Climate

American Power Act Empowers Americans

An Examination of Benefits to Americans in the Clean Energy Bill

The Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act jump-starts efforts to adopt comprehensive clean energy and climate polices that would cut oil use, increase security, reduce pollution, and create jobs.  Daniel J. Weiss, CAP’s Director of Climate Strategy, details the benefits the bill would provide to everyday Americans in this repost.

Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) plan to release a discussion draft today of their long-awaited American Power Act. The bill is designed to appeal to a broad range of senators, including moderate Midwestern Democrats and coastal Republicans.

Recent events are a reminder of the urgency to act. The BP oil disaster is a signal flare warning us that we must reduce our oil use via investments in more efficient, cleaner energy technologies.  A section-by-section summary of the bill was leaked late yesterday and includes a variety of measures that would provide benefits for everyday Americans:

Create jobs

The bill would boost employment by generating investments in the clean energy technologies of the future (Title I, Subtitle D). This means more jobs installing energy efficient windows, adding insulation, or manufacturing wind turbine parts. The bill would provide people with “Clean Energy Career Development” to prepare them to build and service these new technologies (Title IV, Subtitle B, Part I).

Clean up vehicles

The bill would make it easier for Americans to select and purchase cars powered partly or completely by electricity (Title I, Subtitle E, Part I). Public transportation would become more available, efficient, and affordable (Title I, Subtitle E, Part II-III). And big trucks and buses would run on natural gas, eliminating harmful air pollutants caused by burning diesel fuel (Title IV, Subtitle B, Part II, Subpart B). Using more homemade American fuels such as natural gas would allow us to keep more of our money in the United States and send less overseas to purchase oil.

Cut pollution from large emitters while helping consumers

The bill would create a program for the approximately 7,500 major carbon pollution emitters where they would have to have pollution allowances for each ton of their emissions. Nearly two-thirds of the revenue from the sale of these allowances would return to consumers to protect them from higher electricity rates (Title III, Subtitle A-B). A “Working Families Refundable Relief Program” would provide additional financial assistance to those who need it to offset higher prices for goods and services (Title III, Subtitle C).

The bill’s cost-containment measures would limit clean up costs and provide financial predictably for polluters so they can more easily budget the proper amount of revenue for pollution allowances. (Title II, Subtitle B, Part G, Section 790). These measures would also limit the likelihood of higher prices due to clean-up costs. The severe limits on trading pollution allowances would snuff any threats of market manipulation that could unnecessarily drive up allowance prices, which would increase costs to families. (Title II, Subtitle E).

Reduce risk of serious harm due to global warming

The bill would cut global warming pollution by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and by 83 percent by 2050 (Title II, Subtitle A, Part A). This would dramatically reduce the likelihood of serious harms linked to global warming.

New protection against offshore drilling dangers

Fisherman and people in the tourist industry would have their livelihoods protected from an offshore oil blowout. The bill would add protection from expanded offshore oil drilling for up to 75 miles offshore compared to just three miles today. If a study of a proposed offshore oil lease found that drilling could harm another state with an oil blowout, then the state’s legislature could vote to block oil development there (Title I, Subtitle B, Section 1205).

Boost farmers’ livelihood

Farmers could increase their income by receiving three additional paychecks. Leasing a small part of their land for a wind turbine would generate one check. The second could come from growing crops used for biofuels or biomass. And using farming practices that keep carbon in the soil””for “pollution offsets”””could provide the third check (Title IV, Subtitle B, Part III).

Conclusion

Few bills designed to clear the Senate’s 60-vote super majority requirement are perfect. Many such bills include compromises or provisions unappealing to its sponsors or supporters. The American Power Act is no exception. It includes several provisions that would do little to achieve clean energy benefits or would waste taxpayers’ money. Particularly egregious are the multiple, unnecessary subsidies for new nuclear power plants (Title I, Part I, Part III). But hopefully, longstanding nuclear advocates will support the American Power Act if it has these provisions.

The American Power Act reflects Sens. Kerry and Lieberman’s tremendous leadership and perseverance. It is truly an “all of the above” bill that would reduce oil use, cut carbon pollution, invest in efficiency, and clean energy technologies that create jobs and protect consumers’ wallets. It is now incumbent on President Barack Obama and Senate leaders to bring together other senators to craft and pass a comprehensive clean energy program that achieves these goals.

