Strong Climate Change Legislation Introduced in Senate

Comprehensive legislation on climate change has been introduced in the Senate by two of our strongest leaders, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

They hope to get it through committee and bring it to the floor by this summer. It has little chance of passing the Senate, much less the GOP-dominated House, but it’s time to try, they say, and to show Democrats’ commitment to moving forward on climate change. It will also be used to mobilize citizens to pressure their representatives.

Recent polls show Americans prefer a carbon tax over program cuts to reduce the deficit. 

Boxer Chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, on which Sanders sits, and he also sits on the Senate Energy committee.

Under the legislation, almost 3000 of the biggest polluters – like power plants and refineries – would be charged $20 for every ton of carbon or methane emissions, rising 5.6% a year for a decade. 60% of that fee would be returned to Americans as a rebate to counteract any rise in energy prices.  Remaining proceeds would fund renewable energy and energy efficiency, as well as bring down the US deficit.

"To transform our energy system, this legislation makes the boldest ever investment in energy efficiency and sustainable energy. That includes weatherizing 1 million homes a year as President Obama called for previously. It means tripling the budget for ARPA-E to do advanced research, and investing hundreds of billions through incentives and a public-private Sustainable Technologies Fund focusing on energy efficiency, solar and wind and geothermal and biomass, and clean transportation technology. We also provide funds to train workers for jobs in the sustainable energy economy. We provide funds to help communities become resilient in the face of extreme weather, and we pay down the debt by roughly $300 billion over ten years," says Sanders.

Although it covers only 2800 companies, they produce 85% of US greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The carbon tax would generate $1.2 trillion in the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and would cut GHG emissions 20% below 2005 levels by 2025. Emissions would be cut much further through investments in clean energy.

Importantly, the bill also closes the Halliburton loophole, which exempts the natural gas industry from Safe Drinking Water Act regulations, and requires disclosure of fracking chemicals.

The model is based on Alaska’s oil dividend program. The oil industry pays royalties to the state and every legal resident gets a monthly check for their share.

"The fee-and-dividend idea offers a way around the political and distributional obstacles of a carbon tax," explains The San Francisco Chronicle. Several conservative groups find it appealing as a market-based approach to reducing climate pollution, as well as to tax reform. A carbon tax is a consumption tax, which economists generally prefer to taxes on work, savings and investment."

There are two bills, the Climate Protection Act and the Sustainable Energy Act. For a summary, click here.

Republicans Move Quickly to Block EPA

Early in Obama’s first term, he said the much preferred way of addressing climate change is through congressional action, but if that didn’t happen, the EPA would do it through regulations.

Republicans ended up fighting EPA tooth and nail over every regulation it tried to issue.

Now, the same thing is happening. Congress refuses to budge on climate change but they also don’t want the EPA to take action.

This week, Republicans introduced a series of bills to limit EPA’s ability to regulate GHG emissions. "EPA is overreaching, overbearing, and overstepping boundaries that have long existed," said Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE). He doesn’t want EPA to be able to issue rules without congressional approval.

And 18 Senators introduced a resolution barring a carbon tax.

GAO Adds Climate Risk to the List

Every two years, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) lists what it considers to be the biggest risks to government operations, and for the first time, climate change is now on the list.

"Climate change creates significant financial risks for the federal government, which owns extensive infrastructure, such as defense installations; insures property through the National Flood Insurance Program; and provides emergency aid in response to natural disasters," says GAO’s report.

"The federal government is not well positioned to address the fiscal exposure presented by climate change, and needs a government wide strategic approach with strong leadership to manage related risks," it says.

"Congress can’t ignore an issue that its own auditors say is a top risk to taxpayers," says Henry Waxman (D-CA), who recently launched a bicameral climate change task force with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

"When GAO concludes that climate change is high risk, it becomes a fiscal imperative for the federal agencies and Congress to respond. The costs of inaction on climate change will be much higher than the costs of responsible action," says Whitehouse. 

GAO’s report notes the Obama administration is making "some progress toward better organizing across agencies, within agencies, and among different levels of government."

It calls for "more comprehensive and systematic" planning, such better management of federal insurance programs’ long-term financial exposure to climate change; addressing gaps in satellite data; a government-wide approach to providing data and technical assistance to state and local governments, and other improvements.

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