Climate change: a passing fad?

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The draft climate bill released earlier this month by House Representatives John Dingell (D-MI) and Rick Boucher (D-VA) comes up dangerously short. Not only does the bill include emissions reduction targets bordering on the absurd (example: for the next 10 years or so, the bill actually provides for an increase in emissions), but it also preempts much of the hard work and progress achieved by state and regional initiatives.

The reason for such watered-down legislation is easy to surmise: the economy. Opponents of more aggressive emissions reduction targets point to the burden on American industry. I am particularly reminded of a conference that I attended in late September, where a manufacturing industry lobbyist predicted with barely suppressed glee that climate change legislation was not likely to be passed in 2009 due to economic factors.

I am sympathetic to the plight of U.S. firms struggling to compete abroad against foreign companies with a lower cost base. I am equally concerned about the fact that increased operating costs from climate change legislation will ultimately be passed on to the beleaguered U.S. consumer. Such sympathies might even tempt me to support more modest climate change legislation in the near term, as long as it takes a meaningful step forward.

Unfortunately, the bill drafted by Representatives Dingell and Boucher fails to do even that. In fact, by preempting state governments it actually has the potential to take us backward. The proposal indulges a fleeting, populist fad; as if climate change were not an imminent threat, but rather a vague and distant one.

There is no doubt that the first pass at federal climate change legislation will fall short of what is truly necessary. An imperfect first step is better than no step at all. But inaction — or worse yet, a step backward — is tantamount to gambling with very bad odds and worse consequences.

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