America won't go to Copenhagen empty handed
While the slow-down going into Copenhagen isn't good news, it will represent a major set-back only if there is further backsliding. So long as we continue making progress towards emissions limits in the United States while working toward locking in serious commitments overseas, a completed deal in 2010 is still possible.
Obama Administration regulators have moved forward with a climate agenda at a good clip--taking the issue from zero to sixty to make up for the lost time of the past eight years of stalling. So while the cap-and-trade bill that passed in the House of Representatives is currently stalled in the Senate, it is not true that American negotiators are going to Copenhagen empty handed.
First, the Environmental Protection Agency is close to finalizing the so-called endangerment finding -- declaring greenhouse gases a health hazard. This move will put the nation's major emitters on notice that regulations will soon be coming to reduce their climate impacts.
Also, in an under-the-radar but crucial step, federal agencies have begun the process to put a uniform price on what society pays when carbon dioxide is emitted: somewhere around $20 per ton. Every regulation with a climate impact will have to take this cost into account. This step has gone largely unnoticed but will have wide-ranging impact on environmental rules -- when the hidden price of carbon is counted, the benefits of regulating often swamp the costs.
The Obama Administration could, if it chose, go one step further by promulgating its own version of a cap-and-trade using provisions of the Clean Air Act. Though not as attractive an option as congressional action, a regulatory emissions cap could serve as an effective interim step while we wait for comprehensive legislation.
The previous administration refused to deal with climate change as our nation, and the world, waited for action. Now, President Obama has put climate change high on his agenda and has taken several significant steps forward. But this is not a fight he can win alone. Congressional leaders, U.S. businesses, the American public, and other countries will all need to decide that "delay is no longer an option." The recent joint statement with China's President Hu is a good step in the right direction.
There are major hidden costs to carbon-heavy fuels, and every year without a serious global effort to rein in emissions racks up a larger tab. Whether the Copenhagen talks are a major breakthrough or a "stepping stone", we cannot lose much more momentum if we want to spare the planet from the worst effects of global warming.
Posted by: c0lnag0 | November 22, 2009 2:11 PM
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