May 27, 2018
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After Copenhagen

It is easy to label the just-concluded climate talks in Copenhagen as a failure. But few expected sweeping agreements to come out of the two-week conference. With a modest global outline for moving ahead, the U.S. Senate now turns its attention to a measure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that must be passed. This is necessary not just to show the world that America is taking the problem of climate change seriously but also to strengthen our economy, reduce our dependence on foreign energy and lessen our harm to the environment.

Well before delegates from around the globe met in Copenhagen, there was a feeling that the United States — which had refused to ratify the Kyoto accord, the 1997 agreement on emissions reductions — was not doing its part. China was also vilified for balking at ambitious carbon emission reductions while expecting continued international subsidies to develop alternative energy.

If the U.S. Senate passes legislation to significantly reduce emissions, it would go a long way toward dispelling the international hostility. It would also benefit the U.S. and Maine economies. There are currently more than $2 billion worth of alternative energy projects on the drawing board in Maine. Not all of them are likely to come to fruition, but even a portion of this investment could make a big difference to the state economy.

As has been seen elsewhere in the world, if Maine becomes a center of alternative energy generation, it is likely to also become a center of manufacturing for the components needed for that generation. Denmark, for example, produces 20 percent of its electricity from wind and now is a major producer of turbine components. Ditto for Quebec.

“Whether we move ahead with a common-sense plan to create new manufacturing jobs in the U.S. and reduce dependence on foreign oil is not up to other countries; it’s up to us,” Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said after the Copenhagen meeting. “A year from now we can be further ahead or further behind, and the Senate will make the difference.

“The sooner the U.S. speaks through Senate legislation, the sooner we can set the terms of engagement for talks to come.”

Senate legislation will focus on a mechanism to cap and trade emissions, similar to what has been done with other pollutants and a system developed by East Coast states to reduce carbon emission while investing in energy efficiency and alternative energy.

Sen. Susan Collins, along with Maria Cantwell, a Democratic senator from Washington, have teamed on a cap-and-dividend bill that would require significant emissions while devoting much of the revenue from the sale of carbon shares to American consumers and businesses, rather than selling the carbon credits in a market system.

“Climate change legislation must protect consumers and industries that could be hit with higher energy prices,” Sen. Collins said in introducing the bill earlier this month. “Such legislation also must provide predictability so that businesses can plan, invest and create jobs.”

This approach could be a viable addition to the stalled cap-and-trade legislation. The key is to reduce emissions without unduly burdening consumers and businesses.

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