Sanders, Boxer Outline 'Gold Standard' Climate Bill
February 18, 2013
Hon. Bernie Sanders / The Guardian & George Zornick / The Nation
Commentary: "Unless we take bold action to reverse climate change, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are going to look back on this period in history and ask a very simple question: Where were they? Why didn't the United States of America, the most powerful nation on earth, lead the international community in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and preventing the devastating damage that the scientific community was sure would come?"
The Best Solution on Climate Change
Requires Congress to Act
Hon. Bernie Sanders / The Guardian
"I introduced a bill to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions because it's the right move for current and future generations."
US Congressmember Bernie Sanders
WASHINGTON DC (February 16, 2013) -- Unless we take bold action to reverse climate change, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are going to look back on this period in history and ask a very simple question: Where were they? Why didn't the United States of America, the most powerful nation on earth, lead the international community in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and preventing the devastating damage that the scientific community was sure would come?
The issue that we are dealing with is not political. It has nothing to do with the squabbling we see in Washington every day. It has everything to do with physics. The leading scientists in the world who study climate change now tell us that their earlier projections were wrong.
The crisis facing our planet is much worse than they had thought only a few years ago. Twelve out of the last 15 years ranked as the warmest on record in the United States. Now, scientists say that our planet could be 8F warmer or more by the end of this century if we take no decisive action to transform our energy system and cut greenhouse gas emissions.
What would that mean to planet earth? Sea levels would rise by three to six feet, which would flood cities like New Orleans, Boston and Miami and coastal communities all over the world. It would mean that every year we would see more and more extreme weather disturbances, like Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, costing taxpayers tens of billions of dollars every year and resulting in devastating blows to our economy and productive capabilities.
We would see the price of food go up because crops in the US and around the world would be affected by temperatures substantially greater than what we have today. It would mean greater threats of war and international instability because hungry and thirsty people would be fighting for limited resources. It would mean more disease and unnecessary deaths.
Legislation that I introduced (pdf) with the support of leading environmental organizations in the country can actually address the crisis and do what has to be done to protect the planet.
Senator Barbara Boxer of California, chairman of the Senate environment and public works committee, co-sponsored the bill that would reverse greenhouse gas emissions in a significant way. It also would help create millions of jobs as we transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and into energy efficiency and such sustainably energies as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass.
A major focus of this legislation is a price on carbon and methane emissions. This fee on the largest fossil-fuel polluters affects fewer than 3,000 entities nationwide but covers 85% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the US, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The legislation ends fossil fuel subsidies. It also protects communities by requiring that drillers engaged in a new technology called fracking must comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act and disclose chemicals they use.
To help consumers, 60% of the carbon fee revenue will be rebated to every US resident. To level the playing field for US manufacturers and create incentives for international cooperation, there would be a border fee on imported fuels and products unless the nation they were shipped from had a similar carbon price.
To transform our energy system, the legislation would make the boldest ever investment in energy efficiency and sustainable energy. That includes weatherizing 1m homes a year, as President Obama has advocated. It also means tripling the budget for advanced research and investing hundreds of billions through incentives and a public-private Sustainable Technologies Fund focusing on energy efficiency and clean transportation technology, as well as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass alternatives.
In our bill, we also provide funds to train workers for jobs in the sustainable energy economy and to help communities become resilient in the face of extreme weather. We accomplish all of this while paying down the debt by roughly $300bn over 10 years.
With President Obama's commitment in the state of the union address to reverse global warming, we have the opportunity now to make progress. The president must use his executive authority to cut down on power plant pollution and reject the dangerous Keystone XL project. But he must not give up on a comprehensive legislative solution, and neither should we.
We will never fully deal with this crisis until Congress passes strong legislation. Senator Boxer and I are going to fight as hard as we can to do that, and we will work to rally support from American families all across this country that care deeply about their children and grandchildren's future, and want to protect them from this planetary crisis.
Sanders, Boxer Outline 'Gold Standard' Climate Bill
George Zornick / The Nation
WASHINGTON, DC (February 14, 2013) -- In the midst of a heightened conversation on combating climate change -- as thousands of protestors are headed to DC this weekend to protest against the Keystone XL pipeline project, and as President Obama increasingly uses his bully pulpit to talk about the issue -- the Senate is now jumping into the fray.
Senators Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer announced comprehensive climate change legislation Thursday morning at a news conference on Capitol Hill that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. It's an ambitious bill that doesn't settle for half-measures, but rather lays out an actual solution to the climate crisis. "This is a gold-standard bill," Boxer said. "Every once in a while we have them."
The lawmakers are putting the finishing touches on the initial version of the bill, but here are some features of the imminent legislation:
• A price on carbon or methane equivalent of $20 per ton. That amount rises 5.6 percent annually for ten years.
• The carbon price applies only to "upstream" producers, that is, the points of origin for fossil fuels -- coal mines, oil refineries, natural gas processing points and so on. It would also apply to any imported fossil fuels, at the point of importation.
• The price also applies to only 2,869 of the largest fossil fuel polluters, which covers 85 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions.
• The carbon price would raise $1.2 trillion in revenue, according to the CBO. A large portion of that revenue would go towards:
• investments in clean energy and energy efficiency:
• weatherizing 1 million homes per year,
• tripling the federal budget for energy research and development via ARPA-E,
• creating a $500 billion sustainable technologies finance program, and
• providing worker training for clean energy technologies, among other initiatives.
Using revenue from the carbon price and from ending subsidies to oil and gas companies, the Sanders-Boxer legislation would also pay $300 billion towards deficit reduction.
• Since this would likely boost natural gas production, the bill contains several fracking safeguards: it ends current fracking exemptions from the Safe Drinking Water Act, and heightens disclosure requirements for fracking chemicals.
Many people's immediate response to this bill is: it will never pass. Never mind the Republicans filibustering it in the Senate and never even taking it up in the House; President Obama hasn't endorsed it and called for a different approach based on cap-and-trade during his State of the Union speech, and Harry Reid might not even put it on the Senate floor for fear of making vulnerable senators take a tough vote. (Asked Thursday morning if he received any promises from Reid that the legislation would receive a floor vote, Sanders implied he hadn't: "I have over the years talked to Senator Reid on this issue. In general, he is sympathetic, but we'll see how he and other leaders come down on this in the months to come.")
But both Sanders and Boxer think the bill can create a serious public discussion on climate change that could lead to its passage. They've mobilized several mainstream environmental groups to fan out across the country and whip up support: Bill McKibben, president of 350.org, spoke at Thursday morning's announcement, as did representatives from the Center for American Progress, the Sierra Club, Public Citizen, and the National Community Action Foundation. In other words, this isn't a one-off messaging bill: they want to try to get it passed.
The Senators repeatedly stressed it was up to the movement, and the people, to make this bill law. "The United States Congress is way behind where the American people are on this issue," said Sanders. "And we're going to win this fight when millions of people stand up and say 'you have got to do something for my kids, and grandchildren, and for my business -- you cannot ignore this planetary crisis.'"
Boxer added: "The people are the ones who are in control of what happens. And that's a great thing. Because they are so far ahead of us. They know what they are seeing. No big oil company can sit down in their living room and tell them Superstorm Sandy didn't happen, or droughts didn't happen, or fires, or this bark beetle, or all these other things they see happening in front of their eyes," she said. "We think the community is the key."
The one thing Boxer can control, as chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is hearings and mark-ups on this bill, which she anticipates will happen this spring. The first step for the bill's defenders will be focusing national attention on these hearings.