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Climate Change

Coal-Burning Electric Utilities Still Commanding Dem Senators’ Attention

1:20 PM EST on November 13, 2009

As reported here yesterday, transportation is a close second to electric power generation in the not-so-great race to become the nation's fastest-rising source of emissions.

20080604_winona1_33.jpgMinnesota roads, like this one, produce a greater share of the state's pollution than electric utilities. (Photo: MPR)

So as the climate change debate heats up in the Senate, it's interesting to see lawmakers press so hard for more valuable pollution permits to be given away for free to the dirtiest electric utilities -- while staying comparatively silent on cutting transportation-based emissions.

From a letter sent to Senate leaders yesterday by 14 midwestern Democrats:

We believe it is essential that we strive to formulate [climate change] legislationthat equitably distributes transition assistance across individuals, aswell as states and regions and economic sectors. We urge you to ensurethat emission allowances allocated to the electricity sector – andthus, electricity consumers -- be fully based on emissions as theappropriate and equitable way to provide transition assistance in agreenhouse gas-regulated economy.

If the goal is to "equitably distribute transition assistance across ... economic sectors," shouldn't the Senate climate bill distribute more than 3 percent of its expected revenue to help states plan for cutting emissions from transportation?

That question certainly isn't being asked by the 14 Democrats, whose request boils down to seeking more freebies for the biggest coal burners. As it stands, electric utilities can expect to get more than a third of the climate bill's pollution allowances, while transit and local development can hope for somewhere between the House's optional 1 percent and the Senate's average of 3 percent.

And it's worth singling out Minnesota, where both senators (Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken) signed the freebies-for-coal letter. According to yesterday's state pollution report released by Environment America, transportation accounted for a larger share of Minnesota's statewide emissions in 2007 (35.4%) than electricity (34.3%).

The report found 19 other states where transportation eclipsed electricity as a pollution producer: Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, South Dakota, New York, Idaho, Louisiana, Alaska, and California.

Admittedly, the 20 states that produce less emissions from electricity tend to be consumers of the power produced in coal-dependent states such as Ohio and Illinois, home to senators that signed the pro-electric utilities letter. But perhaps in a more "equitably distributed" Congress, senators from states that produce more transportation emissions would be pushing for solutions targeted to that sector of the economy.

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