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Senator Kerry explains the strategy and substance of the American Power Act: “It strengthens the Clean Air Act by expanding the authority of the EPA and making that authority permanent.”

By Joe Romm  

"Senator Kerry explains the strategy and substance of the American Power Act: “It strengthens the Clean Air Act by expanding the authority of the EPA and making that authority permanent.”"

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He expects Lindsey Graham will support the bill. Senate Majority Whip Durbin says immigration bill ‘unlikely’ this year.

UPDATE:  You can find the bill, summaries, and 1-pagers here.

our planet can’t wait for the perfect bill. We need to get a really good bill now, one that reduces carbon pollution and puts us on a path to a clean energy future. And if we do this, I know we can get a tough international agreement to deal with this global problem. Those are the two things I remind myself of every day when it comes to this bill.  Those are the two things I remind myself of every day when it comes to this bill.

You’ve got to keep your eye on the prize. Bottom-line — we’re at a crossroads. On one path is clean energy, a more stable climate, and a more prosperous economy with America back in control of our own energy generating good clean energy jobs. On the other is the status quo which is unsustainable. Keep that in mind when you look at this bill and engage in the debate

Sen. John Kerry reaches out to environmentalists with a long post on Grist, “Introducing the American Power Act: On strategy and substance.”

He clears up a number of environmental myths about the bill that you may have heard, so I’ll excerpt the piece below.   First, though, The Hill quotes Kerry saying on MSNBC this morning, “Lindsey Graham will issue a statement today.  He stands by the work product of this bill. He supports this effort.”

Among his many recent incoherent statements on the bill, Graham has said uncertainty about an immigration bill has made it hard for him to join Kerry and Lieberman in aggressively pushing the bill (which he apparently will nonetheless publicly support today).  The Hill also reports:

As for immigration, another top Democrat, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), said Wednesday that it’s “unlikely” an immigration bill will move this year.

Graham is running out of reasons not to campaign aggressively for this bill.

UPDATE:  You can read today’s statement from Graham on the bill here.  He is as incoherent as ever:

“I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to improve upon these concepts and find a pathway forward on energy independence, job creation, and a cleaner environment. We should move forward in a reasoned, thoughtful manner and in a political climate which gives us the best chance at success. The problems created by the historic oil spill in the Gulf, along with the uncertainty of immigration politics, have made it extremely difficult for transformational legislation in the area of energy and climate to garner bipartisan support at this time.”

Here is an extended excerpt from Kerry’s post on Grist:

First, the Senate dynamic — the politics of this place. I want to be candid about this, and I do so with a record on this issue that I think earned me the spurs to say this. We’ve been at this a long time. Al Gore and I held the Senate’s first climate-change hearings in the Commerce Committee way back in 1988. Since then, precious little progress has been made and ground has been lost internationally, all while the science has grown more compelling. I can barely even count any more the number of international summits I’ve attended, or press conferences we’ve held after losing climate change votes in the Senate where our message was: “next year, we can get this done — don’t give up on the United States or the Senate.” Two Congresses ago, we had 38 votes for a bill. Last Congress, we had 54 votes for cloture out of 60 needed — and we said then — me, Joe, Barbara Boxer — that this Congress we could get to 60 and pass a bill.

So what have we done? A lot of meeting and listening — between me, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham, hundreds of meetings one on one with our colleagues to find out what they needed to support a bill. And I absolutely believe we’re closer than ever to getting across the finish line — but make no mistake, it remains difficult, even with President Obama in the White House, and even with the House of Representatives having passed their bill by the slimmest of margins last summer. But we’re going full steam ahead because, in my judgment, this may be the last and certainly the best chance for the Senate to act, especially with the fact that I think the next Senate — given a 2012 presidential campaign added to the dynamic and a lot of new Senators is going to be less likely than this one to find a path to the 60 votes needed for passage. So we’ve got to get it done this year.

Hear me out on this one — you know where I’ve been and continue to be on all the major environmental fights since even before I became a Senator. As a Lieutenant Governor, I focused on acid rain and we laid the groundwork for the successful fight on the Clean Air Act in 1990, with the support of the first President Bush and bi-partisan support from Congress. In stark contrast to that effort to find a bi-partisan way forward, I lead the successful filibuster — against the urging of many in our Democratic caucus — to defeat the second President Bush’s plan to drill in and destroy the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I point to these twin examples because I think they’re evidence that I know when to dig in and fight, and I also know when and how to find the path to getting something done across the aisle.

