Earlier this year, President Obama asked Congress to send him legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. Democratic leaders in Congress have been quick to respond. The House of Representatives has already passed a major climate and energy bill that will transform our energy economy. The US Senate is taking the proposal up as you read this.
But even as the wheels of progress have begun to move the country forward, a growing chorus on the right have begun to challenge the president’s ambitious agenda as bad for American business and therefore bad for the American consumer. Setting legal limits on the allowable amounts of climate change pollution seems to attract controversy despite its firm grounding in the longstanding tradition of using regulation to preserve public goods. The public has long supported – by large margins – regulating the dangerous byproducts produced by the burning of fossil fuels in order to protect public health. Carbon dioxide is simply the latest pollutant that we now know clearly causes detrimental problems for society.
The Clean Air Act sets limits and imposes additional costs on energy production. The price of energy might well drop if we abolish the laws that currently regulate air pollution. One could argue that it would be good for American business and American consumers. But the quality of our air would surely drop substantially causing higher rates of asthma in children and countless other serious costs to the public.
Currently, coal companies receive a huge implicit subsidy because the public accepts all the costs and responsibilities related to the massive carbon emissions of coal power plants. Instead of allowing the biggest carbon emitters to force us to pay for the consequences of their pollution, we must set a reasonable price on carbon that will make low carbon energy technology a lucrative investment. Fortunately, this policy is not as painful as many try to make it sound. It will spur innovation that will create new jobs and significantly strengthen our economy over the long term. It is exactly the change we need this year and it’s the change the American people voted for last fall.