Thursday, April 19, 2007

Power Plays – political maneuvers on global warming as we count down to Earth Day

With Earth Day on the horizon, there are some interesting developments involving one of our biggest sources of pollution – the electric power industry.

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Carper diem: For some weeks, we have been expecting Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) to reintroduce a stronger version of his multi-pollutant legislation aimed at reducing power plant emissions. And today’s the day. But little did we realize there would be at least one other bill – maybe two others -- apparently designed to share the headlines. Here’s what we know:

The Carper bill will be introduced with bipartisan support, with co-sponsors reportedly including Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT), ), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Chris Dodd (D-CT), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), and Susan Collins (R-ME). It would require deeper cuts of utility sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides compared to current EPA requirements, and would require 90% cleanup of mercury at every power plant. The bill would also require reductions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide along the lines of that in legislation introduced earlier this year by Feinstein.

Later, Lamar: In the last Congress, one of Carper’s co-sponsors and key collaborators was Lamar Alexander (R-TN). But Alexander has filed for the legislative version of divorce, and is planning to introduce his own bill later today. His staff says the emission targets will be similar to Carper’s (check carefully the carbon section), and it’s just a matter of how emission “credits” would be disbursed. Carper initially would distribute most credits to companies based on how much power they produce, then gradually transition to an auction system favored by environmentalists.

Alexander, who supported this concept last year, now favors giving the credits to companies based on past pollution – in effect giving a windfall to the biggest coal-burning companies. Why did Alexander change his approach? Someone obviously “got to him,” as they say, presumably a big coal-burning company like American Electric Power, which would stand to profit by his new approach.

Also said to be joining this power plant party is freshman Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is planning to introduce a new version of legislation previously supported by his predecessor, former Senator Jim Jeffords. This entry is a bit of a surprise, since insiders know it is basically a non-starter. Perhaps it is coming out of mothballs in an effort to position Carper in the pragmatic center.

Hat’s off, by the way, to Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, who vowed yesterday to push for a showdown vote on global warming on the Senate floor before the 2008 elections. "Let people stand up and vote no," Boxer said. "And if they vote no, then [voters can] boot them out."

Just like they did to Sanjaya.

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Boucher voucher: On the other side of Capitol Hill, key House law maker Rick Boucher (D-VA) said yesterday that he would delay any climate change legislation until the fall. Boucher chairs the key House subcommittee that would deal with this issue. You may recall the flap a month or so ago when it was revealed that coal mining companies (no doubt hoping to slow down any global warming legislation) were hosting a fundraiser for Boucher.

So how’s Boucher doing financially? “The money kept rolling in,” as the song from Evita goes. In a first-quarter campaign report released this week (it’s on the federal election commission web site), Boucher’s re-election campaign discloses that it received almost $40,000 from coal mining and electric power companies during the first three months of the year, including from such notables as American Electric Power, Duke Energy, TXU, the National Mining Association, Foundation Coal and Headwaters (which is promoting that boondoggle coal-to-liquid plan).

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Let the sun shine: It’s been a dark week in the Northeast because of that wretched nor’easter, but word of a sunnier development is trickling out of New Jersey – a new $100 million solar energy plan by Newark-based Public Service Electric and Gas. We await details, but this could be a real boost for renewable energy, and a positive step to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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