And here’s what I can tell you, a comprehensive climate bill written purely for you and me — true believers — can’t pass the Senate no matter how hard or passionate I fight on it. No, it’s got to be an effort that makes my colleagues — and that has to include Republicans so we can get to 60 — comfortable about the jobs we’re going to create and the protection for consumers and the national security benefits — and it has to address those pieces on their terms. The good news — I think we got that balance right.

So, the straight scoop on the details — the real down in the weed details:

First and foremost, this bill creates a major — mandatory — pollution reduction program that sends the needed price signal on carbon, with carbon allowances auctioned in a heavily regulated market that doesn’t allow any speculators access. Only corporations that need the pollution allowances can buy them, period. No bank can swoop in and start speculating. These corporations that buy the allowances can trade them among themselves, but again, no outside entities are allowed, with the minor exception of a few heavily regulated “liquidity providers” who are there to make sure there are always buyers and sellers at any one time. The actions of these providers, however, are tightly controlled, and their profits are extremely limited by the law. There’s no Wild West of speculation possible here, just a strict market only open to those who need it.

It will also be a stable market. The American Power Act creates a hard price collar for the sale of carbon allowances. This will cut down on the volatility of the market, especially in the early days, and give investors a clear signal on future prices. We don’t let this affect the environmental integrity or jeopardize the pollution reductions we’re going for, though. Instead, we hold back a strategic reserve of allowances that we release if the market gets too high to bring down the cost without adding new carbon to our pollution targets.

And, look, creating this pollution reduction market is incredibly important to do. We absolutely have to send a price signal to move to a new energy economy. Every business leader I talk to confirms this — nothing else will get the job done. Without it, we won’t get the certainty we need in our economy that drives the innovation and investment in the clean energy economy. And without that, we won’t be able to get a real international agreement, with teeth, to confront the crisis of climate change.

Now, we can’t leave American workers exposed, waiting for others to join us in the effort to price pollution forever because that would force them to compete against countries that have no greenhouse gas emissions limits. That would just shift pollution abroad rather than reduce it and in the process, it would cost us jobs. So we’ve included a robust, WTO-consistent border adjustment mechanism into the bill. It’s pretty simple: imports from countries that aren’t doing what we’re doing will need to pay a fee at the border or we will give our producers the resources they would need to keep from having their production shifted overseas to avoid the cost of polluting. This will prevent the “carbon leakage” of companies moving production offshore, and it allows American manufacturers to compete on a level playing field with those overseas. And I guarantee that on a level playing field, nobody beats the American worker.

We also want Americans to share in the benefits of this legislation, so the American Power Act — inspired in part by the great work of Senators Cantwell and Collins — sends the bulk of the proceeds from the sale of the pollution allowances back to the American people directly in the form of rebates. None of it stays with or grows government. Those rebates rise over time until it all goes straight back to Americans.

That’s the heart of the bill. I realize there’s been a lot of discussion about some other aspects of it, so here are some of the other parts of the bill:

  • Clean Air Act: this part of the bill has generated a lot of commentary and reporting recently, and some of it has just missed the mark. Here’s the deal: this bill does not take the EPA out of the mix on regulating carbon. In fact, it strengthens the Clean Air Act by expanding the authority of the EPA and making that authority permanent. First, the entire pollution reduction program is under the authority of the EPA.  The bill specifically requires the EPA to regulate large sources of carbon pollution, but it does not allow it to issue what in many cases would be duplicative regulation of the same sources.  Essentially, what the bill says is that EPA should use the program specifically designed for making the deep reductions in carbon pollution called for in the bill.  The bill preserves key Clean Air Act tools for sources not in the program, and it calls on EPA to continue setting tough emission standards to reduce global warming pollution from cars and trucks.  It also continues EPA’s ability to set performance standards for old, dirty power plants to make sure they clean up.
  • Offshore drilling: We’re in the middle of a catastrophe in the Gulf, and it’s important that we fully understand the implications as we move forward. This bill starts that process by tightening current federal law and implementing two major reforms. First, any state can veto drilling less than 75 miles off its border. Second, any new rig will have to be studied for the environmental impact of any potential spill, and any state that is found to be at risk can veto that drilling.
  • State laws: The long-standing efforts of states like California to implement innovative programs around vehicle emissions and other programs will not be affected. The bill does make clear that carbon is a national problem, and that the national policy on carbon needs to be the law of the land. But outside of that specific area, states are still free to pursue the policies that they wish. I’ve talked with Governor Patrick about this — Massachusetts has been one of the states ahead of the curve and our bill rewards them — but like acid rain, these Governors know we ultimately need a national solution.

