WASHINGTON – Two U.S. senators Wednesday unveiled a new climate and energy bill that makes some concessions to business and would change the way the nation produces and uses electricity in a global drive for cleaner energy and to end climate-damaging emissions.
Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said their American Power Act would protect the environment, add millions of jobs and reduce dependence on foreign oil.
The measure arrives as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is revealing a hidden cost of the nation’s dependency on oil and after President Barack Obama ordered a temporary halt in offshore drilling.
The proposed legislation would give states the right to veto drilling within 75 miles of their coastline and would give a separate veto to neighboring states with a high risk of damage from a spill. In addition, coastal states would share in the royalties from oil companies if they approve offshore drilling.
Supporters will have a tough fight to get the 60 votes needed in the Senate. Energy touches on so many parts of the economy that many senators, including Democrats, worry about support for changing the nation’s current energy mix.
Many environmental groups said the draft was a good step in the right direction, but several warned it was weak on such things as incentives for energy efficiency and protections for forests from excessive harvests for energy.
Kerry said it was possible to get the bill passed this year, though time for debate will be limited, given the Senate’s crowded agenda and November’s congressional elections.
The House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill last June that would reduce emissions. If the Senate passes the legislation, the House and Senate would have to work out differences.
Kerry said the bill’s approach was one of “reduce and refund.”
Reductions would be made in the amount of carbon pollution and in the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. The refund would come from fees paid for permits to emit a certain amount of carbon. That money would be returned to taxpayers and businesses during a transition period.
The bill would apply to about 7,500 businesses that produce 75 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gases. Small businesses and farms would be exempt.