State AGs to Senate: Fix Loopholes in Climate Bill

House bill would allow old, dirty coal plants to keep polluting

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The attorneys general of five states are urging Senate leaders to strengthen the federal climate bill by requiring cleanup or closure of dirty coal-fired power plants, preserving state authority to set stricter clean air standards than in federal law and ensuring that citizens can sue to enforce the bill’s provisions.

The letter was sent even as Democratic leaders in the Senate announced they are postponing consideration of the bill until later this year because of the political logjam over national health care reform.

“We believe that passage of a [stronger] bill . . . will build upon the efforts of states to address climate change, and by demonstrating the nation’s commitment to achieving carbon reductions, will put the U.S. in a stronger position in negotiations on a new international climate accord in Copenhagen later this year,” said the letter, sent Aug. 31. 

The letter was signed by attorneys general Jerry Brown of California, Terry Goddard of Arizona, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Joseph R. Biden III of Delaware and Anne Milgram of New Jersey. It was sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada; Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee;  Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky; and Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, ranking Republican on Boxer’s committee.  

The attorneys general wrote that ACES “represents a strong foundation upon which the Senate can build,” and made suggestions “to strengthen the measure’s effectiveness."

ACES’ elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate pollution from existing coal-fired power plants “would allow owners of older, dirtier plants to continue operating (or expand) their plants, free from controls such as improved efficiency or cleaner fuels,” the AGs wrote. “This is exactly the wrong signal to be sending and will delay the fundamental transition in energy production needed to meet our long-term climate objectives.”

The House bill preempts state-level controls on greenhouse gases in its first five years, but the AGs argued that states must be allowed to continue their own approaches to reducing emissions. “Allowing states to go beyond federal minimum requirements—which is the model of most existing federal environmental statutes—has worked well to improve the nation’s environment over the past four decades and stimulated innovation through creative state experimentation,” said the letter.

The attorneys general support the provisions for strong federal oversight of the cap-and-trade regime established by the bill “to deter potential violations and market tampering.” But they said they were concerned the Senate bill would be based on weaker enforcement provisions in legislation introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein of California and Olympia Snowe of Maine. “From our vantage point as enforcers, and having seen the tremendous potential for damaging market manipulation in the recent housing market meltdown and the California energy crisis of 2000-01, we believe that strict regulation, oversight, and enforcement of these new markets is critical,” the letter said.