Senators: Climate Bill Should Support Clean Energy Manufacturing

By Juliana Williams, Breakthrough Fellow

Thursday, 10 Senate Democrats sent a letterto the President Obama outlining their position on upcoming climatepolicy. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), RussellD. Feingold (D-WI), Carl Levin (D-MI), Evan Bayh (D-IN), Robert P.Casey (D-PA), Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), Arlen Specter (D-PA), John D.Rockefeller IV (D-WV), and Al Franken (D-MN) voiced their position tomake sure that effective climate policy both reduces emissions andstrengthens American manufacturing. The letter’s signatories want U.S.climate policy to:

  • Include transition assistance as factories becomemore efficient and as they retool to make clean energy products in amore efficient way;
  • Set negotiating objectives around manufacturing that the U.S. can take to the Copenhagen climate negotiations in December;
  • Establish mechanisms to verify emissions reductions and hold countries accountable for meeting their goals; and
  • Establish a border adjustment (fee) on goods from countries with less rigorous climate provisions.

The New York Times headline editors were quick to ominously label the lettera "threat" to the passage of a climate bill, but that is hardly thecase. This letter was not an ultimatum stating opposition to climatelegislation, or even to the Waxman-Markey bill in particular. Theletter states the Senator’s support for climate action and provides aforum for addressing their clearly stated concerns that if anything,should enable the design of an effective and passable bill. If thesecritical swing Senators remain "a threat" to climate legislation, it ismore due to failure of creative policy design than the evilmachinations of industry-funded hacks from coal states. So before wevilify these ten Senators – every one of whom is likely necessary tosecure passage of any climate or energy legislation – let’s take aclose look at what they are actually saying…

"short-term transition assistance in the form of rebates provided to energy-intensive and trade-exposed industries"

While it’s unclear whether this is calling for additional emissionsallowances for energy intensive industries, the simple fact is thatenergy is a primary input to our entire economy, making energy costs amajor political and economic sensitivity. This is most pronounced instates reliant on coal for their electricity mix and/or reliant onenergy-intensive industries for their economy (e.g. the states whosesenators signed this letter). That’s the simple reality of climatepolitics. It’s long past time to internalize that and pursue goodpolicy design that can still succeed in that political environment.Good climate policy should be able to support manufacturing in theclean energy economy. Let’s make sure the details of policy designmatch the "green jobs" messaging.

"negotiating objectives requiring any international agreement to address manufacturing competiveness"

Makes sense that we should know what we’re asking for as the U.S.negotiating team heads into Copenhagen this December. After all, theSenate is the body to ratify any international climate treaty, so wemay as well know where they stand. Manufacturing competitiveness willbe a hot-button issue in the clean energy race and in the international negotiations. Let’s have that discussion about what the U.S. wants.

"effective means to measure, monitor, verify, and hold countries accountable for emissions reductions"

Jeez, that’s threatening. Let’s make sure everyone is doing what they say they will (including the U.S).

"policies that promote investments in energy efficient andclean technology manufacturing and help the sector retool for the cleanenergy economy"

Let’s see, they want to invest in the transition of our manufacturingsector to run on (and use less) clean energy while producing the goodsneeded to transition the rest of the economy to clean energy. Soundspretty smart to me. After all, how can we expect to meet emissionstargets anyway if no one is making clean energy products? This ofcourse will be one of the most important factors in building supportfrom industrial states and passing the Sherrod Brown Test.

Now, the last part of the letter gets a little tricky:

"a border measure could help to prevent countries fromresponding to climate change less rigorously than the United States andundercutting the effectiveness of our climate policy by shifting,rather than reducing, greenhouse gas emissions"

While a border measure would help maintain American competitiveness, itis a sure-fire way to generate opposition from China and India. AndrewRevkin, also from the New York Times, noted,"On the treaty front, the Senate will surely be seeking measurable,verifiable and substantial steps by the big developing countries. Atthe same time, China, India and other economic competitors are notlikely to be in an agreeable mood at treaty talks in Copenhagen inDecember if faced with protectionist steps in the United States."

So where does this leave us? Well, for one, these Senators want tosee climate policy that reduces emissions, they want to transition theindustries in their states to the clean energy economy and they want tomake sure emissions are actually being reduced they way other countries(and ours) say they will. On the other hand, their position on bordermeasures might create significant resistance in the internationalnegotiations. Regardless, these Senators are providing a forum todesign effective climate policy that both reduces emissions and investsin the American-made clean energy economy.

"Climate change is a reality and the world cannotafford inaction. However, we must not engage in a self-defeating effortthat displaces greenhouse gas emissions rather than reducing them anddisplaces U.S. jobs rather than bolstering them."

Jobs and manufacturing are not the enemy of the environment – how longwill it take for the climate movement to accept their own messaging?

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