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Utilities diss utility-only cap

A climate bill without any emissions cap may be politically unworkable, as we’ve seen — Stick a fork in the energy-only bill: Lindsey Graham (R-SC) slams push for a “half-assed energy bill”.

Because of the challenge of getting 60 votes for an economy-wide emissions cap, some folks are pursuing the idea of a climate bill with a cap just on utility emissions.

I have serious doubts that works politically. I have bigger doubts that such a bill would satisfy the requirements needed for a good bill, not the least of which is that it must enable a global deal, which requires meeting the U.S. promise of close to a 17% emissions reduction in total U.S. GHG emissions by 2020. The utility sector covers about one third of U.S. emissions, and a utility-only bill is not going to require, say, a 50% reduction in utility emissions by 2020. Indeed, it would likely be far less.

As E&E News (subs. req’d) reports today, “it is far from certain that Senate politics would be any different if lawmakers set aside the House-passed economywide approach that goes after major energy, transportation and manufacturing companies — accounting for more than two-thirds of U.S. emissions.”

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Not surprisingly, utilities, which were key to passage of the first ever climate bill in the House, aren’t signing up to be the sole focus of emissions reductions:

EEI is urging the Senate to stick with an economywide approach. And several of its biggest member companies are also speaking out on the need to keep the emission limits as broad as possible.

“We don’t agree that there should be a utility-only bill,” said Melissa McHenry, a spokeswoman at Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power Corp. “In our view, it’d just raise electricity costs for some utilities and it wouldn’t address the bigger situation, which is global concentrations of CO2, because you’d only be capping a small portion of U.S. emissions, and you’re just going to raise electricity costs in a big portion of the United states without having a global agreement to address overall climate emissions.”

Chicago-based Exelon Corp., which runs the nation’s largest fleet of nuclear power-generating plants, offered a similar plea. “We continue to be a consistent and forceful advocate for comprehensive economywide cap-and-trade legislation,” said spokesman Paul Elsberg.

“We’re focused on comprehensive energy and climate legislation,” added Randy Clerihue of FPL Group, the Juno Beach, Fla., umbrella company for NextEra Energy Resources LLC, and Florida Power & Light Co.

Industry lobbyist Scott Segal said he doubts a power plant-only approach has much of a chance on Capitol Hill as lawmakers representing the power companies would quickly start to hear about how they are taking on too great of a burden compared with other industrial sectors.

“I don’t see how it changes the math very much,” Segal said. “Even if it’s utilities only, it’s still a big honking bill with potential for regional disparities. And if it’s not properly constructed, I don’t think the politics are any different.”

I’m still inclined to think that right now, we’re in an all or nothing at all situation when it comes to comprehensive, bipartisan climate and energy legislation.

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Graham, Kerry, and Lieberman seem to be working on some hybrid strategy that doesn’t treat every sector of the economy the same, but still gets you the required economy wide reductions and a carbon price. I haven’t seen any details on their plan, which he isn’t expected until next month.