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Let's Defend The Climate Change Bill

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View Trip Van Noppen's blog posts
16 July 2009, 3:35 PM
Massive coal lobby threatens nation's chance for a clean energy future

The Senate, perhaps inadvertently, has given the American public a chance to help counter a massive assault by the fossil fuel industry on our nation's best hope to fight climate change and forge a clean energy future—the American Climate and Energy Security Act.

The mission of ACES is historic and essential: drive the transition to a clean energy economy with millions of new jobs and dramatically reduce carbon emissions to avert the worst impacts of climate change. It could enable the United States to play a powerful leadership role in global climate negotiations later this year.

But, though well intentioned, the legislation suffered at the hands of fossil fuel lobbyists in its passage through the House of Representatives, and even its champions acknowledge that some of the concessions in the bill may hamper its effectiveness. Now, in the Senate, it faces even more attacks on its integrity from lobbyists led by coal.

Fortunately, though, the Senate has postponed until September its consideration of ACES, giving time for citizens, the environmental community and President Barack Obama to join in the effort to defend and strengthen this legislation.

The stakes could not be higher. President Obama describes ACES as "a good start," but given the political realities it may be all we can expect on climate change for many years to come. That puts tremendous pressure on the president—and the environmental community—to get it right this time.

Earthjustice's biggest concern is a loophole that exempts coal-burning utilities from changing their ways for at least 15 years. This means that the nation's biggest single contributor to greenhouse gas emissions can keep on polluting—and expanding—even as other industries are forced to clamp down. As engineered by massive coal industry lobbying, the loophole "grandfathers" in the existing, dirtiest coal plants, making them exempt from C02 limits under the Clean Air Act. Forty-three new coal plants planned or being built in the next five years would escape the bill's performance standards.

The enormous giveaways extracted by the coal industry's well-heeled lobby will allow dirty coal plants to supply nearly half of our electricity through at least 2025 according to EPA. Yet to achieve the carbon reductions that are needed by mid-century, we must start building a new clean energy infrastructure now. With old coal dominating the power market for decades to come, we will not see the investment in renewable energy that is critical both to the creation of a vibrant green economy and preservation of the planet as we know it.

Coal knows that its historical role as king of electricity generation is at stake because it is the major driver of climate change. Its leaders understand that effective legislation must put us on a path to replacing coal. Given that, it's understandable why the industry is fighting so hard to gut ACES.

With a massive lobbying effort, coal has outspent, outhustled and outmuscled its environmental and clean energy competition. In the first two quarters this year, the coal mining industry spent $6.8 million on lobbying. Another $71 million was spent by utilities that mostly use coal. Natural gas—the second biggest electricity generator—spent only a fraction of coal's expenditure in the first quarter, and suddenly awoke last week, vowing to pour money into lobbying efforts to carve out its own concessions in the Senate bill.

All of this means that we in the environmental community must speak up and convince our senators that effective legislation cannot give coal a free pass and put the bill's effectiveness in jeopardy. Old coal plants should have a deadline to clean up or shut down, allowing our energy needs to be met by cleaner, prosperity-creating alternatives. This is the message that you can send now by going to a special action alert page Earthjustice has set up. I encourage you to take this action now.

But, President Obama also must act. He must use his bully pulpit to bring the nation and this planet into the debate. Now is the time for the strongest possible support from the White House and the strongest message from all of us. Nothing less is likely to offset the steady drumbeat of fossil fuel interests fighting to keep the status quo.

We are no longer in a position to play politics and pander to the greedy. Our planet is in trouble and if big changes are made then congress' jobs are in trouble.

Dear Trip Van Norden,

It seems that you are asking for help in preventing ACES from being gutted, yet you have spent a good page of writing telling us this has already occurred. Please be clearer. What have we lost, and what is there to gain by continuing to pour money into pockets of these porcine legislators?

We need to do something today not tomorrow

The loophole to which you refer about allowing plants not-already built to escape regulations (presumably the bill's new NSPS on CO2 reductions of 50%) are indeed disturbing. I saw that they had changed the definitions a bit, but it was not clear to me exactly how that allows plants that are only proposed to escape the NSPS provision. Could you point to the exact language in the bill and explain how that works?

Section 812 of the American Clean Energy and Security Act ("ACES") sets forth a performance standards for new coal-fired power plants. See p. 104 of the bill. Plants permitted after 2020 must reduce CO2 emissions by 65%. Plants "initially permitted" after Jan. 1, 2009 and before 2020 must achieve 50% CO2 reductions. This initial permitting language is the key. It means that all of the plants that were permitted before 2009 but are as yet unconstructed are exempt from the performance standard. By our count, this provision grandfathers 27 new plants that would emit an estimated 161 million tons of CO2 per year.

To make matters worse, the bill defines "initially permitted" to refer to any plant that has obtained an initial air permit even if that permit is currently the subject of litigation, and even if the permit is ultimately modified in response to a successful legal challenge.

Here's the relevant text of the bill:

‘‘(2) INITIALLY PERMITTED.—The term ‘initially permitted’ means
that the owner or operator has received a Clean Air Act preconstruction approval or permit, for the covered EGU as a new (not a modified) source, but administrative review or appeal of such approval or permit has not been exhausted. A subsequent modification of any such approval or permits, ongoing administrative or court review, appeals, or challenges, or the existence or tolling of any time to pursue further review, appeals, or challenges shall not affect the date on which a HR 2454 EH1 covered EGU is considered to be initially permitted under this paragraph.

There is NO such thing as clean coal. If it were not for the obstruction of the coal and oil corporations, we could already have functioning alternative energy systems in the US.

We need to move out of the fossil fuel age and into the 21st century of renewable energy. There isn't enough of the planet left to keep using it up at the rate we have been for the last 100 years.

Some of us haven't the money to give for these efforts, but wish we did. If you need photography to prove your points, there are many of us who take pictures to try to earn a living who would be willing to help if nothing but our expenses were to be covered. I have seen slag heaps at different times in my life and wondered why they needed to exist where they were, if at all.

Coal, for all of it's benefits, ultimately does more harm than good when mined the way it always has been, by destroying the place it was found.

I hope we can stop this one.

If we don't do something for mother earth it will surely die and that is a fact there is nothing more to say.

We must have an effective climate bill that will move us quickly to new energy sources. A do-little bill that merely gives the appearance of taking on the problem of global warming is not something we can afford.

We must have an effective climate bill that will move us quickly to new energy sources. A do-little bill that merely gives the appearance of taking on the problem of global warming is not something we can afford.

Let's start to clean up the country the right way. Please don't weaken this bill.

When we have used up the earth, we will all perish, and then it will be too late to correct what we have done to it. Both houses are worried about relection, and the money they get from all the companies dealing with energy. Don't tell me they don't, because they do. That is how they become millionaires when they leave office.
They just don't want to hear from the people who put them there. We the people forget that, and keep voting them back in. Time for America to wake up and vote in some young blood, and maybe we can get something worthwhile done to save this planet.

To Barbara: Yes, the problem is the politicians that are in the pocket of the lobbyists for big coal, big oil, the chemical industry,etc. The boobs keep voting for these people because they promise not to raise taxes. That is the big fear of the uniformed. They want a free ride and they don't give a damn about this earth or future generations.

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