Climate bill not settling well with some senators
By Matt Wilson
Chattanooga Times Free Press
WASHINGTON — Senators from Tennessee and Georgia say there's not much that would warm them up to a bill that calls for a 20 percent cut in greenhouse gases by 2020.
"I am concerned that some in Congress and the administration are rushing to judgment on a cap-and-trade system to regulate carbon," said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. "Cap-and-trade will raise the cost of energy to all Georgians, especially those who rely on electric energy."
The cap-and-trade policy Sen. Isakson described would limit industrial carbon emissions but allow businesses and utilities to buy allowances to exceed those limits.
Electric utilities, especially ones that use coal-powered plants that produce greenhouse gases, are expected to have to buy more allowances. That cost would be passed on to customers.
U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who is sponsoring the Senate climate bill with Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called the legislation "a security bill."
"It is our country's defense against the harms of pollution and the security risks of global climate change," Sen. Kerry said in a statement.
Nuclear energy, once vilified by environmentalists and facing a dim future, has become a pivotal bargaining chip as Senate Democrats hunt for Republican votes to pass climate legislation.
The industry's long-standing campaign to rebrand itself as green is gaining footing as part of the effort to curtail greenhouse gases.
Nuclear power still faces daunting challenges, including the fate of highly radioactive reactor waste. Reactors remain a tempting target for terrorists, requiring ever vigilant security measures.
But 104 power reactors in 31 states provide one-fifth of the nation's electricity. They also are producing 70 percent of essentially carbon-free power and are devoid of greenhouse gas emissions.
The Senate this week will kick off three committee hearings on legislation to cap greenhouse gases from power plants and large industrial facilities. The goal is to cut them about 80 percent by 2050. The House already has passed a bill.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., called the House and Senate climate bills "a disaster."
He said climate legislation could be a vehicle to energy independence, but the bills in Congress don't do that because they don't promote nuclear power or the use of American resources.
"If we would focus solely on climate change, and people wouldn't view this as a mechanism to expand government and line the pockets of interest groups, this whole process would probably be much different," Sen. Corker said.
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said he would support legislation that addresses climate change and energy independence.
"However, I will not support legislation that will increase the cost of energy, send American jobs overseas and cause economic pain for no benefit," he said.
Sen. Corker objects to the money from the allowances going into the federal government's coffers. Instead, he said, they should be returned to taxpayers through dividends or tax credits.
But U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he didn't know if even that would work. Utilities' costs will be passed along to ratepayers, which could drive businesses away even if the funds are returned, he said.
"The electric bill for the Volkswagen supplier is going to go up," he said. "So the Volkswagen supplier is going to say, 'Will I be better off in Mexico and Germany or will I be better off in Red Bank?'"
Companies should not be given free allowances, as has been discussed, Sen. Corker noted.
"It's a huge transference of wealth," he said. "You've got people in the back rooms, staff directors and others, deciding who are going to get those free allowances."
Sen. Alexander also has pushed for nuclear power, calling for 100 new nuclear plants within 20 years. He has called for a new "Manhattan project" to figure out how to deal with nuclear waste.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.