Senate Climate Bill, Now Fortified with Numbers

The Chairman’s Mark of the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (S. 1733), released late Friday night by Senate Environment & Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer, fills in some of the details left out of the earlier-introduced Boxer-Kerry bill, notably identifying which sectors will get CO2 allowances allocated to them for free. The bill largely follows the lead of the House-passed ACES, and in some areas uses identical language. For instance, as in ACES, the largest share of allowances (30%) is allocated to state-regulated local electric-distribution companies, who are instructed to use any revenue from the allowances to protect consumers from electricity price increases.

The precise allocation numbers are sure to be a source of debate as the negotiations move forward through the remaining 5 committees and individual Senators negotiate for their states’ interests to be met in the bill. But do the allocation numbers actually matter? A recent post by Harvard Professor Robert Stavins makes the case that once the decision has been made to allocate a set number of allowances for free, to whom they are assigned does not have a significant impact on the environment performance of the cap and trade regime or on the overall social costs imposed by the regulatory system.

That’s why it is significant that one of the largest differences between the Chairman’s Mark of the Senate Bill and ACES is how many allowances will not be allocated for free.  The size of the pot of allowances in the Senate bill to be set aside for the Treasury Department’s use for deficit reduction rises from 10% in 2012 to a high of 25% between 2040 and 2050.  In comparison, the House bill earmarks for the Treasury Department only those allowances which are not already freely allocated or auctioned, a piece which falls to 1% by 2014.  The set of allowances marked for direct sale at auction is also larger in the Senate bill — 15% of all allowances will be auctioned each year through 2029, rising to 18.5% in later years.  As in ACES, one of the key uses for the auction revenues are direct rebates to consumers to help them deal with higher energy bills.

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