Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Bill Without a Cap on Carbon is Almost Worthless

Yet another week has passed with Senator Graham, the supposed Republican hero on climate legislation, equivocating about his support for the bill that he co-wrote. His reasons for the need for a "pause" on introducing the legislation? First, the immigration legislation issue (which, by the way, Reid has backed off from and Obama has announced will take a second priority to energy and climate). Second, the Deepwater oil spill. This boggles my mind. Shouldn't this catastrophe propel our elected officials toward supporting a clean energy bill, not away from it? Is Graham so unconditionally beholden to oil interests that this disaster really makes him need to back away from support for legislation that he has been working on for the past seven months?

Senators Kerry and Lieberman have announced that they will go through with the unveiling of their once-"tri-partisan" bill tomorrow, now without Graham. This is certainly going to be an uphill climb. Graham was the bill's biggest chance of passing, and he has wavered and waffled his way to opposing it. There are still a few GOPers who have supported climate legislation in the past (and some who have co-sponsored their own legislation this year), but without the momentum that Graham had given the American Power Act, Republicans will certainly not be flocking to support the bill.

Enter Harry Reid, our fearless majority leader who doesn't back down from a fight. On Sunday, Reid announced that the bill might have to be stripped of its cap on carbon (the "climate" part of the bill) and just include energy provisions such as the renewable energy standard, provisions for more nukes, and yes, provisions for more offshore drilling. This would likely closely resemble the American Clean Energy Leadership Act (ACELA) which passed out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year. ACELA certainly has some valuable parts to it, but ultimately falls woefully short of what is needed.

A renewable standard without putting a cap on carbon will not propel our country to a clean energy and energy-efficient economy. Without certainty in the marketplace about the costs of emitting carbon, businesses and utilities will have little incentive to invest in efficiency and low carbon fuels. A 15% renewable standard is a great idea, but the provision is much weaker than it seems because the percentages are calculated so that nuclear power, carbon storage, and large hydro can all help a utility meet the requirement (many states are already at 15% or higher). In fact, without a carbon cap, ACELA could do more environmental damage by encouraging increased construction and use of  coal plants.

According to NRDC, without a carbon cap:
"ACELA would at best achieve only one-tenth of the carbon reductions in 2020 that would result from proposed comprehensive legislation that includes a carbon cap. At worst, other provisions in ACELA would swamp any benefits from energy efficiency and leave carbon pollution levels higher than they would be without the bill."
As I've said over and over, this Congress could be the last hope in years for passing necessary climate legislation, and if we squander the opportunity, climate change isn't going to wait for us. Reid needs to stop punting on the issue, and the Obama Administration needs to start taking it more seriously and putting the pressure on Congress to get something worthwhile passed.

Images: NGOs demonstrate during the Climate Summit in Copenhagen (dawn.com), nuclear plant (MSNBC)

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