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11 Responses to American Power Act Empowers Americans

  1. Daniel Ives says:

    Joe,

    I just want to say thank you for your coverage and analysis of this legislation. It is so valuable to have an expert opinion on the matter. I’m doing all I can to raise awareness of the issue and direct people to the blog so that they may be informed and pressure their senators accordingly. It is an important and exciting time. This is our chance to claim a great victory for the world and deal a devastating blow to the denialists, disinformers, and scientific ignorance. Everybody take your gloves off, this is the time to fight! Inform your friends and family and call your senators.

    Many thanks and deepest respect,

    -Dan Ives

    [JR: Thanks for this. It is an uphill battle.]

  2. Jay says:

    A price on carbon will make natural gas less expensive than coal for baseload power. This bill instead seeks to select for nuclear power for baseload energy, at prices more than twice as high as natural gas. Thus, CAP have decided to shill for nuclear over natural gas for power generation, at much higher cost. I’m sure CAP will now demand the Obama Administration cast Senator Reid aside and recommit to Yucca Mountain. Right?

  3. Jeff Huggins says:

    A Question or Two

    Let me ask a question or two about the related matters of the transportation sector, the EPA, and the oil and refining industry …

    As far as my (limited) understanding of this goes, is it correct to say that the CO2 emissions from autos are addressed (in part) in one or two ways but not in other ways? In other words …

    Do oil companies (ExxonMobil, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, etc.) have to buy carbon allowances? If so, do they have to buy carbon allowances only to cover the CO2 emissions coming directly from their own operations (e.g., from refineries), OR do they have to buy carbon allowances that would also cover the CO2 that is generated when their products (gasoline, diesel fuel, etc.) are used in cars and trucks?

    In other words, the use of ExxonMobil products, each year, generates over One Trillion Pounds of CO2. That’s ExxonMobil products alone. That’s in one year. That’s the amount generated when the products are actually used by you, me, Fred, Jane, and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice. That amount doesn’t include the CO2 (or other GHGs) generated by the refineries themselves, or by the gas flares, or in the production fields.

    So, do the oil companies have to buy allowances only to cover the amounts generated in their own internal operations (e.g., by refineries) OR do they have to buy allowances that cover the amount of carbon actually IN the products they sell to us, or rather the CO2 generated when those products are used? Those two amounts are VERY different — very, very, very different.

    If the oil companies don’t have to buy allowances to cover the entire amount of CO2 (and other GHGs) created in processing AND generated by the end uses of their products, then what are the actual mechanisms involved to actually speed our pathway off of using gasoline in low MPG cars? Does it just come back to the EPA and efforts to regulate average automobile fuel efficiency standards? Plus, perhaps, whatever the incentives will be to “help” people buy electric vehicles or hybrids?

    I hope, by now, these questions make my broader question clear: When it comes to the transportation sector, and the volume of carbon allowances that oil companies will need to buy, and the various other ways that emissions from automobiles will (or won’t) be addressed, how does it all work?

    Can anyone explain this to me?

    Thanks,

    Jeff

  4. Edward says:

    2 Jay: Burning natural gas makes CO2, 40% less than coal. Nuclear doesn’t make CO2.
    Yucca Mountain needs to be converted into a Government Owned Government Operated [GOGO] nuclear fuel recycling plant so that we can use more than 1% of the energy available in the fuel.
    Factory built reactors are about to reduce the lead time and cost of nuclear power, which is already the lowest there is, bar none, over the 60 year life of the reactor. See: http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf33.html

  5. Edward says:

    Here, in the middle of the corn belt, excess rain is already reducing the corn crop by 5 or 6%. We still harvested over 3 Billion bushels, but if the rain continues to increase, it will affect food prices.

  6. Edward says:

    Joe: Please review “Storms of my Grandchildren” by Jim Hansen. Jim Hansen says “Obama doesn’t get it.” That means lots of other politicians don’t get it either.

    I support Kerry’s bill. I hope it becomes stronger soon after it is enacted. Jim Hansen says that if we burn almost all of the fossil fuel, the Earth will turn into another hot dead rock like Venus, at 800 degrees F.

  7. Jay says:

    Edward-

    I appreciate that. I’m in the business. I understand some people support nuclear power for the CO2 implications. I’m aomong them, in terms of the science. I just want people to be honest here- the KL bill selects nuclear over natural gas, and CAP is shilling for a bill that selects nuclear over natural gas.

