October 14, 2009

Boxer-Kerry bill promises major GHG reductions, but...

Climate change legislation has finally begun to move forward after being placed on the back burner during the health care debate as Senators Kerry and Boxer introduced an 821 page long climate change bill on the first of this month. While the Kerry-Boxer bill is promising, several major provisions that were included in the House-passed version of the bill are missing. In particular the Kerry-Boxer bill does not include the wide-ranging energy provisions found in the House-passed bill, such as a national renewable portfolio standard, expanded federal role in siting electricity transmission lines, appliance efficiency standards, and a “smart grid” program. However, the Senate has already noted these in S. 1462, the “American Clean Energy Leadership Act,” reported by the Senate Energy Committee in July of this year. Hopefully, as negotiations move towards passing a final bill, these provisions supporting efficiency standards and renewable energy generation will find their way back into the discussion.

The more promising aspects of the Kerry-Boxer bill include the fact that it does call for national energy efficiency building standards and does set up a more aggressive cap and trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions economy wide. Capped sources must reduce their emissions 3 percent below a 2005 emissions baseline by 2012; 20 percent below baseline by 2020; 42 percent by 2030; and 83 percent by 2050. The 2020 goal in Boxer-Kerry is 17 percent more aggressive than the House 2020 goal. Boxer-Kerry also staggers sources along a timeline of when their emissions must be capped. Electric utilities would be required to comply in 2012, for power generated burning coal and natural gas. Petroleum and coal-based liquid fuel producers and importers also would have to comply in 2012. Industrial sources would be covered beginning in 2014, and local natural gas distributors in 2016.

In short, Boxer-Kerry does provide for the long-term reduction of greenhouse gases and hopefully will show the rest of the world that the U.S. has a good faith interest in reducing emissions before the Copenhagen negotiations begin. However, support for provisions that support renewable energy generation and more stringent energy efficiency standards should continue, as they would provide the blueprint needed for actually achieving reductions.

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