Posted by: Matthew Hoffmann | May 12, 2010

Kerry-Lieberman: In climate change, don’t let perfect be the enemy of the mediocre but significant

I have started to digest the finally released Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act. It does not contain much in the way of surprises and its basic outline and philosophy has been known now for some time.  It is the product of compromise and the current political context so it contains goodies for coal, nuclear, gas, and oil along with incentives to pursue (non-nuclear) renewable energy. It is sensitive to the perception of high costs from regulating carbon, so allocations of emissions permits will be substantially without cost and/or auction revenues will be rebated to consumers and states. It has hard targets of 17% and 42% reductions from 2005 carbon dioxide levels by 2020 and 2030 along with border adjustment measures to protect US industries. It seeks fast mitigation efforts on HCFCs and black carbon, while spending millions on carbon capture and storage from coal.

There will be significant dissection of the details in the bill in the days to come along with the inherent prognostications on whether it has any chance of passing the Senate this year.  There is a lot to be wary of in this bill and it seems clear that there is a slim chance, at best, that it will pass. However, even given its distance from an ideal US response to climate change (whatever that might be) and its dim prospects, it seems clear to me that every effort from the President, Congress, environmental movement, and general public should be made to pass the bill.  It simply does not matter (or at least it matters very little) that the bill is not perfect. It does something and it would be a start to US climate policy–two decades late, perhaps, but a start nonetheless.

There are interests and processes (cities, states, corporations) poised to start taking quick action on climate change that need US climate policy to get started. Perfect climate legislation would obviously be preferred, but further delaying national policy on climate action is orders of magnitude worse than getting started with something (significantly) less than ideal. So hold your nose if you must, but rally around this legislation if you care about addressing climate change.  A catalyst is needed for efforts at decarbonization of the economy and energy system to accelerate.  This bill may be mediocre in that sense, but it has the potential to serve as that catalyst. If we consider that this bill will not be the end of the US response to climate change, but merely the beginning, its imperfections become less significant than the fact that it starts the US down the long road to decarbonization.

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