You can read the 20-page summary of the Kerry-Lieberman climate and energy bill, known as “The American Power Act,” or you can opt for the smaller four-page summary. Either way, you’re going to find a lot to like, if you’re a dirty energy producer.
The bill claims to maintain a carbon cap, reducing levels 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, and 80% below those levels by 2050. It has a modified cap-and-trade program for some industries, while others pay a phased-in fee. 2/3 of the revenue from these programs go back to consumers, a modified version of the “cap and dividend” approach favored by some Senators. There would be a “price collar” for carbon credits starting out between $12 an $25 dollars and increasing at a prescribed rate tracking with inflation, designed to give predictability to the price for energy producers. There’s also a “strategic reserve” built into that price collar, so if producers are trading the carbon credits for higher than the price collar, they can get what amounts to free credits from the government to lower the total price.
But plenty of money is also used to “invest” in domestic energy production, including nuclear, coal, oil and natural gas, as well as renewables like solar and wind and tidal. Offshore drilling is expanded in this bill, although there is the state opt-out I mentioned yesterday. So-called “clean coal” gets at least $2 billion a year. Nuclear plants get $54 billion in loan guarantees. Natural gas gets incentives for production. The non-energy manufacturing sector doesn’t even enter the carbon-cap program until 2016, and receives all kinds of tax breaks and allowances before and during that time. All but the 7,500 biggest factories and power plants which create more than 25,000 tons of carbon pollution a year are exempt. Farmers are completely exempt from the carbon-cap measures in the bill.
And state-based carbon reduction programs are essentially cancelled out; the landmark AB 32 in California would basically get pre-empted if this were to pass. States already running cap-and-trade programs in the Northeast and the West would get compensated for their lost revenue. The EPA’s carbon regulation regime would also get pre-empted by this bill.
One of the few positives in the bill is a border adjustment piece that should help American manufacturing. To reduce “carbon leakage,” imports would come with a fee to make allowances for the excess carbon used in its production in China or wherever it came from.
Lindsey Graham will not be a part of the introduction of this bill, though it’s little changed (outside of offshore drilling) from what he worked on for months. John Kerry expects him to ultimately back the bill.
Basically, the bill bribes just about every player in the energy sector in the hopes that they will set a price for carbon and allow a cap. It’s nearly impossible to see how this cap would be enforced, however, given all the allowances and exemptions and giveaways. Over time, this may push us toward a new regime of cleaner energy. In the near term, it kind of looks like a mess. And because the other two major planks, energy efficiency and renewable energy standards, are so poor in this bill, it makes it much harder to say that it will usher in a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions. If those pieces were significantly strengthened, those willing to lay down for this bill would at least have an argument.