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Climate bill stokes business debate

October 6, 2009


If a measure similar to the Boxer-Kerry bill becomes law, it will constitute a revolution in how Americans produce and use energy.
While introducing her climate change bill Wednesday, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., told a cheering crowd in front of the U.S. Capitol, “we have expanded our coalition in the business community.”
In Pennsylvania, that coalition includes businesses that stand to benefit, such as energy-efficient windows manufacturer Serious Materials and wind turbine maker Gamesa.
But heavy industry concerns in Western Pennsylvania, including U.S. Steel, Alcoa and Consol Energy, expressed varying degrees of dismay and fear last week at what the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act could mean for their businesses — and for energy consumers.
The bill, similar to House of Representatives legislation that narrowly passed in June, sets aggressive deadlines for greenhouse gas reductions and creates a cap-and-trade system in which a price is set to emit carbon above a certain level and the right to do so is traded in a newly created market for big polluters.
The result, according to foes of the bill, will be higher energy prices and job losses when utilities scale back because of increased costs.
But in the long run, argue environmentalists and officials with “green jobs” companies, energy costs will come down and jobs will be created in areas of renewable energy and efficiency that cannot be outsourced. In addition, the act could create momentum for a global consensus to reduce emissions and, perhaps, stave off global warming. And by spending less on foreign oil, they contend, the United States will reduce funding to potential enemies.
A crucial detail to be filled in as the bill proceeds through Environment and Public Works, Finance and other committees, is how carbon offsets — or emissions-reduction credits — will be doled out in the cap-and-trade market.
The environmental lobby is increasingly turning to an economic argument to sway legislators. Repower Pennsylvania, a grassroots lobbying subsidiary of the Alliance for Climate Protection, pointed to a study released last month by the Center for American Progress showing that Pennsylvania would gain 72,000 green jobs within two years if the federal government invested $150 billion in efficiency and renewable energy. The pending legislation includes some of those ideas.
But economic benefits could be outweighed by the decline of fossil fuels.
The National Association of Manufacturers and the American Council for Capital Formation commissioned a study of the House bill that foretold losses of 71,500 to 97,500 jobs in Pennsylvania by 2030 as heavy industry struggles with higher costs and sends jobs to overseas markets where there are no pollution caps.
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