With leaders from the energy industry and environmental organizations at their side, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) introduced their comprehensive energy and climate change bill today, arguing there has been no better chance at passing a bill that could transform America's energy market by putting a price on carbon.
The "American Power Act" will "stop the flow of dollars out of America to buy oil, just as it will stop the flow of jobs out of America," Lieberman said. It represents a market-driven partnership between the public and private sectors, he said, to reduce carbon pollution and lessen the nation's dependence on foreign oil.
"The most important and unique thing this bill does is to put a price on carbon that reflects its real cost to our society and our economy," he said. Investing in renewable energy, he continued, "becomes financially attractive once carbon is really priced at what it costs us."
Kerry added, "This is going to change the face of American energy."
In the wake of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and other issues adding to a volatile political climate, there are plenty of questions about whether the Senate can pass a comprehensive climate bill this year. The House has already passed its own bill, but it is significantly different from the Senate bill unveiled today, and the two would have to be reconciled.
Kerry said today, however, that he is optimistic about the bill's chances and that President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stand behind their efforts.
Mr. Obama said in a statement today that he looks forward to working with Democrats and Republicans to passing a bill this year.
"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," he said. "Now is the time for America to take control of our energy future and jumpstart American innovation in clean energy technology that will allow us to create jobs, compete, and win in the global economy."
Kerry and Lieberman suffered a setback some weeks ago when Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), their Republican partner in their legislative efforts, stopped working with them on the bill because of his skepticism the bill could pass.
Today, Graham said in a statement he is interested in continuing to work on the legislation in spite of the rocky political environment.
"We should move forward in a reasoned, thoughtful manner and in a political climate which gives us the best chance at success," he said.
Kerry sounded optimistic the bill could win bipartisan support.
"I've heard even several Republicans tell me in private they are encouraged by what's in this bill," he said.
Here are some of the highlights of the legislation:
- The bill aims to reduce carbon pollution 17 percent by 2020 and over 80 percent in 2050 by capping emissions in certain sectors and allowing for trading of pollution permits.
Only the largest polluters -- those that emit 25,000 tons of carbon each year -- have to comply with reduction targets. Kerry said today that the regulations will cover only about 2 percent of America's businesses, or 7,500 factories and plants. But that 2 percent, he said, accounts for 75 percent of America's greenhouse gas emissions.
- The bill includes a hard "price collar," or upper and lower limits, on the price of pollution permits.
Oil companies would be subject to pollution allowances, but those permits would be kept off of the "carbon market."
- The manufacturing industry would not be required to reduce emissions until 2016. Additionally, manufacturing companies would get financial assistance in the interim period if energy bills were to go up. They would also get some assistance buying allowances after 2016.
Federal regulations would trump state regulations -- states would not be permitted to operate their own cap-and-trade programs, though the measure would provide compensation for any lost revenue for those states that have already passed such measures.
- Consumers would get rebates and energy discounts to offset any increase in the price of energy.
The bill sets aside $2 billion for the development of "clean coal" technology.
It gives $54 billion in loan guarantees to promote the construction of new nuclear facilities.
- Mindful of the accident in the Gulf, the bill would allow coastal states to opt-out of drilling up to 75 miles from their shores. In addition, a nearby state would have the right to veto any drilling if it stood to suffer significant adverse impacts in the event of an accident. States that do pursue drilling would receive 37.5 percent of revenues to help protect their coastlines and coastal ecosystems.
Kerry emphasized the industry support the bill is receiving -- including from oil companies such as Shell, Conoco Phillips and BP.
"They know this is good policy for them because it gives them some certainty" of policies to be enacted over the years, he said.
Some environmental groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund, are also behind the effort.
"For decades, the Congress has been arguing over stupid things while ignoring these problems," Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp said at today's press conference.
The bill still faces opposition, however, from environmentalists, business and others.
Even before the legislation was publicly unveiled, Greenpeace announced its opposition.
"It's clear that polluter lobbyists have succeeded in hijacking this climate policy initiative and undermined the ambitious action necessary," Phil Radford, the group's executive director, said in a statement.
The nonpartisan watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense slammed the bill because of the subsidies to the nuclear and coal industries.
"Providing billions in giveaways to the profitable, well-established fossil fuel and nuclear industries is no way to limit carbon emissions," Taxpayers for Common Sense President Ryan Alexander said in a statement. "While climate change should be addressed, taxpayers cannot afford to give away the store in the process."
Kerry said Majority Leader Reid is meeting with key Senate committee chairs in the coming weeks to discuss how to move forward with the bill.
"Killing a Senate bill is not the measure of success or victory," Kerry said. "If Congress can't legislate the solution, the EPA will regulate one, and it will come without the help to America's businesses and consumers that are in this bill."