The ticking time bomb on global warming.

Seth Kaplan

CLF’s Seth Kaplan in an Op-Ed article from the October 26, 2009 Boston Globe:

THE BLUR of details and fog of ideological attacks can obscure the truly essential in the current congressional debate about legislation to confront global warming while building a green economy: the stark need for immediate action.

The bill recently unveiled by Senators John F. Kerry and Barbara Boxer represents an important step forward. The bill is not perfect, and ways that it can be strengthened are discussed below. However, it does include some of the most essential tools for addressing this most fundamental of challenges.

The Kerry-Boxer bill sets hard targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions consistent with the need identified by science. It creates new tools for tackling the job of climate stabilization while leaving in place the US Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to use tried-and-true tools in this cause. The citizens of Massachusetts should feel strongly about maintaining those tools: our attorney general’s office led the charge that culminated in a Supreme Court declaration that greenhouse gas emissions can be addressed under the decades-old federal Clean Air Act.

This core of essential provisions – a science-based cap on greenhouse gas emissions and sustained EPA authority – provides a solid foundation for federal climate legislation.

Kerry took a critical step toward moving the legislative process forward when he coauthored a New York Times op-ed article with Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, describing a course to the 60 votes needed for Senate passage. In his collaboration with Graham, Kerry is acting in the best tradition of reaching across the aisle to “get to yes.’’ However, while bipartisan compromise is essential, a climate bill must not be traded for the environmental soul of the Senate. Packaging a climate bill with provisions, hinted at in the op-ed, that make the climate challenge more difficult and that Kerry has long (and appropriately) rejected, such as opening fragile coastal waters to oil drilling, should be a nonstarter. The same is true for proposals to pour billions of dollars into expensive nuclear power plants, especially given the long-unanswered questions about the safety and security of those plants, the very dangerous waste they produce, and the opportunities that would be lost for investing instead in truly sustainable and clean energy resources.

Good federal climate policy will emphasize clean and cost-effective measures like energy efficiency, both supporting state efforts and introducing strong new federal mandates for deployment of efficiency resources. It should also bring forward state and federal incentives and standards for renewable energy, like wind and solar, breaking our dependence on dirty and imported fossil fuels. It should create a framework for planning new transmission lines to support a massive ramp-up in renewable electricity generation, while respecting the critical role of states and regions in electric system planning.

These clean energy provisions, as well as the excellent building and energy code provisions from the House’s Waxman-Markey bill, will fit cleanly into a Senate climate bill. The final legislative package must include smart “cap and invest’’ provisions that set out a mechanism for auctioning pollution allowances and investing the proceeds in clean energy, especially efficiency and conservation measures that can slash greenhouse gas emissions while reducing energy bills and fostering livable communities. It should also support clean transportation planning and infrastructure and mandate use of low carbon fuels.

The legislation also should build upon New England’s nation-leading role in beginning the process of purging our fleet of old, inefficient, and polluting coal-fired power plants – an essential transformation that can be accelerated and replicated nationally by a strengthened climate bill setting clear standards implemented through a rapid phase-in.

Passing climate legislation will not be easy. We must continue to look to leaders like Edward Markey and Kerry to press forward with this most difficult yet essential of tasks. If we do not fully support and help them and their colleagues to deliver on this critical legislation, we will both court disaster and bear responsibility for dumping an increasingly heavy burden on our children.

Focus Areas

Climate Change



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