Manik Roy, vice president for federal government outreach, co-wrote this post.
By all indications, the climate bill is done for the year. A casualty of … well, you’ve been hearing the blamefest.
So what’s next?
Unfortunately, none of the problems we sought to fix with the climate bill have been solved by ignoring them.
Power companies and businesses still need to know what carbon emission requirements lie ahead of them before investing millions of dollars in new equipment – especially for carbon capture and sequestration, nuclear power, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and other low-carbon alternatives.
Provisions in any legislation can be confusing. Trying to compare similar provisions across different bills can compound the confusion. To help make things more clear, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change has released two additional side-by-side comparison charts, one on domestic offset provisions, and the other on international offset provisions, of this Congress’ energy and climate legislation.
Cap and trade has gotten a bad rap. It’s been vilified as a national energy tax, an elaborate Ponzi scheme, and a giveaway to corporate polluters.
While these attacks are wrong, they succeeded in shaping the political discourse around national climate and energy policy, which undoubtedly contributed to last week’s decision by Senate leaders to delay consideration of legislation that would limit greenhouse gas emissions.
This is unfortunate. We need a national policy to reduce emissions, and, as our new white paper shows, cap and trade is still the best, most cost-effective way of doing so. When lawmakers turn their attention back to this issue — as they must — they should make cap and trade a foundational element of the policy response to climate change.
Companies that make everything from computer chips to potato chips, search engines to jet engines, rubber tires to rubber soles, have stepped up this year to publicly support passage of comprehensive clean energy and climate change legislation. Why are companies calling for increased regulation? Isn’t that akin to a teenager arguing for an earlier curfew, or a second grader demanding an end to recess?
Actually, no. The days when businesses could be counted on to reflexively oppose all environmental regulations are over, and that’s a good thing. Nowhere is this shift more evident than in the case of climate change policy. American Business for Clean Energy tracks nearly 6,000 businesses, both large and small, that support energy and climate legislation. Dozens of companies, representing trillions of dollars in revenue, have signed on to letters and paid advertisements calling for prompt action on such legislation. These companies have determined that a clear and consistent national framework to begin reducing emissions is good for the economy and good for their industries. Our new brief, The Business Case for Climate Legislation, details the reasons why.
Provisions in any legislation can be confusing. Trying to compare similar provisions across different bills can compound the confusion. To help make things more clear, we have two side-by-side comparison charts, one on energy-efficiency provisions, and the other on electric plug-in vehicle provisions, of this Congress’ energy and climate legislation.
On Thursday, the Senate defeated Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) “disapproval resolution” intended to prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the existing Clean Air Act.
The vote sends a clear signal that the Senate must act now. The Senate must invest its time and energy over the next two months to find the common ground solutions required to pass meaningful clean energy and climate legislation. The key building blocks for a final bill already exist, and the Senate must seize this opportunity to create a safer, cleaner, more secure energy future.
A few things are clear from the vote:
- 53 Senators voted in support of EPA’s finding that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions pose a danger to human health and environment, with many stating their preference for Congressional action but not wanting to unilaterally disarm EPA.
- Of the Senators voting for the resolution, at least 8 made statements saying that they believe we need to reduce GHG emissions. Among these were 5 Republican Senators.
- In total, at least 61 Senators, through their votes or statements today, expressed support for policy that would limit GHG emissions.
In addition, Sen. Murkowski and at least 17 of the Senators who voted for Sen. Murkowski’s resolution of disapproval framed their votes as intended to prevent EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the existing Clean Air Act or about the separation of powers, rather than as statements on climate science. Following are excerpts from Senate floor statements or from press releases following the vote that indicate the Senators’ willingness to work toward Senate action on a clean energy and climate bill.
Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC): What I propose is that the Congress, once we stop the EPA, create a rational way forward on energy policy that includes clean air and regulation of carbon. … Carbon is bad. Let's do something about it in a commonsense way. … If we can clean up the air in America, we would be doing the next generation and the world a great service. The key is, can you clean up the air and make it good business? I believe you can. Let's pursue both things: good business and clean air.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE): Now, I have no doubt that carbon emissions should be reduced in the U.S. But not through excessively costly EPA regulations or a complicated cap and trade proposal that could spur speculation that enriches Wall Street, while not cleaning the air above Main Street. … In my view greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced through a comprehensive energy bill. One that promotes efficiency, innovation, new technology, and renewable energy such as wind and biofuels that can be produced in Nebraska's fields. An energy bill should help, not harm, Nebraska and the American economy as it cleans up the air.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME): Our country must develop reasonable policies to spur the creation of green energy jobs, lessen our dangerous dependence on foreign oil, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We face an international race to lead the world in alternative energy technologies, and we can win that race if Congress enacts legislation to put a price on carbon and thus encourage investment here in the United States.
