Boxer Bill Outlines More Ambitious Cuts than Waxman-Markey

| Tue Sep. 29, 2009 2:06 PM EDT

The climate bill that Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) will officially unveil tomorrow will include tougher near-term emissions targets than its House counterpart, according to a leaked draft now circulating around the Hill. It's likely not the final version, as sources close to the bill's authors say that last minute details are still being worked out.

The bill aims to cut emissions 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, up from a 17 percent cut outlined in the bill that the House passed in June. The bill also notably preserves the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate emission of greenhouse gases from large sources like coal-fired power plants, a provision that environmental activists were pushing for.

There were multiple leaked drafts on Tuesday. The latest—weighing in at 801 pages—is expected to be close to the final draft, and it includes four titles: a cap-and-trade title, an energy research title, a transition and adaptation title, and a title outlining emissions reductions in other areas. Outside of a few changes, the Boxer-Kerry bill largely mirrors the House effort. It aims to reduce carbon dioxide 42 percent by 2030 and aims to reduce emissions 83 percent by mid-century.

The bill leaves the portions on credit allocation and how the money derived from the sale or permits would be spent largely blank, however, portions expected to be among the most contentious. Those portions are expected to be filled in when Boxer releases her chairman's mark sometime in mid-October, following initial hearings on the bill in her committee, Environment and Public Works.

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Advocates for climate action working closely with the senators cautioned that this is only a draft, and that it is expected to change significantly before it goes to a vote. There are many holes to be filled in within the Environment and Public Works Committee, and the Commerce, Finance, Agriculture, and Foreign Relations committees will also make contributions to the final bill. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed an energy bill in June that is expected to be included in the package that goes to the Senate floor as well.

"Though the process sounds daunting, complex processes are part and parcel of passing major legislation," said Environmental Defense Fund spokesperson Tony Kreindler in an email to reporters. "The most important thing is that the draft be taken for what it is: a starting point that Senators can work with, tailor, and pass."

The leaked draft contains other significant diversions from the House measure, intended to ease concerns about the bill's impacts on the economy and US competitiveness in the world. The bill requires the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to give a a report to Congress each year "regarding whether China and India have adopted greenhouse gas emissions standards at least as strict as those standards required under this Act," and if the administrator "determines that China and India have not adopted greenhouse gas emissions standards at least as stringent as those set forth in this Act, the Administrator shall notify each Member of Congress of his determination, and shall release his determination to the media."

To control the price of permits under a cap-and-trade plan, the bill would also establish a strategic allowance reserve that allows the EPA to increase the number of available additional credits if prices spike. It also puts the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in charge of regulating the carbon market, and seeks to empower regulators to curb "excessive speculation" that can drive prices higher. And like the House bill, it will allow companies to purchase offsets in lieu of direct emissions reductions.

The bill also has a short nuclear title, covering "nuclear grants and programs" and "nuclear waste research and development," though it is not fully fleshed out.

Boxer and Kerry will unveil their final proposed draft in a press conference on the Hill Wednesday morning.

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