The New Energy Bill Doesn’t Mention Climate Change

The New Energy Bill Doesn’t Mention Climate Change

Alexis ChapmanWednesday,3 February 2016

S. 2012, The Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016 (EPMA), is currently moving through the Senate. It’s a bipartisan frankenbill pieced together over months from about 50 different bills that originated on both sides of the isle. Nobody is getting exactly what they want, but there are no major deal breakers yet either. The bill is still moving and amendments are being added and voted on, so exactly what it will and won’t accomplish, or if it will even pass, is still very much up in the air.

Right now, the major elephant not in the room is Climate Change; those words don’t appear anywhere in the 500 plus pages of the bill’s main text. Strangely the bill does seem to imply climate change without actually mentioning it. In the description on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources web page, it lists Efficiency as one of the bill’s key provisions and says “Energy efficiency provides significant benefits for consumers, the economy, and the environment.” (Emphasis mine) But it never clarifies what those benefits are. The bill itself talks about “reducing environmental impacts” and an “environmentally sound approach to certification of green buildings.” It also mentions “environmental risk” and “reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” But without any language identifying man-made climate change as a threat, it’s unclear why these things should be priorities in U.S. energy policy.

Given the scientific evidence and the recent signing of the Paris Agreement, it seems insane to not even mention climate change in a U.S. energy bill in the year 2016. But in a Republican-controlled Senate, the first rule of legislation to address climate change is that you do not talk about climate change (that’s also the second rule). The Democrats (and the non-delusional Republicans who have acknowledged the reality of climate change) appear to be in a political catch-22; if they push amendments that get climate change into the bill, the Senate climate deniers will scuttle the whole thing, and if they leave the bill as is, hinting at “environmental benefits” without specifically naming the problem, then there is basically no chance it’s going to lead to the types of changes we need to actually stop climate change. But there may be a way to encourage Republicans to include climate change in the bill and still keep it alive.

Section 115 of the Clean Air Act gives the EPA power to mandate that states lower their emissions to levels decided by the EPA. Brian Potts explains it in detail in a Politico piece, which I highly recommend. The short version is, if the EPA receives a report from an international agency which demonstrates that U.S. air pollution is endangering or anticipated to endanger health or welfare in a foreign country, and the EPA determines that the foreign country is willing to do the same for the U.S., then Section 115 allows the EPA to make the polluting state implement a plan to prevent or control the pollution. The first criteria is met by any number of the reports released by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which show that U.S. air emissions and pollution are directly contributing to climate change, which puts the whole world at risk. The second condition is met by the Paris Agreement, under which 195 countries all agreed to lower their emissions reciprocally for the benefit of everyone.

Technically, right now, under Section 115 the EPA could just tell states that they have to create plans to drastically lower their emissions. Given the consequences of not addressing climate change, there is some appeal in taking such a decisive step. But really this is the kind of thing that no one should want to see happen. An agency taking unilateral action on this scale is not good; it would devalue our democracy, subvert the legislative process, weaken states’ autonomy, and rightfully make people feel disenfranchised and distrustful of their government. Our politicians should really be working to avoid Section 115 and that’s where the EPMA could come in.

The sinister way of moving forward would be for Senate Democrats to get with the President and the EPA and tell Senate Republicans that if they don’t agree to amend the EPMA so that it acknowledges and addresses man-made climate change, then the EPA will unleash hell on the states in the form of Section 115. But that’s basically political blackmail and that’s not cool. So what should happen is that someone should kindly point out to the Senate Republicans that if they don’t use the EPMA as a tool to decisively tackle climate change, then the EPA may be forced by the Clean Air Act to take action under Section 115. The EPMA could be an opportunity for the Republicans to become part of the conversation and get involved with managing the effects of climate change. The Republicans could be using the EPMA to ensure that people’s freedoms and economic interests are protected as we transition to sustainable energy. Or, the Republicans can continue to stick their fingers in their ears and say “La la la la la la!” every time someone mentions climate change and just hope it goes away. The Democrats can keep adding vague environmental language to the bill and hope that does the trick. And if things get really bad we’ll just leave it up to the EPA to do whatever they think is best with no input from our elected representatives. I hope things don’t go that way.

The EPMA doesn’t contain any mention of climate change, but oddly enough it does have a reference to global warming. It’s in Section 1105, the Energy Conservation Standards for Commercial Refrigeration Equipment (yes there’s an entire section on commercial refrigeration equipment, this thing is a real page turner let me tell you). Global warming snuck in there because this part of the EPMA is amending 2014 Department of Energy Rules, which specifically refer to the “global warming potential” of refrigerants. The Senate had to include global warming in the bill because they were quoting the Rules. They didn’t have a choice. So far they have had a choice about addressing climate change and they’ve elected not to. If it comes down to deciding between addressing climate change in the EPMA, or letting the EPA tackle lower emissions on their own, then maybe the Senate will make a different choice. Maybe they’ll make the right choice.

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