This post also appears on the National Journal Energy & Environment Experts Blog.
With Thursday’s floor statement by Senator Murkowski (R-Alaska) announcing her joint resolution to override EPA’s endangerment finding, we were introduced to a new term to add to our lexicon – a disapproval resolution. If like me, you only had a vague recollection that Congress had given itself the ability to override any new federal regulation, some quick research was in order.
If you take a look today at page A16 of today's Wall Street Journal, or inside the pages of the Politico, you will find something remarkable. Just a day after some pundits declared that energy and climate legislation could be off the agenda after the Massachusetts election, a diverse group of 88 organizations has come together to say the exact opposite. The message is unambiguous: Democrats, Republicans, and Independents should unite behind bi-partisan, national energy and climate legislation that increases our security, limits emissions, while both preserving and creating jobs.
There is a great deal of speculation in the press and in the world of punditry about how the Massachusetts election will change the Obama administration’s agenda this year. For the climate issue there are clear implications, but no death knell.
It is worth pointing out that this election represents only one vote in the Senate. But the real issue is how the moderate, swing senators will react, and whether they pull back on supporting climate action. This election does not change the fact that support from moderate senators in both parties is needed to pass a strong climate-energy bill.
While an economy-wide program to reduce emissions remains the ultimate objective, I believe there are many ways to get there.
It’s critical that we find ways to promote low-carbon energy and reduce power sector emissions while accelerating the creation of clean energy jobs and promoting economic growth. I continue to think we have a decent chance of getting meaningful legislation this year that reduces emissions and starts us on a path toward a clean energy future.
Eileen Claussen is President
The Pew Center just published a summary of many of the major clean energy policy developments of the past five years (2005 through 2009). This look back gauges progress on clean energy policy since the “10-50” Solution Workshop, sponsored by the Center and the National Commission on Energy Policy (NCEP) in 2004, which convened leading experts to discuss key technologies likely to enable a low-carbon future by mid-century (50 years henceforth) and to identify the critical policies necessary in the next 10 years to enable this long-term vision.
The Washington energy and environment community is abuzz with speculation about the fate of the energy-climate bill. Given the bruising partisan battles that lie ahead for health care reform, the jobs bill, financial service modernization, and so on, does Congress have the time and political capital left to tackle climate change in its expected energy bill? Would it not be best, some ask, to buy temporary relief, to put off climate for another day?
Temporary relief, unfortunately, will only buy us bigger headaches tomorrow. The energy-only proposals advocated by some would do little or nothing to address a host of issues that grow only more expensive, complicated, and politically challenging if we delay their resolution until, say, 2012. Here are some of the problems we begin to address with climate policy that are not resolved by the energy-only proposals we have seen:
- Power companies and businesses need to know the regulatory rules of the road before they will be willing to invest millions of dollars in new plants. This uncertainty inhibits investment today, as well the jobs that would go with the investment. In particular, it inhibits investment in coal carbon capture and storage and in nuclear power.
- China and other countries are investing heavily in clean energy and taking the lead in the booming global market in clean energy technologies. American ingenuity is second to none, but time is running out. Every year the United States delays in putting a price on carbon emissions we fall further behind in this race, and lose future jobs.
- The United States continues to be dependent on oil from countries that do not have our best interests at heart. Until we reward low-emitting transportation fuels and methods by putting a cost on carbon emissions, this dependency is expected to grow.
- Other countries whose support we need to achieve so many of our international objectives – including fighting terrorism and ensuring economic growth – are dismayed that the United States has sat out the climate issue for so many years. In Copenhagen, thankfully, we showed leadership. Other nations made clear their intent to contribute to global efforts in Copenhagen; we shouldn't walk away from ours. If we do not deliver on that promise by reducing our emissions, other countries may be more reluctant to ally with us on our other objectives.
- The States, our courts, and regulatory agencies have all taken actions to begin addressing climate change. What is needed is the comprehensive national policy that only Congress can produce.
- And, oh yes, climate change itself: Despite the campaign to convince the public otherwise, climate change is real, is happening now, is largely caused by human action, and presents our children and grandchildren grave risks if we do not start reducing our emissions now.
What would it take to begin to address these problems? The House of Representatives passed an energy-climate bill last year that includes a well-crafted economy-wide cap-and-trade provision, which would be our preferred approach. That said, there are many ways to integrate climate and energy policy to achieve multiple goals, including job creation, energy security, increased competitiveness in global clean energy markets, and reduced carbon emissions. There may be a way to build an effective climate and energy program in steps, for example, by establishing the cap first on the power sector's emissions, or even through a "clean energy standard." The basic test is whether the policy would reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and make emissions increasingly costly, thereby rewarding businesses that invent and deploy clean energy and other low-emitting technologies.
Manik Roy is Vice President, Federal Government Outreach