Understanding the Senate Climate Bill

Without Obama's support, it might not have a shot

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On Wednesday, lawmakers in the Senate unveiled their much-anticipated climate change bill, the American Power Act. The 1,000-page bill comes almost a year after the House passed its own version. It faces serious hurdles to pass. The tripartisan authors of the bill have since become bipartisan, with Republican Lindsey Graham backing out, leaving Democrat John Kerry and Independent Joe Lieberman. And the oil spill still spreading in the Gulf of Mexico has made President Obama's conservative-baiting call for expanded offshore drilling suddenly less appealing.

  • The Details of the Bill  Think Progress' Brad Johnson summarizes, "Utility (2013) and industry (2016) cap and trade with linked refinery cap (2013), plus consumer rebates, support for state-level renewable electricity and energy efficiency standards, and energy investment." Johnson provides a highly readable chart explaining the 14 provisions, how they differ from the House bill, and how they differ from Obama's stated goals.
  • How It Would Spend Cap & Trade Revenues  The New Republic's Bradford Plumer explains, "the cap-and-trade program would generate about $7 billion in revenues from selling carbon permits to oil companies and refineries. That money would then get split evenly in three ways." (1) "Federal grants for big transportation projects." (2) "Highway Trust Fund ... projects that decreased greenhouse-gas emissions." (3) "Local land-use planning ... States and metro areas would develop their own plans to reduce transport emissions—by investing in rail or promoting denser development or building sidewalks or curbing sprawl or whatever they wanted to do."
  • 'Bad Bet' on Carbon Capture  Writing in the New York Times, Robert Bryce dissects "carbon capture and sequestration, the technology that removes carbon dioxide from the smokestack at power plants and forces it into underground storage." He calls it, "a technology whose adoption faces three potentially insurmountable hurdles: it greatly reduces the output of power plants; pipeline capacity to move the newly captured carbon dioxide is woefully insufficient; and the volume of waste material is staggering."
  • Won't Go Far Without GOP Support  The Hill's Ben Geman notes that, with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham having backed out, "the glaring absence of a GOP senator underscored the bill’s gloomy future in the 111th Congress."
  • Oil Spill Makes Passage Less Likely  The New York Times' John Broder sighs, "The country is nervously watching efforts to halt a damaging oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Senate is torn by deep partisan hostility and the public is uncertain whether the benefits of combating global warming are worth the costs. There is also no assurance that the bill will break through the crowded Senate calendar to reach the floor this year." Broder explains:
One of the central elements of the Senate bill — incentives to increase domestic offshore oil production — has been radically rewritten in recent days, in the aftermath of the explosion and fire on a drilling rig in the gulf on April 20, leaving an undersea well leaking oil that has yet to be stanched. Instead of providing for a broad expansion of offshore drilling, the Kerry-Lieberman measure would have the effect of drastically limiting oil operations off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts by giving states the right to veto any drilling plan that could cause environmental or economic harm.
  • Great Bill, but Needs Obama's Backing  Climate Progress' Joe Romm praises the bill for hitting all ten of his "climate and clean energy job" criteria, but writes that its implementation requires a full push from Obama. "There really is no Plan B. Certainly leaving this to the EPA and a few states won’t achieve most of those, especially the crucial international deal. Sadly, the conventional wisdom is that even this moderate bill has no chance — and I certainly think it doesn’t have very much chance if Obama doesn’t start pushing for it as hard as he pushed for healthcare."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.