A Climate Bill Primer


After months of fits and starts, the climate bill is about to have its day in the sun.

On April 26, Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman will release the bill they've been working on for nearly five months. The bill will then head to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Congressional Budget Office for cost evaluations that could take up to six weeks. Harry Reid will try to squeeze it into a floor debate before the summer recess, but insiders are skeptical that the bill will pass this year.

Marc Ambinder notes that "conventional wisdom holds that no climate change/energy bill can be passed in an election year" but that bipartisan backing from Graham and a widespread desire by businesses to avoid new EPA regulations give this bill a decent shot. "It's worth remembering, too," Ambinder writes, "that many landmark environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Superfund, were passed days ahead of Election Day."  

So what will this bill look like? Here's a rundown of its key elements, some more certain than others:

1. Emissions reductions. The bill will aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. This goal is identical to the one the House set in its climate bill last year.

2. Industry caps. Utilities would be hit first, reining in emissions starting in 2012. Industrial facilities would be phased in four years later. These sectors would participate in tightly regulated emissions credit markets, but the bill does not include plans for a broader cap-and-trade program.

3. Consolidation. Reuters reports that the bill would prevent the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide emissions and would eliminate regional carbon trading programs in order to impose a nationalized system.

4. Taxpayer refunds. The bill would probably dictate that a portion of the revenue from industry-specific cap-and-trade systems be returned to taxpayers. The rest would be invested in deficit reduction and renewable energy technology for coal-heavy states.  

5. Nuclear subsidies and offshore drilling. Obama has taken the lead in arranging loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors and an expansion of offshore drilling, parts of which will be worked into the bill. In an effort to lure industrial and conservative senators, states would reportedly have more say in allowing drilling off their coasts.

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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