As the dust settles in Washington after Sen.-elect Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts special election, many are wondering what effect this event will have on climate change legislation in 2010. They jury is still out, but there is broad support for addressing climate change and failure to act soon will result in higher costs to the economy and the climate in the long run.
Even before the Massachusetts special election, we knew that comprehensive climate and energy legislation would require bipartisan effort, and that is why Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman are working together on such an effort. In fact, the change in the Senate makeup could actually reinforce bipartisan negotiations that will result in a cost-effective market-based solution to climate change. Climate legislation is not a partisan issue, support divides on regional lines. We have always needed Republican support to put the legislation through.
The American people may already be ahead of Congress on this topic. Climate change and energy policy reform has broad support among Americans. In fact, in a recent Washington Post poll, 56 percent of Republicans said they want their elected officials to work with Democrats to revamp our nation’s energy policy. That’s because they understand that reducing greenhouse gas pollution presents other immediate benefits, such as building the economy and creating jobs. American businesses support cap-and-trade because it will provide the legislative and regulatory certainty they need to make the substantial investments to transition to a low carbon future and to be internationally competitive in a burgeoning clean energy technology sector.
It was clear at the U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen that all eyes are on the U.S. and what it will do on climate. Whether or not the U.S. requires key companies to reduce carbon emissions, creates regulatory certainty for businesses, and becomes a part of a global response to climate change hinges on action in the U.S. Senate. If the Congress does not act, the Environment Protection Agency is poised to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, which could be more costly and less flexible. EPA regulation would insure climate-warming emissions are reduced but if business leaders and Congress want greater cost effectiveness, they need to act quickly to pass comprehensive climate legislation.
Momentum exists for legislative action, and obviously more work needs to be done but I am optimistic we can get there. The climate challenge offers us an historic opportunity to protect the climate, improve energy and national security, and drive the innovation and investment needed to create the clean energy jobs of the future. If we squander this opportunity, other nations will take the helm and the U.S. will fall behind in the clean energy race.