Iowa Public Television


Senators Unveil American Power Act

posted on May 14, 2010

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Hello, I'm Mark Person. The economic recovery engine continues to move forward even with a modest decline in consumer spending.

According to the Commerce Department retail sales numbers were down from the previous month. Despite the slight decline, sales actually showed an increase when the volatile auto sector is removed.

According to the Department of Commerce, the U.S. trade deficit rose to a 15-month high. This is an indicator that demand for imports are picking up as recovery from the recession continues.

Industrial production rose in April as businesses begin to restock inventories.

And Wall Street closed on a downward trend for the week as it waited for word that Greece would follow through with recently adopted economic reforms.

To many industries in the United States, domestic trade policy is important. So too are regulations dealing with emissions. While prospects for a global pact are all but dead, this week, two key lawmakers said it's time "take matters into our own hands." The Senators need to move quickly as the Environmental Protection Agency issues new rules for greenhouse gas emissions.


Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts: "Right now as one of the worst oil spills in our nation's history washes onto our shores, no one can doubt how urgently we need a solution. Now is the time to take action."

The Northeastern Senatorial duo of Democrat John Kerry and Independent Joseph Lieberman unveiled a long-awaited energy and climate bill this week. Standing amidst an unlikely collection of representatives from environmental groups, energy companies, and retired military Generals, the Senators concluded an energy consensus was in reach.

Dubbed by Kerry and Lieberman as the American Power Act, the bill includes multiple tax breaks for energy companies, future revenue streams for clean energy development, and a market-based structure for trading carbon.

Sen. John Kerry: "To meet these goals the American Power Act uses a reduce and refund approach. We reduce our level of carbon pollution. We reduce the clean energy and green jobs gap with China. And we refund the revenues from our efforts back to the American people and their families."

Sen. Lieberman: "Our legislation will price carbon to reflect its real costs to our economy and in doing so will ignite the spark that will ignite America's innovation engine."

The legislation aims to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and more than 80 percent by 2050. Those targets will come at the expense of various energy producers like coal BUT one important sector in rural America received an exemption from carbon pollution payments: AGRICULTURE.

Under the American Power Act, farmers would be EXEMPT from carbon pollution payments BUT could receive government-funneled funds for a litany of so-called green farming practices, such as:

Re-forestation of acreages

Altered tillage practices and increased conservation land.

Dietary modifications for livestock and pasture-based feeding systems.

And nitrogen mitigation practices.

The bill also dealt a perceived victory to farmers by establishing oversight of agricultural carbon payments to USDA – and NOT the Environmental Protection Agency.

Many farm groups are still digesting the nearly 1000-page bill but some have already staked an early position. National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said:

"We continue to seek opportunity for farmers and ranchers who want to do the right thing environmentally but need the right economic incentives. We strongly support economic incentives from the climate change bill to enable agriculture to play a positive role."

American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman has been a consistent critic of climate legislation and remains cautious about the potential economic impact of higher fertilizer and energy prices as a result of the Kerry-Lieberman bill. This week, Stallman said:

"We do not want to see farmers driven out of business due to additional regulation and the potential for higher input costs. Agriculture also could be forced to shrink due to land moving out of production into trees to sequester carbon."

The bill's centerpiece remains a regulated carbon exchange. Unlike much of Wall Street and commodity markets, this government operated exchange would be open only to select energy companies and other polluters. Carbon would have pre-established floor and ceiling limits ranging from $12 to $25 per unit. Senators Kerry and Lieberman contend the limits would provide a more consistent financial structure for companies, prevent rapid price fluctuations for consumers, and keep speculators out of the carbon market.

Kerry: "The technology market that made so many wealthy and lifted America during the 1990's was a one trillion dollar market with about a billion users. The clean energy market we are reaching for today is a 6 trillion dollar market with 6 billion users. If we want to claim our share we need to act."

But congressional action could loose traction following a grueling legislative campaign for health care, upcoming financial regulatory reform, Supreme Court confirmation hearings, and looming immigration reform - ALL amidst an election year. The bill, drafted by Senators Kerry, Lieberman, and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, has support from the Obama Administration. But Senator Graham was not present for the bill's Washington unveiling this week and faces mounting pressure from Congressional Republicans to NOT cross party lines on any climate change legislation.

Kerry: "If we can't legislate a solution then the EPA will regulate one. And it will come without the help for America's businesses and consumers that is in this bill."


Tags: alternative energy climate change Congress development energy policy Energy/Environment military news politics