Saturday, April 11, 2009

Waxman Markey Draft Part 1: Clean Energy

The new American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 draft version has been released – it’s quite a beast, at 648 pages.  I was pouring through the actual draft itself, attempting to tease out some more interesting tidbits – this was rather daunting, and fortunately a summary is now available!

The debate on this bill is already fierce, even among Democrats.  Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill has told the press his intention to seek more modest goals for reductions in emissions, especially in the short term.  Many Republicans, as well as Democrats who are tied rather strongly to particular industries (coal)are likely to move debate in a similar direction to Boucher.  It remains to be seen whether or not the final draft that moves through Congress will have substantial regulatory teeth, or will be a largely emasculated symbolic piece of paper.  All this, of course, before the bill actually comes to a vote; my sense is that if the bill were to go to a vote now in its present form, it would have roughly a snowball’s chance in hell of being passed.

The draft is divided into four titles: clean energy, energy efficiency, global warming (mitigation), and transition, which focuses on easing shocks to consumers en route to our ostensibly sustainable future. 

The clean energy title promotes a variety of technologies – primarily through development and deployment.  Renewable energies like wind, solar, biomass and geothermal energy are promoted with fairly ambitious requirements: 6% renewable (nationally) by 2012, and 25% renewable by 2025.  This is more ambitious than Obama’s own calls, but considerably less ambitious than the suggestions of some others (Al Gore, who calls for zero reliance on fossil fuels in the short - medium term).  It is interesting to note that nuclear power does not fit into the “clean energy” title, in spite of being “clean” in terms of carbon emissions.  The extent to which nuclear power will ultimately fit into future plans is questionable.  Also, it is unclear exactly why it was omitted.  Nuclear power is politically problematic, as people are concerned about many salient related issues: storage of waste, prevention of weapons proliferation, and potential creation of terrorist targets. 

Waxman himself has been skeptical of nuclear power before.  According to his website, he voted to bar a website promoting the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.  Waxman calls Yucca Mountain a mistake, an decries the website in question’s failure to present potential dangers associated with waste storage.

The next part of the clean energy title is Carbon Capture and Sequestration, or "clean coal."  Without explicitly putting any additional funds into research, the draft calls for development and deployment of the technology.  This is interesting, because clean coal does not exist.  In spite of this, clean coal continues to occupy a very prominent position in the climate and energy discourse.  Still, congressmembers who are linked to coal are not satisifed; in addition to seeking to play up the potential for coal fired power plants to co-exist with climate legislation through carbon capture and storage, they will push for easier regulations in general that do not require much substantive action in the short term.  

Third, the clean energy title calls for more efficient vehicles.  Included are financial incentives for battery powered cars, municipalities that work towards efficient vehicles, and further incorporation of biofuel into the existing liquid fuel supply.

The rest of the title includes some interesting provisions: federal purchase of renewable energy contracts, credits for increased distributed renewable energy generation, and of course expansion of smart grid technology!

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