Senate Climate Bill Released With Much Fanfare, Little Focus on Transport

Flanked by fellow Democrats, members of the military, and a crowd
hoisting signs with buzzwords like "clean energy" and "green jobs,"
Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and John Kerry (D-MA) today released the
first draft of their legislation to curb U.S. emissions and combat
climate change.

2549087853_62635f6261.jpgSens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), center, and John Kerry (D-MA), left, at a 2008 rally. (Image: NWF via Flickr)

The bill (available here)
contains a stronger target for pollution reduction — a 20 percent
decrease below 2005 emissions levels by the year 2020 — than the House
climate measure which passed by a razor-thin margin in June.

But environmental groups are already lamenting that scientific
consensus has urged a 40 percent pollution reduction below 1990
emissions levels in order to effectively forestall the negative effects
of climate change, making the Boxer-Kerry bill "woefully inadequate,"
in the words of Center for Biological Diversity executive director
Kieran Suckling.

And the Senate bill’s transportation provisions, as Streetsblog Capitol Hill reported yesterday,
offer only a marginal improvement over the House version, which gave
transit and other clean transport just 1 percent of the proceeds from
any cap-and-trade carbon regulation system.

The Senate bill’s
section on allocations — the amount of aid provided to state
governments and various industries to help meet emissions-reduction
goals — is subject to change as the environment committee, which Boxer
chairs, and other panels attempt to amend the legislation.

As
it stands, however, the Senate would require states to use 10 percent
of their allocations to reduce transportation-based emissions. The
House climate bill, by contrast, allowed states to use up to 10 percent
of allocations on transportation but did not make it mandatory.

Boxer
and Kerry’s draft also includes a "set-aside," in Washington parlance,
for transit grants to help states and metropolitan planning
organizations (MPOs) meet national standards for cutting
transport-based emissions.

Those transit grants,
distributed according to existing federal formulas, would be funded by
auctioning a still-undetermined amount of emissions allocations and
depositing the proceeds in state Climate Change Response and
Transportation Funds (CCRTFs). After 10 percent of CCRTF funds went to
coastal states, to help cope with the risk of climate-induced floods,
and 1 percent went to Indian tribes, 50 percent of the rest would go
towards transit.

Electric vehicles, including electrified
transit, fares better under the Senate bill. The Department of Energy
would have full control over a still-undetermined share of allocation
auction proceeds, with the dual mission of establishing reliable
infrastructure to fuel electric vehicles and developing "a national
transportation low-emissions energy plan."

Meanwhile,
transportation reform groups are already strategizing about how to
increase the bill’s focus on their area — which currently accounts for
one-third of U.S. emissions but stands to receive far less than the 10
percent of total climate revenue that is mandated in the so-called "CLEAN TEA" legislation.

The fate of transit and other clean transport may rest with Sen. Tom Carper
(D-DE), the upper chamber’s lead sponsor of "CLEAN TEA." Carper, who
was not present at today’s Boxer-Kerry press conference, released a
statement that notably withheld an endorsement of the current climate
bill:

Senators Kerry and Boxer have worked
hard to produce the bill they released today and I congratulate them
for their efforts so far. It is now time for the Senate committees to
get to work examining the bill’s provisions and considering any changes
necessary. … I expect there wil be some important changes made as
this effort advances and we build consensus around how to address this
vitally important global energy and climate challenge.

Few
on the Hill expect the Senate to be able to meet its initial goal of
voting on a final climate bill before United Nations climate change
talks begin in December in Copenhagen. Still, Senate passage next
spring remains a distinct possibility — which makes the Boxer-Kerry
bill’s relative alignment with the House version one of its biggest
political selling points.

As one of the House climate bill’s lead sponsors, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), put it: “Given the Senate draft’s structural similarity
to the House-passed Waxman-Markey bill, a legislative solution that can
pass both chambers of Congress is finally within sight."

The question is, how much of a solution will the final product turn out to be?