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Climate Change Legislation Requires Significant Changes to Protect Consumers and Environment

July 22, 2009

Climate Change Legislation Requires Significant Changes to Protect Consumers and Environment

Leading National Public Interest Groups Push for Senate Action to Fix Bill


WASHINGTON, D.C. – A coalition of 25 leading national consumer groups and grassroots environmental organizations has formed to urge the Senate to improve sweeping climate change legislation passed by the House of Representatives by stripping out the corporate giveaways and including strong protections for struggling energy consumers and the environment.

In a letter sent today to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which is still crafting the Senate’s version of the bill, the groups say that 100 percent of the carbon credits should be auctioned and revenues should be used for direct consumer relief as proposed in February by President Obama. To the extent that the committee builds on the House-passed bill, the groups, which include AARP, Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), Public Citizen, National Consumer Law Center and TURN, are calling on the Senate to establish a stronger system of consumer protection.

Thanks to backroom deals with polluting industries and corporate lobbyists, the current version of the American Clean Energy and Security Act is a loser for the environment and for consumers, said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. The House version would give away 85 percent of the carbon credits for free to utilities, oil refiners and manufacturers. While consumers are offered no protection from price volatility or rate hikes in this version, industrial energy users secured protections to guarantee their bottom lines.

“Powerful interests got special protections in the climate legislation, leaving households inadequately protected from high prices,” Slocum said. “We are calling for equitable treatment for families and no windfall profits for corporate interests.”

Current accountability measures in the bill are inadequate to ensure that electric and natural gas local distribution companies use the proceeds from their carbon credit auctions to benefit consumers by lowering rates for low-income and middle-class households and by investing in sustainable energy for the future. As written, the bill will result in windfall profits for many large polluters and delay the country’s transition to cleaner energy technologies.

“AARP is committed to improving the health of our environment so that all people, no matter their age, can enjoy healthy communities,” said Elaine Ryan, vice president of government relations for AARP. “While we want to see a bill that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, we are acutely concerned for the well-being of middle, low and fixed-income individuals who would be negatively impacted by potential utility rate increases. Research and experience have shown us time and time again that an individual’s inability to afford utility costs can have catastrophic and life-threatening results. This is why AARP urges the Senate to improve this bill and provide stronger cost containments for consumers.”

Added Olivia Wein, staff attorney National Consumer Law Center, “Millions of families already struggle to balance their budgets or survive on fixed incomes. They can’t afford to pay the higher energy costs that will result from cap and trade. The Senate needs to clearly direct utilities, which have been given free emission allowances, to use the resulting revenue to cut the utility bills of residential customers.”

“Climate policy is consumer policy in America,” said Mike Tidwell director of CCAN. “Unfortunately, the House version of the climate bill was a sweet deal for Big Oil and Big Coal but not for average consumers. The Senate needs to improve the House approach by rebating carbon permit money directly and without games to voters who want both clean energy and fairness for consumers.”

Mark Toney, executive director of TURN, said, “Even David needed a slingshot – and ratepayers need a consumer protection fund to stand a chance against the deep pockets of the energy industry.”

The groups involved in this effort include: AARP, Consumer Federation of America, National Consumer Law Center, Public Citizen, Clean Air Watch, National Community Action Foundation, Consumer Watchdog, Alliance for Affordable Energy, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, Coastal Conservation League, Edgemont Neighborhood Coalition of Dayton, Faiths United for Sustainable Energy, Fresh Energy, Jews of the Earth, KyotoUSA, Montana Environmental Information Center, New Energy Economy, NY Public Interest Research Group, Ohio Citizen Action, Pennsylvania Interfaith Climate Change Campaign, Public Policy Virginia Inc., Texas Climate Emergency Campaign and TURN.

READ the coalition letter.

MORE information.