Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 12, 2010

THE 'AMERICAN POWER ACT' MAKES ITS DEBUT.... It's a little later than planned, and it's missing its Republican co-sponsor, but the much-anticipated climate/energy bill made its debut in the Senate today.

Senators John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, presented their long-delayed proposal to address global warming and energy Wednesday afternoon. They are calling it the American Power Act.

The nearly 1,000-page plan provides something for every major player -- loan guarantees for nuclear plant operators, incentives for use of natural gas in transportation, exemptions from emissions caps for heavy industry, free pollution permits for utilities, modest carbon dioxide limits for oil refiners and expansion of offshore drilling for those states willing to accept the risks.

The bill's overall goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050. The targets match those in a House bill passed last year and the Obama administration's announced policy goal.

The American Power Act -- nice name, by the way -- was supposed to be a tri-partisan effort, but two weeks ago, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) backed away from his own effort, after months of work. Despite the pressing need, Graham blamed his withdrawal on Democrats' renewed interest in his bipartisan immigration bill, which still doesn't make sense to me, and looks increasingly petty given the larger circumstances on energy policy right now.

Nevertheless, Kerry has a compelling case to make to his colleagues.

[W]e're still stuck or moving backwards -- our economy constantly rattled by the volatile price of oil, our planet's climate increasingly unstable thanks to the pollution we're pumping into the atmosphere.

And, oh yes, we're sending billions of dollars a day overseas, with the global oil market enriching some of the most autocratic and anti-American regimes around the world. Here's one fact to stiffen the spine: as my friend Jon Powers and his band of veterans remind me, every day we keep going with what we're doing makes Iran $100 million richer and takes over a billion dollars out of our economy. Every single day.

That's why I'm doubling down on the proposal I'm rolling out today with Senator Lieberman.... It's a practical pathway to finally end our addiction to oil, put Americans back in control of our own power production, and release the innovation and ingenuity of Americans to build the clean energy economy we need to build prosperity in the 21st century.

It'll help us create nearly 2 million new jobs, develop new products, and support the research and development to help us maintain leadership in the global economy. And it'll even reduce the deficit by about $21 billion in nine years.

As for the APA's prospects, as we've discussed before, getting a climate/energy bill through the Senate was going to be tough under normal circumstances. Now, the challenge is arguably even greater -- Kerry and Lieberman have to find a way to break a Republican filibuster; they have to keep business interests on board; they have to keep Midwestern Dems from jumping ship; they have to thread a needle on increased oil drilling; and they have to consider what happens in the House in the event the Senate actually passes their bill. Oh, and they have to do it all rather quickly, while Republicans try to run out the clock, and with other agenda items battling for attention.

But I give Kerry and Lieberman credit for tackling this, despite the odds, because it's absolutely necessary. Republicans will almost certainly make significant gains in the midterms, and much of the GOP considers climate science some kind of nefarious plot cooked up by communists. If the bill dies this year, after having already passed the House, we may not see another vote on the issue at all until 2013, at the earliest.

And we really can't wait that long.

Steve Benen 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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Soon you'll be hearing The American Tax Act. It taxes too much, spends too much and doesn't solve our energy problems.

There, I saved the GOP the trouble of thinking up some punch lines, I mean talking points.

Posted by: mikefromArlington on May 12, 2010 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

It looks a lot like the McCain/Palin 2008 Energy Plan: expanded off-shore oil drilling, tens of billions of taxpayer dollars squandered on the "clean coal" hoax and the costly, dangerous and ineffectual nuclear power boondoggle, inadequate support for renewable energy and efficiency technologies, and no effective limits on CO2 emissions.

Kerry's mail role appears to be to pretend that this bill comes anywhere near doing what the science tells us we urgently need to do if we are to have any chance of avoiding the worst consequences of anthropogenic global warming (most mentions of which have been excised from the discourse anyway, which is all about "American power" now).

Which should not be too difficult for a guy who found it politically expedient to pretend that Bush's illegal and fraudulent invasion of Iraq was in the national interest.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on May 12, 2010 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

"...and much of the GOP considers climate science some kind of nefarious plot cooked up by communists."

Instead of "considers" I'd use "argues" or "claims."

We can't know what someone's believes, just what they have said or written, after all.

Posted by: Bless on May 12, 2010 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

secular animist: seconded.

every progressive critique i've come across purports we'd be better off WITHOUT this particular bill.

one article (i believe it was in the nation(?) even placed it a step below the susan collins bill.

can we please not turn this into another ptdb marathon?

Posted by: sadly on May 12, 2010 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

This bill truly sucks-and I doubt that this Senate would improve it by amendment.

We just can't keep settling for republican-lite bills from corporate Dems.They do more harm than good both in policy and in validating all the wrong ideas and actions in law.

Posted by: sue on May 12, 2010 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote: "If the bill dies this year, after having already passed the House, we may not see another vote on the issue at all until 2013, at the earliest. And we really can't wait that long."

If this bill passes, we probably won't see a vote on any bill that does what really needs to be done, EVER.

