Senate Climate Bill Triples the House’s Investments in Clean Transportation

The Senate environment committee released new details of its climate
change legislation over the weekend, including the share of "emissions allowances"
— the revenue generated by regulating carbon in a cap-and-trade system
— that the bill would reserve for various sectors of the American
economy.

boxer_kerry.jpgSens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the climate bill’s authors. (Photo: Intercon)

And
the release brought good news for clean transportation: The Senate has
largely tripled the share of allowances set aside by the House for
transit, inter-city rail, and other efforts to trim transport-based
emissions.

While the lower chamber of Congress gave states the option of using 1 percent
of climate revenue on transit, the Senate measure would set aside more
than 3 percent of allowances in the first two years of the
cap-and-trade system for limiting pollution from the transportation
sector.

The Senate’s beefed-up transportation language comes after a strong push by sponsors of
the so-called "CLEAN TEA" bill, which set a high-water mark of a
10-percent climate set-aside for transit, local land-use planning, and
other sustainable development projects. Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), a chief author of the "CLEAN TEA" measure, hailed the Senate’s move in a weekend statement.

My CLEAN TEA bill is a
common-sense solution to the problem that we use a gas tax to fund our
nation’s transportation system. My language in
the [Senate climate bill] directs cities and states to determine how much they can
reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their transportation systems by
investing in driving alternatives, public transit, intercity passenger rail,
transit-oriented development, sidewalks and more. States and cities with more
ambitious plans will receive more federal funds – finally rewarding local
governments for doing the right thing.

According to the environment committee’s weekend release, the share of
Senate climate allowances reserved for clean transportation would total
3.21 percent in 2012 and 2013, before dipping to 2.35 percent in the
two subsequent years and returning to a share that ranges between 1.9
percent and 3.5 percent in future years.

But not all
emissions allowances are created equal; 1 percent of the total amount
going to clean transportation would be reserved in the early stages of
the program, thus increasing the value of those allowances relative to
the ones distributed later on. These early set-aside allowances would
also go towards reducing the federal deficit and supplementing other
high-priority programs.

Though it falls short of the "CLEAN
TEA" mark, the 3-percent set-aside represents a victory for clean
transportation advocates as well as the nation’s cities. The allowances
would be split between grants to states for reducing transport-based
emissions and transit grants — with 80 percent of the latter going to
urban areas, 10 percent going to rural areas, and 10 percent to growing
states.

However, it’s important
to note that the transportation section of the Senate climate bill is
not written in stone. The environment committee, chaired by climate
bill co-author Barbara Boxer (D-MA), will begin holding a series of
high-profile hearings on the legislation tomorrow, and months of
intense horse-trading is sure to follow.

A final vote on the bill could come as soon as the winter, particularly with global climate talks in Copenhagen drawing near,
but is likely to be pushed until next spring. In the interim, look for
industries to lobby fiercely to protect their share of the climate pot
— and to try to siphon off the allowances set aside for other
industries.

  • Notwithstanding the improved recognition for transportation by some Congresscritters, cap and trade overall is a horrible idea, since it is (1) much more complex than a simple carbon tax; (2) the complexity opens it up to myriads of political horsetrading and logrolling; but (3) worst of all, it provides yet another opportunity for the Grand Casino, er, Wall Street, to gamble and puff up yet another financial bubble. In other words, NO BILL is the BEST BILL if the current proposals are what we have to choose from.

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