Comment: US Senate Climate Change Bill rained on by Democrats

Steve Barlas

It was Democrats - not Republicans - who did in the Senate Climate Change bill, which would have, had it passed, been a big boon to the renewables industry.

Democratic senators had a range of concerns about the Clean Energy Jobs and Power Act of 2009 (S. 1733). Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took the bill off the Senate agenda in mid November knowing that he needed every one of the 60 Democrats in the Senate to vote for the bill if it were to pass. He said he would take a second run at passing S. 1733 in the spring of 2010.

The House has already passed a cap-and-trade bill which is slightly less ambitious than the Senate's, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% in 2020 over 2005 levels. The House bill adopts a 15% reduction target. But Senate Democrats from manufacturing-sensitive states had serious reservations about the impact of carbon emission caps on big factories as those companies switched from petroleum to natural gas, and as their electricity prices rose as utilities switched from coal to natural gas.

Availability of renewables on a fairly large scale would have mitigated those concerns. But the Senate bill omitted a Renewable Portfolio Standard, which would have forced the states to supercharge the arrival of renewable sources of energy.

The most abundant, carbon-lite fuel is natural gas, and supplies have increased rapidly in the past few years as producers have dug into shale gas deposits. Paul Cicio, executive director of the Industrial Energy Consumers of America, a group of large manufacturers, was one of the loudest voices on behalf of manufacturing opponents of the Senate bill. He said the IECA was "deeply concerned that S.1733 will immediately and significantly drive up the demand and price for natural gas and electricity."

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