Wide Swath Backs Senate Climate Bill

It may have taken time to arrive, but the introduction of new energy and climate change legislation in the Senate is winning praise from a diverse number of interests.

As expected, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) unveiled their American Power Act, which is designed to improve U.S. energy independence and limit the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global climate change. (Click here for a summary of the legislation.)

The bill, which came forward despite the fact that a former GOP backer dropped out, has been nearly a year in the making and has picked up support from across the spectrum, from large corporations to labor unions.

“The American Power Act will finally change our nation’s energy policy from a national weakness into a national strength,” says Kerry. “We can finally tell the world that America is ready to take back our role as the world’s clean energy leader. This is a bill for energy independence after a devastating oil spill, a bill to hold polluters accountable, a bill for billions of dollars to create the next generation of jobs, and a bill to end America’s addiction to foreign oil and protect the air our children breathe and the water they drink.

“The path to 60 votes in the Senate has been long, but despite Washington conventional wisdom, we are closer than ever to a breakthrough. Two Congresses ago, we had 38 votes for energy and climate legislation. Last Congress we had 54 Senators prepared to vote yes,” Kerry adds. “Now we’re asking this Senate to hold a debate and insist on a vote again, with a fundamentally new policy approach that should secure bi-partisan support. This is the time. We have a House bill already passed. We have a never-before-seen coalition from across America, including key stakeholders embracing energy and climate legislation for the first time ever. They aren’t giving up, they’re doubling down. They understand this isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity, and we’re going to get it done this year.”

The House approved an energy and climate bill last summer, sending its legislation over to the Senate at that time, where it has stalled until Wednesday. Kerry emerged several months ago as a new Senate champion for a climate bill, and negotiated for months with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), to get the conservative lawmaker onboard. Graham backed out last week, saying it would be “impossible” for the Senate to pass a climate bill this year.

Kerry and Lieberman pressed ahead, with the legislation they unveiled Wednesday aiming to cut carbon emissions by 17 percent in 2020 and by more than 80 percent in 2050.

Without an explicit Republican sponsor in the Senate, the ability for the American Power Act to overcome a GOP filibuster may rely on the ability of its outside supporters to pressure senators to support it. Kerry and Lieberman appear to understand this, as they released a list of endorsements as part of their unveiling.

That support would appeal both Left and Right, as the environmental advocacy group National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the major energy firm Duke Energy, and the United Steelworkers union all were among those to embrace the Kerry/Lieberman bill.

“The growing oil catastrophe in the Gulf and the Massey mine disaster have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that we must start now to end our dangerous dependence on dirty energy, move toward safe and clean energy, and steadily cut carbon pollution,” says NRDC President Frances Beinecke. “The bill released today by Senators Kerry and Lieberman marks an important step toward passage of comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation by the Senate. Senators Kerry and Lieberman understand that Congress must enact a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill this year that puts America in control of our energy future. The core carbon pollution limits in the bill, covering all major pollution sources, are a solid foundation for Senate legislation.”

Jim Rogers, chairman, president and CEO of Duke Energy, agrees that the American Power Act will help create jobs and invigorate the U.S. economy.

“Senators Kerry and Lieberman’s bill helps ‘get our transition right’ to clean modern energy in a manner that protects American families and protects American factories, both of which depend on affordable power,” says Rogers, whose company provides energy to 4 million customers and is a Fortune 500 corporation.

“It also gives our electric industry the policy roadmap we need to invest tens of billions of private capital to retire and replace aging power plant fleets with modern, efficient and clean plants,” Rogers says. “The sooner senators from both parties weigh in to constructively debate and move this legislation forward, the faster the private sector can put people to work and help get our economy moving again.”

The United Steelworkers (USW) says it is supporting the legislation, particularly for provisions that actually cap emissions — not simply move them offshore.

“While there are many details that remain to be worked out in terms of sufficiency of allocations — qualification for these programs, the strength and certainty of the border allowance requirement — the USW appreciates the work done by the Senators to move the process forward and bring us to this point,” says USW President Leo Gerard. “We were proud of our decision to support the U.S. House climate bill last year, and for the role we played in its narrow passage. “We look forward to continuing a productive working relationship that will hopefully result in a comprehensive bill in the Senate that reduces greenhouse gasses and creates the new clean energy jobs of the future, while retaining existing American manufacturing jobs,” Gerard adds.

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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