In his 1949 Inaugural Address, Truman told the nation, “We are aided by all who long
for economic security – for the security and abundance that men in free
societies can enjoy.”Those words, though spoken six decades ago, still hold relevance today
as we wrestle with how to protect our country’s fragile economy while
also protecting the environment. This debate is complicated. It involves
competing alliances, regional concerns and political maneuvering.
The nuances of these political fissures and their application to
climate policy in the 111th Congress are addressed in the report
scheduled for release tomorrow: “Addressing
Climate Change: The Politics of the Policy Options” by Dr. Elaine
Kamarck, former Gore advisor and current U.S. Climate Task Force co-chair.
Her paper notes that one of the first proposals for mitigating
greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions involved a tax on carbon. And decades later this
idea still resonated. Even as recently as last year, President Obama’s
budget director Peter Orzag argued, “A tax on emissions
would be the most efficient incentive-based option for reducing emissions and
could be relatively easy to implement.”Support for this simple, direct policy option extends beyond
Washington, including members of the scientific community like climate
scientist James Hansen and leaders in the grassroots movement like consumer
advocate Ralph Nader.
Despite this broad and growing base of support for a carbon tax, some
politicians are still pushing for a cap-and-trade system -- a measure that
bears similarity to the complicated, non-transparent derivative trading market
that lead to our recent Wall Street meltdown. Critics of this law and,
specifically, the bill introduced by Representatives Henry Waxman and Edward
Markey that just passed the House by a close vote of 219-212 -- point out that
it would create a carbon marketplace susceptible to manipulation by the future
Enrons of the world.
In a recent interview Former Democratic National Committee Chairman
Howard Dean solidified many people’s fears with the utterance of one
terrified of a Bernie Madoff in the cap and trade business,” he said.
That fear is already beginning to materialize, as the Waxman-Markey bill calls
for billions of dollars in valuable emissions credits to be given away free of
charge to certain favored industries. And in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, Dr. Kamarck expanded on
question was, did Obama, Waxman and other supporters give away so much in the
process that the benefits to the environment ended up being slim to none -- especially
since the bill now goes to the even less sympathetic Senate?
a point at which you’ve got to ask yourself, what are we doing here?
What’s the point?” said Elaine Kamarck of Harvard’s Kennedy
School of Government, who was a Clinton administration official and advisor to
then-Vice President Gore.
At a time when the president is asking for transparency in government,
large components of cap-and-trade fall far short of this standards.
In “Addressing Climate Change” Dr. Kamarck explains that
“increased costs to the consumer are by
far the biggest obstacle to passing climate change legislation in both the near
and far future.” In regards to that concern, Waxman-Markey faces a
particularly immense obstacle, carrying the potential to disproportionately
burden those living in rural poverty in the middle of this nation.
We learned from President Truman, and indeed from all of our leaders,
that it can take decades to get the right legislation moving in the right direction.
On the issue of CO2 emissions we must avoid the mechanisms that lead to failure
like corruption, manipulation and unfair targeting of certain industries.
This is an important time for politicians to put politics aside and
focus on what is best for the entire nation without playing favorites or losing
sight of the goal at hand.
The debate over GHG emissions is not going away, even if the cap and
trade deal does.