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February 19, 2013
Senators Boxer and Sanders Propose Climate Change Legislation
    by Robert Kropp

Among the highlights of the proposed bill are a fee on carbon pollution and increased oversight of hydraulic fracturing.

Action on climate change during the first term of the Obama administration disappointed many advocates of a comprehensive response to a growing crisis. But several positive steps were taken, beginning with the $790 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

"The stimulus package is the first significant investment in green energy infrastructure that has ever been attempted in the US," Joe Keefe of Pax World said at the time.

Further legislative initiatives ground to a halt as Congressional Republicans, their campaign war chests filled with contributions from fossil fuel companies and industry trade associations, insisted on the primacy of climate denial over the rapidly growing consensus among scientists that the effects of climate change will be far worse than previously expected. Still, during Obama's first term ambitious fuel economy goals were established, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued rules for mercury emissions and greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting from the largest emitters.

And after a campaign in which climate change was barely mentioned, President Obama stated, "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations."

Last week, tens of thousands of protestors converged on Washington DC to remind the President of his renewed commitment to addressing climate change and called on the State Department to deny the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry crude oil from the environmentally destructive tar sands of Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

One day later, Senators Barbara Boxer and Bernie Sanders introduced comprehensive legislation on climate change, described by Boxer as "a gold-standard bill. Every once in a while we have them."

The Senators' proposal was drafted as two measures. The Climate Protection Act would impose a fee on carbon pollution emissions by the fewer than 3,000 entities that account for 85% of the nation's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. For the first year, the fee would be $20 per ton of carbon dioxide content of the carbon polluting substance. The fee would rise by 5.6% per year for the next ten years.

The second measure, entitled the Sustainable Energy Act, would end the surreal practice of providing subsidies to fossil fuel companies. "From 2002 through 2008, Federal fossil-fuel subsidies in the United States totaled over $72,000,000,000, while Federal renewable-energy investments totaled $12,200,000,000," the bill states.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the proposed legislation would raise more than $1 trillion in additional revenue over the next decade. Announcing the legislation, Sanders said, "To protect families from fossil fuel companies jacking up prices, 60% of the carbon fee revenue will be rebated, per capita, to every legal US resident."

"To transform our energy system, the legislation makes the boldest ever investment in energy efficiency and sustainable energy," Sanders continued. The measures include the weatherization of one million homes per year; tripling the budget of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which funds renewable energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment; and encouraging private investment in renewable energy through a public-private Sustainable Technologies Fund.

Also, acknowledging the current primacy of natural gas development, the legislation introduced by Boxer and Sanders would require companies engaged in hydraulic fracturing to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act and disclose the chemicals they use in the fracking process.

Given the divisive state of affairs in Congress, many observers expect that the legislation will never pass into law. But as chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Boxer will at least be in a position to hold hearings. Sanders is also a member of the Committee.

"The President can and must use his authority to cut down on power plant pollution, and reject the dangerous Keystone XL project," Sanders said. "But he cannot give up on a comprehensive legislative solution, and neither can we. We will never fully deal with this crisis until Congress passes strong legislation."


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