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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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