Boxer Wants To Mirror House Language On Allocations

Environment And Energy Daily

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said yesterday she plans to follow the House's lead on a critical piece of the Senate global warming bill by directing 70 percent of the valuable emission allowances back to consumers to help them pay higher energy bills.

"Just like the House, the vast majority of allowances are going to consumers to keep them whole," Boxer said during an appearance on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program, which was posted online after yesterday's taping and will be broadcast on television Sunday.

Boxer and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) did not go into specifics in the climate bill they released Tuesday over how to distribute emission allocations. Instead, they said they would leave those decisions until closer to markup in the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Republicans say the Democratic sponsors are not being transparent with a key piece of their bill, a complaint that prompted Boxer on C-SPAN to signal that she would be mirroring some of the allocation provisions in the House-passed bill, H.R. 2454.

"Let me just say to my Republican friends, who may be watching until we reveal this in a couple of days, 70 percent of the allowances go to consumers," Boxer said. "The rest are divided along the same lines as the House bill."

A senior Boxer aide later explained that talks are continuing on the allocation language and no decisions have been made. "We are finalizing and there is still work going on," the staffer said.

Across Capitol Hill, House Democrats have touted a similar 70 percent figure for consumer rebates that combines a range of provisions, including direct rebates, tax credits and other energy efficiency programs.

Eben Burnham-Snyder, a spokesman for Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), one of the bill's lead co-authors, said the Democrats include the 30 percent of the allowances that are directed to state-regulated local electric-distribution companies (LDCs). The LDCs are instructed to use any revenue from the allowances to protect consumers from electricity price increases.

Other significant line items in the House bill include 10 percent of the allocations directed to states to implement building efficiency standards, building retrofit programs and renewable energy and efficiency measures. Combined, Democrats say these programs would lower consumer costs on energy bills.

Natural gas local distribution companies also get 9 percent of the allocations with similar restrictions on their use of allowance values to help consumers. And the House bill requires U.S. EPA to auction off 15 percent of the allowances, with the proceeds directed toward low- and moderate-income families via tax credits, direct payments and electronic benefit payments.

In its scoring of the House bill, the Congressional Budget Office said that the country's lowest-income households would see an average annual net benefit of about $40 in 2020 because of the different direct rebates and other payback provisions written into the legislation. The richest households can expect costs of about $340, CBO said.

Republican critics have countered that the CBO study omits billions of dollars in costs across the economy and they instead cite industry-funded research that shows the average American household would pay upward of $2,000 more per year for energy and other consumer items if the House-passed climate bill were to become law.

Boxer won't be alone in producing ideas on allocations in the Senate. Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has said he too plans to release allowance language on the climate bill once he hears from Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) about the timing of the legislation.

2020 emissions limit at 'high water mark'

Boxer touched on a number of other hot-button issues during the C-SPAN interview, including the decision to start with a 20 percent emissions target for 2020 when measured against 2005 levels.

Moderate Democrats, including Sens. Max Baucus of Montana and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, want to make those near-term emissions limits weaker. But Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has said he will push to get them increased.

"This should be the high water mark," Boxer said of the 20 percent limit. "We're going to try to convince our colleagues."

Boxer acknowledged she and Kerry still have much work ahead in trying to win support of moderate and conservative Democrats and Republicans.

Citing past Senate vote counts that came up short of the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster, Boxer said efforts this year are different due to several factors: increased public awareness of climate change and energy issues, President Obama's support for the legislation and the prospect of federal climate regulations absent a new law.

"We're gaining ground," she said. "At this point, I can't count to 60, like I can't on health care yet. But you just do your job and move forward."

To date, Kerry and Boxer have not been able to sign up a Republican cosponsor to their measure. Kerry on Tuesday said he would have an announcement on GOP support in the coming weeks, with most speculation centered around Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine.

"I don't have one yet for the Kerry-Boxer bill," Boxer said. "I'm looking. If anyone's watching, please dial in."

Boxer also offered an explanation for why she and Kerry decided to change the legislative lingo surrounding their bill, dropping references to "cap and trade" and instead labeling the greenhouse gas trading provisions as a "pollution reduction and investment" program.

"No one really understood what cap and trade meant," Boxer said. "You could be talking about putting a cap on a baseball player and trading him to another team. No one got it. We're saying 'pollution reduction investments.' We think it explains it more."