Latest Draft of Senate Climate Bill: What's Good and What Needs Work

Last Friday, Senators Kerry and Boxer released a more detailed draft of the clean energy and climate legislation they introduced last month. This new version brings welcome clarity and offers an excellent starting point for Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to begin their deliberations.

The Draft Gets Key Features Right

I am especially pleased to see that the bill ensures the vast majority of allowances go to well defined public purposes, such as helping consumers, providing a level playing field for energy intensive industries, deploying low-carbon technologies, and preventing deforestation.

The bill has some other key features:

  • It includes dedicated investments in energy efficiency, clean transportation, and renewable energy deployment.
  • It has an effective mechanism to keep allowance prices from spiking too high, with a bigger allowance reserve and a greater clarity about when this reserve will be tapped than in the House bill.
  • The bill's consensus approach to promoting the deployment of carbon capture and storage technology should garner added political support.

The Bill Is a Clean Energy Bargain

Perhaps most important of all is the fact that the EPA has concluded the bill is affordable. Its analysis shows that the legislation brings an average cost of less than $120 per year per household.

The agency also found that it will be more effective than the House bill at avoiding excessive allowance price volatility, and it will result in an increase in net farm income--a key finding for the prospects of the bill in the Senate.

Two Elements that Still Need Work

I see two areas for further work. First, the bioenergy loophole must be closed. Right now, the bill assumes that renewable biomass is always carbon neutral, and as a result, it fails to distinguish between the carbon footprint of burning biomass from a mature forest and burning crop waste. (See my colleague Dan Lashof's recent post on this topic.)

Second, the bill's energy efficiency provisions could be even stronger. A new study by University of California economists shows that the legislation could produce up to 1.9 million jobs with strengthened energy efficiency provisions. In fact, the study found that "the stronger the federal climate policy, the greater the economic reward."

What to Watch For in the Coming Weeks

The new draft of the Kerry-Boxer bill indicates that the pace is picking up on climate legislation. To find out if the momentum will continue to build in the next few weeks, follow these three developments:

  1. The Senate Environment Committee will hold hearings on the bill this week. Expect to see opponents try to score political points by using overheated rhetoric and making ridiculous claims about the cost of the legislation. But watch to see if the concrete facts of the bill and the recent EPA analysis drawn out these naysayers.
  2. Both the pace and level of consensus on health care reform will influence the fate of the Kerry-Boxer bill. Assume that the better Congress and the White House feel about health care, the easier it will be to turn to climate legislation.
  3. Pay close attention to anything that President Obama and the White House say about climate as we head into the international negotiations in Copenhagen. Just last Friday, the president singled out the Boxer-Kerry bill in a major speech he gave at MIT, saying that it would boost America's economy and put us in the forefront of the clean energy market. Obama is giving another clean energy address in Arcadia, Florida on Tuesday. Listen to hear if President Obama encourages the Senate to take up legislation that will help America move toward a clean energy future with greater national security and less pollution.