The US Senate has taken Americans on an energy and climate roller coaster over the past year as Senators John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, and others attempted to craft legislation that would increase investment in clean energy while cutting global warming pollution.

Yet Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last week acknowledged that the Senate would not debate an energy and global warming bill because it lacked support from a super majority of 60 senators. Sen. Reid noted on July 22 that: “We know we don’t have the votes [for a bill capping emissions].”

The vast majority of Democrats were ready to support a scaled-back bill that would decrease carbon pollution only from power plants while excluding coverage for transportation and manufacturing. Some Republican support was necessary for passage, yet no Republicans publicly supported this action. This included opposition from Senators John McCain, Richard Lugar, and others who had voted for previous global warming bills.

Republican opposition, combined with a handful of Democratic senators who also opposed action, was enough to block even this modest step. Republican Rick Boucher, a lead sponsor of the companion House energy and climate bill, observed: “Republicans pulled out of the talks, and it’s just that simple…There’s not another answer.”

Reid had no alternative but to bring a much more limited energy bill to the Senate floor, introducing the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Accountability Act, last week. This bill is no substitute for comprehensive clean energy and global warming legislation, but it does deserve Senate passage because it makes progress in several critical areas.

The Reid bill would:

  • Hold BP fully accountable for its oil disaster and do the same for future spills
  • Adopt reforms to increase offshore oil production safeguards
  • Invest in residential energy efficiency retrofits to save homeowners money and create jobs
  • Reduce oil use by investing in natural gas vehicles and electric cars
  • Require gas producers to publicly reveal the chemicals used in ‘hydraulic fracturing’ to produce shale gas.

Nearly all of these proposals come from existing legislation, and many of them have Republican coauthors. Here’s what you need to know about the primary provisions of the “Clean Energy Jobs” bill, as well as the original bills and their cosponsors.

Oil spill response and accountability

The BP oil disaster was a 100-day nightmare that caused more than 180 million gallons of oil to flood from the ocean bottom into the Gulf of Mexico and on to American shores from Texas to Florida.

This disaster is the largest ever, but it is no freak occurrence. A Washington Post analysis found “a steady stream of oil spills dumping 517,847 barrels of petroleum … into the Gulf of Mexico between 1964 and 2009 … they poured twice as much as oil into US waters as the Exxon Valdez tanker did when it ran aground in 1989.”

The Reid bill would make BP pay for the damages from the catastrophe and hold big oil companies responsible for future spills. It would also enhance safety requirement measures to prevent future blowouts or spills.

The primary provisions of the bill would:

  • Eliminate the existing $75 million liability cap for offshore oil spill damages, with unlimited liability for economic losses to businesses, lost governmental revenues, and other damages. Establishing an unlimited liability cap would apply to the BP oil disaster. This would create a powerful economic deterrent to the kinds of reckless cost cutting and shortcuts that BP reportedly took on the Deepwater Horizon platform.
  • Require new oil spill response plans to have much greater specificity, including demonstrating the financial and technological capability of addressing spills.
  • Reform the Interior Department’s management and oversight of ocean energy production, including more rig inspections.
  • Increase the per incident spending limit for the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. It can currently provide up to $1 billion per oil spill for clean-up costs or damages; the bill increases this spending limit to $5 billion. The fund is currently paid for by an 8-cent per barrel fee, and the bill would raise it to 49 cents per barrel, which would generate approximately $9 billion.
  • Establish a Gulf of Mexico Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council to help with future spill prevention efforts.
  • Reduce oil consumption and improve energy security.

The BP oil disaster is yet another reminder that the United States must dramatically reduce its oil use to enhance energy security and economic prosperity. Americans currently spend $1 billion per day on oil imports, and one out of every five barrels of oil consumed in the US comes from countries classified as “dangerous or unstable” by the US State Department. The “Clean Energy Jobs” bill would reduce oil consumption via investments in natural gas vehicles and electric cars.

The primary provisions of the ‘Clean Energy Jobs’ bill would:

  • Provide $3.8 billion for rebates to purchase natural gas cars and trucks through 2013. CAP estimates that the conversion of trucks to natural gas could save 1.2 million barrels of oil per day by 2035. The Senate Democratic Policy Committee notes that: “The natural gas industry … estimated that this program will create more than 100,000 direct manufacturing and labor jobs and more than 450,000 indirect jobs.”
  • Provide grants for natural gas refueling infrastructure and manufacturers of natural gas vehicles.
  • Create a $400 million pilot program to help up to 15 communities create electric vehicle recharging infrastructure.

Read the rest of the article at Climate Spectator