Look, any bill that actually boasts about "Ensuring Coal's Future" is NOT a serious effort to address anthropogenic global warming, period.

If we want to ensure humanity's future, then we need to phase out coal as fast as possible, not perpetuate and legitimize the burning of coal by promoting the fraudulent fig-leaf of nonexistent "clean coal" with tens of billions of taxpayer dollars.

This isn't like the "health care reform" bill where we can yammer about not making "the perfect the enemy of the good". This isn't about "the perfect vs. the good". It is about doing what the science tells us we need to do, or not.

With health care, if we get a less-than-perfect or even less-than-good bill, then we can just muddle along with a less than desirable health care situation and try to incrementally make it better. Eventually. Some day. Maybe.

This is different. The laws of physics don't negotiate. Nature doesn't cut deals. And the Earth's atmosphere doesn't care what "sensible liberal" pundits and corporatist Senators tell us we have to accept if we want Democrats to win elections.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on May 12, 2010 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

What do you mean, it's missing a Republican co-sponsor? /obligatory Lieberman snark

Posted by: m.a. on May 12, 2010 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

sadly@3:41 - I disagree - Progressive analysts like Joe Romm and Dan Weiss have good positive early reviews of the bill. How exactly are we "better off without this bill"?

SecularAnimist@3:34 "no effective limits on CO2 emissions." - I would love to see you elaborate. I understand if you argue for more penalties or a faster transition, but just saying it's not "effective" at all doesn't make sense to me.

Posted by: Ohioan on May 12, 2010 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

You're kidding, right? "The nearly 1,000-page plan provides something for every major player..." I see no controls or regulations on any of these "major players." I think We, the People, are being played by the same people who brought us the Gulf "oil spill," including Congress and the Federal agencies tasked with regulation and oversight of oil operations. The president of BP promised to fund every "legitimate claim" for damages. That sounds like a legal term: one will have to prove legitimacy before one collects. Given the extent of damage, both direct and indirect, to the region and the globe, BP does not have enough money to cover all claims, legitimate or otherwise.

Google BP Worst Case Scenarios for some enlightening reading. For now, every effort should go to stopping the flow of oil. This is a global catastrophe and the world should be engaged in this solution.

Posted by: st john on May 12, 2010 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

$ for nukes
$ for "clean coal"
$ for corn ethanol
far outwigh $ for renewables.

The weak cap and trade provision gives away pollution permits and fails to actually reduce CO2 emissions no matter what they are saying.

We cannot keep destroying the oceans which generate the very O2 we breathe and destroying the atmosphere with CO2 and methane that are already creating feedback loops that will cause runaway warming within less than a century.I should say, if we do, we will most certainly not survive. The Earth will evolve, cockroaches will be happy but human "civilization" simply cannot adjust quickly enough to all the new circumstances-sea level, epidemics, large changes in weather patterns-and will crumble.

Posted by: sue on May 12, 2010 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK


i generally agree with your points about coal etc. however, do you really see a bill passing without any votes from coal-producing states (w.va., pa., ohio among others)? do you think jay rockefeller and bobby byrd would vote to screw the economy of their state? and live to tell about it? an ideal energy bill is an impossibility given the diversity of economic interests at stake.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on May 12, 2010 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

mudwall jackson wrote: "an ideal energy bill is an impossibility given the diversity of economic interests at stake."

Again, it isn't about an "ideal energy bill".

It is about a bill that will do what the science tells us we need to do if we are to have any hope of preventing the worst consequences of unmitigated anthropogenic global warming.

It may well be that passing a bill that will reduce CO2 emissions as much, and as fast, as is needed is "an impossibility given the diversity of economic interests at stake".

In which case, we just need to accept the absence of a future for human civilization as the cost of protecting the profits of ExxonMobil, BP, Massey Energy, Koch Industries and the other fossil fuel corporations.

mudwall jackson wrote: "... do you think jay rockefeller and bobby byrd would vote to screw the economy of their state?"

The economies of their states are already being screwed by the death-grip of the coal industry.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on May 12, 2010 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

They should scrap it and start over. Perhaps they should try to write one without getting any Republican votes, since giving away the store doesn't get any anyway.

Call Al Gore and ask for his plan to get us off of oil in ten years. It can be done. If we refuse to think big we will never solve this problem.

This is a pathetic attempt at legislating. You can't please all of the people. If you have a bill that Republicans are convinced will destroy the country, then you know you're on the right track.

Posted by: atlliberal on May 12, 2010 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

"If you have a bill that Republicans are convinced will destroy the country, then you know you're on the right track."

If you have a bill that Republicans are convinced will destroy the ECONOMY, then you know you're on the right track.

THAT'S when you're really onto something.

Posted by: ahoy polloi on May 12, 2010 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

Am I the only one getting annoyed by the phrase "trilateral". That implies there are three divergent points of view all agreeing on something. In what way is Lieberman greatly different in beliefs and actions than the Republicans? This term might almost accurate if Sanders was the co-sponsor, since he really is divergent from Republicans or corporate Democrats.

