Thursday, July 22, 2010

Utility companies trying to greenwash climate legislation

Posted By on Thu, Jul 22, 2010 at 11:15 AM

And who's at the center of it all? Duke Energy's own Jim Rogers, of course!

Here's the deal: Right now, two things are happening in parallel. The first is getting all the attention, but the second is, in practical terms, more significant. Yet the first may screw up the second. Let me explain.

The first thing is, Democrats in the Senate are now talking about passing a limited cap-and-trade system that only covers electric utilities. This is widely seen as a second-best measure, something short of an economy-wide system but better than no CO2 restrictions at all. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), among others, is working on legislative language for such a system (though he has said he's skeptical it can get to 60 votes). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is apparently going to go for it, including such a system in the coming energy bill, and he's deep in negotiation with various stakeholders about it.

The second thing is, EPA is working on a whole suite of new Clean Air Act regulations. I'm not talking about the much-discussed EPA regulation of greenhouse gases -- I mean tightened standards on traditional ("criteria") air pollutants. The Clean Air Act dictates that EPA regularly revisit pollution standards and update them to reflect the best current science. Needless to say, that wasn't done during the Bush years, so there's a huge backlog of work. Every single criteria pollutant is being revisited. The upshot is, there are tons of new standards either recently released or on their way in the next year or so. (Also relevant are upcoming regulation of coal ash and tightened Clean Water Act standards.)

The utilities see an opening here. Their support will be crucial for getting the energy bill through the Senate. In exchange for their support, they are now asking to be exempted from the EPA's new rules (as they are in Sen. Dick Lugar's [R-Ind.] proposed energy bill). Darren Samuelsohn and Coral Davenport have a great story today on the heated negotiations going on around this issue as we speak.

A deal to exempt utilities from new Clean Air Act rules in exchange for their support for a utility-only cap-and-trade system would be a terrible deal.

Read the rest of this Grist.org article, by David Roberts, here to find out why it would be so bad.

Further reading from Grist.org:

Accept more poison to get less carbon? Kill this crazy idea NOW, by Van Jones

How to make energy programs work better (for free!), by David Roberts

"Cap and trade" is a phrase that's thrown around a lot these day, but what does it mean? This video will help clear things up for you:

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