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR): There is clear consensus within the scientific community that human activities will have a serious and costly impact on our environment unless we take meaningful steps to mitigate pollution from greenhouse gases. … Congress should act quickly, but thoughtfully, in developing comprehensive energy and climate policies that meet our nation’s needs. The costs of inaction or wrong action are too great for future generations.
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME): [I]t is Congress – and not unelected bureaucrats – that should be responsible for developing environmental policies that integrate our nation’s economic well-being as an urgent priority along with the reduction of carbon emissions, and I do not accept that these are mutually exclusive goals. … I will continue to work with my congressional colleagues to achieve our shared goals of fostering a healthy economy while moving toward a clean-energy future by replacing EPA regulations with a system that protects Maine employers and reduces greenhouse gases by the level that science dictates.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA): I look forward to working with Democrats and Republicans to find a better, smarter way forward in the weeks ahead. Americans want and need energy solutions and more job creation, not overreach by regulators. That starts with real, public debate on climate change and energy challenges facing our nation.
Eileen Claussen is President
This post also appeared today in National Journal's Energy & Environment Experts blog in response to a question about Congressional action related to EPA's endangerment finding.
Let’s be absolutely clear here. Overturning EPA’s endangerment finding -- that greenhouse gases are a risk to public health and welfare – would send exactly the wrong signal about the serious nature of this issue. To take such an action, just days after our nation’s top scientific body (the National Academy of Sciences) issued a loud and clear call for action, should be unthinkable.
Some may vote for the resolution not intending to repudiate the science but to reserve the right of Congress (and not EPA) to set policies to restrict greenhouse gas emissions. If this is their rationale, then a vote to delay EPA regulations for two years (along the lines of Sen. Rockefeller’s bill) might make more sense.
It will probably take some time to fully understand what went wrong in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and what ought to be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But at least one thing is already perfectly clear: recent technological advances in extracting oil in deep water offshore have been dramatic, whereas unfortunately the same cannot be said for technological advances in spill prevention and cleanup techniques.
Why is this the case? Innovation is complicated, but we do know something about it. In the private sector, the profit motive is a primary driver of innovation. Because of the world’s seemingly insatiable demand for petroleum products (mainly gasoline and diesel), oil companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in offshore drilling technology (just one company, GE Oil & Gas, reported offshore oil and gas drilling-related R&D spending of $150 million from 2009-2011) in order to reap tens of billions in proceeds from fuel sales (for fiscal year 2009, MMS reported oil production worth $20.2 billion from the Gulf of Mexico federal outer continental shelf). According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), oil production from federal offshore areas accounted for 29 percent of total domestic oil production in 2009. In 2009, ultra-deepwater offshore drilling (drilling in more than 5,000 feet of water) accounted for about a third of total federal offshore oil production, and ultra-deepwater production tripled from 2005 to 2009. Until recently there has been no comparable incentive for spill prevention and cleanup techniques: the pre-Deepwater Horizon spill record had been excellent, lulling both regulators and oil companies into complacency.
The free market by itself cannot motivate investment in spill prevention and cleanup technology, because spills themselves yield public damage, not private profits. Our government, on behalf of the public interest, could have put rules in place that would have motivated the private sector to make such investments – such as requiring oil companies to actually demonstrate that spill prevention technology works as a condition for obtaining drilling rights.
We have an analogous situation with respect to energy security and climate change. The free market by itself is driving innovation, but in the wrong things: in energy investments that are warming the climate and making us ever more dependent on foreign oil. We need our government to intervene on behalf of the public interest to motivate private investment and innovation in clean energy, through comprehensive energy and climate legislation.
The catastrophe in the Gulf is still unfolding, and will ultimately provide many lessons relevant to our energy and environmental future. But one lesson we can take to heart and act on right away is that there is a profound public interest in spurring innovation in clean and safe energy and that the private market on its own will not adequately provide it. It is our job as the public to demand it, and it is our government’s job to use all the tools at its disposal – from regulations to incentives to penalties – to make it happen.
