Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

The American Power Act – First Reactions

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The Senate’s version of climate and energy legislation was formally introduced yesterday.  Titled “The American Power Act”, the draft is 987 pages long and includes darn near everything.  Reading any substantial amount of the bill is going to take a while; understanding it will take even longer.  Of course, by the time activists read and understand it, it will probably be in the process of being modified.  Regardless, here are two links that I’m looking at.  The first is the full bill; the second is a section by section summary.

S1733- The American Power Act (pdf)

21 page Section by Section summary (pdf)

It’s probably best to share some hard numbers since they’re more likely to resonate with the public than the deeply wonky details.  Since I see the critical issue being the climate crisis, I’ll start with what the bill terms ‘global warming pollution’.

Utility and industry sector (which is an important detail) pollution reductions of (Sec 2001)

  • 4.75% of 2005 levels by 2013
  • 17% of 2005 levels by 2020
  • 42% of 2005 levels by 2030
  • 83% of 2005 levels by 2050

I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it: based on the science, I don’t think the medium- and long-term goals go far enough.  It’s important to start with something, but the climate doesn’t care what 40-year goals we set.  It’s going to continue to respond to the forcing already made as well as what’s actually emitted in the next 40 years.  The pollution reductions need to apply to every single sector of our economy, also.  I’ll have some very interesting information about short-term pollution reduction possibilities in a future post.

Auctioning of Allowances: Floor of $12 per ton; ceiling of $25 per ton in 2013.  Floor prices increase by 3%+inflation per year; ceiling prices increase by 5%+inflation per year.  I don’t think the floor prices are high enough.  Again, I suppose you have to start somewhere, but I’d like to hear what the plan to change these values could be, based on future scientific results.

Matches President Obama’s proposal of $54 Billion in loan guarantees for nuclear power plants.  Directs delay costs per reactor (up to 12) up to $500 Million to be paid by the Energy Secretary (taxpayers) (Sec 1102).  No good at all.  Clean energy could really use a $54 Billion injection/subsidy right now.  That said, I’m not actually sure how much of this money will ever be loaned.  The main reason nuclear power plants aren’t under construction today in the U.S. is their ridiculous cost overruns.  Nobody wants to pay for the risk associated with them.  At best, a plant won’t be completed decades from now.

Allocates $2 Billion per year for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) (Sec 1415).  Another no good proposal.  No large-scale CCS project has been completed and shown to work.  There is serious scientific concern that one will in our lifetimes.  Somewhat like nuclear however, the money may never be allocated to such projects if they can’t be shown to work.  The kind of carbon sequestration projects that do work revolve around agriculture.  I would like to see $2 Billion dedicated to no-till farming and biochar projects.

Natural gas vehicles.  I’ve heard T. Boone Pickens was pretty supportive of this draft legislation.  Considering his personal desire to get even richer by having the government subsidize his access to vast natural gas deposits, I’m not particularly surprised.  I hope the legislation doesn’t go too far down the path of developing personal natural gas vehicles – we don’t need to waste billions of dollars building out that infrastructure when cleaner sources of vehicle energy are in their infancy.  In other words, we don’t need to shift from petroleum to natural gas to electricity; just go from petroleum to cleanly generated electricity.

Something that is important to folks in Colorado specifically is the legislation calls for the chemical make-up of fracking fluids be publicly disclosed.  If this survives in the bill, that would be a good victory for citizens.

I’ve read in articles talking about this draft that the agriculture sector gets an exemption from greenhouse gas pollution.  If this is the case, that’s a huge giveaway to an industry dominated by mega-corporations.  Local farming is cleaner and generates more food per acre.  Corporate farms – both crop and livestock – generate too much greenhouse gas pollution to get a blanket exemption.  Kerry is aiming for CorporateDem support from the Midwest.  Unfortunately, climate change isn’t seen as the immediate crisis that the Wall St. mess has become, so it’s not like the exemption can be amended out and CorporateDems will be shamed into supporting the legislation anyway.  Ironically, in pushing for the exemption, CorporateDems are likely condemning future agriculture in their states to fail.  Crops and livestock won’t fare well with 15F warmer summers and 30% less precipitation.  Farmers best interests will be well served to push for higher, not lower, standards.

So my first overall impression is too much of a giveaway to dirty and expensive energy sources; the pollution caps are potentially too weak.  I’m not sure there is enough emphasis on energy efficiency, which is the cheapest and quickest pathway toward reducing greenhouse gas pollution.  I haven’t read anything in the transportation section of the bill – I’m hoping for robust funding of mass transit and positive reinforcement for putting together more sustainable communities.

From the full bill draft, I’ve collected the set of subtitles:

Listing of Subtitles

Subtitle A – Nuclear Power

Subtitle B – Offshore Oil and Gas

Subtitle C – Coal

Subtitle D – Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

Subtitle E – Clean Transportation

Subtitle F- Clean Energy R&D

Subtitle A – Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction

Subtitle B – Disposition of Allowances

Subtitle C – Achieving Fast Mitigation

Subtitle D – Ensuring Regulatory Predictability for Greenhouse Gases

Subtitle E- Regulation of Greenhouse Gas Markets

Subtitle F- Miscellaneous

Subtitle A – Investing in Low-Carbon Electricity and Energy Efficiency for Consumer Protection

Subtitle B – Investing in Low-Carbon Heating and Energy Efficiency for Consumer Protection

Subtitle C – Consumer Relief

Subtitle D – Advocating for Consumers

Subtitle A – Protecting American Manufacturing Jobs and Preventing Carbon Leakage

Subtitle B – Clean Energy Technology and Jobs

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