How can the energy market scale up technologies that don't pump copious quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere?
Put a price on carbon that sends those markets a price signal that burning carbon-rich fuels, including coal and oil, have economic, environmental, and national security costs that energy prices today don't communicate.
With that price signal in place, the market would open up for low-carbon alternatives - efficiency and renewables, for example - the development of which would create jobs, seed new industries, and lower demand for oil.
The price signal is the linchpin of the deal that the tripartisan trio of Senators Lindsey Graham, John Kerry, and Joe Lieberman are attempting to negotiate.
Which is why all of the recent talk of settling for a shilly-shally, small-bore, energy-only bill that takes a pass on pricing carbon caused Graham to push the envelope on his word choices in an informal talk with business leaders last week.
"If the approach is to try to pass some half-assed energy bill and say that is moving the ball down the road, forget it with me."
Graham's broadside was intended as a reminder that energy problems are interrelated - fixing climate change, cleaning up the air, weaning ourselves off oil dependence, and lighting a fire under the economy all are part of a package deal. You can't peel the issue apart, pass the easy stuff like tax credits and call it a day.
As Graham put it: "I don't think you'll ever have energy independence the way I want until you start dealing with carbon pollution and pricing carbon. The two are connected in my view - very much connected. The money to be made in solving the carbon pollution problem can only happen when you price carbon."
Graham also was reminding climate change skeptics to be pragmatic: "You don't have to believe that Iowa is going to become beachfront property to want to clean up carbon. It's not about polar bears to me, it's about jobs. I like the polar bears as much as anyone else, but I want to create jobs. If just a fraction of what is being predicted about global warming is true, that's enough to motivate us all. But if the worst thing you did ... is you provided a cleaner environment, I don't think you'd go down in history in a bad way."
Polling data from Frank Luntz bears out Graham's thinking. Whatever their politics, citizens are concerned about growing jobs, lessening dependence on Middle Eastern oil, and cleaning up the air. If they're convinced that a climate and energy bill would take a strong run at solving those problems, they'd be inclined to support it, regardless of whether they believe climate change is caused by smokestacks or sun spots.
And if the practical benefits of solving energy problems weren't enough to motivate his colleagues to avoid playing small ball, Graham reminded them about the competition. "Every day we wait in this nation, China is going to eat our lunch."
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