The tripartisan trio of Senators John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham are busily shopping around a draft climate protection bill to their colleagues in hopes of securing 60 votes. Politico reports today that the current draft is “it’s chock-full of sweeteners for coal, oil, offshore drilling and nuclear power — energy sources viewed with some skepticism in the environmental community but seen as key to picking up the votes of a handful of moderate Republicans.”
That is not really news. The three Senators have made it quite clear that’s the direction they’re going in. All the available evidence is there is no way they can get 60 votes without crafting such deals.
And, speaking for myself only, so long as it includes a carbon cap framework that can be strengthened over time — and, more importantly, in time — I’m not outraged by the strategy. We can’t avert a climate crisis in time unless we start moving, however imperfectly.
But while the Senate trio is laser-focused on what it takes to get more Senators on board, and get more corporations on board, they shouldn’t lose sight of what will make the public fully get on board.
That means: jobs. Clean energy jobs. That cannot be outsourced.
And with concerns rising that our clean energy dollars are bleeding overseas, simply saying the words “clean energy jobs” aren’t enough to impress the public. We need clear policies to match.
According to Politico, the Senators appear to be taking a smart step by including a “carbon tariff,” to make sure that the environmental cost of carbon pollution is factored in to imported goods, so other nations can’t irresponsibly undercut our labor costs.
But much more could be done to strengthen the bill even while pursuing compromises that may be politically necessary but unfortunately weaken other parts of the strategy.
Grist’s David Roberts recently laid out a thoughtful approach in an “open letter” to Sens. Kerry, Lieberman and Graham. He argued that we could reduce industry opposition by starting off with a relatively low price on carbon, while ensuring effectiveness by front-loading investments in clean energy that also create jobs.
Specifically, he urged a “separate, free-standing energy efficiency resource standard” requiring that “utilities satisfy a percentage of new demand with efficiency programs” of proven effectiveness.
This should be non-controversial “low-hanging fruit,” in Roberts’ words. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy reports that a modest standard cutting electricity demand by 15% by 2020 would create 222,000 jobs. Roberts pushes for more ambitious standard of 20% as part of any broader climate deal.
Also easy on Roberts’ list should be additional support for building up an energy-efficient “smart” electric grid (the so-called “stimulus” bill has already begun work on this front), and a “Clean Energy Bank” to provide stable financing.
Inexplicably tougher is Roberts’ call for a stronger renewable energy standard, ensuring that 25% of our electricity is generated by renewable energy by the next decade, which would create 274,000 clean energy jobs.
A Senate energy bill that has cleared committee only calls for 15%, and that wouldn’t significantly change our current trajectory. Meanwhile , 29 governors from both parties recently called for standard of at least 20% by 2030, showing issue’s broad appeal.
Yet as Roberts notes, Southern politicians resist a bolder renewable energy standard, based on misguided claims their region wouldn’t be able to meet it. Nevertheless, Roberts extends an olive branch, entertaining a compromised standard: “Further support could be built by allowing some nuclear power and coal with carbon sequestration to qualify under a broader clean energy standard, of the sort Sens. Lugar and Graham have proposed. If those sources are permitted, however, their contribution should be capped…”
Congressional leaders undoubtedly understand the political need the stress what climate legislation can do to create American jobs. But good policy ideas, even simple ones, can be foolishly left off the table when there is so much pressure to forge the necessary political compromises. Senate negotiators should also keep focused on how robust the bill can still be while making those compromises.