Senate climate proposal won’t wean us off fossil fuels, fails to hold polluters accountable

3032068934_e6e265764bClimate change requires us to rethink and transform the ways we produce and consume energy and the way we transport goods and people. But draft legislation being considered by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (S.1733) fails to hold polluters accountable and falls short of empowering locally controlled sustainable energy.

There is no question that Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) understand the threat posed by climate change and are passionate about and committed to addressing the problem. They are environmental champions. But the draft bill contains compromises, flaws, loopholes and giveaways that defeat its purpose.

The bill is too similar to the flawed legislation passed in June by the House of Representatives that prioritizes nuclear power and coal over solar and wind power, and puts corporate utilities before community-owned power. Science tells us that we must act now to lower our emissions of greenhouse gases, but this legislation locks us in to our coal and oil addictions and relies on a dubious “cap-and-trade” scheme that doesn’t meaningfully reduce emissions – but does result in billion-dollar giveaways to utilities and creates a trillion-dollar pollution trading market for Wall Street. The bill does not come close to achieving the carbon reductions that science says is necessary to avert catastrophic climate change.

Public Citizen understands that addressing climate change means challenging the entrenched political power of the electric power industry, which has strong-armed Congress into giving it enormous taxpayer subsidies for ultra-expensive centralized power plants that are too risky (nuclear) and unproven (clean coal) instead of investing in rooftop solar, wind and geothermal, and investments in energy efficiency. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency concludes that the bulk of emissions reductions comes not from cap-and-trade but from the aggressive building and appliance efficiency mandates in the House-passed bill. Public Citizen understands that households shouldn’t have to pay higher electric bills while utilities use the law’s loopholes to rake in billions of dollars in windfall profits.

Public Citizen calls on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to stand up to the $100 million lobbying campaign by utilities and support meaningful climate legislation that:

  • Achieves carbon emission reductions in line with what science says is imperative (25-40 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2020);
  • Establishes incentives to promote rooftop solar and wind power instead of new nuclear power and coal plants;
  • If it is going to rely on a cap-and-trade scheme, at least embraces President Barack Obama’s call – as repeated in his August revised budget submitted to Congress – for a 100 percent auction that holds polluters accountable and delivers rebates and energy efficiency investments directly to the American people rather than through utilities;
  • Limits the use of offsets so our policies promote real emissions reductions, not theoretical ones;
  • Prohibits Wall Street from investing in a cap-and-trade speculation frenzy; and
  • Mandates strong efficiency standards for buildings, appliances and transportation.

Public Citizen and several other environmental organizations sent a detailed analysis of the bill to Sen. Boxer.

Flickr photo by kevindooley.

Tyson Slocum is the director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program.