THE long-awaited Senate climate and energy legislation has US analysts studying the fine print and has practical politicians asking two questions: Are there 60 votes to move forward on debate, and does the Senate have the time - and the will - to act on the bill before the end of the session?
Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) called the bill - introduced by Sens. John Kerry (D., Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (D., Conn.) - a "great start," but his reaction, even for a key Democrat, was lukewarm.
"We must ensure that it includes even more provisions to promote the production and use of renewable sources of energy as well as promote energy efficiency," Harkin noted.
He posed the two questions in a statement and added, "We'll now have to evaluate whether we can garner sufficient support to pass this as well as whether there will be sufficient time yet this year to give it full consideration on the Senate floor."
Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.), who has taken a lead role in Republican concerns with the climate bill, said in a statement, "A few sections immediately cause me concern. The cap-and-trade provisions are similar to the devastating Pelosi-Reid cap-and-trade proposals that tax every American who owns a car or flips a light switch."
Johanns, a former Bush Administration agriculture secretary, criticized the proposed bill's impacts on "agriculture, small businesses and other job creators". He noted that the costs would prevent such enterprises from "growing and hiring".
While promising additional study of the more than 1,000-page bill, Johanns initially pointed out that it would "require a 17 per cent reduction of 2005-level carbon emissions by 2020 and an 83pc reduction by 2050, similar to previous cap-and-trade bills offered in the Senate and House".
A briefing paper on Kerry's web site notes special provisions for farmers. As currently proposed, the bill exempts farmers from carbon pollution compliance. It also would establish a new multibillion-dollar revenue stream for the agricultural sector through a domestic offset program that promises incentives to farmers to reduce emissions on their land, the paper explains.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture would have the primary authority over agricultural and forestry projects, according to the summary.
Jon Scholl, president of the American Farmland Trust (AFT), a Washington-based land conservation organization, said the Kerry-Lieberman proposal "indicates that they have incorporated many, if not all, of the items brought forward previously by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) and Max Baucus (D., Mont.) in the Clean Energy Partnerships Act of 2009 to address the concerns of farmers and ranchers."
Scholl noted that AFT also is still analyzing the bill.
The Stabenow-Baucus proposal, which appears to be included, was endorsed by many farm and forestry organizations, including the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn., National Corn Growers Assn., National Milk Producers Federation, National Farmers Union and National Alfalfa & Forage Assn., as well as AFT.
The Stabenow-Baucus proposal would invest in an offset program for agricultural and forestry practices that reduce carbon emissions without harming jobs and the economy, Stabenow explained when she introduced it.
"As we work to develop new technologies to reduce emissions in the future, we also need to find cost-effective ways to limit emissions in the short term that do not cost us jobs," she said.
The bill particularly addresses investments in new technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"For example, methane is more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide and can be produced from landfills, coal mines, farms, natural gas systems and oil pipelines," Stabenow said, citing the need for federal investments to reduce methane emissions or to build facilities that use methane to generate electricity.
The Kerry-Lieberman bill, entitled the American Power Act, which is the product of months of negotiations with Senate colleagues, contains some similarities to another bill previously introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.) and Susan Collins (R., Maine) that proposed returning 75pc of revenues from the sale of carbon allowances to consumers in monthly payments.
In a sharp difference from the House's Waxman-Markey bill, the Senate version refunds two-thirds of all revenues raised to American consumers and American businesses. The remaining third would go toward deficit reduction, investments in new technology and helping businesses transition to a low-carbon regime.
Resources for the Future, a Washington nonprofit organization that has been a leader on climate issues, explained the revenue stream, saying, "Allowances associated with a cap-and-trade system represent an asset with considerable monetary value, perhaps $100 billion or more annually.
"There are two major approaches to allocation: giving allowances away freely or auctioning them," the group explained. "If given away freely, allowances are often 'grandfathered' to regulated entities based on past emissions or related historic benchmarks. ... In an allowance auction, the government receives the auction revenue from the firms that purchase the allowances."
"This is not a plan that enriches Wall Street speculators," the Kerry-Lieberman discussion draft pointed out, "and it is certainly not a plan to grow the government."
The text of the American Power Act and briefing papers are online at www.kerry.senate.gov