Without Delay: Congress to Fast-Track Climate Legislation

WASHINGTON, DC, January 15, 2009 (ENS) – The heads of some of America’s largest corporations together with the leaders of five of the country’s largest environmental groups today presented a joint plan to Congress for climate protection legislation. Congressional Democrats met their call for immediate action with assurances that they agree – there is no time for delay.

Testifying before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in the first congressional hearing of 2009 on climate change, members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership called for a reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent of 2005 levels by 2050 through an economy-wide cap-and-trade program.

“In the past, the U.S. has proven that we have the will, the capabilities and the courage to invest in innovation – even in difficult times,” said Jeff Immelt, chairman and chief executive of General Electric, one of the USCAP partners.

“Today, cap-and-trade legislation is a crucial component in fueling the bold clean energy investments necessary to catapult the U.S. again to preeminence in global energy and environmental policy, strengthen the country’s international competitiveness, and create millions of rewarding new American jobs,” Immelt said.

“The health of our economy and the safety of our climate are inextricably linked, except nature doesn’t do bail-outs,” said Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute.

“USCAP has redefined what is possible,” said Lash. “If the diverse membership of USCAP can find common ground, Congress can agree on effective legislation.”

Committee chair Congressman Henry Waxman of California said his goal is to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation in the committee before the Memorial Day recess.

“That is an ambitious schedule, but it is an achievable one,” said Waxman who is new to the committee chairmanship. “We cannot afford another year of delay. As today’s hearing will show, a consensus is developing that our nation needs climate legislation. Our job is to transform this consensus into effective legislation. The legislation must be based on the science and meet the very serious threats we face.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “Chairman Waxman has set an aggressive timetable for action to reduce global warming and our dependence on foreign oil. I share his sense of urgency and his belief that we cannot afford another year of delay.”

The Houston Ship Channel hosts 25 percent of the United States’ oil refining capacity. Refineries would have to control their greenhouse gas emissions under a national carbon cap-and-trade program. (Photo by Roy Luck)

Developed through two years of intensive analysis and consensus-building among USCAP’s 26 corporations and five environmental groups, the “Blueprint for Legislative Action” aired before the committee today sets forth steps for creating a mandatory, economy-wide cap-and-trade program for the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

Under a cap-and-trade system, a government authority first sets a cap, deciding how much pollution in total will be allowed. Next, companies are issued credits, essentially licenses to pollute. If a company comes in below its cap, it has extra credits which it can trade with other companies.

USCAP’s plan couples the cap-and-trade program with cost containment measures and complementary policies addressing a federal technology research development and deployment program, coal technology, and transportation, as well as building and energy efficiency.

Jim Mulva, chairman and chief executive of the oil company ConocoPhillips, the nation’s second largest refiner, told the committee, “We believe we must act now in a united effort to slow, stop and reverse the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Mulva agreed that quick action is imperative to curb climate change. “Each year the United States delays enacting a federal framework to control its emissions, the greater the future risk.”

“From an oil and gas perspective,” he said, “we understand that this means fundamental changes in the way we operate and in the fuels we produce.”

“ConocoPhilips is ready to meet the challenge,” Mulva said, “but we and others need an effective, efficient and equitable federal program in place to establish the rules and to encourage the technology development and investments necessary for change.”

Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the committee, “The time for action on global warming has already been delayed too long. Every day we learn more about the ways in which global warming is already affecting our planet.”

“A growing body of scientific opinion has formed that we face extreme dangers if global average temperatures are allowed to increase by more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit from today’s levels,” Beinecke said.

She said that the NRDC believes we may be able to stay below this temperature increase if atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other global warming gases are kept from exceeding 450 parts per million of CO2-equivalent and then rapidly reduced.

“This will require us to halt U.S. emissions growth within the next few years and then achieve significant cuts in emissions in the next decade,” she said, “progressing to an approximately 80 percent cut by 2050.”

The targets and timetables in the USCAP legislative proposal are consistent with the schedule proposed by President-elect Barack Obama.

In his November 18 address to a bipartisan conference of governors, Obama said, “Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all. Delay is no longer an option.”

In December, in a video address to the United Nations climate conference in Poland, Obama said he would open a “new chapter” on climate change, starting with a national cap-and-trade system.

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