The U.S. House last week narrowly passed a bill that, while not perfect, is a crucial step toward the United States belatedly taking steps to address climate change. The bill for the first time requires significant reductions in heat-trapping gases, notably carbon dioxide. It now heads to the Senate, where it can be improved, but must be passed.
The key provisions of the bill are: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent below by 2050; to ensure 20 percent of electricity nationally will come from renewable sources by 2020; and to establish a carbon trading program to enable companies to meet the reduction goals.
If much of this sounds familiar, it is because Maine, along with many other Northeastern states, has already taken these steps. In 2003, Maine adopted a climate action plan, which required a reduction of 10 percent below 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. According to the latest biennial report, Maine is on track to meet this target, although the Department of Environmental Protection is not equipped to measure reductions at this point.
Among the steps Maine has taken to reduce emissions are stricter limits on automobile exhaust, energy efficiency improvements in state buildings and the development of wind and other alternative energy.
On a larger scale, Maine in 1999 adopted a renewable energy standard, requiring 30 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources. This was strengthened in 2007 to require that 10 percent of the state’s energy come from new renewable sources by 2017.
Maine is also a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, in which 10 Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states are using a cap-and-trade system to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The group recently held its fourth carbon allowance auction, raising more than $100 million for energy efficiency investments in the states. Fifty-four entities submitted bids.
The climate change bill, which Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree voted for, builds on this work, while providing consistent national standards. National and international companies have long called for national climate change standards so they don’t have to deal with a patchwork of regulations, providing them with the predictability necessary for corporate decisions. Many companies, including Dow Chemical and Ford, backed the legislation passed by the House.
A major argument against the climate change bill is that it will cost America too much. An analysis by the Congressional Budget Office found that the average American household would pay an additional $175 a year for energy by 2020 under the bill.
Among the bill’s shortcomings are that is gives companies too many carbon allowances rather than auctioning them and it forbids considering the negative agricultural consequences of using corn to produce ethanol. Such provisions are the result of compromises needed to get lawmakers to support the overall bill.
As the Senate turns its attention to this bill, it must consider how Maine and other states have already taken steps to address climate change, steps that have created jobs, reduced energy use (saving companies and consumers money) and reduced pollution. They will see that this legislation is not a threat, but a necessity.