The House passed the monumental American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) almost a year ago. Since then, there have been two climate bills introduced in the Senate, the Kerry-Boxer bill and the Cantwell-Collins bill. And, for several months, everyone awaited the introduction of the tri-partisan Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill . . . an introduction that would never come to pass. Last week, after Senator Graham (R-SC) dropped his sponsorship, Senators Kerry (D-MA) and Lieberman (I-CT) released a third climate bill in the Senate, the American Power Act.
The American Power Act, similarly to ACES, would place a cap on carbon emissions, requiring large emitters (over 25,000 tons annually) to have allowances that could be bought and sold, creating a cap-and-trade system. Among other provisions, the bill sets aside $7 billion annually to improve our transportation infrastructure, provides $2 billion in incentives annually to research and develop “clean coal” technologies, and provides substantial financial incentives to increase nuclear power generation. In the aftermath of the BP oil leak, the Act also grants to states a 37.5 percent share of revenues collected from off-shore drilling in federal waters off their coastlines, giving states the “option” to veto off-shore drilling within 75 miles of their coasts.
The cap on carbon emissions would hopefully begin to curb global warming, but it would also increase energy costs and the costs of energy-intensive goods for American consumers. The Act includes special consumer protection measures aimed at our nation’s poorest, but are they sufficient? Chad Stone, Chief Economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, believes they are, characterizing the protections as “the soundest approach to protecting low- and moderate-income consumers in a comprehensive energy and climate bill.”
The Act creates the “Energy Refund Program” for families with incomes below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Each state’s human services agency would administer the program, and benefits would be delivered on the same debit cards currently used to administer food stamps and other benefits. Families who already receive food stamps or SSI would automatically be enrolled in the program. Families with slightly higher incomes, between 150 and 250 percent of the federal poverty level, would be eligible for a refundable credit distributed through the tax system.
Although these special provisions may be enough to protect our nation’s most vulnerable, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) believes that, in terms of consumer protection for the average American, the Act falls far short of the House bill passed last year.
The bill could be strengthened in many ways, but it may represent the last chance (at least for many years) to pass badly needed comprehensive climate change legislation. Many already doubt the Senate’s ability to pass a bill, but after elections this fall, chances will be even slimmer. We need a climate bill, and we need our Senators to step up to the plate now.