More on the Kerry-Boxer Climate Bill

| Thu Oct. 1, 2009 4:04 PM EDT

A few things changed in the proposed Senate climate bill between the leaked drafts I wrote about on Tuesday and the official release yesterday.

Most notable is the drop of any reference to China and India. An earlier draft would have required the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to give a a report to Congress each year on 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 standards, the administrator would be required to "notify each Member of Congress of his determination, and shall release his determination to the media."

That's completely absent from the final version the senators introduced on Wednesday. It's an interesting development, as the provision was clearly meant to abate fears from some legislators that domestic carbon regulations without an comparable response from other nations would put us at a disadvantage globally.


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Also, it's important to note that the bill is officially Kerry's—he introduced it "for himself and Mrs. Boxer"—and thus it should be the Kerry-Boxer bill, not the other way around. Boxer's committee, Environment and Public Works, will be charged with marking up and moving the bill forward, but Kerry's the name of record on the legislation. The bill is officially titled the "Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act," or CEJAPA, which doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.

Bradford Plumer has an excellent rundown of all the ways that the Senate bill differs from the House legislation, most of which mirrors the leaked versions.

Reaction to the bill has been mostly positive in the environmental community so far, thanks in large part to the bill's higher mid-term emissions target of 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and the restoration of the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act.

Some acknowledged, though, that the bill will likely change significantly moving forward, and those tougher provisions might be the first on the chopping block. "I think that's going to be a struggle," said Dan Lashof, director of the climate center at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We're going to be working hard for it."

Other notable changes include the addition of provisions that would increase the use of natural gas and nuclear power, which was less popular, though seen as a way to attract votes. "I think the other provisions are designed to keep the bill balanced in terms of support across different sectors, and I think that that helps build support," said Lashof.

"The nuclear stuff seems to me like not the best use of scarce taxpayer dollars, so we'll keep working to make sure there's more clean energy," said Anna Aurilio, Washington director of Environment America. Aurilio was generally positive on the bill, though she also expressed some concerns about natural gas drilling, which the Kerry-Boxer bill also embraces, and its impacts on drinking water.

Also notable are the large blanks in some of the most contentious portions of the bill—on how pollution permits would be allocated and how revenues from the sale of permits would be allocated. The open-ended portions are meant to give the authors space to work with other senators to determine the figures that will get them to 60 votes (though it has also drawn criticism for being too vague).

"It's a starting point. That appears to be how it's written, in the best sense," said Josh Freed, senior policy adviser of the Clean Energy Initiative at Third Way, who works closely with moderate Democrats on this issue. The "wiggle room," as he put it, "invites engagement from the senators who need to be deeply involved."

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