Engineering News

Climate Czar Throws Cold Water On More Modest 'Plan B'
November 20, 2009

The Obama administration's top climate adviser on Friday threw cold water on the idea of a more modest climate package that would apply mandatory reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions only to electric utilities.

"We believe that we need comprehensive energy reform," Carol Browner, an adviser to President Barack Obama on energy and climate, said at a conference organized by the American Council on Renewable Energy. She said any program should be for the entire U.S. economy.

The comments underscore the fact that the White House is far from ready to agree to a program other than one that would cover factories, oil refineries and other sources beyond power plants.

Environmentalists are split over whether to consider a more modest approach, in part because doing so could allow other countries to pick and choose which industries to regulate instead of setting broader emissions limits. The issue is still so sensitive that no major group will go on the record to say the strategy is even an option.

The proposal to set a limit, or cap, on emissions from the power sector has its deepest roots in the office of Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind. He has asked staff to research the plan, in tandem with setting building-efficiency standards and stricter vehicle-efficiency standards. The approach could also include rewarding forest and agriculture interests for absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, a spokesman said.

Power plants account for about 40% of manmade U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions. Tackling the utility sector alone would allow the U.S. to take a first step toward mandatory reductions in emissions while sidestepping political challenges of lining up votes in the U.S. Senate. The House of Representatives passed a climate bill in June, but the Senate has gotten bogged down.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., earlier this week said legislation would not come to the Senate floor until the spring of 2010 --the latest instance in which he has delayed action.

The White House has little advantage in acceding now on President Obama's campaign pledge to curb global warming dramatically. The Environmental Protection Agency is already proceeding on its own track to regulate emissions from vehicles, power plants and other sources, giving it political leverage. But curbing emissions through EPA regulation has always been viewed as a cumbersome approach, and the agency could face legal challenges that would lead to years of uncertainty.

Many power plants also don't want to leave regulation up to the EPA. Under legislation, companies would have to hold government-issued permits for each ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Scores of billions of dollars in free permits would be given out in the early years of the program, creating revenue that utilities could use to pay for improvements.

If the EPA takes the lead, the money from a polluter-pays system would be in government control. Some utilities fear the money would be diverted to other programs, or used for such purposes as reducing the U.S. fiscal deficit.

Source: Dow Jones Newswires

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