Kerry-Lieberman Roll Out the American Power Act

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Goodbye to all that / Photo: Huffington Post

Goodbye to all that / Photo: Huffington Post

Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) today introduced the American Power Act, a new take on improving the nation’s energy future. Missing from the rollout event was Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who worked on the bill with Kerry and Lieberman until late April, when Graham withdrew, giving a reason so flimsy as to be almost transparent.

Whether the bill has a snowball’s chance without a Republican co-sponsor is an open question. Members of the Party of No Way may have heard from a sufficient number of constituents fed up with just plain cussedness that they’ll be inclined to at least listen to the reasoning of the two senators before digging in their heels.

If Republicans do listen, here is some of what they’ll hear.

  • Coastal states will get to decide whether to allow offshore drilling for oil within 75 miles. Currently, the opt-out boundary is three miles. As an inducement to saying yes, those that allow drilling will receive 37.5 percent of revenues, to help protect coastal ecosystems. Another 12.5 percent of revenues would go to the Land and Water Conservation Program for use by state and federal programs.

  • Emissions of seven greenhouse gases would be cut by 17% of 2005 levels by 2020 (matching the House bill, passed last June by a whisker), and by 80% by 2050.

  • Beginning in 2013 power plants and transportation fuel emissions would cost between $12 and $25 a ton, adjusted for inflation. The price (Dare one call it a tax? You can be sure Republicans will.) will extend to manufacturers in 2016. But only the largest emitters will pay – an estimated 7,500 factories and power plants.

  • Two-thirds of emission revenues that are not dedicated to reducing the federal deficit (no word that I can find on what proportion of the revenues will be so dedicated) will go back to consumers from the outset, as a reduction in bills for electricity and natural gas.

  • There is a schedule of assistance for people of modest means who are affected by increased energy costs in the form of tax cuts and additional energy cost refunds.

  • The bill provides incentives and loan guarantees for the development of nuclear power plants.

  • There is money for the Highway Trust Fund and transportation programs to reduce emissions and increase efficiency. “Clean” coal technology also comes in for funding to develop methods to capture carbon and store it away.

  • Farms and most small and mid-sized businesses would be exempt from carbon emission limits. The bill proposes to create a program of incentives for farmers to reduce emissions. If they do well enough, they would receive credits they could sell to companies that operate under reduction requirements.

Nowhere in the bill is there a provision for a cap-and-trade program, such as the one the House passed last June.

If that’s not good enough, Kerry says this about the bill in his post on Government Blog:

It’ll help us create nearly 2 million new jobs, develop new products, and support the research and development to help us maintain leadership in the global economy. And it’ll even reduce the deficit by about $21 billion in nine years.

Whether it helps the Democrat-Independent duo to gain acceptance of enough Republicans to get the bill passed is an open question, but it’s clear that Graham, the backed-out Republican, was heard (although he’s put himself in a position to complain that he wasn’t.) There are concessions to all but the largest polluters, incentives for nuclear power and “clean” coal (those quotation marks will remain there until the dream becomes reality), and more.

Needless to say, both the right and the left will be bent out of shape over some provisions. My take: if they’re equally unhappy, then Kerry and Lieberman have done their work well.

More information than you could possibly want is available on Kerry’s Senate web site. You might like to look at the four-page summary or a select few of the one-pagers.

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