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Jun. 8 2010 - 2:19 pm | 194 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Sen. Lugar’s climate plan: more oil drilling and ‘amnesty’ for coal plants

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind, admires a car. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez via Daylife)

It comes in pretty green wrapping. Sen. Richard Lugar’s “Practical Energy and Climate Plan” calls for increased energy efficiency in buildings and industry, increased vehicle efficiency, more choices in automotive fuels and more diverse domestic energy sources, all in the name of reduced dependence on foreign oil. The wrapper is pretty enough to sway The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein:

The upside of this bill is obvious: We start the process of reducing our carbon emissions. Things like efficiency improvements and clean-energy incentives can be done now, and a price on carbon will simply have to wait until there’s more public support for it. The downside is also obvious: Congress gets to pretend that it “did” climate change, when it hasn’t, in fact, done nearly enough. Right now, I’m leaning toward support, though I’m open to arguments from both sides.

But beneath the pretty green wrapper is expanded oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf and a decade of amnesty for the nation’s oldest and most toxic coal-burning power plants.

“This is a dirty scam and deserves to be exposed as such,” Frank O’Donnell of Clean Air Watch said in an email. “It was obviously cooked up by some of the big power companies – both coal-heavy Duke and American Electric Power operate in Indiana. These companies have been evading pollution cleanup for many years. This seems to be their latest gambit. Lugar in effect is offering an amnesty for polluters plan. This would be a gift to some of the biggest corporate polluters in America.”

Lugar (R-Ind.) revealed his plan (pdf here) yesterday, less than a week after the Environmental Protection Agency released new standards on sulfur dioxide emissions designed to reduce sickness and death caused by air pollution. The standards would require older coal power plants, which have so far evaded regulation, to clean up their emissions.

Lugar would offer the plants what O’Donnell calls “amnesty” in return for what Lugar calls a “voluntary retirement program.” Lugar’s plan does not mandate retirement, so the powerful energy companies would enjoy another 10 years of exemption from regulation, and nothing that’s yet been put in writing would prevent them from seeking further extensions during that decade.

Lugar said his plan would reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil by 1.75 billion barrels over the next 20 years. Most of that savings would come from energy efficiency, he said, but 11 percent would derive from increased oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf.

“The legislation contains no specific provisions to enhance outer-continental shelf oil production,” Lugar said. “The primary driver of increased OCS production will be increased oil prices.”

Why would oil prices increase if the nation is reducing demand for oil through increased efficiency and development of alternative fuels? Nothing in his plan would restrict far greater expansion of offshore drilling or, for that matter, increased dependence on foreign oil. Nor would it restrict carbon pollution.

Lugar claims the plan would “cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent over business as usual” by 2030. If that achievement came to pass it would amount to only about half the short-term savings President Obama committed the U.S. to achieving during the Copenhagen Climate Talks–a 17 percent reduction by 2020 already criticized the world over as inadequate.


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    Environmental reporting recruited me 25 years ago—on my first day as a reporter for my college newspaper, when I discovered my college was discarding radioactive waste in the regular city trash. Since then I've written hard news for dailies, including the Arizona Republic, and slanty news for alternative weeklies, including Newcity. I've written a column for New Times, stories on the Web for Forecast Earth, essays for PEN International and other magazines. I lived in an idyllic California village nestled among volcanoes and vineyards until my batteries were full of sunshine, and then I returned to my origins on the South Side of Chicago, where hope persists with no illusions about the struggle ahead. I cross the asphalt jungle by bicycle and el, mostly to get to the University of Chicago, where I teach journalism. But what matters more than any of this is a lifelong love for the natural world. We are all born with it, I believe, but some turn away.

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