As the Senate trio of Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman announced that comprehensive green economy legislation will be unveiled April 26, ten Rust Belt Democratic senators outlined their principles for manufacturing-related provisions. Led by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), the senators say that “leadership in the new clean energy economy” is a “contest that America cannot afford to lose”:
A strong manufacturing base is crucial if the United States is to build the clean energy technologies of the future and achieve energy independence. It is essential that any clean energy legislation include a package of provisions that strengthens American manufacturing competitiveness, creates new opportunities for clean energy jobs, and defends against the threat of carbon leakage by maintaining a level playing field for domestic manufacturers.
These “Brown Dog” senators — Brown, Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Carl Levin (D-MI), Robert Casey Jr. (D-PA), Arlen Specter (D-PA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Evan Bayh (D-IN), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Robert Byrd (D-WV) — have been among the most skeptical of Democrats about climate legislation, raising spurious concerns that limits on coal and oil pollution would harm their states’ economies. They finally appear to have turned the corner, recognizing that being shackled to the dirty fuels of the past is the true threat to the future of American manufacturing jobs.
Their list of policy prescriptions for “how to bolster manufacturing jobs and ensure the global competitiveness of American industry” falls into three broad categories — investment, economic protection, and harmonization with existing law — including total preemption of existing state and federal law. In many cases, the language is sufficiently vague (the word “should” appears 17 times) to allow for some flexibility. Here’s a summary of their “plan to address the challenges that face manufacturing”:
— Investment: The Brown Dogs call for a comprehensive suite of clean-energy “financial assistance mechanisms” including a “manufacturing revolving loan fund” and “tax incentives to encourage capital investments in efficiency and clean energy technology.” They also request “substantial federal support” for “low-carbon industrial technologies,” which is not defined. All such programs should “recognize and prioritize the use of domestically produced products and materials.”
— Economic Protection: The Brown Dogs want legislation that will “contain costs for manufacturers while ensuring emissions reductions and incentives for clean energy investments, by including a firm price collar, sufficient offsets, a regionally equitable distribution of allowances, reasonable emissions targets and timetables, and a pathway for the development, demonstration, and deployment of carbon capture and sequestration technologies.” They also request a “phase-in” for industrial pollution, presumably before being subject to mandatory pollution reductions, and “allowance rebates” directed to “efficiency and low-carbon energy investments” for energy-intensive, trade-exposed industries. Finally, the Brown Dogs call for border tariffs on products from countries that do not limit their global warming pollution, and economic support and training for workers and communities.
— Harmonization and Preemption: Putting themselves at odds with other Democratic senators and with states-rights advocates, the Brown Dogs say that new “federal laws should prevail” over “existing state laws and initiatives” and “supersede existing federal law and avoid overlapping regulations.” Any international agreement should “preserve our nation’s ability to take unilateral border actions to prevent carbon leakage, and “all major economies should adopt ambitious, quantified, measurable, reportable and verifiable national actions.”
These senators misguidedly believe that preempting state efforts and existing Clean Air Act permitting provisions would help industry instead of providing the regional and jurisdictional flexibility necessary for our complex economy. This request puts them in direct conflict with the states who have taken the lead on clean energy policies, who have no interest in being forced to dismantle successful programs to build a green economy. Hopefully they will learn that there is a better path that respects states’ rights and the predictable, existing framework of the Clean Air Act.
It will also be a challenge for legislators to devise green industrial policy that meets the economic protection conditions laid out without providing windfalls to legacy polluters. The purpose of clean energy policy should be to reset the terms of competition to reward efficiency, innovation, and job creation — not to give taxpayer subsidies to corporate polluters who refuse to invest in the future.
That said, these ten senators represent a significant portion of the conservative Democratic energy bloc, their embrace of green economic policy is a major transformation. Their knowledge and passion for rebuilding American industry can result in stronger policy — and the necessary votes to block a partisan, polluter-driven filibuster.