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May 7 — Regulations to reduce carbon pollution from power plants are a legal but imperfect tool to address climate change, and setting a carbon fee would be a better option if the political climate would allow it, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told a Bloomberg Government breakfast May 7.
Carbon fee legislation “puts us in a better position to ameliorate the disruption that will occur as we make a transition from one energy portfolio to the other” though it may take “another election cycle” beyond the presidential election of 2016 before Congress would seriously consider such an option, Schatz said.
“There are some members of the Senate—on the Republican side—who are trying to thread a needle here and trying to survive or avoid a primary, but I think in their conscience, they want to do the right thing,” Schatz said. “These regulations are a relatively blunt instrument and don't put us in a position to help communities that are going to be disrupted. And legislation gives us that flexibility.”
Despite the political climate, Schatz and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) intend to introduce legislation in 2015 levying a fee on companies for every ton of carbon pollution emitted, which Schatz said would be the “best solution” to minimize disruption as the nation shifts to a cleaner energy portfolio.
Republican opposition in Congress to a carbon fee makes President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan addressing carbon dioxide emissions from the nation's fleet of power plants the best option for the moment to ensure U.S. leadership on climate change, Schatz said.
In order to more seriously enter conversations about how to address climate change, Schatz said Democrats would have to first beat back attempts to block or eviscerate the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan.
The EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan (RIN 2060-AR33), which the agency expects to finalize in mid-summer, would establish unique carbon dioxide emissions rates for the power sector in each state.
States would be required to meet interim targets between 2020 and 2029, with a final emissions rate amounting to a 30 percent cut in 2030 from 2005 levels. States would have flexibility as to how best to meet their individual targets.
Schatz expressed confidence the Senate would successfully defend the regulations from attacks through the Congressional Review Act. He predicted several Democrats—“probably four or five”—might defect and back attempts to weaken the rules, but Republicans couldn't summon the numbers necessary to overcome a certain veto from Obama.
“After that is done, I think then there's room for a more adult conversation,” Schatz said.
The Hawaii Democrat has previously told Bloomberg BNA his caucus is preparing for the “next legislative fight” to be protecting Obama's climate regulations and ensuring international negotiations to address climate change aren't subjected to congressional interference.
Seth Larson, an aide to Whitehouse, told Bloomberg BNA the senators plan to introduce carbon fee legislation “in the next month or two” but didn't have a specific date yet.
Whitehouse and Schatz introduced legislation in November 2014 that would have required large greenhouse gas emitters to pay $42 for every ton of carbon pollution they emit. The fee would have increased annually by an inflation-adjusted 2 percent.
Similar legislation has already been floated in the House this session. The Tax Pollution, Not Profits Act (H.R. 2202), introduced by Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) on May 1, would tax emissions of greenhouse gases at $30 per metric ton of carbon dioxide in 2015 and increase the tax each year at 4 percent above inflation.
Funds collected through the tax would be used to reduce the corporate tax rate, provide monthly payments to low-income and middle-class households and create job training, early retirement and healthcare programs for coal workers.
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