A responsible and balanced approach to America’s goals

The approval by the House of Representatives of the American Clean Energy and Security Act on June 26 represents our nation’s first significant step toward enactment of a program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I supported passage of the measure. While some improvements can and should be made to the legislation as it moves through the Senate and conference, the legislation considered by the House achieves our fundamental goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions at an affordable price. It is a responsible and carefully balanced measure.

It achieves broad reductions in greenhouse gases and enhances America’s energy security, and by placing a price on carbon dioxide emissions will unleash investments in clean energy technologies that will create millions of new jobs. These energy technologies will evolve from America’s laboratories. They will be deployed here at home. They will be exported around the world. They will be the foundation for our next technology revolution.

Approximately 80 percent of the electricity in my district is coal-generated, and coal production is one of our region’s major industries and major employers. Not surprisingly, my focus in the shaping of the bill in the Energy and Commerce Committee was to keep electricity rates affordable and to enable utilities to continue using coal, our nation’s most abundant energy resource with a 250 year future reserve, which currently accounts for 51 percent of electricity generation nationwide.

Both of these goals have been achieved. Electricity rates will only be modestly affected. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says that by 2020 the cost of the entire program for the typical family is $175 per year. The EPA projects that the nearer-term cost for the typical family is between $80 and $110 annually, or less than the cost of a postage stamp per day. The claims by the opponents that the bill will impose enormous electricity price increases are simply wrong.

And, the EPA projects that by 2020 coal use and production will be greater than it was in 2005. As transportation electrifies, the demand for electricity increases, and coal will be the fuel of choice to meet that rising demand. Even with the addition of carbon dioxide capture and sequestration technologies, coal will remain the cheapest fuel for electricity generation. The claims of opponents that the CO2 controls under the bill will force utilities to surrender coal use, causing an overreliance on natural gas with attendant broad economic harm to the nation, are also simply wrong.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act reduces greenhouse gases by 83 percent by 2050 as compared to 2005 levels. It keeps electricity rates affordable. It enables coal usage to grow as the demand for electricity increases. It invests in new technologies to enable deployment of electric vehicles, carbon capture and sequestration and other clean and innovative means of reducing emissions. It opens the door to a more secure energy future and the creation of millions of new jobs innovating, deploying and exporting to the world the new, low-CO2-emitting technologies that will power our energy future.

These are sound reasons to approve the bill, but for those who still harbor doubts, there is a more practical argument for the enactment of this legislation. In March 2007 the Supreme Court held that CO2 is a pollutant. Under that ruling and the terms of the existing Clean Air Act, the EPA is now effectively required to regulate CO2 emissions. After that decision, federal regulation of greenhouse gases is now inevitable.

It is not a question of whether we will have regulation. The only question is whether the regulation will be our carefully balanced economically sustainable regulation as contained in legislation written by Congress or EPA’s regulation under the blunt instrument of the Clean Air Act where economic considerations cannot be fully weighed.

Given that choice and the path this bill charts for affordable electricity, increased coal use and new job creation, the clear preference is for Congress to act.

Boucher is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.