Legislation that cuts carbon dioxide from power plants with a cap-and-trade program can’t pass the U.S. Senate this year, Senator Jay Rockefeller said today.
“Cap-and-trade cannot get 60 votes,” Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, said in a conference call with reporters, referring to the number of votes regularly needed to pass major legislation in the Senate. It’s “common knowledge around here,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said yesterday a plan to cut carbon dioxide from power plants may be part of energy legislation planned for debate this month.
Senators John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, are pressing Reid to add a power-plant cap-and-trade program to the energy bill. Kerry and Lieberman’s proposal scales back an earlier cap-and-trade plan, in which companies buy and sell a declining number of carbon dioxide allowances, which covered most of the U.S. economy.
Kerry said he’s still confident his power-plant program will pass the Senate as part of this month’s energy bill. “If we quit working every time someone was skeptical of getting 60 votes, we’d never get anything done,” Kerry said in an e-mail.
A bill to overhaul the U.S. health-care sector was considered “dead” by many before it passed Congress in March, Kerry said. Senate Democrats started the debate on legislation setting new rules for the U.S. financial sector with less than 60 votes “and we’re about to pass that too,” he said.
Rockefeller’s comments in opposition to cap-and-trade came as he introduced a bill to raise $20 billion over 10 years to subsidize the deployment of technology that captures and stores carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
The legislation aims to spur the use of the technology at plants with a combined capacity of 20,000 megawatts. Newly built or modified power plants would get $67 to $96 for every trapped ton of carbon dioxide under Rockefeller’s legislation, which is co-sponsored by Senator George Voinovich, an Ohio Republican.
The money for the carbon-capture subsidies would be raised with charges of 0.046 cents to 0.091 cents for every kilowatt-hour generated from power plants fueled with coal, oil and natural gas.
Carbon capture and storage hasn’t been commercially proven, so the financial aid is needed to reduce “economic risks” and attract private investment in the technology, according to a summary of the legislation.
Once the technology to capture carbon dioxide from smokestacks and store it underground has been shown to work at a number of power plants, it would become mandatory, Voinovich told reporters on today’s conference call.
Kerry and Lieberman’s plan would also subsidize carbon capture and storage projects at power plants by giving them “bonus allowances” from the cap-and-trade program.
Senate Democrats should give up on a cap-and-trade program for power plants this year, Voinovich said. “Cap-and-trade has become a dirty word all over,” he said.
Democrats should instead take up legislation, passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year, which requires power companies to buy more electricity from pollution-free sources such as wind turbines and toughens energy-efficiency standards, Voinovich said.
Adding aid for carbon-capture technology and new nuclear reactor construction to that bill might be “the only chance that we’ve got of getting anything out” of the Senate this year on energy, he said.
Chemistry Council Opposes
The Arlington, Virginia-based American Chemistry Council today said it will oppose legislation that includes a cap-and-trade program. The cost of buying carbon dioxide allowances will result in higher energy costs for chemical plants, Cal Dooley, the council’s president and chief executive, said in an e-mail.
Natural gas, which produces roughly half as much carbon dioxide as coal when used to fuel a power plant, will become more expensive as a feedstock for the chemicals industry due to increased demand from the utility sector, Dooley said.