Thursday, October 1, 2009
AFTER MONTHS of meetings, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) released their long-awaited climate bill with great fanfare. But missing from the 800-page Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act is a cap-and-trade system. That's disappointing, since Ms. Boxer announced earlier this year that the Environment and Public Works Committee would start from scratch on devising a system of capping greenhouse gas emissions and issuing a declining number of pollution allowances to covered industries. Instead, she and Mr. Kerry released a bill that is being called a starting point.
There are a number of pollution-reduction measures in the Kerry-Boxer bill, but the hallmark of the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act is that it has a stronger cap on greenhouse gas emissions than the Waxman-Markey bill that the House passed this spring. By 2020, there must be a 20 percent reduction below 2005 levels. The House measure calls for a 17 percent reduction over the same period. Unlike Waxman-Markey, the Senate legislation maintains the Environmental Protection Agency's authority over issuing permits to coal-fired power plants. There are programs for retraining and assistance for those who want to work in the emerging clean-energy economy. The bill also mandates a report on the efforts made by other major emitting nations, such as China and India, to reduce their pollution.
But in addressing global warming, the hard part is the cap-and-trade system. Mr. Kerry told us Wednesday that work on that is being left to the Senate Finance Committee, which, of course, is slogging through hundreds of amendments on health insurance reform. Because this pollution-reduction regime would fundamentally change the U.S. economy, the debate will pit politicians, regions and industries against one another in a fight for self-preservation. As we saw with Waxman-Markey, it will neither be pretty nor go quickly. Despite the obvious calendar crunch, Mr. Kerry, who is also on the Finance Committee, is confident that a cap-and-trade bill could be voted on in time for the Kyoto II climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December. We're not nearly so sure.