Is this the year that we take meaningful action on climate change? I sure hope so - but Senate Democrats, attempting to leverage America's anger over the ongoing BP oil spill, have their work cut out for them.
I'm paging through summaries of the American Power Act, the compromise climate bill unveiled today by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). News from the Gulf remains bleak: BP's 100-ton containment dome was a bust, and now it seems that rig operator Transocean should have known its blowout preventer had 260 different "failure modes." News for the American Power Act also sounds bleak. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the only Republican with a hand in crafting the legislation, dropped his sponsorship last month, insisting that the oil spill and new urgency on immigration reform had doomed the bill's chance of passage.
Effectively, the Republican party is once again sitting on its hands while another fire burns. And frustratingly, without bipartisan support, 60 votes for Kerry-Lieberman will be hard to get.
I have my own issues with Lieberman, a flip-flopping moralizer whose commitment to real reform is questionable. After all, his initial response to the Gulf disaster - "accidents happen" - was insane. Not to mention his eagerness to accept a Democratic vice presidential nomination in 2000, not too long before deigning to sing Republican John McCain's praises at the 2008 GOP convention. But I digress.
The American Power Act isn't perfect. It does set aside funds for renewable energy research, but focuses more on incentives for new nuclear power plants and offshore drilling - although concern over the BP spill led to a provision that will allow any state (Louisiana, perhaps?) to veto offshore drilling projects within 75 miles of their coastlines, or that are projected to have negative impacts in the event of a spill. And states that do allow offshore drilling will receive 37.5 percent of revenues "to help protect their coastlines and coastal ecosystems."
At this point in our nation's history, though, here's what's most important: Kerry-Lieberman understands that America needs to be competitive in the global clean energy economy - and, wherever necessary, we need to produce more clean energy here at home. The bill seems to strike the right balance - focusing on climate change, but understanding that fundamentally this also needs to be about job creation. And while we're talking about needs, there are thousands of Americans who lost their jobs in the recession. They're eager for a foothold in the clean energy marketplace.
While America's manufacturing sector is shrinking, several provisions in Kerry-Lieberman could provide relief. From expanding the clean technology manufacturing tax credit, to providing incentives for the production of advanced vehicles, to investing in research on renewable energy and advanced vehicle technology, this bill could bolster our economic security. It would also initiate pilot programs to test drive the feasibility of both light- and heavy-duty plug-in electric vehicles, an exciting and yet mostly untapped opportunity to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels from home and abroad.
In a frank piece published earlier today on Grist, Kerry gives an honest assessment of the bill. Sure, he says - it's not perfect:
But our planet can't wait for the perfect bill. We need to get a really good bill now, one that reduces carbon pollution and puts us on a path to a clean energy future. . . . Bottom-line - we're at a crossroads. On one path is clean energy, a more stable climate, and a more prosperous economy with America back in control of our own energy generating good clean energy jobs. On the other is the status quo which is unsustainable. Keep that in mind when you look at this bill and engage in the debate.
Wise words. Let's hope enough of Kerry's colleagues - and our allies in the environmental movement - are paying attention.
Brian F. Keane is President of SmartPower, the nation's leading non-profit marketing firm dedicated to promoting clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency. To learn more, visit www.smartpower.org.