Climate Change on Capitol Hill

Monday, October 22, 2007

THE AMERICA'S Climate Security Act, introduced Thursday by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John W. Warner (R-Va.), offers the United States a chance to finally move off the sidelines and start combating global warming. Five climate-change bills have been floated, reflecting a growing consensus on Capitol Hill for a cap-and-trade system to achieve mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The Lieberman-Warner measure would cover the electric power, transportation and manufacturing sectors, which account for 75 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. A declining cap on carbon dioxide and other gases that enhance global warming, in addition to energy-efficiency standards for appliances and buildings, would cut total emissions to 63 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. That's shy of what many scientists urge but still substantial.

Beginning in 2012, industry would need allowances to emit greenhouse gases. The government would give some of those away and auction others, with the freebies declining over time. Putting a price on pollution would encourage efficiency. Meanwhile, money raised by selling allowances would go toward technologies to reduce carbon emissions, toward helping low- and middle-income Americans cope with rising energy prices, and toward training workers in emerging technologies.

A carbon tax would be more straightforward. With cap-and-trade, there's potential for games, fraud, evasion and abuse. Some companies could earn windfall profits, and the price volatility of emissions allowances could be disruptive. But we also understand the upside of a cap-and-trade system. It would give industry and the American people time to transition to the greener reality they're facing. It would allow the government to set a goal for total emissions. It could fit into an international market. Most of all, it's politically more plausible. A carbon tax is unthinkable for most in Congress.

That's why we're encouraged by the Lieberman-Warner bill. After nearly seven years of lost opportunity attributable to denial and inaction, the bill presents President Bush with an opening. He should seize it. Many environmental advocates don't think he will, and they are counting down the clock on his presidency. But that's 15 more months to wait -- a delay that neither the United States nor the planet can afford.

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