So — one more time – would I design every piece of this legislation exactly as it is if I only had to get my vote? Of course not. But that’s not the way democracy works. The Senate — and our caucus – is a very diverse coalition, from coastal states to Midwestern states to states with large coal reserves. 60 votes is a tough coalition to put together.

Then he ends with the paragraph I began this post with.

I share Kerry’s views.  We need to keep our eyes on the prize:  There is no Plan B, and EPA isn’t going to shut down anywhere near as many existing coal plants as this bill would — a point I will blog on shortly.

Related Posts:

hose are the two things I remind myself of every day when it comes to this bill. You’ve got to keep your eye on the prize. Bottom-line — we’re at a crossroads. On one path is clean energy, a more stable climate, and a more prosperous economy with America back in control of our own energy generating good clean energy jobs. On the other is the status quo which is unsustainable. Keep that in mind when you look at this bill and engage in the debate.

John Kerry is the junior United States Senator from Massachusetts and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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  1. Default badge avatar for Janhavi
    • Janhavi
    • 12 May 2010 7:43am

    “But our planet can’t wait for the perfect bill. We need to get a really good bill now, one that reduces carbon pollution and puts us on a path to a clean energy future. And if we do this, I know we can get a tough international agreement to deal with this global problem.”

    That is the core of the issue. I trust John Kerry when he says this is the best possible bill. Without it, there will be further failures at the Cancun 2010 and South Africa 2011 UN summits.

    It is time for the entire green community to get behind this bill and create grassroots support for its passage.

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Obama on American Power Act: “The challenges we face — underscored by the immense tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico — are reason to redouble our efforts to reform our nation’s energy policies” ›

23 Responses to Senator Kerry explains the strategy and substance of the American Power Act: “It strengthens the Clean Air Act by expanding the authority of the EPA and making that authority permanent.”

  1. Bob Wallace says:

    How about we change the old saying from “Perfect is the enemy of the good enough” to “Perfect is the enemy of success”?

    Get over the hurdle of creating a climate change bill. Then we can tweak it as we go along.

    It’s foolish to think that we even understand what “perfect” would be. This transition away from fossil fuels is a voyage of discovery. We know not where be dragons nor where be pots of gold. We will likely need to adjust our legislative route annually.

  2. Jay says:

    Extraordinary- the word “nuclear” somehow doesn’t appear in Kerry’s/your sales pitch. Just “wow”!

    [JR: Uhh, nuclear appears at length in my primary post on the bill last night. I don't understand your comment. Do you seriously believe that there are 60 votes in the Senate for a climate bill that doesn't have a nuclear energy title?

    BTW, "wow" backwards is also "wow."]

  3. Doug Bostrom says:

    An unequivocal and hefty legislative statement that C02 is a pollutant and will carry an emissions price will be a huge and important step. Kerry’s remarks about what’s truly feasible in our current political context are compelling, as is his case to stop waiting for a more perfect opportunity and seize the moment we have now.

    I do hope this is successful.

  4. caerbannog says:

    Apologies for the off-topic post, but Joe and others here should see this. I demonstrates in spades how little respect the mainstream media has for the scientific community.

    From http://blogs.physicstoday.org/politics/2010/05/an-unwelcome-climate-for-scien.html, emphasis added:

    On Friday, although it was put together before Cuccinelli issued his subponea, Science published a letter by 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences, decrying “political assaults” against climate scientists and “McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution” and spelling out again the basic facts of what we know about the changing climate.

    The letter was triggered by veiled threats from Senator James Inhofe, a well known climate change denier to criminally investigate scientists over their research, and the political response to the CRU emails.

    According to Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, a research center in Oakland, California, who spoke with New York Times reporter Sindya N. Bhanoo, before they gave it to Science, the group had first submitted the letter to the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Washington Post, all of whom declined to to run it.

    Joe, do you think that it would be worthwhile to take a metaphorical baseball bat to the metaphorical knees of the cowardly (and worthless) editors of the WSJ, NYT, and WP in a followup post on this?

  5. caerbannog says:

    Oops — should use the preview feature.

    In my previous post (which might still be in the moderation queue when this post appears), my first sentence should read,

    Apologies for the off-topic post, but Joe and others here should see this. This demonstrates in spades how little respect the mainstream media has for the scientific community

  6. Andy says:

    I am very excited to dig into this thing. Particularly what permit trading will/won’t be allowed, and what flexibility there is for cap and price ceiling/floor adjustments in the future. (and obviously allocations).

