The Blogosphere Reacts to the Kerry-Boxer Senate Climate Bill

Originally posted at EnviroKnow.

Yesterday, Senators Kerry and Boxer introduced the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (CEJAPA). You can view a section-by-section summary and the full text of the legislation here.

Many bloggers have already weighed in with their initial reactions. What follows is a round-up of these first impressions, as well as a few thoughts of my own.

Bradford Plumer has a solid summary, running down the list of they key differences between Kerry-Boxer and Waxman-Markey. Key among the differences are the preservation of the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases, a "crackdown on carbon speculators" and "stricter scrutiny for biofuels." Among (what I consider to be) the weak points in the bill, Plumer identifies increased incentives for natural gas production and use, and a voluntary mechanism for methane capture, which on first glance seems awfully short-sighted.

Brad Johnson writes that: "Incorporating the efforts of a number of senators, the Kerry-Boxer legislation has strengthened a number of provisions." Among these, Johnson highlights the stronger emissions limits, funding for green transportation, and the preservation of EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, which the House bill foolishly gutted. Johnson also mentions a few Senators who have already attacked the bill, including Democrat Kent Conrad and Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Kate Sheppard makes an interesting observation: "Noticeably missing from both the bill and their rhetoric was any reference to cap and trade. Instead, they're calling it a 'Global Warming Pollution Reduction and Investment' program -- and they're promoting the energy and national security benefits rather than the emissions reductions goals." Sheppard also observes that, as of yesterday's unveiling, there was no Republican support for the bill whatsoever.

Elana Schor laments the lack of focus on transport, writing that "transportation reform groups are already strategizing about how to increase the bill's focus on their area -- which currently accounts for one-third of U.S. emissions but stands to receive far less than the 10 percent of total climate revenue that is mandated in the so-called "CLEAN TEA" legislation." Schor also predicts that the bill will not make it to the Senate floor in advance of December's climate negotiations in Copenhagen, but that "Senate passage next spring remains a distinct possibility."

Steve Benen also expresses skepticism that some of the more promising measures will make it to the Senate floor. Benen writes: "So, does the bill have a realistic shot? It won't be easy. The first step for Boxer-Kerry will probably be the easiest: it's going to pass the Environment and Public Works Committee, perhaps by the end of the month. From there, however, it will be subjected to scrutiny in at least four other Senate committees, each of which will change the bill, probably for the worse. Some of the entirely worthwhile measures introduced yesterday are not at all likely to withstand the process." This, of course, brings to mind the old adage that the United States Senate is where good ideas go to die. This statement is as true now as it ever was, as far as I can tell.

Brian Beutler discusses the arduous path the bill must take through various unfriendly Senate committees. In particular, Beutler mentions potential roadblocks in both the Finance and Agriculture Committees. Beutler also takes note of the bright side: "James Inhofe will spend weeks and weeks saying more and more ridiculous things about it. So that should be fun."

Matt Yglesias raises the same concern that I will below: "Kerry-Boxer is a somewhat stronger and better measure than the American Climate and Energy Security bill that passed the House. But of course ACES passed the House whereas Kerry-Boxer will doubtless be changed many, many times."

Joseph Romm focuses on the genuine improvement over the House bill in terms of offsets. Romm republishes a guest-post from an expert on offsets, who writes: "Probably the most important difference between the bills is that the Kerry-Boxer bill does not specify which agency would be in charge of administering and ensuring the integrity of any offset program. In the House bill, a last minute compromise switched all of the administration of biological sequestration offsets to the USDA from the EPA, a change widely criticized by environmentalists because of the belief that the USDA would not be as effective in regulation."

A. Siegel focuses primarily on the price collar, detailing the pros and cons of the approach Senators Kerry and Boxer have used. In the end, he concludes: "From my perspective, for the next 10+ years, it seems almost certain that the floor will have more impact on actual carbon prices than the ceiling ... thus, having that floor will help drive more emissions cuts than a program without a cost collar."

David Roberts takes note of the fact that the bill is called Kerry-Boxer, rather than Boxer-Kerry as was previously expected. Roberts writes: "Word has it this decision came down from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) himself." He also speculates that this decision was due to Senator Boxer's "bungling" of the Lieberman-Warner bill, which was the Senate's last attempt to address global warming.

Personally, I'm cautiously optimistic. While -- as others have pointed out -- the bill as it currently stands is stronger than the American Clean Energy and Security Act in several crucial ways, it has a treacherous gauntlet to run before reaching the President's desk. The two greatest roadblocks I anticipate are in the Agriculture and Finance Committees.

In the House negotiations, Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson was able to several major concessions which significantly weakened the bill. Pollution-powered Senator Blanche Lincoln, who recently took over the Chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture will undoubtedly take the opportunity to do the bidding of her agribusiness benefactors. It would be a true shame for the Senate to grant devastating concessions to Senator Lincoln at the expense of the environmental integrity of the legislation.

The Finance Committee Chairman, Senator Max Baucus, is also likely to be a major thorn in liberals' side. Baucus has been fighting behind closed-doors to have a major role in the key aspects of the bill, including the financing for cap-and-trade mechanism. Senator Baucus' insistence on wasting months trying to secure Republican support -- despite all evidence that such support would never materialize -- has been a major detriment to Democrats' ability to move healthcare legislation in a timely manner. Indeed, many progressives have now accepted that Baucus' attempts to gain Republican support are little more than pretense for weakening the bill and delaying the process as long as possible.

A smaller but still significant concern is a group of Midwestern Democratic Senators -- led by Sherrod Brown -- who are intent on extracting concessions for manufacturers in their states. Senator Brown, speaking of Senators Kerry and Boxer to The Hill yesterday, gave the ultimatum: "They don't get the votes from Midwestern industrial-state senators unless manufacturing is a major component of this." While the Midwestern Senators do have some valid concerns, the manufacturers they are advocating on behalf of now join a long list of industries seeking favorable concessions (read: free emissions credits): Nuclear, Coal, Natural Gas, Agribusiness, Oil Refining, Electric Utilities, etc. The true test this bill faces is whether or not it can work its way through the Senate without ceding so much ground to these industries that the environmental integrity of the bill is compromised. Either way, as Steve Benen notes, "it's a fight worth watching closely."