Robert Menendez

US Senator for New Jersey
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13 Senators Call For Preserving Clean Air Act Protections In Climate Bill

March 2, 2010

Washington – Today, a group of Democratic Senators, led by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) urging him to preserve Clean Air Act protections that require coal-fired power plants to meet modern pollution standards in any energy and climate legislation that reaches the Senate floor.  The letter was also sent to Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), who for months have been crafting a comprehensive clean energy and climate proposal that they are reportedly unveiling as soon as this week.  The letter makes the case that preserving these protections is critical to moving the United States to clean energy at a reasonable pace and successfully curbing global warming.

“As strong supporters of clean energy, we urge you to ensure that energy and climate legislation builds on the existing Clean Air Act and does not create loopholes for old, inefficient, and polluting coal-fired power plants.  The bill should require coal-fired power plants—old and new alike—to meet up-to-date performance standards for carbon dioxide that will complement an overall cap on emissions and move America to clean energy,” wrote the group of Senators.

Coal-fired power plants are the nation’s largest source of global warming pollution.  The Clean Air Act requires that power plants – as well as factories, refineries and other big sources of pollution – meet source-specific performance standards.  In the landmark 2007 decision in Massachusetts vs. EPA, the Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide fits within the purview of the Clean Air Act as an air pollutant.
 
As Congress has debated energy and climate legislation this Congress, the question of global warming pollution standards for coal-fired power plants has been hotly debated.  The clean energy and climate legislation passed last year by the House of Representatives, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, rolled back the Clean Air Act requirements that existing coal plants meet performance standards for global warming pollution.  By contrast, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee late last year reported comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation that preserved these Clean Air Act protections.  Today’s letter insists that the legislation that eventually reaches the Senate floor retain this critical authority to ensure existing coal plants clean up and make way for clean, renewable energy.
 
The following Senators signed the letter: Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Senator Al Franken (D-MN).

Read a PDF of the letter here

FULL TEXT OF LETTER BELOW:


March 2, 2010

The Honorable Harry Reid
Majority Leader
S-221, The Capitol
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Majority Leader Reid:

We strongly embrace the promise of clean energy to make America more energy independent, create millions of new green jobs, and stave off the worst effects of global warming.  In order to accomplish all of these goals, we need to begin to de-carbonize our utility sector and make the transition to clean energy.  As a result, we are writing to ask you to ensure that energy and climate legislation does not weaken the Clean Air Act’s application to existing coal-fired power plants, the nation’s biggest global warming polluters, so that they meet up-to-date technology standards for carbon dioxide. 
 
America’s aging fleet of coal-fired power plants, more than three-fourths of which were built prior to 1980, are responsible for a disproportionate amount of the country’s air pollution, including toxic mercury, soot and smog-forming pollutants, and carbon dioxide.  Indeed, coal-fired power plants emit one-third of the nation’s total carbon dioxide emissions. 
 
America cannot achieve the reductions in global warming pollution that science indicates are needed to protect future generations and the planet from catastrophic and irreversible global warming if we do not begin to de-carbonize the utility sector today and start the march to clean energy.  This transition will help rebuild our manufacturing base by creating jobs in clean energy technology, increase our energy security, and reduce global warming pollution. 

Yet this necessary transition to clean energy could well be short-circuited if old and inefficient power plants continue to be favored in America’s electricity market.  This would crowd out any sizable move to wind and solar power and other clean energy sources, since the U.S. Department of Energy projects that electricity demand will be relatively flat over the next 20 years (an annual average growth rate of less than 1 percent). 

Regrettably, this crowding-out scenario appears all too plausible if, contrary to the Clean Air Act, a massive loophole is created for existing coal plants, such that they never have to meet performance standards for their carbon pollution.  In the absence of such performance standards, utilities may very well continue to operate—or even expand—existing plants in the early years of the program rather than invest in cleaner sources of energy.  Further, in the medium term—as the economic realities set in of an emissions cap that is increasingly tightening and allowances to pollute that are increasingly auctioned rather than given away—those utilities that have delayed transitioning to cleaner sources of energy may confront the need to abruptly shutter aging coal plants that continue to provide the bulk of America’s electricity.  In the face of potential brownouts or blackouts, tremendous political pressure would be brought to bear to weaken the cap, a result that would compromise our economic, national security, and environmental goals.     

In order to prevent such a scenario from coming to pass, the cap on emissions must be paired with clean energy standards and Clean Air Act or equivalent performance standards for power plants that ensure that America moves to clean technology at a reasonable pace and can achieve the needed longer term cuts in pollution.

Such an approach—pairing a cap on emissions with performance standards for power plants—is the path Congress took in 1990 when it enacted the highly-successful Acid Rain Program, the nation’s first cap-and-trade program.  At that time, Congress debated eliminating the Clean Air Act’s requirements that power plants meet source-specific standards, but Congress instead recognized that those standards are essential to drive technology improvements.

As strong supporters of clean energy, we urge you to ensure that energy and climate legislation builds on the existing Clean Air Act and does not create loopholes for old, inefficient, and polluting coal-fired power plants.  The bill should require coal-fired power plants—old and new alike—to meet up-to-date performance standards for carbon dioxide that will complement an overall cap on emissions and move America to clean energy.
 
                                                                     Sincerely,


____________________                                                        ______________________ 
ROBERT MENENDEZ                                                            BENJAMIN L. CARDIN
United States Senator                                                        United States Senator


______________________                                                    ________________________   
KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND                                                        FRANR. LAUTENBERG
United States Senator                                                       United States Senator


_________________                                                              ______________________            
PATRICK LEAHY                                                                  CHRISTOPHER J. DODD
United States Senator                                                         United States Senator                                                                                                            


_________________                                                              ______________________
JEFF MERKLEY                                                                    JACK REED
United States Senator                                                         United States Senator


__________________                                                            ________________________
BERNIE SANDERS                                                                SHELDON WHITEHOUSE
United States Senator                                                         United States Senator


__________________                                                            ________________________
BARBARA BOXER                                                                RON WYDEN
United States Senator                                                         United States Senator


__________________
AL FRANKEN
United States Senator

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