If Bernie Sanders was a co-sponsor, would people still be using the phrase? Why is there all this interest in getting Lieberman to stop sulking in the corner and play with the other kids? I've never seen any widespread concern on whether Senator Sanders is happy about a piece of legislation...

Posted by: David Langdon on May 12, 2010 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

Secular Animist: The economies of their states are already being screwed by the death-grip of the coal industry.

FWIW, that's not the majority view among the voters in the coal-producing states. You either have to accept a bill that subsidizes coal along with subsidizing everything else except oil, or else you don't get a bill. Eventually renewable energy will cost less than energy from coal, but until then (well, even after then) moving from coal to renewables will be a slow and expensive process. This bill probably will not do too much damage (perhaps we'll all get to read it before the Senate votes?), and it can be revised 5 years from now, or even perhaps in 2011.

If you are averse to slow processes, then you will be miserable. That's irrelevant to the truth of your beliefs, but right now the choice is between one slow process and another even slower process.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on May 12, 2010 at 9:56 PM | PERMALINK

I have only one question concerning this bill:

Will there be enough carbon credits available for purchase that will finally cap Joe Lieberman's moralizing spew, and prevent his opining from further contributing to rising greenhouse gas emission levels?

Posted by: Out & About in the Castro on May 12, 2010 at 11:46 PM | PERMALINK

I concur with SecularA: if we are to survive as a species, we need radical answers to radical conditions. Nature does not care how many votes can be bought or persuaded from a senator, congressperson or citizen. As we are seeing in the Gulf, the availability of trillions of dollars from private and public sources has not come close to stopping the gusher 5,000 feet below the ocean's surface. Notwithstanding that there is no dearth of finger-pointing, the oil flows unabated with no certain end in sight. The so-called experts cannot guarantee that anything they are now attempting will work because they have never tried it in these conditions. Further, they cannot guarantee that this won't happen in the future, given current technology. What is known is that humans are the cause of this gusher because humans drilled into the earth and released the oil that is currently flowing. This is not like a hurricane or volcano or tornado or monsoon or earthquake that seems to happen with no exact cause. We speculate on the possibility that something humans did created the conditions that set these events in motion, but we have no definitive proof, yet. But, we know that a hole was drilled into the surface of the earth to a very great depth to release buried elements under great pressure. That oil and gas was intentionally released by human effort, and now it is flowing without restriction. At this point, there is no amount of legislation, negotiation, compromise, legal maneuvering or finger-pointing that has made one gallons worth of difference in the flow.

Is climate change real? Can we afford to wait for the new regulations and controls to kick in? If you think you are having a heart attack, but your insurance has not become effective because the healthcare plan you chose had a temporary hold clause on it, do you just wait for treatment until you are covered? Maybe it is just indigestion and you can take an antacid, until your doctor examines you and runs some tests.

No, folks, a compromise bill to slowly reduce the emissions of know toxins and carcinogens and probable climate changers is not a solution. If some old men and women think they can play with our lives and livlihood, they are sorely mistaken. Let your representatives know that this is not acceptable, and we will take action to stop their abuse of us and the system. Or, we will change the system.

If not you, who? And if not now, when?

I am committed to Oneness through Justice and Transformation
st john

Posted by: st john on May 13, 2010 at 12:48 AM | PERMALINK

As often as I disagree with Secular Animist, I am in complete agreement here.

This bill has a lot of ugly.

I also say, kill this bill and let's go with something more sane.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on May 13, 2010 at 12:59 AM | PERMALINK

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)
http://www.eia.doe.gov/ will show you that the world's proven reserves of oil will only last another 40 years or so. Deep sea wells will only add another 5% or so.

Commercially mined uranium will last another 75 years. Yes, proponents will tell you there is uranium in sea water, but won't tell you how much more energy it takes to reclaim it,than the energy returned from the eventual use.

Coal requires energy intensive conversion to liquids and gases for use as a transport fuel. CO2 sequestration has not be proven to work, even on a pilot level.

Biomass is very inefficient. Less than 1% of the sun's energy is converted to burnable hydrocarbons and requires extensive harvesting and processing. Corn ethanol requires more energy to produce than is contained in the resulting fuel. Brazilian cane requires cheap ( slave ) labor to produce. There is not enough arable land to grow enough energy crops to run our modern societies anyway.

This leaves solar and wind ( and possibly geothermal) as the only long term solutions. Covering less than 2% of the Continental US will produce twice our current electrical needs.

We will need every drop of oil we have to convert to the proven wind and solar systems.

See Solar One Nevada for one existing solar plant.
Tell President Obama and the Senators to visit the plant and see for themselves.

Posted by: deejaayss on May 13, 2010 at 1:37 AM | PERMALINK

Dr. Morpheus: I also say, kill this bill and let's go with something more sane.

I am sympathetic to you and Secular Animist (my biggest disagreement with him on energy policy is with respect to nuclear power), but as long as many voters in numerous states earn their livings mining and processing coal, the US will wean itself off of coal very slowly, if at all.

I think that this is the best bill we are likely to see for 5 years or so.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on May 13, 2010 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK



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