Risks and Opportunity: A global-warming bill could give Pennsylvania a chance to be a technology leader

By SANDY MOSER, President of REP’s Pennsylvania Chapter

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on May 30, 2008


Global warming can be a big issue to wrap your arms around. Bringing it closer to home makes it more manageable. What does it mean for Pennsylvania?

Global warming means both risks and opportunities for the Keystone State. We’ve heard a lot about global warming’s risks: longer summer heat waves in Philadelphia; dirtier air in Pittsburgh; unsettling changes to our forests, farmland and wildlife.

There are opportunities also, especially if Congress passes the right bill for reducing carbon dioxide and other emissions linked to global warming.

That’s why we think that Sen. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) ought to get behind the bipartisan America’s Climate Security Act, which the Senate is scheduled to vote on in June.

The bill would establish a “cap-and-trade” system, which uses a combination of carrots and sticks to cut carbon dioxide emissions at the lowest possible cost. The more that factories, refineries and utilities cut emissions, the bigger the economic reward.

Cap-and-trade, which is strongly supported by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, allows the market, not Washington bureaucrats, to pick the technologies for reducing carbon emissions. This is where the opportunities come into play.

First, a carbon cap would encourage greater energy efficiency, which in these times of high fuel prices and supply uncertainty is worth pursuing even if global warming were not an issue. Greater energy efficiency means lower costs for households, businesses and public buildings.

Efficiency is important for reducing emissions but is not enough by itself. Utilities and other companies required to reduce emissions also would need to buy cleaner energy technologies from other companies that produced them. Such companies are beginning to sprout all over Pennsylvania.

Lake Erie Biofuels is brewing up biodiesel. HydroGen is producing fuel cells near Pittsburgh. Gamesa is building wind turbines in Fairless Hills and near Johnstown. An ethanol plant is under construction in Clearfield County. Mesa Energy has set up shop in Chester County.

More such facilities, and the jobs that they bring with them, could be ours if Congress passes legislation to cap greenhouse-gas emissions and gooses the market for cleaner energy technologies.

Such legislation can pass only if it can attract broad support through a carefully balanced combination of good science, strong standards, attractive incentives, and equitable allocation of costs and benefits.

In Washington, broad support means bipartisan support. Experience shows that legislation with large ramifications for the economy and our environment must win votes from Republicans and Democrats to pass.

This is why Republican leadership to advance climate-change legislation, such as that provided by McCain and Sen. John Warner, is so critical. Specter has an opportunity to lead as well.

America’s Climate Security Act, sponsored by Warner, a Virginia Republican, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, an Independent Democrat from Connecticut, meets all of those tests.

The Warner-Lieberman bill would be good for Pennsylvania. Reducing the risks of climate change is critically important for protecting public health and safeguarding Pennsylvania’s one-of-a-kind natural heritage of woods and wildlife.

Early signs of global warming already are apparent. In a 2006 survey of Pennsylvania hunters and fishermen, nearly two-thirds said they believed that observed changes in seasons – shorter winters and hotter summers, for example – were linked to global warming.

The longer we wait to act, the greater the risks that global warming will pass a dangerous threshold.

Putting off action also means that investment capital that could bring new technology industries and jobs to Pennsylvania could go elsewhere.

Now is the time for action. I strongly urge Specter to support America’s Climate Security Act and vote for its passage next month.