The next few months, beginning with President Obama's upcoming State of the Union speech, will be big ones for any effort to put a price on carbon in this country. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid has signaled his willingness to have a floor vote on climate this spring, and Sens. Kerry, Leiberman, and Graham are said to be writing a bill that can get a filibuster proof 60 votes. But the active ingredient in this dynamic is presidential leadership, and today the New York Times editorial page called on Barack Obama to add it.The Times offers three reasons to pursue the bill now.
The long-term trend in greenhouse gas emissions is up (the decade ending in 2009 was the warmest on record), and the sooner emissions decline, the better.
Many climate scientists, including Dr. James Hansen of NASA, says that below 350ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere is the safest level. We are currently at 387 and rising. To get to 350, both industrialized and developing nations must reduce their emissions. The US, the world's second leading emissions producer and historically its biggest polluter, owes a carbon debt to the world.
Then there is the race for markets. China is moving aggressively to create jobs in the clean-energy industry. Beijing not only plans to generate 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, but hopes to become the world's leading exporter of clean energy technologies.
Many, including the Times' own Thomas Friedman, believe the green technology is the world's next great industry. While some fear using competition as a motivating force for climate action because it reinforces our current systems that leave the world's poor out of the riches produced from energy, others see it as a prime incentive for politicians now on the fence.
Finally there's the question of credibility: Mr. Obama said in Copenhagen that the United States would meet at least the House's 17 percent target.
This last argument, although true, lacks perspective. The fact is that even Mr. Obama's 17 percent pledge is inadequate and lacks credibility. The IPCC recommends cuts for developed countries on the order of 25-40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. The legislation that passed the House last year calls for cuts of about 4 percent below 1990 levels, and even that number is in question because of the number of offsets available in the bill.
Even if a bill doesn't pass this year, there are other things the President can do to cut our emissions and put us on a path toward a low carbon future. Earlier this month, the Administration announced the award of $2.3 billion in tax credits for clean energy manufacturing. This comes on top of the record money spent from the stimulus on green tech. Additionally, the President must use his strength to fight back efforts to strip the EPA of authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Sen. isa Murkowski is trying to force a vote on this soon but the president has been silent as his authority is under attack.