  8. RunawayRose says:

    Well, I’ve contacted both my senators telling them to support it; Harkin probably will, Grassley probably won’t. I’ll keep after them both.

  9. Peter Sergienko says:

    @ Jeff: It looks like refiners of gasoline and other fuels will be subject to the declining emissions cap and required to purchase allowances for fuels sold in the marketplace. This is based on a quick search for pertinent sections in a bill that is nearly 1,000 pages and there will also be follow-on rulemaking so I could be missing something, but it looks like there would be a specific regulatory regime for petroleum fuels if this passes. Check the following sections in the full text of the bill that Joe now has up as a start: 722(a)(1), (a)(2)(A), (b)(2), section 729 (operative section), section 703 (basic cap section), and section 700(7),(8) (12)(B), and (42)(relevant definitions). This is legislation so nothing is in plain English. I expect good plain language summaries to become available soon. Of course, refineries and other petroleum industry facilities with material quantities of greenhouse gas emissions would also be subject to the bill as stationary sources.

  10. Edward says:

    7 Jay: There is no point in converting from coal to natural gas and then immediately having to convert again. Natural gas is NOT ACCEPTABLE because it makes 60% as much CO2 as coal. It turns out, if you count the whole life cycle, that nuclear makes LESS CO2 THAN ANY OTHER SOURCE PER KILOWATT HOUR!!!!!! Remember: Global Warming can make us humans extinct. We can’t take chances on that.

    Please read: “Power to Save the World; The Truth About Nuclear Energy” by Gwyneth Cravens, 2007 Finally a truthful book about nuclear power. This book is very easy to read and understand. Gwyneth Cravens is a former anti-nuclear activist.

    Page 13 has a chart of greenhouse gas emissions from electricity production. Nuclear power produces less greenhouse gas [CO2] than any other source, including coal, natural gas, hydro, solar and wind. Building wind turbines and towers also involve industrial processes such as concrete and steel making.

    Wind turbines produce a total of 58 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour.

    Nuclear power plants produce a total of 30 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour, the lowest.

    Coal plants produce the most, between 966 and 1306 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour.

    Solar power produces between 100 and 280 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour.

    Hydro power produces 240 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour.

    Natural gas produces between 439 and 688 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour.

    Remember the total is the sum of direct emissions from burning fuel and indirect emissions from the life cycle, which means the industrial processes required to build it. Again, nuclear comes in the lowest. Nuclear would produce even less CO2 per kilowatt hour if the safety were lowered to the same level as other sources of electricity. Switching from coal to nuclear is a 97% reduction in electricity’s 40% of our CO2 output.

  11. Jeff Huggins says:

    To Peter (Comment 9)

    Thanks for the great info, Peter. I perused some of the sections, and there are a couple parts and terms that seem to suggest that refiners must get pollution allowances that DO cover (include) the volume of CO2 that’s generated by their refined products (e.g., gasoline) when those products are used in their end uses (e.g., in cars).

    For example, this phrase is used at one point: “… prohibited from emitting greenhouse gases, and having attributable greenhouse gas emissions, in combination …” in amounts that exceed the number of allowances owned.

    The “attributable” part is the (apparently) relevant one to the question I’m asking.

    I wonder if Joe or CP will weigh in on this question? Do refiners (ExxonMobil, Chevron, etc.) need to get allowances in volumes that cover not only the amount of CO2 (and GHGs) that are actually emitted by their internal operations (e.g., by refineries) BUT ALSO the amount of CO2 that’s generated when their products (e.g. gasoline) are used in their intended end uses, such as in our cars?

    Put another way, will ExxonMobil need to have roughly one allowance (corresponding to one ton of CO2) for every 100 gallons of gasoline it sells to the public? (Each gallon of gasoline generates about 20 pounds of CO2 when it’s burned in a car, so 100 gallons of gasoline generate about one ton of CO2.)

    That’s the question. Can you CP folks let us know (ideally, please)? The summaries aren’t explicit on this point, and the bill itself is quite long, and the relevant wording I’ve seen still leaves some ambiguity, for me anyhow, not being familiar with the full context, the intent, and the use of the various terms. “Attributable”. What does that mean, in this context?

    Thanks, Cheers,

    Jeff