US Energy and Climate Change Legislation - Open to Proposals

von Dr. Norbert Wagner, Michal Machnowski
In response to the lack of progress in Congress on global climate change and energy legislation coupled with mounting international criticisms, President Obama recently took three important steps that would seek to seriously confront America’s carbon-limited future.


President Obama proposed to open vast expenses of water along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling, announced plans for significant increases in the fuel mileage standards for automobiles and trucks and stated that the government would provide $8 billion in federal loan guarantees to build two new nuclear reactors in the U.S.

Offshore Drilling

The offshore drilling proposal proposed by the president is intended to reduce dependence on foreign oil imports, while generating revenue from the sale of offshore leases. However, while President Obama has staked out middle ground on other environmental matters - such as supporting nuclear energy - the sheer breadth and scope of the offshore drilling decision will take some of his supporters aback. In March, 10 coastal state Senate Democrats said they’d oppose a climate bill if it greatly expands offshore drilling. The warning was issued to the three architects of the upcoming energy and climate legislation: Senator Kerry (D-MA), Senator Lieberman (ICT) and Senator Graham (R-SC).

The warning highlights the balancing act that Senator Kerry and others face as they try to craft legislation that can attract industry and GOP backing without hemorrhaging support from liberals and environmentalists. The coastal Democrats laud the effort to write a climate bill, noting their states are at risk from rising sea levels, but say a major expansion of off-shore drilling would cause them to drop their support. “But we hope that as you forge legislation, you are mindful that we cannot support legislation that will mitigate one risk to out our coasts at greater peril from another source,” the 10 Democrats wrote. The letter is signed by Democratic Senators Bill Nelson (FL), Robert Menendez (NJ), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Barbara Mikulski (MD), Ben Cardin (MD), Frank Lautenberg (NJ), Ted Kaufman (DE), Ron Wyden (OR), Jeff Merkley (OR), and Jack Reed (RI).

While many liberals were disappointed by President Obama’s decision to support the expansion of offshore drilling, the decision was seen by others as a move to garner the support of conservative Democrats and Republicans who would be open to voting for a comprehensive climate and energy measure.

Senator Kerry recently said that the president’s decision on offshore drilling could help get the 60 votes in the Senate that will be needed in order to pass climate change legislation. Whitney Smith, the spokes person for Senator Kerry stated: “In the difficult work of putting together a 60 vote coalition to price carbon, Senator Kerry has put aside his own longtime policy objections and been willing to explore potential energy sources off our coasts as part of a suite of alternative solutions. He and his colleagues are committed to find acceptable compromises on onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration, conducted in an environmentally sensitive manner that protects the interests of the coastal states. They’ve met with Senators who oppose drilling and those who support it and they’ve worked for months to determine the best solutions.

Republicans favor more drilling but their leaders have said that the plan does not open up enough areas for drilling because it excludes the Pacific coast and some areas of Alaska. So the question remains: Which Republican Senators can be persuaded to support even a “compromise” version of climate change legislation?

In response to such concerns, the bipartisan trio unveiled an eightpage draft outline for their bill showing an emphasis on a sectoral approach to fighting climate change. The draft legislation draws on ideas from the Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal (CLEAR) Act introduced by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME). The CLEAR ACT is a framework for a capand-trade program that has gained praise from the oil industry, AARP, and some prominent climate activists. From the details that have been released by the members of the Alliance for Energy and Economic Growth, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce working group of top polluter lobbyists who met with the legis-lators, it appears that the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman draft is consistent with President Obama’s principles and similar in its policy aims to the House’s Waxman-Markey Act.

The chances of passing this legislation in an election year depend on whether enough politicians, political pundits, and most importantly, the American people believe, as Senator Kerry, Senator Lieberman and Senator Graham do, that their approach is the right political re economic competitiveness, and increasing climate instability.

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