Major components needed to understand
the climate system and climate change.
The following editorial appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on Sunday, Nov. 11:
Al Gore won well-deserved glory with the Nobel Peace Prize for raising awareness of the threat of climate change — a threat that President Bush largely chooses to ignore. Now it's up to Congress to be the architect of U.S. strategy for dealing with this planetary peril.
Congress finally is advancing global warming legislation this fall. The package needs to be both strong and broad, at last moving the United States toward a position of world leadership.
The law must be up to the mammoth challenge of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to the degree that scientists say is needed. And it must lead to cleaner energy without crippling the economy.
Momentum is now driving America's Climate Security Act, introduced last month by Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and John Warner, R-Va.
The bill requires the United States to cut greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2020 and would create a national "cap-and-trade" system for emission credits. Companies that can cut emissions cheaply or achieve cuts beyond their emissions cap for a given year can sell credits to companies that need more time or money to achieve emissions reductions.
This is a good starting point for U.S. climate change policy. Lawmakers should keep improving and resist weakening the bill. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has said she plans to bring it to a vote of her environmental committee in early December.
Congress has to play a strong role on climate change because the oil-centric Bush administration lacks a strategy, suggesting only voluntary emission reductions. That's not enough.
Congressional approval of mandatory cuts would provide a path for a new administration in 2008. And it would signal to the world that the United States is serious about climate change, which its consumer lifestyle disproportionately has helped create.
As this legislation moves ahead, here are five principles to keep in mind:
Make big cuts fast. Scientists warn that the United States needs to cut emissions at least 15 percent to 20 percent by 2020 and at least 80 percent by 2050 to help the world avoid the worst effects of global warming. Lawmakers should resist "safety valve" provisions supported by industry that would gut the Lieberman-Warner bill's effectiveness.
Maximize the market's benefits. Critics say too many emissions credits are given away rather than auctioned, so the program is not tough enough on corporate polluters that use coal and fossil fuels. Congress needs to get the balance right. And the proceeds from credits the government auctions off must be used for public benefits such as energy efficiency and clean technologies.
Pass additional energy reforms. This summer, the House passed a bill setting a national standard for the amount of energy utilities should get from renewable sources, while the Senate approved raising mileage standards on vehicles for the first time in more than 30 years. These are both essential moves. Congress should combine them and send broad energy legislation to President Bush this year.
Encourage innovation. Affordable solar power, plug-in cars or biofuels could dramatically change the energy equation and cut carbon emissions. The Lieberman-Warner bill includes incentives to promote clean and green technologies.
Encourage state and local action. States like California have marched ahead of the federal government in dealing with climate change. Any new federal policy should build on those efforts and not preclude states from leading the way. The Lieberman-Warner bill provides green incentives to states, awarding them emissions credits for eco-friendly building codes, utility regulations and other policies.
This legislation would set in motion massive changes in the way energy is produced, distributed and used. It could result in sharp increases in electricity and gasoline prices as well as other impacts on the American economy and lifestyle.
But many cities and states are viewing this movement as an economic opportunity. Once again, they are out front, and leading in the right direction. Congress needs to catch up.
AMERICA'S CLIMATE SECURITY ACT
America's Climate Security Act, by Sens. Joe Lieberman and John Warner, incorporates elements from some of the half dozen global warming bills currently in Congress. Here are the major features of the bill:
—What it does: Sets a cap, at 2005 levels, on U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and then reduces the limit over 38 years. Establishes a national market for trading emissions credits, or pollution permits.
—Goals: Cut emissions 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, and about 65 percent from 2005 levels by 2050.
—Who is regulated: Electric utilities, manufacturers, oil refiners and importers and chemical makers, which together account for about 80 percentof U.S. emissions.
—How it works: The basic idea is that cleaner industries or businesses that can cut emissions faster and more cheaply can sell their emission credits to companies that find it more difficult or expensive. Each year, the government would distribute some emission credits for free and auction off additional ones, with the proportion of free allowances declining over 38 years. The auctions would be open not only to targeted companies but to entrepreneurs and investors who might re-sell the credits later at a profit.
—Auction proceeds: The money would fund public benefits such as development of clean technologies, electricity rebates for low-income consumers to offset higher prices, worker training for green jobs and environmental and wildlife restoration.
(c) 2007, San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.).
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