If, like me, you have been confused, frustrated, dispirited or all of the above by the health care debate in Congress, get ready for more as the U.S. Senate prepares to take up climate-change legislation. The stakes are high. The debate will not be high-minded.
Expect opponents of mandatory carbon regulation to distort the science and economics of global warming, predicting an economic catastrophe if the bill passes, even as environmentalists promise a green-jobs nirvana and warn of an environmental catastrophe if it doesn’t. The fact is, any meaningful effort to regulate carbon will carry real but not catastrophic costs for businesses and consumers – that’s part of the point, to raise the price of burning fossil fuels – and that the transition to a clean-energy economy will be disruptive, under the best of circumstances. Solar-power manufacturers in China will gain at the expense of coal miners in West Virginia. That makes the politics of the bill a challenge, but so be it.
But if we acknowledge that passing a climate bill will create costs, we also need to recognize the costs of inaction will likely to be far greater. If you doubt it, read Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, an excellent report, written in plain English, about the likely impacts of climate change. Catastrophe is probably not too strong a word to describe the environmental impact of business as usual.
While the congressional debate will focus on science, economics and politics, the climate-change issue is fundamentally about our legacy. Are we willing to make sacrifices now — maybe even painful sacrifices — to better the world for future generations?
If you want to learn more about the upcoming congressional debate, I invite you to join in a webinar on Wednesday, September 30, at 1 p.m. ET, called Climate Legislation in the U.S. Senate. It’s organized by The Energy Collective, a website about energy and climate that brings together some of the smartest ideas and opinions on the Internet.
Panelists at the webinar will be Manik “Nikki” Roy of the Pew Center on Climate Change, a politically-savvy Washington insider who’s been tracking the climate issue for years; Michael Zimmer, an attorney and energy policy expert with Thompson Hine, also in Washington; and Jesse Jenkins, director of energy and climate policy at the Breakthrough Institute. I’ll be moderating.
Among the questions on the table:
# Is there any chance of a bi-partisan bill? If so, what is required for Republican support?
# What role will nuclear play in the climate legislation?
# What about oversight for carbon markets, as addressed in the House bill?
# Will there be more concessions and free allowance allocation to carbon producers (oil & gas, utilities, industrial manufacturers) in the Senate version?
# Will a safety valve be necessary politically, and to ensure carbon permit prices are stable and predictable?
# How strong will international trade protection be? # If legislation is not enacted this year, what constructive action, if any, can the U.S. government take at Copenhagen?
The timing of the webinar looks good. Senators Boxer and Kerry are reportedly introducing their climate bill on Wednesday. Feel free to email me (email@example.com) with questions you’d like me to ask.