By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Nearly nine months in the making, the Kerry-Lieberman clean energy bill has been born, and is available for nursery viewings in the U.S. Senate. The little bundle, some 987 pages long, has been received with polite congratulations.

But in all honesty, some of the viewers seem to be silently whispering: “God what an ugly baby!” And some are visibly put off.

We knew there would be mixed feelings. This American Power Act may be a classic case of trying to please everyone and failing to please anyone. It tries to do it all: curb emissions, appease hostile Republicans, mete out the requisite treats for industries both clean and dirty, and weave in support for new jobs. That’s quite a high wire act, certain to teeter with so many special interests hitching a ride.

It’s got the same meager carbon reduction targets it always had — aiming to reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020 compared with 2005 levels. That’s what Obama threw out in Copenhagen and it’s no surprise, though to ardent climate advocates this has been a festering thorn. It sets the U.S. on a dangerously slow road to climate mitigation, they say, flouting warnings that we have only a short few years to reel in greenhouse gas emissions.

“The American Power act doesn’t meet the test of atmospheric science since the [emission reduction] targets are very weak, and the offsets mean even they won’t be met in time to prevent climate catastrophe,” says, a global group that wants strong greenhouse gas emission curbs.

The group opposes the offsets in the APA as too lenient toward polluters because they allow dirty industries to continue emissions if they invest in “offsetting” activities like reforestation.

Friends of the Earth, another environmental group, opposes the APA because it fails to change the energy landscape much at all, and may even do more harm than good. FOE president Erich Pica likens the bill to BP’s amateurish “junk shot” plan to blast debris into its leaking oil well.

The APA, writes Pica in an article today, is wrong in so many ways, from its support of further offshore oil drilling to the proposed wasteful spending on clean coal.

“The American Power Act isn’t about reducing pollution, it’s about expanding production. It’s not about conservation, it’s about ramping up domestic production of fossil fuels and other energy sources that are dirty, dangerous, and unsustainable,” Pica says.

And yet, most major mainstream environmental groups support the new draft of the APA, though their lack of enthusiasm is palpable. They laud the senators for getting something on track, no matter how wobbly. It’s better than the stalmate that has ensued; an “important first step” in the words of the Alliance to Save Energy.

The bill’s shortcomings are stark. It insists on conscripting the EPA’s authority to regulate air pollution under the Clean Air Act, an attempt to smooth over Republican concerns about strong federal oversight.

The idea of loosening the government’s grip on air pollution controls horrifies the American Lung Association, which sees they see this compromise to keep the bill oxygenated as an assault on everyone else’s breathing.

Their ALA’s strong statement against provisions in the bill should make environmental defenders who’ve not flagged these problems blush in shame:

“We at the American Lung Association were shocked to read language included in the draft American Power Act introduced today by Senators John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman that would unleash a dangerous process to attack life-saving rules on coal-fired power plants and threaten to permit much more air pollution around the nation. The outrageous proposal creates an open door through which millions of tons of life-threatening pollution could be allowed to flow. We oppose these provisions. The American Lung Association cannot support legislation that includes changes to the Clean Air Act that undermine the protection of public health.

The Sierra Club’s Executive Director Michael Brune calls out this problem as well in his group’s response:  “We are pleased that this draft allows EPA to move forward with performance standards for existing power plants including coal, but we are disappointed that the bill still waives some key safeguards from the Clean Air Act.”

Brune also articulates another concern shared by many groups, that the bill has too many pre-packaged concessions to fossil fuel providers.

“…we regret that bitter opposition from the dirty energy sources of the past like coal, oil and nuclear has watered down this proposal in order to unduly subsidize energy technologies which already receive an unfair public bailout.  The proposal must do more to acknowledge the need for America to serve as a world leader in protecting forests and helping the world prepare for climate disruption.”

This has been an ongoing concern as advocates awaited the final draft of the bill. How can America break its fossil fuel addiction while continuing to fund the pushers?

You can imagine the head banging over this last point. We’ve got almost unlimited untapped wind and solar energy potential, enough wind alone to power the entire nation of electric cars; and yet Congress dithers over tax incentives for new power sources, and fails to tax dirty energy sufficiently to force changes or even pay for its present-day harm to the environment.

All that said, most mainstream environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, argue that nudging the American economy toward more clean energy and “energy independence”  is preferably to continuing to flail our arms and debate climate change until the last glacier melts.

More than 20 leading environmental and conservation groups (see the list below)  issued a joint statement on Wednesday supporting Kerry-Lieberman:

“Every day the Senate fails to pass comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation we put our economy, our national security and our environment at greater risk. Americans overwhelmingly support action on clean energy and climate. Inaction is too costly, and the challenge is too urgent. The Gulf Coast oil catastrophe is yet another reminder that the United States must reduce its dependence on oil to protect our security, economy and environment.”

This hairball’s going to need a lot of nurturing.

  • The groups stating support of the Kerry-Lieberman bill

Alliance for Climate Protection
Center for American Progress Action Fund
Climate Solutions
Defenders of Wildlife
ENE (Environment Northeast)
Environment America
Environmental Defense Fund
Environmental Law and Policy Center
Fresh Energy
Green For All
League of Conservation Voters
National Tribal Environmental Council
National Wildlife Federation
Natural Resources Defense Council
The Nature Conservancy
Oxfam America
Sierra Club
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
The Wilderness Society
Union of Concerned Scientists
World Wildlife Fund

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