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Cosmic VarianceBy Sean CarrollMay 13, 2010 6:39 PM


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You may have heard that a major climate bill -- the "American Power Act," sponsored by John Kerry and Joe Lieberman -- is trundling through Congress. Its prospects for passage are highly unclear; it's a giant mess of a bill, which would have important consequences for any number of sectors in the economy, and the country's attention is largely focused elsewhere at the moment. (A substantial fraction is focused on Justin Bieber, but I don't really blame him.) So what does the bill say? Here's the very short version, from our sister blog 80 Beats:

The carbon emissions targets are: 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. That’s made to match the goals in the House bill that passed in 2009. In addition, the bill proposes putting a price on carbon.

Somewhat longer version from Think Progress here. Or of course you could just read the bill yourself (pdf). Only 987 pages! Most of which read like this:

23 ‘‘(B) WITHHOLDING ALLOWANCES.— 24 ‘‘(i) IN GENERAL.—Notwithstanding 25 subparagraph (A), subject to the condition 1 described in clause (ii), the Administrator 2 shall withhold from distribution under this 3 paragraph a quantity of emission allow- 4 ances equal to the lesser of— 5 ‘‘(I) 14.3 percent of the quantity 6 of emission allowances allocated under 7 section 781(a)(1) for the relevant vin- 8 tage year; and 9 ‘‘(II) 105 percent of the emission 10 allowances of the relevant vintage year 11 that the Administrator anticipates will 12 be distributed to merchant coal units 13 and long-term contract generators 14 under subsections (c) and (d).

There are good reasons why bills are written in turgid legal language; but it means that very few concerned citizens are going to be curling up with a good piece of legislation in the evening. That's okay; we have multiple high-profile media outlets that are here to help us understand the complexities of these important changes to how our country does its business. I mean, right? Sadly, no, as a wise person once said. CNN had a sit-down interview with Kerry and Lieberman last night, and here's what we get:

Last night, John Kerry and Joe Lieberman appeared on John King's CNN program to promote their climate bill, the American Power Act. The transcript is fairly lengthy, but at no point does King ask them to explain the provisions of their bill. Instead, he begins by asking whether they have 60 votes, tries to get them to explain why John McCain isn't on the legislation, and then asks them to comment on the Sestak-Specter race in Pennsylvania. In fact, the clip the John King show posted online (which I embedded above) doesn't even mention the climate bill.

Isn't there room in the media landscape for just one TV news channel that would take seriously the responsibility of actually providing their viewers with useful information? It might be a small, niche market, but if the Golf Channel can thrive, surely it's an experiment worth trying? I refuse to believe that providing useful information is of necessity such a tedious and boring activity that it can't be made interesting, no matter how hard we try. We need to get Stephen Spielberg and Jay Rosen in a room together to figure out how to make a news channel that would honestly inform people in an entertaining way. Have them call me.

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