    As for nuclear, I have heard Jim Hansen promote it (via increased R&D into advanced reactor designs that run on spent fuel from existing reactors), and that guy does seem to take climate change pretty seriously… So honestly, if that is what it takes to get some GOPers on board, then I am fine with it!

  7. homunq says:

    I agree with everything he says – except for one key point. He’s still talking as if 60 votes in the Senate is set in stone. That’s ceding the Republicans the right to dig in their heels forever on this and other key issues. Filibuster reform has to be on the agenda. Even if it is ultimately held in reserve, it is an important part of showing that our side’s serious.

    Does anyone have the slightest doubt that, if the 59 votes were on the other foot, the Republicans would use every single tool they had to pass their agenda, including both talk and action on filibuster reform?

    The reality is, the filibuster is NOT in the constitution, and the current deadlock is NOT even sanctified by tradition. Moreover, the 67-vote threshold to reform the filibuster (you read right – when they went from 67 to 60 votes, the compromise was that it would still take 2/3 of those voting for reform) is positively unconstitutional – it’s prior restraint, yesterday’s senate tying the hands of today’s senate. That latter fact means that you could reform the filibuster now, to make it go 60,57,54,51 over 10 days of debate; and that would NOT open the door to arbitrary reforms in the future, because once you had a 50-vote threshold at the beginning of a session (which is supposedly NOT allowed by current regs) then a higher threshold midsession would be constitutional.

    This would allow a simple majority to overcome the filibuster on key issues like this one.

  8. homunq says:

    But if filibuster reform is going to happen, Senators like Kerry are going to have to start admitting the possibility.

  9. Jim Edelson says:

    I am glad Senator Kerry has responded directly to the Clean Air Act enforcement issues – this is a positive sign. It is at the heart of whether the climate bill will be more effective than the existing regulatory pressure being put on investment decisions at dozens of coal plants across the country – imminent MACT for toxic releases at all of the older plants in the coal fleet, plus pending EPA standards on CO2.

    Sen. Kerry’s explanation is still vague, and I look forward to seeing the bill’s actual language and Joe’s promised post on the rate at which the older coal plants will be shut down compared to existing law.

  10. mark says:

    ” So we’ve included a robust, WTO-consistent border adjustment mechanism into the bill. It’s pretty simple: imports from countries that aren’t doing what we’re doing will need to pay a fee at the border or we will give our producers the resources they would need to keep from having their production shifted overseas to avoid the cost of polluting.”

    Seems very promising. Could be a few groups that will be fighting this one.

  11. The other environmental groups I have heard from so far support this bill, but Friends of the Earth is taking its usual obstructionist stance. Apparently, they don’t realize that it is essential to pass a law in order to reach an international agreement to control emissions. Here is an excerpt from their latest alert:

    “Senator Kerry is defending his bill by saying that while it’s not perfect, he thinks it’s the best the Senate can do. We think a better strategy would be for the Obama administration to implement existing Clean Air Act protections, while senators work on building support for a stronger bill — one that doesn’t shower billions on polluters.”

    “We need a bill that maintains all existing Clean Air Act protections, invests in clean energy, rather than providing more polluter handouts, and has the integrity to deliver rapid cuts in climate-disrupting emissions.”

    They don’t realize that the world has to act soon to control global warming, and that implementing existing Clean Air Act provisions cannot possibly be the basis for an international agreement.

  12. Michael Kieschnick says:

    Could you explain, or point to an explanation of what Sen. Kerry means by “making EPA authority permanent”. I was not aware that some of EPA’s authority was temporary.

  13. Jay Turner says:

    The Republicans may be backing away because the oil spill exposed the stupidity of handing huge favors to big polluters, and so it’s going to be much harder for them to lard up the bill with provisions favoring their contributors. If they can’t get their way, they may not be willing to let any bill pass.

  14. Mark says:

    From the Section by Section Summary

    Section 2302. Standards of Performance: Precludes the Administrator from using existing Clean Air Act section 111 authority to issue standards for entities covered by Title VII that directly emit greenhouse gases.

    Section 2303. Hazardous Air Pollutants: Provides that greenhouse gases may not be listed as hazardous air pollutants on the basis of their effect on climate change or ocean acidification.

  15. Jeff Huggins says:

    The Science Letter

    I agree with Comment 4 by “caerbannog”: I think that CP should run a post addressing the dismal coverage of the letter from 255 scientists (published in the journal Science last week) by the mainstream media, including the fact that The New York Times has not covered the letter in the printed paper (at least as of Tuesday).

    What’s with the media, that they have such a blatant disregard for such things?

