Energy Collective Blog: Steps Toward a Cleaner Environment

Posted on May 3, 2010

While everyone’s been debating comprehensive proposals to deal with climate change, we’ve forgotten that there are other opportunities to clean the air and produce more low-cost, reliable energy.  As my colleagues and I try to figure out what to do with climate legislation, I hope environmental and clean energy proponents will give a fresh look to proposals that enjoy broad bipartisan support and could get done this year. 

Here are three areas where there is clear bipartisan support to move ahead taking us a long way toward our goals for clean, reliable, low-cost, American energy without having to argue about gas taxes or the merits of climate change:

1) The Clean Air Act Amendments of 2010, introduced by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and me, has now gained the support of 15 senators – Republicans and Democrats and one Independent – and shows that the two parties can work together. 

The Amendments proposal puts strict limits on three noxious emissions – sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury – all produced by burning coal, which gives us 48 percent of our electricity.  These pollutants affect the health of millions of Americans.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 24,000 premature deaths a year from lung diseases can be attributed to the emissions from coal pollution.  As of 2006, 48 states have issued fish consumption advisories due to mercury pollution, covering 14 million acres of lakes, 883,000 river miles, and the coastal waters of 13 entire states.

Our legislation would direct the EPA to reduce mercury emissions by at least 90 percent no later than 2015.  The bill would cut NOx emissions 53 percent by 2015 and SO2 emissions 80 percent by 2018.  That should save more than 215,000 lives and more than $2 trillion in health care costs by 2025 according to the EPA’s analysis.  It will combine stronger national standards on NOx and SO2 with the existing emissions trading system so that markets will discover the cheapest way to reduce emissions.  This trading system, originally imposed on sulfur emissions in 1990, has cut emissions in half while the real cost of electricity at the same time decreased.  The first cost estimates by the EPA and the General Accounting office show that these new standards would increase the average residential utility bill by only $2-3 per month. 

2) Another place to move ahead would be the Clean Energy Act of 2010, which Senator James Webb (D-Va.) and I have introduced.  The bill would create a business and regulatory environment allowing us to build another 100 nuclear reactors over the next 20 years.  In addition, it would establish five mini-Manhattan Projects on clean energy.  The bill would expand the loan guarantee program for nuclear reactors from $18.5 billion to $100 billion, extending coverage to at least a dozen new reactors.  It would expand the nuclear workforce and extend $200 million to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to review new reactor designs.  Also receiving $1.5 billion each would be research projects on carbon capture and storage, improved batteries, solar power and recycled nuclear fuel.  These would create high-level jobs in the energy industry while leading to cleaner and more reliable electricity. 

3) Finally, I think we should use this opportunity to promote the introduction of electric cars, like the new Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt.  I am working with a bipartisan group of Senators including Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) to encourage the deployment of electric cars and trucks to reduce our dependence on foreign oil while cleaning our air.  The transportation sector is responsible for 40 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions, much of the nitrogen oxide emissions that cause smog, and the importation of billions of barrels of foreign oil each year. 

These three areas represent the “step-by-step” approach that I support for energy and climate issues.  Congress doesn’t do comprehensive well.  We’re past the day of passing 1,500-page laws that nobody has read and then waiting months and years for the lawyers and lobbyists to figure them out – to their own advantage.  These proposals represented here are clean, clear, comprehensible policies that will bring us closer to our goals of achieving energy independence and a clean environment.