The ‘American Power Act’ makes its debut

THE ‘AMERICAN POWER ACT’ MAKES ITS DEBUT…. It’s a little later than planned, and it’s missing its Republican co-sponsor, but the much-anticipated climate/energy bill made its debut in the Senate today.

Senators John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, presented their long-delayed proposal to address global warming and energy Wednesday afternoon. They are calling it the American Power Act.

The nearly 1,000-page plan provides something for every major player — loan guarantees for nuclear plant operators, incentives for use of natural gas in transportation, exemptions from emissions caps for heavy industry, free pollution permits for utilities, modest carbon dioxide limits for oil refiners and expansion of offshore drilling for those states willing to accept the risks.

The bill’s overall goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050. The targets match those in a House bill passed last year and the Obama administration’s announced policy goal.

The American Power Act — nice name, by the way — was supposed to be a tri-partisan effort, but two weeks ago, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) backed away from his own effort, after months of work. Despite the pressing need, Graham blamed his withdrawal on Democrats’ renewed interest in his bipartisan immigration bill, which still doesn’t make sense to me, and looks increasingly petty given the larger circumstances on energy policy right now.

Nevertheless, Kerry has a compelling case to make to his colleagues.

[W]e’re still stuck or moving backwards — our economy constantly rattled by the volatile price of oil, our planet’s climate increasingly unstable thanks to the pollution we’re pumping into the atmosphere.

And, oh yes, we’re sending billions of dollars a day overseas, with the global oil market enriching some of the most autocratic and anti-American regimes around the world. Here’s one fact to stiffen the spine: as my friend Jon Powers and his band of veterans remind me, every day we keep going with what we’re doing makes Iran $100 million richer and takes over a billion dollars out of our economy. Every single day.

That’s why I’m doubling down on the proposal I’m rolling out today with Senator Lieberman…. It’s a practical pathway to finally end our addiction to oil, put Americans back in control of our own power production, and release the innovation and ingenuity of Americans to build the clean energy economy we need to build prosperity in the 21st century.

It’ll help us create nearly 2 million new jobs, develop new products, and support the research and development to help us maintain leadership in the global economy. And it’ll even reduce the deficit by about $21 billion in nine years.

As for the APA’s prospects, as we’ve discussed before, getting a climate/energy bill through the Senate was going to be tough under normal circumstances. Now, the challenge is arguably even greater — Kerry and Lieberman have to find a way to break a Republican filibuster; they have to keep business interests on board; they have to keep Midwestern Dems from jumping ship; they have to thread a needle on increased oil drilling; and they have to consider what happens in the House in the event the Senate actually passes their bill. Oh, and they have to do it all rather quickly, while Republicans try to run out the clock, and with other agenda items battling for attention.

But I give Kerry and Lieberman credit for tackling this, despite the odds, because it’s absolutely necessary. Republicans will almost certainly make significant gains in the midterms, and much of the GOP considers climate science some kind of nefarious plot cooked up by communists. If the bill dies this year, after having already passed the House, we may not see another vote on the issue at all until 2013, at the earliest.

And we really can’t wait that long.