Tracking the American Power Act

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson


Its short name is the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, but it’s not an “act” until the President signs it into law. Until then, it’s a “bill,” which is how I’ll refer to it here. The complete bill runs more than 800 pages; a faster-downloading version of the complete bill is here, and a shorter summary is here.

Introduced by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) on September 30, 2009, the bill has been through three hearings before the Committee on Environment and Public Works, two markup (making changes) sessions, and was ordered sent to the Senate by a majority vote on November 5 last year.

Boxer deserves a bit of praise of courage in co-sponsoring this bill. She is up for re-election this year. Many legislators at this point would lay low and avoid involvement in controversy.

Even if every Democrat in Congress favored the bill (which is not quite the case), even if the whole world agreed that Earth’s climate is changing in harmful ways (which is also not the case,) and even if everyone agreed that human activity is the main cause of climate change (which is definitely not the case,) a cadre of Republicans could still be counted on to make the bill as controversial as their owners, the titans of oil and coal, want them to. Watch for the climate-change version of the health care reform debate’s “death panels.” Senate opponents to the bill probably already have it in their pocket, and the Republican National Committee has likely already handed it over to its media outlet, Fox News.

On February 2, 2010, the committee filed its written report, including a minority report, and it was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar. Next step is for it to be introduced on the Senate floor, where amendments are likely to be introduced (so far there are none), debate held, and a vote taken – that is, if the Republican minority allows the democratic (notice the small “d”) process to ensue.

Led by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) Congress’s climate change denier-in-chief, so far the committee Republicans’ main contribution has been a complaint attached to the report saying consideration went too fast and procedural errors were made. The Republican minority wants the bill sent back to the committee so it can be discussed ad infinitum and, in a stunning reversal of eight years’ practice during the Bush administration, handled in strict observance of Senate rules.

You know the old saying: Anyone who sees how sausage is made won’t want to eat it. Now we’ve all had the chance to see, particularly in the Senate’s process of considering health care reform legislation, sausage-making in progress. Bribery – or, depending on your point of view, extortion – in regard to two senators that we know about, to get them to let the rest of the Senate vote on the health care bill, was probably the most distasteful action by the Democratic leadership. Allowing another to insert anti-abortion language, which had nothing to do with health care, was another; and eliminating any suggestion of a public option to foster competition with the health insurance cartel and its government-sanctioned price fixing, was a third.

Mistake it not: reports that the voting public opposes health care reform are greatly exaggerated. What they oppose is a law that lacks a public option. Add that provision to the mix and virtually every poll that’s asked the question finds that large majorities of Democrats, independents, and even Republicans, favor reform.

If Democrats hope to pass anything remotely resembling the Clean Jobs and American Power Act, they’re going to have to do a better job of refuting Republican distortions and finding the testicular fortitude to stand up for what they believe in. They’re going to have to control what goes into the sausage this time. If deliberations on the American Power Act proceed the way the health care reform bill have done, I don’t know anyone who won’t be too disgusted with the Democratic leadership to stand up for them in public.

A list of some of the main provisions of the bill as it was sent to the Senate follows. In future weeks, I’ll look at these and other provisions in more detail, while I keep you posted on how things change on the Senate floor.

First, and most important, the bill provides for the establishment of a cap and trade system for greenhouse gas (GHG) emission allowances and sets goals of reducing U.S. emissions by 20% by 2020 and by 83% by 2050.

The bill provides for the establishment of performance standards for new coal-fired power plants; programs to research the safety and performance of nuclear power plants; a research program to assist drinking water utilities in adapting to the effects of climate change; an Office of Consumer Advocacy within the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC); a national product carbon disclosure program; an incentives program to provide financial assistance to owners and operators of agricultural lands and forest land for projects that increase carbon sequestration or reduce GHG emissions; efficiency standards for buildings; a program to reduce the risk of wildfires in fire-ready communities; and some 30 other provisions.

The generally-approving American Forest Foundation has this to say about improvements needed to the bill:

While a good start, S 1733 must be improved to fully capture the sequestration and storage benefits from the over 265 million acres of family-owned woodlands in the U.S., in the fight against climate change.

America’s private woodlands, owned mostly by families and individuals, can supply over 20% of the climate solution, if the right incentives are put in place.

This issue and more that concern small-farming families and small forest-land owners will receive special attention here in the weeks to come.

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3 Responses to “Tracking the American Power Act”

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  3. US democracy doesn’t seems to function so well lately. No matter what the issue, if it is a big one, it is a problem. What would FDR have done?

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