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The American Power Act: Kerry's and Lieberman's Climate Junk Shot

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BP's plan to stop the gusher of oil pouring from the ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico was to drop a steel box over the leak. That failed. And in retrospect, it wasn't a very good plan. Jon Stewart, as per usual, described it best: "Oh, you're bleeding? Put on a hat!"

Now that the plan has failed -- or "hasn't worked," as BP has put it -- plan-B is a hail-mary "junk shot," where golf balls and shredded tires are injected into the leak with the hope they might clog it.

In a strange way, this strategy mirrors the saga of the climate bill being worked on by Sens. Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman, which was introduced on Wednesday without the support of Sen. Graham. For months, the three senators collaborated on a bill aimed at getting 60 votes. But in an increasingly divided legislative body, hindsight has made the plan look doomed from the start.

When Lindsey Graham dropped his support, it appeared the bill was dead.

But Sens. Kerry and Lieberman were framing the dissolution of their partnership with Sen. Graham differently -- instead of failing, it just hadn't worked. And on Wednesday, Sens. Kerry and Lieberman launched their junk shot, injecting the American Power Act into the debate about our climate crisis even though it doesn't even come close to being a real solution.

In fact, the American Power Act might make things worse. Any bill that includes coal, natural gas, and nuclear in its definition of clean energy sets the bar pretty low for what clean energy is.

The day before Senator Graham dropped out of the negotiating process, Senator Kerry told reporters that BP, ConocoPhillips, and Shell, along with Edison Electric, were set to endorse the bill. It's no wonder that these corporate polluters were lining up in support. The bill's loan guarantees for nuclear reactors, wasteful spending on coal carbon capture, and exemption of Big Ag from mandatory reductions in carbon pollution are all boons to polluting corporations.

Despite the drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the bill allows President Obama's plan to expand offshore drilling to go forward. Though it does allow states to veto drilling in waters up to 75 miles off their coasts, it also sets up revenue systems that encourage states to "drill, baby, drill," and will open the door for oil industry lobbyists to cajole state governments into leveraging the safety of their beaches and environment against a temporary increase in revenue.

The American Power Act isn't about reducing pollution, it's about expanding production. It's not about conservation, it's about ramping up domestic production of fossil fuels and other energy sources that are dirty, dangerous, and unsustainable. During the bill-writing process, the Chamber of Commerce was openly courted and consulted. Make no mistake -- the goal of the Chamber is not to create jobs, it's to protect business interests, and that means maximizing profits. That means protecting and tightening the chokehold that a handful of industries have on energy production in this country today. That's what the American Power Act calls "energy independence."

Given the state of the U.S. Senate and the abominable Waxman-Markey bill that the House passed last year, I'm not exactly surprised by the American Power Act. But I am disappointed. The greenhouse gas reductions that the American Power Act sets -- 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 -- are woefully inadequate to fend off the most damaging effects of climate disruption. And they're hardly ambitious, considering that in 2010, we're already ten percent below 2005 levels. There is a poverty of ambition in this bill, but an abundance of defeatism. By anticipating that the Senate wouldn't pass a strong and meaningful climate bill, Senators Kerry and Lieberman, with an assist from Senator Graham, have produced weak and insufficient legislation that shouldn't pass.

Defending Senate strategy over substance, Senator Kerry writes, "Our planet can't wait." Our planet cannot wait for senators to wake up to the realities of our climate crisis and do what they've been sent to Washington to do -- make the smart and reasoned decisions that are best for their constituents instead of the corporations that contribute to their campaigns. Our planet can't wait while the Obama administration delays implementing existing Clean Air Act protections. And our planet can't wait for fossil fuel industries to come up with incremental adaptations that will in the end guarantee that they'll still be dictating the energy policy of this country. If it has to, then frankly, we're screwed. Throwing good intentions after bad ideas won't get us anywhere. It will instead perpetuate a system where the status quo is dressed up and projected as comprehensive reform.

Join me on Friday, May 14, at 1pm, at Daily Kos, where I'll be doing a live chat with Kos blogger DevilsTower about the American Power Act.

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