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PSR Statement on Climate and Energy Legislation Recently Released by Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman

May 18, 2010

Physicians for Social Responsibility appreciates the ongoing efforts of Senators Kerry and Lieberman to develop legislation -- the American Power Act -- that addresses the grave threat to human health posed by climate change. 

Some of the provisions in the discussion draft of their bill, however, would fail to protect public health.  Until those provisions are improved, it will be difficult for PSR to support this legislation.  The provisions of greatest concern include: 

  • Limiting the Environmental Protection Agency from taking action to curb carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act.
  • Overruling existing state and federal laws, rules and regulations needed to protect our health.
  • Pre-empting state cap and trade programs and repealing other existing state authority to regulate greenhouse gases. 
  • Massive subsidies for expensive, risky nuclear reactors.
  • Undermining the Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing of new reactors.

Our concerns in more detail:

Limiting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from taking action to curb carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act.

The bill removes major controls for measuring and restricting greenhouse gases.  The bill would "grandfather" forty-three coal-fired power plants already under construction, near construction or permitted to go online over the next 5 years, allowing them to escape restriction on their CO2 emissions. The bill would also prevent EPA from using greenhouse gases as a basis for "Prevention of Significant Deterioration" findings used for  approving operating permits. Finally, the bill would strip from EPA the power to require states to revise their "state implementation plans" that would lower state greenhouse gas emissions found to endanger foreign nations.  These various limitations severely reduce  the tools currently at our disposal to cap greenhouse gas emissions. 

PSR calls for New Source Review to apply not only to coal plants permitted in 2009 or thereafter, but to all coal plants.  The American Power Act should also remove language that precludes the EPA from using the CAA to control greenhouse gas.

Overruling existing state and federal laws, rules and regulations needed to protect our health.

In title VIII, section 802, the American Power Act would require the EPA administrator to establish a task force to evaluate existing federal and state environmental laws concerning electricity generating units, the coal industry, and the control of greenhouse gases.  The task force is required to make recommendations for providing financial and regulatory incentives for coal with carbon capture and sequestration. Once recommendations are proposed the EPA, Department of Energy and the Treasury Department would be required to implement them.  The Coal Industry has long lobbied for such incentives to assure its competitive edge over renewables or efficiency. This could open the door to undoing multiple federal and state laws that currently protect human health.  Thus, PSR calls for the removal of title VIII, section 802 ff.

Pre-empting state cap and trade programs and repealing many other existing authorities to regulate greenhouse gases (Section 2307). 
This section of the bill is intended to ensure regulator predictability for carbon pricing through a federalized greenhouse gas trading system.  Permanently prohibiting state cap and trade programs eliminates a backstop for controlling greenhouse gas emissions should the federal program falter. States must be able to retain their ability to be 'laboratories for innovation' so that we can exceed the lowest common denominator emissions cuts that the American Power Act mandates.

Massive subsidies for expensive, risky nuclear reactors.

The bill creates new subsidies – and greatly expands existing subsidies – for the construction of new nuclear reactors. It sets up extensive new tax benefits for new reactors, including unprecedented 5-year accelerated depreciation, as well as investment tax credits.  It also adds to existing tax breaks, none of which have actually been used thus far, including increasing production tax credits and extending benefits to public power. The bill also increases and dramatically expands the scope of “risk insurance,” in which US taxpayers pay for delays in NRC approval of new reactors.  Risk insurance will put pressure on the NRC to rush its inspection process for reactors under construction, putting the public’s health at risk.    The bill also triples the DOE’s loan guarantee program for new nuclear reactors to $54 billion. For the nation’s economic and physicial health, all these mechanisms requiring taxpayer support of new nuclear reactor should be dropped.

Undermining the Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing of new reactors.

The bill would undermine public safety and public confidence by further truncating the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) new licensing process. It requires the NRC Commission to implement an “expedited procedure” for issuing licenses and guts National Environmental Policy Act requirements to analyze the need for power, cost of the project, and alternatives to nuclear power in the licensing process. The acceleration of licensing will not deal with the real problem: the premature submission of incomplete and poor-quality applications by the industry.  To address this problem and protect the public’s health, current licensing procedures should in fact be strengthened.

Climate change will have a profound effect on human health from extreme weather events, heat-related illness, pest and water borne diseases, malnutrition, and air and water pollution.  Therefore, PSR supports climate and energy policies that establish deep cuts in global warming pollution and that will bolster the development and deployment of energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy, while also protecting the public’s health.  We will continue to work with the Senate to craft legislation that will attain these goals.