Environmentalists and Business Leaders Agree: We Need Climate Action Now

On Thursday, I had the opportunity to testify before the House hearing on global warming. I have spoken on the Hill before, but this day was different. Together with my colleagues at the US Climate Action Partnership, we offered a concrete roadmap for how America can reduce global warming while growing our economy and creating jobs.

I was glad to be a part of the hearing. It was good to hear some of America's most influential business leaders call for limits on global warming pollution even as our nation copes with economic turmoil. They recognize that these limits not only are necessary, but will also jump start financial recovery.

But I couldn't help feeling a terrible sense of urgency. The toll global warming will take on our economy, water supplies, cities, farmlands, and disadvantaged communities is so staggering that we can wait no longer. The plan we are offering comes with a clear message: to fend off the worst impacts of climate change and to leverage the biggest economic benefits from solving it, we must pass climate legislation now.

The time for draft bills and dress rehearsals is over. 2009 is the year for climate action.

And we can do it. We have an incoming president who said in his second policy announcement after the election, "Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all." Obama's dedication is echoed on the Hill. The fact that Rep. Henry Waxman has chosen climate as the topic of his first hearing as the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee reveals that global warming will be a top legislative priority in this session.

The USCAP roadmap will help translate that commitment into on-the-ground action. It addresses not only the levels of reductions and how emissions permits will be allocated, but also the key measures that will get us from where we are now to where we need to be in a way that is fiscally, socially, and environmentally responsible.

One of the roadmap's major achievements is the innovative way it covers transportation in the cap and trade system. It proposes, for instance, that refiners of transportation fuels be responsible for managing pollution allowances for the greenhouse gases. It replaces the current "renewable fuel standard" with a "low carbon fuel standard," which means that fuels of the future will create less global warming pollution AND ensure that our national forests and other precious lands aren't plowed under to grow biofuels.

The USCAP roadmap also recognizes the need for vehicle performance standards, and NRDC will continue advocating both higher mileage standards and greenhouse gas emission standards like those set by California.

Even more groundbreaking is the roadmap's policy for coal-fired power plants. We propose phasing in CO2 emissions standards, so that new coal plants will have to produce emission levels similar to current natural gas power plants--and with the potential to go much lower.

USCAP has already proven its ability to transform the climate debate. Almost two years ago to the day, this coalition of environmental and business leaders traveled to the National Press Club in advance of President Bush's 2007 State of the Union.

Our gathering was extraordinary at the time. There I was, the president of a leading environmental organization standing shoulder-to-shoulder with CEOs from GE, Alcoa, DuPont, Duke Energy and other major utilities, and several green leaders as we announced a joint call for mandatory caps on global warming emissions.

That was an important turning point. Together with a cultural shift spearheaded by Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth, climate action began to seem imperative, practical, and economical to the American people.

Now USCAP is prepared to propel the climate debate once again. Our roadmap offers answers to the many of the complex questions that arise from economy-wide global warming legislation, and it points the way to a cleaner, more economically robust energy future for America.