Three days of hearings by the Senate Environmental & Public Works Committee on the climate bill (Kerry-Boxer, Clean Energy Jobs & American Power Act, S. 1733) have just concluded, and the battle lines are starting to be drawn in the sand.
First, a big apology to healthcare reform activists. All summer long I thought that Max Baucus wasn't really that bad; y'all were exaggerating a tad; and Baucus would be able to persuade people on his Finance Committee to support his version of healthcare reform. As chair of the Finance Committee and second-ranked Democrat on the E&PW committee, he'll have an important role in the climate bill. So when virtually the first words out of his mouth were whining about the costs of the bill:
Montana, with our resource-based agriculture and tourism economies, cannot afford the unmitigated effects of climate change, but we also cannot afford the unmitigated effects of climate change legislation.
I get it. I now understand your frustration.
The battle for Clean Air Act authority will be important: One line beginning to be drawn in the sand concerns the Clean Air Act. As you may recall, the House stripped the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases, but Kerry-Boxer put it back in...for now. Senators Whitehouse and Gillibrand are on the right side. Senators Baucus and Specter are on the wrong side of this issue. Specter got Fred Krupp of the Environmental Defense Fund to admit that EPA authority might not be needed if the cap were tight. Ominously, Senator Kerry might be drifting:
Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who co-wrote the legislation with Mrs. Boxer, would not rule out altering the bill's EPA provisions to meet Mr. Baucus' objections, while standing firm on the 2020 reduction target.
"If people come to us and say they're willing to vote for the bill if it's not there, I'll listen to them," he said.
Senator Baucus' vote will be a battle, but not the yes-or-no way Politico thinks. Already Politico is concern-trolling: Baucus opposition chills climate bill, spinning the horrors that would result from a "no" vote on the bill (it would still pass out of the committee, but with a negative signal to moderate Democrats). Instead, Baucus has stated that Montana has a lot of wind power but no transmission (hint for a smart grid) and lots of low-sulfur coal (strong hint for clean coal). He'll extract every benefit for his state that he can, give us ulcers, but (I hope) ultimately vote for the bill. "We're negotiating," he told reporters.
The battle for the RES was half-lost in another committee months ago. The Kerry-Boxer bill says nothing about a renewable energy standard (RES), because that was already covered by a different bill, ACELA. The American Clean Energy & Leadership Act, S. 1462, passed out of the Energy & Natural Resources committee in June, but calls for only 15% of our energy supply to come from renewable resources. CEJAPA will be merged with ACELA on the floor of the Senate, which will be our first chance to affect the RES (for example, Senator Alexander (see below) wants the RES to include not only renewable energy, such as wind and solar, but also all low-carbon energy, such as nuclear energy). The second point will come when the Senate bill is merged with Waxman-Markey in conference; the House bill has a 20% RES instead of 15%. Senator Klobuchar is rightly concerned that ACELA is not aggressive enough.
Oddly, the coal battle is not being fought openly much in these hearings. Today the chief executive of Rio Tinto, the second largest coal producer in the United States (in CO, MT, and WY, but not WV), testified in favor of a strong climate policy, after first admitting that humans cause global warming:
Unmanaged climate change is a threat to our assets, our shareholders, and our employees, and also to civil society and political institutions in many of the countries in which we operate and across the globe. Rio Tinto is supportive of a strong global agreement on climate change. A strong global agreement can provide the economic, social, and political stability, and hence the investment certainty, that allows us to deliver value to our shareholders, products to our customers, and provide jobs to our employees.
Yesterday, Senator Byrd announced that he was "very pleased" with last Friday's revisions to the bill. A Competitive Enterprise Institute witness for the Republicans whined that the bill would shut down the coal industry in one fell swoop, leading to several green tweets: "Please God! Let us pray!"
Republican respect for the climate bill hearing, part 1: Every single one of them, except Senator James Inhofe (R-A River in Egypt), paid lip service to the concept of climate change. They don't agree on its cause, they don't agree on the solution, but at least they acknowledge that carbon emissions are a bad thing as long as the television cameras are on. As for Inhofe, it must be lonely being the last flat-earther.
Republican respect for the climate bill hearing, part 2: Every single one of them left hours early, even when retired Republican senator John Warner was testifying on how climate change affects national security. Only three of them showed up at the third day. Stay classy, goposaurs.
Republican respect for the economy: A witness from the Industrial Energy Consumers of America, a manufacturing group, was brought in to complain about job losses during the Bush administration. He read out scary, ominous numbers from lots of charts designed to show how the economy has went to h3ll in a handbasket recently. Smiling, Boxer told him she agreed completely with his analysis but disagreed with his conclusion: the answer is to pass the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act.
Republican respect for the American household budget: Gee, Republicans who profess to hate the bill's high costs sure want to build a lot of pricey "clean coal" and nuclear plants.
Republican respect for your liver: Senator Lamar "Two nuclear plants in every state!" Alexander really, really likes only one form of energy. Several enviros suggested, jokingly, taking a shot every time he said "nuclear." At least I hope they were only joking -- local emergency rooms couldn't have handled that many cases of alcohol poisoning within ten minutes of him opening his mouth.
Republican desire to eat pie, glorious pie: The cap on carbon emissions will effectively set the size of the pie that the American economy is allowed to eat (the "trade" permits those wishing to lose weight to make money by trading their slices to more gluttonous folks). An ongoing gripe among Republicans was how certain businesses and sectors have already been chosen as winners and losers. Kossacks interested in wonky details can read why Senate allocation pie smaller than House's (shorter: mostly budget-neutral reasons); or you can just make snarky comments about why Republicans are so interested in gluttony.
The climate bill is complex. The hearings touched upon jobs, national security, transportation, foreign policy, energy efficiency, and many other points. We don't yet have one line in the sand as we did for the healthcare bill. Instead, we have a number of lines...and when we're done, we want them to spell out 350. See illustration above.