The Green Column #9

Cap and Trade Bill Urgently Needs Public’s Support

The context for cap and trade

August 16, 2009—In 1996 when I decided to devote the rest of my life to spreading the message of sustainability and climate change, I was determined to take a rational, measured and moderate approach to communications.

Now is the time to change from “moderate” to “urgent, determined, nonpartisan” communications, based upon the best science and factual information available. The planet is warming at an alarming rate and global leaders, for the most part, are either in denial or are stuck in the present believing that the economy matters most.

The History Channel recently aired a program on “The seven threats to the end of human life on Planet Earth (in the reverse order of likelihood)”:

7) An explosion of a star in our galaxy
6) Artificial intelligence in control of human systems
5) Internal eruption of the earth’s core magma
4) Collision of a large asteroid with the earth
3) A global pandemic/plague
2) Nuclear or biological warfare
1) Climate change

The U.S. Global Change Research Program, a partnership of 13 key federal agencies, recently released the following findings:

  • Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced.
  • Climate changes are underway in the United States and are projected to grow.
  • Climate change will interact with many social and environmental stresses.
  • Future climate change and its impacts depend on choices made today.

In 1992, the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and the resulting Agenda 21 first called the world to action. Just now, in July 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act (HR 2454). None of Nebraska’s three congressmen voted to support the bill.

The focus of the naysayers is that the bill creates an “energy tax” that will harm businesses, industries and/or farmers. In the words of Rep. Adrian Smith, “This is—at its core—a national energy tax which will be passed onto the American people. It will kill jobs, bleed budgets and lead to more government intervention into our energy policy.

“Cap and trade,” Smith said, “would impose a limit on carbon dioxide emissions in the United States and require businesses to purchase ‘allowances’ for their emissions. The increased cost of compliance would then be passed onto energy consumers in the form of higher energy costs.”

The House of Representatives bill

HR 2454 was proposed, “to create clean energy jobs, achieve energy independence, reduce global warming pollution and transition to a clean energy economy.” Cap and trade provisions are only one part of the bill, and are specifically related to the reduction of greenhouse gases. The regulatory process proposed is similar to the highly successful “acid rain” cap and trade imposed on manufacturers in the 1980s.

Large emitters of carbon-dioxide will be required to have permits for each ton of emission, with a regulated cap for their share of the pollution. The federal government will most likely auction the permits to the large polluters and use the funds to offset other energy costs. Green energy users and carbon sequestration locations will have credit vouchers (or excess permits) measuring their benefit below the cap. They will be in a position to offer their excess permits for sale to the larger polluters.

This creates a system that guarantees a set level of overall reductions, while rewarding the most efficient companies and ensuring that the cap can be met at the lowest possible cost to the economy. At the same time the economics of energy consumption will place higher costs on carbon-based sources (ultimately diminishing such sources) and reward the clean-energy alternatives to coal and fossil-based fuels (ultimately increasing such supplies).

Similar climate legislation will be taken up by the Senate following the August recess, with proponents of the bill hoping for passage this fall.

Nebraska’s economic opportunity

Nebraska geographically, and uniquely, rests at the confluence of four of the most precious life-giving resources on earth: water, wind and solar power, fertile land and productive agriculture. All of these resources, and all Nebraskans, either directly or indirectly are connected to the economics and “good life” characteristics of a clean energy economy.

The lethargy of our political leadership leaves Nebraska as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. We are running out of time.

Filmmaker Ken Burns will release a film later in the fall on America’s National Parks. One of his stories, told to him by a park ranger in Yosemite National Park, has a visitor asking, “I only have an hour to see the park, where should I go?” The park ranger responded, “I would go sit on that rock and cry.”

We have less than an hour in geologic time to save this planet and our descendents’ lives. Can you sense the urgency?

© Lincoln Green by Design