December 1, 2010 • Current Events, Energy Efficiency, Sustainability

Honey, Where Is My Cap And Trade?

by Rich Wilson

Ahhh, bipartisanship. The inner workings of our beloved government can strike feelings of frustration, confusion and an overall sense of general disorder in the typical layman. Many would associate the shift in power and control in Congress with the sometimes violent childhood game of Red Rover. The verbal swipes between parties seem even more similar to “clotheslining” the kid down the street. Well, at least to me.

Take the friendly topic of “cap and trade,” which began innocently enough as a program to curb pollutants. The overall goal was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from large producers by 17% by 2020. Sounds great, right? Well supporters of a cap-and-trade system believe it will be positive both economically and environmentally. The basic premise of the program is to set a cap on how much pollution a company is allowed to emit. Companies are then given credits based on the amount of pollution that will be allowed, essentially freebies to emit a certain amount of greenhouse gasses. If a company pollutes more than their “capped” amount, they must purchase additional credits. If the company comes in under their cap, they have the option of selling the surplus credits, essentially profiting through pollution reduction.

Currently, the cap-and-trade bill is one of the most contested topics in government. Some believe the entire environmental agenda is getting ready for a major overhaul with the House majority shifting in the GOP’s favor. Representatives from both parties have indicated they will challenge the EPA’s authority to regulate climate-altering gases. Others continue to give reasons aplenty for why global warming is just hippie fable used to scare the little Birkenstocks off their kids’ feet. Still others say that ignoring the mountains of evidence on global warming is the conservative set’s way of ensuring they get to keep their SUVs. The challenge is to develop a forward-moving sustainability strategy that can gain enough support from all sides to see some pivotal projects to fruition.

Even government strategists have taken a detour off the greenhouse gas highway and moved on to issues with more mass appeal. “Everybody is rethinking their priorities,” Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, tells USA Today. He says it was a “mistake” for environmentalists to focus soley on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Rather, he says, they need to pitch their concerns as “kitchen table” issues that directly affect people. For example, he cites the estrogen-like chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, in food packaging. “That’s personal to them. Climate is not,” he says.

Through more specific and appealing energy efficient projects, advocates for environmental change can build on smaller victories to achieve larger goals. Victories on a more localized scale could gain the traction needed to move an improved environmental program at the national level. States like California are moving forward in spite of recent national setbacks.

USA Today reports, “The biggest environmental changes next year, however, may not come in Washington but in California, as the state moves to implement its landmark, bipartisan law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through financial incentives and its own cap-and-trade plan. Californians solidly defeated a November ballot measure, Proposition 23 that would have suspended the law.”

It’s no surprise that pollution is a bad thing, although it is blatantly apparent that no one can agree on the actual severity of the problem.  Maybe cap and trade isn’t the answer, but the ideology to be better stewards of the environment is a move in the right direction. Through all the debate and slow progress on a governmental level, we are seeing companies take ownership of their carbon management process, primarily because of consumer and investor pressure. There are many issues yet to be resolved, and we didn’t gain the term “bureaucratic red tape” for nothing. However, taking initiatives to the state and local levels, like in California, will drive progress on a larger scale. And maybe we can all get along for the sake of progress.

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