    Jeff

  16. Jay says:

    Joe-

    [snip] You and Senator Kerry can craft as many blog posts as you want without even once mentioning the word “nuclear,” but you’ll only [snip]

    [JR: If you want to state blatant falsehoods, post elsewhere. Those who read this blog know you are not telling the truth. I discussed the pointless nuclear giveaway at length in my major, overnight piece on the bill.]

  17. Mark says:

    Can you help me understand how a $12 price on carbon will make a real difference? I have a hard time understanding how it would make a meaningful change.

    My calculations would suggest that a $12 price on carbon will result in an increased cost for coal generated electricity of $0.012 / kWh and $0.0078 / kWh for natural gas generated electricity. (Based on EIA numbers of 2 lbs. CO2 / kWh for coal and 1.3 lbs. CO2 / kWh for NG)

    It would result in an increased cost of gasoline of $0.12 / gallon. (based on EIA numbers of 19.56 lbs. CO2 / gallon)

    The cost of my electricity has changed by $0.036 / kWh in the last year, that works out to 3x the effect of a $12 price on carbon.

    According to the EIA the cost of gasoline has changed by $0.66 / gallon in the last year as well. That’s almost 6x the effect of a $12 price on carbon.

    It would seem that the price of carbon set in this bill will be at most a second order effect in terms of changing our production and consumption of energy.

    [JR: That is the starting floor price -- and it is for carbon dioxide, not carbon, as I think I have made clear many times. It rises 3% a year (yes, not fast enough). The actual price will be set by the market.]

  18. Peter Wood says:

    At present John Kerry’s website is timing out – it must be quite popular! Is the American Power Act mirrored anywhere?

  19. Zach P says:

    Kate Sheppard simply says of the EPA authority over CO2: “The Environmental Protection Agency would no longer have the authority to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act.” http://motherjones.com/blue-marble/2010/05/long-last-climate-and-energy-bil-emerges

    But in the above description, it seems that the EPA will only be allowed to regulate just enough to meet the weaker-than-needed carbon emission reduction targets, and not more. Can you clarify this?

    [JR: First off, one simply should not miss Kerry's central point that we need a bill to enable a global climate deal and a rising price for CO2.

    Right now, there is little reason to believe that, absent a bill, EPA would be able to substantially reduce US CO2 emissions or shut down any significant number of existing coal plants given its existing authority. Yes, I am fully aware that some people believe this. They presumably have not talked to senior administration officials, who doubt EPA has that authority and who doubt even more that EPA could successfully bring about an outcome even if -- after much litigation -- was able to seize such authority. And, of course, a subsequent conservative president could easily undo anything the Obama EPA could.

    I would infinitely rather have a real bird in the hand, even if it isn't precisely the word I wanted, rather than a couple of birds in the bush, especially when one of those birds in the bush is almost certainly imaginary.]

  20. joeybird says:

    How are the enviros supposed to rally support for a bill that still includes ANY offshore drilling in it? It seems so obviously tone deaf to current events that you can’t take any of it seriously. Without the drilling piece, the enviros at least have a shot of rallying public support for the bill, by using the current disaster as an effective motivator. Why weigh the already leaden bill down and put enviros in this untenable position?

  21. Mark says:

    Which is the real bird and which is the imaginary bird?

    The EPA is currently obligated (after much litigation) to regulate CO2 as a result of a finding that CO2 emissions are a threat to public health and welfare.

    It appears we already have a bird in hand, just not the one you wanted.

    [JR: CAA is most easily used for regulating new sources. We need to deal with existing sources, which is what this bill does.]

  22. prokaryote says:

    The official summary released today includes this section titled “Ensuring Coal’s Future”:

    – We empower the U.S. to lead the world in the deployment of clean coal technologies through annual incentives of $2 billion per year for researching and developing effective carbon capture and sequestration methods and devices.

    – We also provide significant incentives for the commercial deployment of 72 GW of carbon capture and sequestration.

    http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2010/05/12/coal-and-the-latest-climate-bill/

    It would be cheaper if these coal companys would just update their technologies. Is there actualy any need to burn coal? Give them incentives for transaction to renewable energys.

  23. Not A Lawyer says:

    Re: the Mother Jones piece. The bill does take away some existing authorities for CO2 regulation under the Act, but many of these don’t make sense to use in the first place, like National Ambient Air Quality standards or Hazardous Air Pollutant limits.

    But the bill preserves EPA (and California’s as far as I can tell) ability to regulate GHGs from automobiles, major stationary sources not covered by the cap, and non-road engines (construction equipment, locomotives, airplanes)