Judi Greenwald is Vice President for Innovative Solutions
Listening to opponents of clean energy and climate legislation and their predictions of American economic ruin if we try to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, you could scarcely imagine that even one business would be crazy enough to support energy and climate policy. Yet today, a group of 60 leading organizations and businesses representing over $1.2 trillion in revenue and over 1 million American employees sent a letter to the President and the Senate proving that idea wrong. These groups collectively said:
“The time to act is now. The U.S. needs a comprehensive energy and climate policy that will get us back on track by creating American jobs in the new, low-carbon economy…We face a critical moment that will determine whether we will be able to unleash homegrown American innovation or remain stuck in the economic status quo. Much as the transcontinental railroad ushered in an unprecedented era of expansion, innovation and economic growth, the transition to a diversified clean energy economy offers extraordinary opportunities for environmental and economic rewards. Americans need and deserve a comprehensive energy and climate policy and we urge you to take action without delay…It’s time for Democrats and Republicans to unite behind bipartisan, national energy and climate legislation that increases our security, limits emissions, and protects our environment while preserving and creating American jobs.”
With the long-awaited release of the Kerry-Lieberman clean energy and climate bill (The American Power Act) and EPA’s final action on its “tailoring” rule, two important clues emerged this week to the unfolding mystery of whether or not we will have climate legislation this year. And buckle up and enjoy the ride -- two more major developments are just around the corner. On Wednesday, the National Academy of Sciences will be releasing three of its panel reports on America’s Climate Choices and sometime in the next two weeks Senator Murkowski may bring forward for a vote her effort to overturn EPA’s endangerment finding.
The release of the K-L bill demonstrates both how far we have gone and how distant the goal remains. The bill achieved support from some key elements of the business community and goes much further in adding in elements (nuclear power and a hard price collar) that could expand its base of support. But the loss of Senator Graham as a co-sponsor and the absence of any bipartisan backing underscore the challenges it faces in achieving the 60 votes it will need to avoid a filibuster in the Senate. The Senate clock also continues to wind down making it harder to find floor time to move a comprehensive bill forward.
EPA’s recently issued interpretation of when greenhouse gases become regulated pollutants and its final tailoring rule show EPA’s willingness to make reasonable use of the existing Clean Air Act to tackle climate change. By delaying the effective date when new source review will apply to greenhouse gases, and limiting new source requirements for best available control technology to only the largest sources (estimated to impact approximately 900 additional major sources annually), the agency put to rest the fears of some that the Agency’s rules would sink the economy and harm small businesses. The rule shows that the existing Act, though cumbersome, can be used as a tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Both EPA’s action and the upcoming National Academy panel reports provide the perfect preface to the expected vote in the Senate on overturning EPA’s endangerment finding which links greenhouse gas emissions to health and welfare impacts from climate change. To argue for overturning the finding, some Senators will point to recent controversies: the errors in the IPCC report; the hacked e-mails referred to as “climategate;” and even the DC snowstorms of last winter as evidence that the science of climate change is somehow suspect. Despite the media attention these have received, none in any way undercut the overwhelming case underlying concerns about climate change. Three independent investigations have each cleared the scientists who authored the e-mails of charges that they manipulated data or infringed on the peer review process. The IPCC has corrected the two mistakes (the expected date of the melting of Himalayan glaciers and the percent of land in the Netherlands under water) uncovered to date in its reports – out of a total of thousands of pages, two mistakes neither of which undercuts the IPCC’s key conclusion that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and “that most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations.” Finally, notwithstanding Washington D.C.’s blustery winter, globally 2009 proved to be one of the warmest years on record. The NAS panel reports this week are likely only to reinforce these conclusions, further calling into question any votes in support of overturning EPA’s endangerment finding based on denying what we know about climate science.
Others in the Senate, including Senator Murkowski, make the case that the goal of overturning the endangerment finding is really about the need to take the worst option (EPA regulations) off the table and thereby protect our economy from the potentially dire consequences of EPA action particularly on small businesses. They argue that this would allow our elected representatives the opportunity and time to address this issue. But the limits EPA adopted in its tailoring rule (and its earlier decision to delay implementation) appear to take off the table these concerns about widespread and costly controls on small sources. Although legal challenges to the tailoring rule are possible, they would take time to work their way through the courts, and if they were successful, Congress would then be in a far better position (and have a more compelling case) to provide a narrow legislative fix addressing a specific problem.
When the debate on overturning EPA’s endangerment finding moves to the Senate floor (10 hours of debate is permitted), many will be wondering why the Senate isn’t instead focusing its debate on finding the common ground solutions urgently needed to get our nation on a path that enhances our energy independence, spurs the growth of new technologies, and slows climate change.
Steve Seidel is Vice President for Policy Analysis