Cap & Trade: No Time to Lose


There are a thousand reasons Nancy Pelosi might have decided not to push for a greenhouse gas cap & trade scheme by July 4, her timeline for global warming legislation. None of those reasons are compelling.
I’ll be doing some fairly in-depth writing on climate change and energy policy on this site. Usually, I’ll be writing in greater depth about the links between our climate, energy, and foreign policy. Today I’m just venting.
Yesterday, on the same day that Great Britain published the world’s first blueprint for a low-carbon economy, Pelosi announced that her early-session push for global warming legislation would not include the cap & trade measures that could ultimately set us on a path toward climate security. Some reports say she wants to wait until after the 2008 elections.
For newcomers to the issue, cap & trade is a system under which targets are set for total emissions of a particular gas. Based on those targets, we create a finite amount of pollution rights that can be traded at a market value. The market then helpos us reach our emissions target in the most cost-effective way, rewarding approaches that work and weeding out those that don’t, helping companies that surpass the target and forcing companies that fall short to pay for their failure. The system was used to regulate SO2 and was tremendously successful in curbing acid rain. For a problem like climate change, which will cost $9 trillion and countless lives if the current inertia prevails, it’s our best hope. It’s the solution that makes the other solutions work.
The policy rationale is clear: it’s the right thing to do morally, economically, and internationally.
The political rationale makes sense too. The public supports cap & trade legislation by broad majorities and across partisan lines. Any losing vote is just more political ammunition for elections. Plus, given Congress’s embarrassing history on global warming policy, any vote – even a defeat – is bound to be a marked improvement over Congress’s assumed stance. If Senators McCain and Lieberman didn’t have the guts to lose a few successive times to demonstrate increasing public awareness, we certainly wouldn’t have the political space we have today. Besides – it might even result in a win.
I’ve been supportive of Speaker Pelosi’s cautious approach to this point, but backing off or looking for some supposed middle ground on climate change now is simply weak. Climate advocates have sacrificed a host of stricter regulatory measures and embraced a cap & trade scheme. This is the middle ground. Looking for it elsewhere shouldn’t be called bipartisanship, caution, comity, or inclusiveness. It should be called losing.
Update: Executives from Chrysler, Ford, GM, and Toyota testified today in the House that they could support a cap & trade scheme. When companies are asking for regulation, you know your legislators are playing catch-up. There is simply no excuse for stalling.
— Scott Paul


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