While there’s plenty each of us can do to prevent climate change, a lot of the positive action that needs to happen will take place when federal laws and agency rules mandate reductions in industrial emissions of greenhouse gases. That’s why a proposed law like the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2007 is so important and why a new industry drive to squelch it must be stopped.
While it’s not perfect and doesn’t mandate the 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050 that experts believe is the minimum needed, the Lieberman-Warner bill is nonetheless the best climate crisis legislation yet to reach the Senate floor for a vote. Among its pluses (as noted by climate crisis author Joseph Romm in a post on Grist last summer after the bill’s unveiling):
• The bill is bipartisan, which greatly increases its chances of passage.
• If enacted, the law would get things off to a quick start by mandating a return to 2005 emission levels by 2012 and then an initial 10% in those emissions by 2020
• It calls for a 70% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. This is a realistic deadline for achieving the mandated reductions. And it’s close enough to the recommended 80% cut to allow hope that in the ensuing years additional legislation will push us over the top.
• The bill calls for regular “how are we doing?” reports from the National Academy of Sciences that will keep an eye on whether U.S. actions and the actions of other countries are keeping climate catastrophe at bay
• The bill does not permit what’s been called an industry “safety valve.” Previous climate legislation has contained language that would allow companies and industries to plead economic hardship if the costs of compliance become too high. In these cases, companies could miss deadlines or emit more than CO2 than permitted, and not face any consequences. The effect is a climate law loophole big enough to drive an overheated planet through. The Lieberman/Warner bill relies on “banking and borrowing instead. This system would let companies borrow against future emissions by emitting more today and making up for it tomorrow. Or they could save more today and emit more tomorrow. In either scenario, there’s no net change in emissions over time, just some flexibility.
The new law would also create a cap and trade system. This program would place carbon emissions limits on individual industries. Regulators would divide the rights to emit this total amount among the companies involved and assign a value to each of these emissions permits. Companies could then buy and sell permits as needed. The idea is to create an incentive for businesses to do well early on. These companies could then sell permits they didn’t need to companies that were struggling to meet their targets and needing to buy some extra time.
The bill would also earmark some much-needed federal funding for the development of new technologies and its adoption by companies and consumers.
Naturally, a bill this good has run into significant opposition from the business community. Sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, energy companies, and other business interests, a new 17-state “Climate Change Dialogue” tour is traveling the country and predicting gloom and doom should the Lieberman/Warner bill become law.
According to a new study conducted by the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Council for Capital Formation, by 2030 the legislation would cause the price of electricity to rise 129% while costing as many as four million jobs, $6,752 in average household income losses, and draining as much as $669 billion per year from the economy.
The EPA, however, pegged the bills costs to the economy at just $238 billion. And industry forecasts fail to take into account the employment and other benefits of an exploding clean energy industry. In addition, when such costs are measured against a growing economy, they turn out to represent an insignificant portion of the GDP―just 1-3% of our total national output, a small price to pay for securing a stable climate upon which all economic activity ultimately depends.
The Lieberman Warner bill, also known a S. 2191, is scheduled to come before the full Senate in June. While it represents a single beginning step in the fight against global warming, it’s nonetheless crucial that this bill pass and the United States begin to take positive action to prevent a climate crisis. Given the vociferous hostility expressed by industry and other special interests, congressional observers expect quite a fight. To counter this opposition, concerned citizens are being asked to call or write their Senators and ask them to pass the bill as soon as possible. Urge your Senate delegation to take a stand and do the right thing for future generations. Together, we can make a difference and make good things happen.