Green Legislative Breakthrough?


A young man came to my door the other day, seeking money for the Democratic National Committee. "We need to elect Democrats next year," said the young man, "to work on issues like Iraq and global warming."

Implicit in this pitch, similar to one on the DNC website was the notion that the current Congress (and President) will not take on the global warming issue, and that it could be a defining issue in the next election.

But there have been some interesting developments in the past few weeks that leave open hope that the current Congress could actually take on the global warming issue directly and in a bipartisan way.

Consider, for example, the global warming plan unveiled earlier this month by Senators Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and John Warner, R-Va. Their draft strategy, culling ideas from other proposals, would seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent by 2050 through a cap-and-trade system.

This plan does have some real warts. Initially more than half the initial credits would be given free to coal burning power companies and other big polluters based on past pollution levels -- raising the prospect of only slightly smaller windfall profits than a rival plan advanced by Senators Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

Their overall target probably would also fall short of the mark needed to stabilize the climate. Even so, as my friends with Natural Resources Defense Council pointed out, the Lieberman-Warner initiative is "a big step forward" in the global warming debate and—with appropriate improvements—could be the basis for a bill that could clear the Senate Environment and Works Committee and head to the Senate floor this fall.

The plan may have gotten an additional boost from an Environmental Protection Agency analysis of an earlier global warming plan drafted by Lieberman and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

The analysis found that the economy would continue to grow despite new limits on greenhouse gas emissions, undermining arguments of cleanup opponents such as Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla.

Across the Capitol, advocates for climate action should take heart from a energy bill vote in favor of requiring that power companies increase the amount of electricity they produce from renewable energy sources, a favorable vote despite opposition from big global-warming polluters like Duke Energy.

A renewable energy requirement alone would be a positive step on global warming—though it faces a real challenge in upcoming conference negotiations with the Senate. But it also suggests that House could support a strong overall plan to reduce global warming emissions.

But, wait—isn't President Bush going to oppose anything meaningful on global warming? After all, he has threatened to veto the less significant energy package unless his oil industry cronies get a better deal.

Perhaps. But he also could be influenced by one of the less-publicized developments of recent weeks—a call to action by the Business Roundtable, the CEOs of America's biggest companies (its energy task force is headed by Michael Morris, President and CEO of America's biggest global warmer—American Electric Power), a group usually somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan on environmental policy.

Though the Roundtable didn't endorse specific legislation, it did call for "collective actions" to reduce emissions.

These folks, who pull the puppet strings of so many D.C. pols, may have been sending President Bush a message: Consider signing global warming legislation if it makes its way to your desk.

The President has already scheduled a climate change summit in Washington in late September. Now that Karl Rove is packing his bags, would the President consider forging a legacy other than being the guy who created the Iraq mess?

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