Senate Climate Bill, Yea or Nay?
Senators Kerry and Lieberman released the details of their climate legislation today. Let’s break down some of the main points:
1. States may opt out of offshore drilling up to 75 miles from their coast.
This is an improvement over current law which allows drilling 3 miles offshore. Maybe more important is that neighboring states can veto plans if they will have a negative impact on their state. This could help keep some of the crazier states (looking at you Texas) in check if they wanted to go offshore crazy. This isn’t the ban on offshore drilling that would be best case, but at least it allows states that actually care about the environment to do a little more about it. Vote-Yea (good start)
2. Cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020
Weak. Pathetically weak. This is only 0 to 3% below 1990 levels. The European Union is considering cutting emissions by 30% below 1990 levels by 2020. 27 percentage points is rather significant. This is a weak effort from the United States. Vote-Nay (pathetic)
3. $6 billion annually for highway effectiveness and mass transit systems
Sounds like a lot of money, but it’s not. Take high speed rail-which nearly everyone agrees would be a huge benefit to our country as a whole and is something that nearly every other modern country has. It has been estimated that simply installing high speed train service in the northeast corridor (Washington D.C. to Boston) would cost somewhere around $32 billion, and that is just a small portion of what would be a national high speed service. You quickly see that $6 billion annually, while a good start, is simply not that much. Vote-Yea (but not nearly enough)
4. $2 billion for researching and developing carbon capture and sequestration (“clean coal”)
There is no such thing as “clean coal.” Let’s move on. Vote-Nay
5. Development of nuclear power
This is, of course, a rather decisive issue. On one hand, nuclear power is clean as long as there is no accident. On the other hand, there could be an accident. The Gulf oil spill is just small taste of what a nuclear disaster could be, but that oil rig had no environmental benefit before the accident. Nuclear power would have economic benefits, but an accident would be bound to happen eventually. Vote-Undecided (love to hear arguments here)
6. Charge companies for emissions between $12 and $25 per ton
Expect to hear a lot about this from the Republicans. This is basically a fee (tax) per ton of emissions released into the environment. I’m all for that. The problem is that only companies that produce more than 25,000 tons annually are affected. This works out to roughly 7,500 companies. That’s not an insignificant number and I’ve sure they have reasons for the 25,000 tons benchmark, so I can’t really speak to that. The Republican’s argument against this proposal will be that a tax on companies will simply be passed on to the consumer through energy prices. To some extent, this will likely happen, which is why the bill also sends 2/3 of these emissions revenues (after paying down national debt) to consumers in the form of energy bill discounts and rebates. Whether these rebates cover fully the increase in cost remains to be seen, but hopefully the increase will be small enough to be rather insignificant to most families. Personally, paying a slightly higher energy bill so that the huge polluters will eventually cut their emissions, is more than worth it to me. Vote–Yea (seems reasonable)
7. So, yea or nay?
This is not a perfect bill for a liberal by any means. “Clean coal” is a joke as are our greenhouse gas emission targets. However, any funding for improved mass transit is a plus, as is putting a price on carbon emissions and the revisions to offshore drilling law. Unfortunately, the Democrats may never have a better chance to pass something much stronger than what is currently in this legislation. The BP oil disaster brought the environment to the forefront of people’s minds and it just seems like the right time to do something progressive. Much like the health care legislation, I’m far from fully satisfied but in our current political system, these are the kinds of bills we are left with. In the end it’s a necessary first step toward the larger goal. Vote-Yea
[bill details via HuffPo]