The US Needs to Price Carbon - and Soon

Amidst one of the most partisan political climates of this generation and conventional wisdom that insists US climate and energy policy is dead, Senators Kerry (D-MA), Graham (R-SC), and Lieberman (I-CT) will present their new, tri-partisan climate and energy bill to fellow Senators this week.

At its core, the bill would put a price on carbon emissions in the US - sending a clear signal to the market that the US is finally committed to cleaner energy.

This is the signal that businesses need (and have been asking for) to enable them to make new investments that improve energy efficiency and develop domestic clean energy. They are investments that would create new domestic industries, new jobs and new technologies that pose our only real hope for addressing global climate change. But to date, these investments have been held up on the sidelines, as our elected officials choose partisan bickering over serious debate about our country's energy future.

In other countries, the debate is over and the race to develop clean energy is already well underway. China is now the world's leading supplier of wind turbines and solar PV panels. Spain is home to the largest renewable energy companies in the world - Iberdrola and Acciona. Germany employs 280,000 people in the renewable energy sector. While we argue, the clean revolution is passing us by. This new bill would put us back in the race.

From an environmental perspective, the bill is not perfect. It starts by capping emissions from the power sector only - giving large industry a pass for several years. It limits how high emission allowance prices can go - which could undermine the integrity of the cap. And it does not do as much for renewable energy as past proposals.

But unlike past proposals, this one is designed to succeed. Past proposals, which followed the economy-wide cap and trade approach adopted in the EU, have failed to secure the support needed to pass in the US. This new proposal was designed with the finish line in mind. It is not the ideal way to address energy and climate change, but it is the only one that has a chance to pass in this political climate.

We can no longer wait for the perfect climate and energy policy. If we hope to create new, domestic clean energy industries, reduce our dependence on oil and address climate change, we need to price carbon and we need to do it soon.

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