Greenhouse Inertia

Thursday, November 22, 2007

THE CLARION call for action to address the pernicious progression of global warming grew louder with the release of the final report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last weekend. The sobering findings, which synthesize the three previous reports from the group, confirm with greater certainty that global warming is real but could be slowed if the world's governments make tough decisions now to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions heating up the planet. Our hope is that the report will speed the glacial pace of action in Washington. But that would be a very big hope.

Until this summer, President Bush had questioned the science behind climate-change warnings for nearly seven years and had resisted efforts to address the problem. Mr. Bush's September summit at the State Department of the world's 16 major carbon dioxide emitters was a nice gesture. Bringing to the table India and China, which is expected to surpass the United States as the planet's No. 1 carbon emitter, was good. Yet Mr. Bush's continued opposition to binding commitments in favor of voluntary reductions -- "aspirational goals," as described by his environmental adviser, James L. Connaughton -- is not the decisive leadership the world is looking for.

That lack of leadership from the White House has led states to act unilaterally. Governors are signing regional agreements to cap greenhouse gas emissions. California, Montana and Utah signed one last week. Fourteen states have adopted California's tough tailpipe emissions standards. Yet, approval from the Environmental Protection Agency has been two years in coming -- if it comes at all. Court cases from federal district courts right up to the Supreme Court have beaten back challenges to states' proactive policies.

Inertia afflicts both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Congress is just beginning to hash out a cap-and-trade policy that would put a price on carbon. If properly designed and administered, it would reduce CO2emissions and push industry to adopt technologies that would increase efficiency. Meanwhile, energy bills passed separately by the House and Senate have not moved since summer because each chamber approved legislation that contains provisions killed by the other. While the House punted on raising the corporate average fuel economy standard to 35 mpg but pushed through standards for renewable energy sources, the Senate approved only a hike in CAFE standards.

Intense negotiations are underway on Capitol Hill to take up CAFE standards, renewable energy and tax incentives for clean energy development in separate votes. This is encouraging news, and we urge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to come to an agreement. Washington must pass legislation that finally shows the world it is ready to take on climate change in a significant and meaningful way.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company