Climate Bill Could Be Step Back if Not Fixed

I was saddened to hear the details of the climate bill soon to be released by Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman.

This bill could be a step backwards, not forward, unless the Senators fix key provisions in the upcoming weeks.

Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman have made a heroic effort to craft a bill in the face of opposition from the Chamber of Commerce, Lisa Murkowski, Koch Industries, and other representatives of dirty power. Their hard work to create a bill that would address global warming, make America more secure, and create jobs can come to fruition in the upcoming weeks. This would require the elimination of subsidies for the dying, dangerous nuclear industry, protecting women's and children's health by phasing out coal, supporting states' rights to protect the health of their citizens, and leaving America's Clean Air Act intact.

The main drivers of progress on global warming in the U.S. have been: 1) state laws, such as California's tougher standards on global warming pollution from tailpipes or renewable energy standards, 2) the Supreme Court's decision, brought about by a lawsuit by ICTA, Greenpeace, and other groups, to allow the EPA to regulate carbon pollution, and 3) energy policy.

These drivers have led the coal industry to slide up to the table to eliminate these avenues of regulation in return for one weak, national bill in which the industry will receive tens of billions of tax dollars and a price on carbon that is so weak that no signal will exist to shift the world from coal to clean energy. In return, the coal industry held policy makers hostage, demanding that the EPA be stripped of its authority to regulate carbon pollution in line with what is needed to protect public health. On top of that, states like California could be stripped of their states' rights to pass appropriate air pollution safeguards to protect the public health.

This roll-back of clean air legislation would be a price too high to pay. Giving away the leverage to reduce pollution further in the future leaves our children's future at risk.

Unfortunately, the bill does not address the biggest driver of global warming quickly enough - the burning of coal. You've heard the hype about "clean" coal. If "clean" means being the number one source of mercury, which threatens to cause birth defects or brain damage to the children of one in six American women, then coal is clean. If "clean" means being one of the greatest sources of pollution that triggers asthma attacks and emphysema problems, then coal is clean. In reality, coal is dirty. Burning coal is no longer moral.

The clean energy provisions of the House bill require less clean energy than we will already have; state policies are simply ahead of federal energy policy. We expect the provisions in the Senate bill to be business as usual as well. The price on carbon in both bills will generate a lot of cash but won't be high enough for at least a decade to drive a shift from coal to cleaner energy sources.

The international efforts to address global warming in Copenhagen crumbled in part because, while European heads of state were offering to cut pollution by 30% below 1990 levels, the U.S. commitment is merely 4% below 1990. President Obama's hands were tied there by the very polluters that are now driving loopholes and environmental rollbacks into this bill.

Senator Graham argues that this bill is not an environmental bill; it is a national security bill. The bill, which is ironically scheduled to be released on the anniversary of Chernobyl, includes up to 12 new nuclear power plants. As someone who was in D.C. on 9/11, I dread the thought of new nuclear plants after the 9/11 Commission Report stated that "Atta also ... considered targeting a nuclear facility he had seen during familiarization flights near New York."

Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman should be commended for stepping out as leaders on this issue. The way to address global warming, make America more secure, and create jobs is to update the bill to eliminate subsidies for the dying, dangerous nuclear industry; protect women's and children's health by phasing out coal; support states' rights to protect the health of their citizens; and leave America's Clean Air Act intact.