Just What Exactly Are Lieberman, Kerry and Graham Cooking Up for the Climate?

Can John Kerry Help Create the Right Climate Bill?

Sens. Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham have been meeting behind closed doors for months, presumably writing a new climate and energy bill. Without much word coming from the three, environmentalists have been left to speculate on the bill's contents. Conventional wisdom said that the bill is a tweak of the climate and energy bill that passed the House last year, but now word is coming out that the bill will scrap the cap-and-trade piece of the House bill in favor of a more targeted approach on three sectors of the economy--transportation, electric utilities, and industry. The Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson report this morning that the new bill will cap smokestack emissions and impose some form of a carbon tax.

According to several sources familiar with the process, the lawmakers are looking at cutting the nation's greenhouse gas output by targeting, in separate ways, three major sources of emissions: electric utilities, transportation and industry.

Power plants would face an overall cap on emissions that would become more stringent over time; motor fuel may be subject to a carbon tax whose proceeds could help electrify the U.S. transportation sector; and industrial facilities would be exempted from a cap on emissions for several years before it is phased in. The legislation would also expand domestic oil and gas drilling offshore and would provide federal assistance for constructing nuclear power plants and carbon sequestration and storage projects at coal-fired utilities.

"This is a different bill," Lieberman said in an interview. "We haven't abandoned the market-based idea, but we're willing to negotiate with colleagues who have different ideas."

By attacking each sector separately, the lawmakers seem to be offering solutions that will mollify different audiences. The hodgepodge approach, as opposed to an economy wide cap and trade mechanism, will certainly be an interesting experiment if it becomes law. Even more enticing is the idea of trying out a cap and dividend approach, something many environmental justice advocates have been trumpeting for some time.

The lens that these proposals must be seen through is that of solutions to climate change and our collective responsibility to do what we can to roll back its effects. Most models say that emissions must peak in 2015 and then dramatically be cut to close to 0 by 2050. The contents of the new Senate bill may or may not send a signal to the world that the US is serious about climate change, thereby threatening the possibility of a global deal on cutting emissions.

Another piece of the puzzle is money set aside for mitigation, adaptation, forest protection and tech transfer. In Copenhagen, Hillary Clinton pledged $100 billion to these efforts but did not specify where the money would come from or what share of the sum would come from the US.

More on the the Senate Climate Bill:

Senate Climate Bill Revealed: A Quick Guide : TreeHugger
Senate Climate Bill Gets Bipartisan Support : TreeHugger


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