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The Climate Bill Is Doomed

The question is, could that be a good thing?
November 3, 2009

Last week researchers and policy experts gathered at MIT to talk about geo-engineering–a subject that’s becoming more popular in the face of concern over inaction on climate change.

The upcoming United Nations climate change convention in Copenhagen seems unlikely to produce the binding and stringent agreement needed to sharply curtail greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, greenhouse concentrations continue to mount, driving scientists who were once opposed to the idea of tinkering with the planet to reconsider it.

Now they’ve got another reason to be worried. Earlier this year a climate bill that would’ve limited greenhouse emissions and helped renewable energy sources compete with fossil fuels seemed well on its way. In June a version passed the House. But then other matters–mostly health care reform–distracted Congress, and a Senate version of the bill got bogged down. The Senate recently took up the bill again, but yesterday a report in the Washington Post declared that “there is almost no hope for passage” of the bill.

Democrats are divided over the bill, and Republicans have been vocally opposing it. If the report is right, countries meeting in Copenhagen will have even more reason to criticize the U.S. for inaction, and to use that as a reason to delay a climate treaty or water it down.

That’s one way to look at it, at any rate. Here’s another: Copenhagen is probably doomed already–why the rush to push legislation through? That’s essentially what Republican Senator George Voinovich (Ohio), who opposes the current bill, reportedly said last week, “Wouldn’t it be smarter to take our time and do it right?”

It certainly is hard to be against getting something right. But will slowing things down lead to a better climate bill? Probably not, as long as the chief objection is that the bill will make energy more expensive, something that seems unavoidable. But if the delay can lead to a better system for distributing those costs equitably, and if along the way inefficient subsidies can be weeded out and emissions caps tightened (wishful thinking?), it could be worth the wait.

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