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Climate Change: We Need to Get to Work

by Tim Profeta | June 25th, 2008
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)


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On June 6, the U.S. Senate voted on whether it should move forward on the most serious proposal to address climate change ever offered in Congress: Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D-CA) amendment to the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act. The measure failed, but there’s no reason for despair or euphoria. The exercise sparked new ideas about what is needed to secure effective climate legislation.

The Boxer proposal outlined the creation of a market in greenhouse gases that would:

• ensure an approximately 70% reduction in emissions by 2050,
• stimulate private investment in low-carbon technologies, and
• enact complementary programs designed specifically to assist the U.S. economy.

The Senate fell short of the 60 votes needed to close debate, with the absentee-laden final vote count of 48-36. Six other senators, including both Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and John McCain (R-AZ), announced that they would have voted in favor of the proposal.

Optimism Around Climate Bill Backfired

In the lead-up to floor debate, an undeserved optimism surrounded the bill despite the fact that senators had only seven days to familiarize themselves with the proposal’s particulars. Though many moderates were thus unable to gain comfort with the legislation, advocates throughout Washington spun bullish predictions, arguing whether the bill was stringent enough. In the end, this optimistic talk and opaque process prevented discussions of hard compromise that could have created more constructive back and forth thus securing more support.

Now a similarly undeserved pessimism has arisen. But just as this latest climate vote did not achieve its potential, it also did not erode the chances of passing climate legislation. Instead, it reconfirmed what we knew — that a majority of the Senate, including both possible 44th presidents of the United States, desires a good climate change bill.

This latest defeat also drove home the point that significant hurdles must be overcome before policymakers can endorse a specific bill. If it could not be any clearer, 10 moderate Democratic senators released a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Chairman Boxer on the day of the vote enumerating their “sticking points” that prevented their support of the climate proposal.

Focus Needed on Solutions

Sometimes in Washington, an incredibly frustrating time gap occurs between the point at which a policy problem’s resolution becomes clear and when that solution is adopted. This is such an instance. But there isn’t much doubt about what needs to happen.

We need to find solutions to lawmakers’ real fears about issues such as:

• the cost of the program,
• the loss of competitiveness to China, and
• the right of state governments to retain their authority to address global warming.

For some of these issues, solutions have already suggested themselves in the policy arena, and the script of outreach, education and facilitated discussion between stakeholders needs to be played out.

For example, the Boxer proposal contained a new emergency reserve of allowances that could be released in an economic “rainy day,” something that may contain the first glimmers of a solution to cost concerns. For others, such as the appropriate means to seize the economic advantages in this new paradigm for the U.S. manufacturing sector, new, clever approaches must be devised to bridge the gaps. If there is one solace from the June 6 vote, it should be that the needed action should be crystal clear.

For there is one absolute certainty about climate change — we cannot wait any longer to act. May we all now roll up our sleeves and get it done!

Tim Profeta is the director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. From 2000 to 2005 Profeta served as Environmental Counsel to Senator Joseph Lieberman, and was a principal architect of the Lieberman-McCain Climate Stewardship Act of 2003.

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