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Transforming Our Power

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I don't think there are many people left who really question that we need a major transformation in the way we produce power, the disaster in the Gulf being the latest wakeup call for anyone who was still sleeping. It was the most recent reminder that 40 years after Richard Nixon started talking about "energy independence," we're still stuck or moving backwards -- our economy constantly rattled by the volatile price of oil, our planet's climate increasingly unstable thanks to the pollution we're pumping into the atmosphere.

And, oh yes, we're sending billions of dollars a day overseas, with the global oil market enriching some of the most autocratic and anti-American regimes around the world. Here's one fact to stiffen the spine: as my friend Jon Powers and his band of veterans remind me, every day we keep going with what we're doing makes Iran $100 million richer and takes over a billion dollars out of our economy. Every single day.

That's why I'm doubling down on the proposal I'm rolling out today with Senator Lieberman, a work product that reflects six months of contribution from Lindsey Graham, and hundreds of meetings with our colleagues: major energy and comprehensive climate change legislation that meets this big challenge. It's a practical pathway to finally end our addiction to oil, put Americans back in control of our own power production, and release the innovation and ingenuity of Americans to build the clean energy economy we need to build prosperity in the 21st century.

It'll help us create nearly 2 million new jobs, develop new products, and support the research and development to help us maintain leadership in the global economy. And it'll even reduce the deficit by about $21 billion in nine years.

And we've got to pass it this year.

I'm asking you to look at it on the merits, but also knowing that we have to find 60 votes in a tough atmosphere in Washington, on an issue where even a lot of good Democrats have been reluctant to act over the years.

The big details:

In the bill, we finally start to bring down carbon pollution by sending a clear price signal on that pollution. This market is tightly controlled, with only folks who need the permits able to buy the permits in the initial auction. No Wild West of speculation, no big banks coming in to buy up permits. Then the corporations who buy those permits can trade among themselves, so if a company makes great strides in bringing down their carbon pollution, they get the benefit of being able to sell off their permits, and if they don't, they need to buy more. It's simple, fair, and rewards those American companies who work hard to bring down their emissions of carbon pollution. And much of the proceeds of that carbon auction get sent straight to the American people, helping out consumers with their energy bills. Bottom line: it does what President Obama told the world we'd do -- it reduces greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 80 percent below 2005 levels at 2050.

We also set up a tough, WTO-consistent border adjustment mechanism so that there won't be any "carbon leakage" of companies manufacturing things overseas in countries that don't manage their emissions. Imports from those countries will have to pay a fee at the border. This will protect American industry and make sure jobs stay here at home. And we threaded that needle in a way that President Obama can support -- you'll remember he was concerned about the way it's been handled in previous bills.

Next, we know we're in the middle of a major catastrophe in the Gulf, and we need to learn all the right lessons. The big lesson? Get us to the day when oil spills are infinitely less likely because we're not scrambling to pump every last barrel of oil out of every inch of the earth. You do that by transforming energy in America.

But there's more we do in the short term. This bill starts tightening up federal law around offshore drilling, adding two major reforms. First, any state can veto drilling less than 75 miles off their coast. Second, each new rig needs to be studied for the effects of any potential spill, and any state that could be affected has the right to call a halt to the project. This creates important local control over the beaches and waterways of our country.

And here's what I get excited about as a true-believer on climate and clean energy: We also make major new investments in clean energy research and production. We need to make our country a leader in the production of clean energy technology, from cars and batteries to wind and solar technology to technology we haven't even dreamed of yet. And we direct local, state and federal authorities to take carbon pollution into account when planning new transportation projects. With these new policies and the price signal on carbon pollution, we can finally end our oil addiction and give the wind, solar, and other clean fuels the level playing field they need to grow.

Look, it's long, long overdue for America to lead. Economically, we need to get out in front of the clean energy economy of the 21st century to become the leader on technologies that will power the world. Other countries aren't waiting on this. China just raised their auto-efficiency standards to over 36 miles a gallon, and last year, for the first time, China's investment in clean energy exceeded ours. We can't let this continue. I want to close the energy gap with China, not let a lack of political willpower allow it to grow.

And, in terms of our planet's climate, we need to lead the way -- or, at this point, finally join the parade.

There's very tough politics in the Senate, no doubt. But we've made sure that states and Senators that have been uncomfortable with this issue for decades have an unprecedented opportunity to take part in the new, clean energy economy and that's why we make strong investments in clean coal technology. And we make sure that nuclear power also has a fighting chance by streamlining and reforming the permitting process and making loan guarantees available. Many Senators have worked together to make sure these provisions are strong, fair, and don't compromise the environmental integrity of the bill. And there's a reason why people and American businesses that have always opposed and fought against previous legislation -- quite successfully! -- are standing behind this one.

My bottom line: Al Gore and I held the Senate's first climate change hearings in the Commerce Committee way back in 1988. Since then, precious little progress has been made and ground has been lost internationally, all while the science has grown more compelling. I can barely even count any more the number of international summits I've attended, or press conferences we've held after losing climate change votes in the Senate where our message was: "Next year, we can get this done -- don't give up on the United States or the Senate." Two Congresses ago, we had 38 votes for a bill. Last Congress, we had 54 votes for cloture out of 60 needed -- and we said then -- me, Joe, Barbara Boxer -- that this Congress we could get to 60 and pass a bill. Now we can do it -- if we find the will. And we damn well better, because I don't want to attend another event, this year or next year, where I have to look anyone in the eye again and say, "Next year we can do it."

No, this is the year. This is the moment. Half-measures won't cut it; now is the time for the full-court press to make it happen.

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