Big week on Capitol Hill: An update on the Senate's climate and clean-energy bill

Authors: Megan Emiko Scott Editor’s Note: As many of you know (because you helped!) Green For All has been pushing hard these past few months to make sure federal climate and clean-energy legislation is as strong as possible, and creates opportunity for all. Now, things are heating up on Capitol Hill. Last week, Senator Barbara Boxer released her “Chairman’s mark” of the Senate's Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act and the Environmental Protection Agency released its analysis of the legislation. This week hearings on the bill began in the Senate, and Green For All called for an amendment that would create 1 million clean-energy jobs. We asked our Federal Policy Associate Megan Emiko Scott, who has been tweeting from the hearings all week, to explain what’s going on with the Senate bill.

Opportunity for All in the “Chairman’s Mark”?

On October 23rd Senator Barbara Boxer, the Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, released her "Chairman's mark" of the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act. This version includes details about how funding (“allowance value”), generated through the auction of carbon permits will be allocated in the bill. So how did Green For All’s provisions for equality and opportunity fair? The Green Construction Careers Demonstration Project does not receive funding through the bill, so this provision is unchanged from the previous draft. As for funding for the Green Jobs Act, theChairman's mark allocates 1% of allowance value to the Green Jobs Act for 2012-2013 and 0.05% for 2014-2015. Compare this to theHouse bill (the American Clean Energy and Security Act, or ACES), which allocated 0.75% for 2012-2013, about $860 million. While the Chairman's mark provides a higher percentage of allowance value than the House bill, the dollar amount of funding may turn out to be lower because the overall pie is smaller. In part, this is because the Senate — unlike the House—set aside significant funding for deficit reduction.

1 million clean-energy jobs vs. utility giveaway : The electric utility amendment

A key amendment to the “Chairman’s mark” of Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act could create 1 million new jobs in the clean-energy economy, by requiring utilities to invest in energy-efficiency renovations for millions of buildings nationwide. Specifically, the amendment would require that 1/3 of the "allowance value" for electric utilities be spent on energy-efficiency. What does that mean? A central component of the Senate's Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act would issue carbon permits, charging polluters for the carbon they dump into the air and limiting the total amount of carbon the U.S. can emit overall. Utility companies are being granted their carbon permits ("allowances") for free, meaning they don't have to pay up front to pollute. The bill requires that some industries use a certain percentage of their total "allowance value" on energy efficiency programs. For example, natural gas utilities must spend 1/3 of their allowance value on energy efficiency - a requirement that is estimated to create more than 100,000 new jobs. We are calling on Senator Boxer to support the same requirement for electric utilities - the largest type of utility company in the United States. From the standpoint of job creation, the single most important issue not yet resolved in the bill is whether or not electric utilities are required to use a portion of their allowance value for energy efficiency. These utilities receive 30% of the total allowance value in the bill, worth tens of billions per year. If 1/3 of this was required to go towards energy efficiency, this investment would create an estimated 1 million jobs, lower energy bills for consumers, and reduce carbon pollution overall.  

Environment and Public Works Committee Hearings

  This week, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held three days of legislative hearings on the bill, featuring nine panels and 54 witnesses. During opening statements on the first day of hearings, many Democratic Senators mentioned the bill’s tremendous potential for job creation in the clean energy economy. The first day included testimony from Senator Kerry, the bill’s co-sponsor, and a handful of Obama Administration officials—the Secretaries of Energy, Transportation, and the Interior, as well as the Director of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The second day of hearings featured dozens of witnesses spread across four panels: Jobs & Economic Opportunities, National Security, Utilities, and Adaptation. Witnesses on the Jobs panel touched on green jobs in the manufacturing and construction sectors, and highlighted the enormous job creation potential of moving to a clean energy economy. Dave Foster, Executive Director of the Blue Green Alliance, specifically thanked the Committee, particularly Senator Boxer, for including the Green Construction Careers Demonstration Project and funding for the Green Jobs Act. The final day of hearings featured panels on Moving to a Clean Energy Economy, Transportation, and Actions in Other Countries.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) analysis

On October 23rd, the same day that Senator Boxer released her Chairman’s mark, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its analysis of the bill. This analysis evaluates key elements of the bill and summarizes its economic impacts. It incorporates information about funding allocations, which had been unavailable up to the release of the Chairman’s mark. Overall, despite some policy differences, EPA found that the estimated impacts of the Senate bill would be similar to those for the House ACES bill. One of EPA’s key findings is that both bills would have a relatively modest impact on consumers. In 2020, the average cost per household would be in the range of $0.23 to $0.29 per day, less than the cost of a postage stamp. This would cost the average household about $100 per year.

Next steps

The EPW Committee mark-up is planned for Tuesday, November 3rd. The mark-up refers to the process by which congressional committees and subcommittees debate, amend, and rewrite proposed legislation. Committee Republicans are threatening to boycott the mark-up unless they receive more analysis on the bill from the EPA and the Congressional Budget Office. Sign our twitter petition to Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma, telling him not to boycott a clean-energy future for America. To hold the mark-up, Senator Boxer needs at least two Republicans to attend. After this bill passes out of the EPW Committee, five other Senate Committees—Energy & Natural Resources, Finance, Agriculture, Commerce, and Foreign Relations—will need to weigh in before it moves to the Senate floor. Given the tight legislative calendar this year, it is unclear whether a Senate floor vote will happen before the end of the year. Either way, if the bill continues to progress over the next few weeks, it will help President Obama when he heads to Copenhagen for global climate talks beginning December 7th.

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