At a press conference on Feb. 14, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) revealed new legislation to address climate change by reducing carbon emissions from the nation’s top polluting sectors: power plants, industry, and transportation. The new legislation comes after President Obama asked Congress to move forward on climate change during his State of the Union Address on Feb. 12.
Specifically, the Climate Protection Act of 2013 would set a price for each ton of carbon emissions to be paid by the largest fossil fuel polluters. To ensure U.S. companies maintain a competitive advantage in the global market, the bill would also impose the new carbon fee on imports from nations without a comparable carbon pricing system in place.
The revenues derived from the carbon fee would be used for investments in new infrastructure, domestic manufacturing, worker training programs, and clean energy developments, such as wind, solar, and hydropower. A portion of the revenues would also go toward a new energy rebate program that guarantees families a monthly rebate designed to offset price increases by fossil fuel companies. Remaining revenues would be used pay down the national debt by $300 billion over 10 years.
The bill would also require natural gas fracking operations to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act (close the "Halliburton Loophole") and mandate disclosure of all chemicals used in fracking. The Center for Effective Government has urged increased disclosure of fracking chemicals, and the requirements in this legislation would be a big advance in protecting communities from contamination associated with fracking.
The companion bill, the Sustainable Energy Act, would end fossil fuel subsidies and extend certain energy tax incentives.
Boxer described the bills as a "win-win-win," explaining that "[t]he Sanders-Boxer bill reduces carbon pollution and climate disruption while creating jobs and reducing the deficit."
The two senators were joined by public interest advocates from 350.org, Sierra Club, Center for American Progress, Public Citizen, and the National Community Action Foundation. Following the senators remarks at the press conference, each of the advocates spoke out in support of the new legislation and emphasized how the bill will result in meaningful emissions reductions, create jobs, and help pay down the national debt.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Boxer, plans to turn its attention to the new legislation after it completes its consideration of another bill. Boxer expects the committee to begin markup of the new legislation by the spring and plans for the bills to make their way to the Senate floor for a vote by summer.
The president’s new focus on climate change represents a turning point for the U.S. on this issue. If the U.S. acts soon, it has an opportunity to respond to climate change and mitigate its dangerous effects, such as more frequent and severe events like wildfires, droughts, and powerful storms, before the environment is irreversibly damaged.
Sanders and Boxer are taking the lead on these issues in Congress. Meanwhile, the administration can take action to prevent environmental damage from climate change without waiting for Congress to pass the new legislation. Sanders called for the administration to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline that would extend from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and has been a major source of contention for states, industry, environmental advocates, and the Obama administration. Boxer added that the EPA can use its existing authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, industry, and transportation, which add up to more than 75 percent of total U.S. emissions. Environmental groups have been pushing for EPA to finalize its proposed rule that will limit greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants and to propose similar limits on emissions from existing sources. Each of these would be concrete steps forward.
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