Another Whack at a Federal Climate Bill

87767226The latest version of a federal climate bill sets a series of national targets for greenhouse gas emissions and would halt California’s plans for state and regional carbon trading.

Unveiled by Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman today, the American Power Act aims to push GHG emissions down to slightly below 2005 levels by 2013, then sets a longer-term reduction timetable of 83% (of 2005 levels) by 2020, 58% by 2030, 17% by 2050 (or to flip it around, an 83% reduction from 2005 levels by 2050), in line with the promise that President Obama made following the “Copenhagen Accord.”

The 987-page bill regulates seven greenhouse gases, with room for the Environmental Protection Agency to add others under the Clean Air Act. The cap-and-trade provisions focus on “7,500 factories and power plants,” which is to say those that put out more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon per year. That’s the same benchmark used by the federal EPA in its proposed regulations.

Like previous drafts, this one nullifies state and regional carbon regulation, setting up “one clear set of rules” for industry and providing “compensation for the revenues lost as a result of the termination of their cap-and-trade programs,” such as California’s AB 32, and regional efforts, such as the Western Climate Initiative. California’s Legislative Analyst has estimated that the state has committed about $120 million so far, to the implementation of its 2006 climate law. California regulators have already weighed in on the concept of “federal preemption,” warning against leaving the job of carbon reduction to the federal government alone. The Kerry-Lieberman bill requires “consultation” with states that currently have their own emissions plans.

Significantly, the first several sections of the Senate bill address development of energy sources. The reduction goals for greenhouse gas emissions aren’t even spelled out completely until page 265. Energy provisions that may come to bear on California policy include:

Agribusiness:

- All farms appear to be exempt from cap & trade but benefit from offset programs

Oil Industry:

- According to a summary of the bill from Kerry’s office: “Producers and importers of refined products” will get a fixed price for their carbon allowances.

- Offshore drilling is included as part of the energy strategy but states can prohibit leasing within 75 miles of the coast

Nuclear Power:

- Provides several incentives, including an “expedited procedure for issuing combined construction & operating licenses for qualified new nuclear reactors.”

- Increases loan guarantees to $54 billion

Missing from the bill is a comprehensive national strategy for storage of spent nuclear fuel, an unresolved issue that prevents California utilities from any expansion of nuclear power.

Governor Schwarzenegger issued a statement that barely acknowledged federal preemption, saying only that “California has been an unparalleled leader in clean energy, pioneering policies that have benefited the entire nation, and we must be able to continue our important, groundbreaking work that will both improve the environment and help our economy.”

Some environmentalists have already responded with raspberries. In a statement based on draft summaries of the bill, the group Friends of the Earth called it “dangerous,” claiming that the bill would “scrap crucial tools for solving the climate crisis” and provide “billions in giveaways to corporate polluters.” In a statement from the Environmental Defense Fund, on the other hand, its western regional vice president said that the bill’s announcement “marks real progress in the fight against climate change.”

Andrea Seabrook reported on the bill’s rollout and prospects for NPR’s All Things Considered.