy plan with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Webb disparaged the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (S. 1733) drafted by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), saying he “would not vote for it“:
In its present form, I would not vote for it. I have some real questions about the real complexities on cap and trade.
Last year, Webb asserted that “we can’t just start with things like emission standards at a time when we’re at a crisis with the entire national energy policy.” Webb seems to be aligning himself strongly with Republicans who believe that climate change is not a real threat that requires significant reductions in emissions. Perhaps the veterans and military leaders that have mobilized in Operation Free should give him a few briefings.
The Alexander-Webb Clean Energy Act, by providing taxpayer subsidies for nuclear energy but no economic incentive to shift from carbon power or keep costs down, “could pave the way for the same kind of industry-wide meltdown that happened in the 1970s and 1980s.” Dr. Mark Cooper, a senior fellow for economic analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School, has found that “even with climate change policy looming, nuclear power cannot compete in the marketplace, so its advocates are forced to seek to prop it up by shifting costs and risks to ratepayers and taxpayers.”
The federal government has long played a prominent and productive role in the research and development of advanced new technologies, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission deserves increased funding. There are elements of the Webb-Alexander bill that would make sense as part of the Clean Energy Jobs Act. But the aging, capital-intensive, increasingly expensive nuclear industry is not ever going to be a driving source for new jobs. As standalone policy, this bill would simply raise economic and security risks for Americans for the benefit of bankers and polluters.
Meanwhile, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is trapped by the toxic coal-dominated politics of his struggling state. He seems to be hoping global warming will simply disappear over time, like Republicans who have called for delay after delay in action. “I’m totally unconcerned about Copenhagen,” Rockefeller told Politico, justifying his own calls for delay. “I’m concerned about West Virginia.”
Because of the dilatory tactics of Webb, Rockefeller, and other Democrats, Kerry and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) are struggling to keep the consideration of green economy legislation on track. Kerry is now backing off his commitment to “providing the ‘framework’ of legislation before the Copenhagen meeting.” Reid has placed financial reform on the calendar before the Clean Energy Jobs Act, and is now calling for a “jobs creation bill” as well.
Unfortunately for unemployed Americans, the Senate continues to ignore the obvious — that strong climate legislation would reward companies for creating jobs instead of pollution.