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Senators Abandon Cap and Trade Bill for Piecemeal Actions

Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (S-SC), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) are floating what appears to be a trial balloon in the Washington Post: abandoning an economy-wide carbon cap and trade climate bill in favor of piecemeal caps and taxes directed at the electric utility, automotive, and industrial sectors of the economy. In a nutshell:

Power plants would face an overall cap on emissions that would become more stringent over time; motor fuel may be subject to a carbon tax whose proceeds could help electrify the U.S. transportation sector; and industrial facilities would be exempted from a cap on emissions for several years before it is phased in. The legislation would also expand domestic oil and gas drilling offshore and would provide federal assistance for constructing nuclear power plants and carbon sequestration and storage projects at coal-fired utilities.

Call this the half-baked-and-twisted approach to climate.
The bill appears to be both half-baked, in that it’s not clear whether there’s a final product or just a discussion draft, and twisted in its priorities.

The bill would start off as an electric-utility-only cap plus some sort of tax on gasoline, exempting industry from the cap for several years. Joe Romm at Climate Progress has a little more detail, but not much more:

Frankly, I’m not sure they have the winning proposal yet….

My sources say that what they’re proposing isn’t actually a carbon tax on gasoline, nor is it the original cap-and-trade proposal, but something in between. Since the notion is complex and confusing — and no final decisions have been made — I won’t try to explain it fully here.

The Post story reports that cap-and-dividend, in which some but not all of the costs of pollution permits are rebated to consumers, may still be in the mix in order to persuade wavering Senators. I’ve previously compared the cap-and-dividend approach to the Alaskan Permanent Fund. The cap-and-dividend approach is espoused by a bill commonly known as Cantwell-Collins (also known as CLEAR), whose proponents praise its simplicity, but the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman divide-and-cap half-bill promises to be anything but simple.

Carl Pope of the Sierra Club seems to favor the bill: "The Senate is understanding this is not a simple problem — it’s multiple problems, and it requires multiple solutions." However, electric utilities will howl at what they’ll see as discrimination. Further, the petroleum industry’s hired shills will screech about "gas taxes."

What’s missing? The bill’s twisted emphasis. Notice what’s not being mentioned in the Washington Post story: any discussion whatsoever of renewable energy. The Senators’ half-baked bill appears to sing the same song as Obama’s State of the Union address: lots of noise about the chimera of clean coal and the need to make hard choices regarding offshore drilling, no mention of solar and wind power. A cap on utilities’ emissions may force them to seek out renewable energy…or it may force them to use -free money- federal assistance for carbon sequestration and storage of coal.

The WaPo story reflects an official Beltway trend-speak of "pricing carbon," but doesn’t hint whether the bill would be effective in limiting carbon. The ultimate test of a climate bill is whether it’s effective in reducing emissions. Anything half-baked and twisted simply doesn’t solve our melting world.

(x-posted at DailyKos)

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