Lieberman-Warner bill could double cost of electricity

July 2008

On June 6, 2008, the United States Senate effectively shelved the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act. The proponents of the bill made a motion to end debate and move to a final vote. Such a motion requires 60 votes to pass, and it failed by a vote of 48 in favor and 36 against. Senator Dorgan voted against the motion, and Senator Conrad, who was not present, indicated he also would have voted against the motion.

Clearly, the bill sponsors, Senators Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Independent, and Senator John Warner, Virginia Republican, along with committee chair Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, knew the motion would fail. The strategy of the motion was to table the bill and bring it back after a new president is elected. Both presidential candidates have indicated their support for some form of legislation which will reduce the country’s level of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The proponents believe the Climate Security Act can be passed in 2009 with few, if any, amendments. So, what will the bill do if passed by Congress?

The language in the bill sets reduction levels of greenhouse gas emissions equal to 1990 levels by the year 2020 and to reduce emissions by an additional 65% by the year 2050. The obvious question everyone should have is what would this do to the cost of electricity? The short answer to the question is that it would increase the cost significantly.

The biggest target for reduction of greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide from power plants. There is no technology to remove CO² from the stack of a power plant. Sequestration of CO² is an option, but the cost is extremely high. Another option in the bill is a cap and trade provision whereby a power generator could buy allowances in lieu of actually reducing their carbon emissions. It is expected the allowances will be very expensive and will essentially be a huge tax added to the cost of production. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has estimated that this cap and trade approach could cause electric bills to double or even triple. How many of us are ready to have our electric bills follow the recent escalation of gas prices?

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has been quoted as saying “cap and trade systems, or carbon taxes, are likely to be popular only until real people lose real jobs as their consequence. There is no effective way to meaningfully reduce emissions without negatively impacting a large part of an economy.”

Maybe the most disturbing thought about the Lieberman-Warner Bill is that it very likely will have little or no effect on climate change. While we in the United States would be cutting back our carbon emissions and having an adverse effect on our economy, countries like China and India will be building hundreds of new coal-fired power plants. China has estimated they will build 500 new coal-fired power plants by 2015, and India is planning another 200 coal plants over the next seven years.

When the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act reemerges in 2009, the public needs to be more involved. We need to better understand the economic impact this bill would have, and we need to contact our elected officials to let them know how we feel about the bill’s passage.