Senate Climate Fight Begins with Debut of New Bill

Senate Climate Fight Begins with Debut of New Bill

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) introduced a climate change bill today that aims to reduce emissions 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (PDF), though a bit tougher on the mid-term 2020 goal than the American Clean Energy and Security Act that passed the House in June, is shy on many of the details that will strengthen or weaken the bill.

A more stringent short-term 2020 target makes sense, according to Melanie Fitzpatrick, a climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"U.S. emissions levels are now lower than expected, so we're already well on our way to meeting these goals," Fitzpatrick said, referring to an expected 8.8 percent drop in 2009 emissions due to the economic recession. "Additionally, more of the carbon dioxide we're emitting today is staying in the atmosphere because the ocean is absorbing less carbon from the air. That means early cuts in emissions are even more critical to keep temperatures down and prevent the worst consequences of climate change." {related_content}

Business groups also hailed proposed legislation.

"I look forward to working with Senators Boxer and Kerry, and the rest of the U.S. Senate, to craft and pass clean energy legislation," Leo Gerard, international president of United Steelworkers, said in a statement. "To get this right, it is critical that this bill not only tackle the challenges we face in addressing climate change, but also come to the aid of workers across the U.S. by creating and maintaining jobs that strengthen America's manufacturing base, and prevent the leakage of jobs to nations who fail to take action on climate change,"

The Senate's environment committee is expected to begin mark-up on the draft in late October. Key details that need fleshing out include the distribution of the emissions permits and border tax language.   

A few things are clear: The Democrats have dumped the "cap-and-trade" language from the Senate draft, favoring instead the phrase, "pollution reduction and investment," or PRI. The basic concept behind the system, which is still the centerpiece of the legislation, is the establishment of a carbon permit trading market that would make companies pay to pollute while rewarding others that reduce their emissions.

Republicans, who have taken to calling it "cap-and-tax," pounced on the bill.

"Despite an earnest attempt, including eight months of deliberation and negotiation to refashion the obvious, Senators Kerry and Boxer produced yet another massive energy tax that will destroy jobs, raise electricity and gasoline prices, and make America less competitive," Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a long-standing climate change skeptic, said in a statement. "What's more, this bill is even worse than the energy tax passed in the House.  The sponsors know this, so the bill is lacking in key details, an attempt, no doubt, to hide the central fact: this is an energy tax that will affect every American."

Hearings on the draft are scheduled to begin in mid-October.