Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe long have considered climate change a serious problem and worked toward solutions. There won’t be serious solutions, however, without congressional action. That action begins with rejection of a measure that would undo the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent finding that greenhouse gases endanger human health and, therefore, should be regulated. The next step is for the senators to back comprehensive energy legislation that reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
The first hurdle is a resolution, sponsored by Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, that would reject the EPA’s “endangerment finding.” This would be a huge step backward at a time when the United States finally must begin addressing climate change. Rather than undermining the EPA, Congress should lead by passing legislation with a framework for reducing emissions, so that this work isn’t left up to the environmental agency.
Globally, rising greenhouse gas emissions have led to rising temperatures and changing weather patterns. One result is worse tropical storms and droughts, causing famine and spreading disease, which can force mass migrations that destabilize already weak governments.
In the Northeast, average temperatures have risen about 1.5 degrees since 1970 with average winter temperatures rising 4 degrees. Without emissions reductions, winter temperatures in Maine are predicted to rise more than 10 degrees by the end of the century, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Facing these consequences, the U.S. must take big steps belatedly to reduce its emissions, not gut the law requiring them.
Skeptics argue that reducing emissions is costly and unnecessary because current climatic changes are part of a natural cycle. Let’s say they’re right about the climate cycle. If comprehensive legislation is passed, the U.S. still will be less reliant on oil and gas from distant — often volatile and unfriendly — regions of the world. Our homes and industry will be more energy-efficient, which saves money and reduces pollution. None of these is a bad outcome.
If the skeptics are wrong, we could end up with a planet with large uninhabitable regions, rampant wars and unnecessary sickness and death. Not a good gamble.
After rejecting the Murkowski resolution, the Senate must move ahead with legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. What form the bill takes is less important — at this point — than a bipartisan commitment to drafting and passing such legislation.
Sen. Collins has worked with Democrat Maria Cantwell of Washington to draft a bill that would cap emissions and rebate some of the funds raised by selling emissions credits back to consumers to help blunt an expected rise in energy costs.
Another bill, sponsored by Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman and backed by major industry and environmental groups, takes a cap-and trade approach — which is favored by the public, according to a recent poll.
Neither is a perfect piece of legislation, but senators must get behind whichever has the best chance of moving forward, with the expectation that it will be amended and improved when debate starts.
The bottom line is that effective legislation must cap emissions and put a price on carbon emissions, thereby using a market-type system to spur solutions — conservation being the cheapest.
For this to happen, a bill first must get on the Senate calendar, something that can happen only if it has broad support.
Sens. Snowe and Collins can tip the balance, encouraging others to follow their lead.