Senate Climate Legislation: Raise Your Voice Today!

Reader Contribution by Michelle Martin
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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Fernando Tomas 

Because multiple bills are brewing in the Senate, this is a critical summer for clean energy legislation. Many of our opportunities to halt the climate crisis, end our dependence on foreign oil and create economic revival through renewable energy depend on what we tell the Senate right now. In addition to my internship at Mother Earth News this summer, I am also a coordinator for the campaign Repower America and am working to build support for the Senate to pass climate legislation. Read about this legislation below, and then help us take action by contacting your own Senators — more information in a few paragraphs.  

The Senate plans to look at a few proposed bills in July, and elements of each will probably form one combined climate bill. Here is an overview of the legislation:

Maria Cantwell and Susan Collins’ CLEAR Act includes a cap-and-trade plan, along with an emissions reduction of 20 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050. The idea is to set the cap at emissions levels of 2012 and lower it incrementally each year. Most of the revenue generated by cap-and-trade will return to Americans. However, no one knows where emissions levels will be in 2012, when the cap starts, so the claims are somewhat difficult to measure.  

Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman have proposed the American Power Act, which claims the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. It creates a cap-and-trade mechanism, puts funding toward public transportation and expands funding for clean energy research and development, including projects such as carbon sequestration. But be aware: Carbon limits won’t be implemented until 2013 and manufacturers are not subject to this cap until 2016. Plus, critics claim that industrial pollution-emitters will get too many free allowances to adjust to the new industry.

New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman has introduced an energy bill that mandates utilities to get 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2021. However, he has not included a carbon cap, and critics have accused Bingaman’s bill of giving too many handouts to energy companies.

Senator Richard Lugar’s bill is by far the tamest, with a goal of 20-percent emissions reduction by 2030. There’s no carbon cap to ensure that utilities meet these standards. Other components: The bill phases out some coal plants, expands energy-efficient retrofits and construction codes and requires that auto fuel-economy improves by 4 percent every year.

As you consider these, keep in mind that scientists recommend a 25-to-40 percent emissions reduction by 2020 and an 80-to-95 percent reduction by 2050. (See page 776 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report (PDF) for details.)

Repower America: Speak Out for Climate Legislation 

Repower America is a non-profit campaign oriented toward transitioning America toward renewable energy. This summer, they are focusing on supporting clean energy legislation to end our country’s dependence on oil. Your actions are critical right now if we want to connect Senators with what we want! It’s a tough political climate in Washington right now, but if your Senators know that we want them to support renewable energy — especially in an election year — they can’t help but pay attention.

Here are some quick actions you can take, courtesy of Repower America, that can help steer us on a path to a clean energy future and end this addiction to fossil fuels.

First, you can write a letter to the editor of your paper with this handy tool, which gives talking points and automatically sends your letter to newspapers in your local area. Repower is also collecting resumes for a creative petition, in which we all “apply” for the clean energy economy that would create 1.9 million jobs. Send your resume to, a MOTHER EARTH NEWS intern who is also working as a coordinator for Repower America.

If you have a video camera, consider filming a video explaining why you believe America needs to switch to clean energy instead of fossil fuels. Tell your story and send it to, and it will appear on the Repower wall — an interactive collection of thousands of videos. Be sure to sign up on the Repower website for future updates (no money solicitations).

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368