Outside editorials: Senate vote on climate change shows progress

Posted: Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rarely has the defeat of a bill in Congress given so much hope to those who wanted it passed as the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act.

Never mind that the bill fell six supporters shy of clearing a firewall that blocked its eventual passage in the Senate. A similar bill came up short by 22 votes in 2005.

That's progress.

And never mind that it got ripped by some legislators sounding like they'll never be swayed by the science on global warming. One "of the good things about this discussion and this debate," said Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, "is we are not going to be discussing the science."

Never mind, too, that it faced its share of intransigent special interests, like the National Association of Manufacturers, who spun its defeat as a victory for "economic growth in America."

Never mind because more senators now sound like Florida's Mel Martinez, who said science and future generations necessitated action on climate change.

And more companies, including Florida Power & Light and National Grid, an energy-provider in the Northeast, said Congress' move to restrict carbon emissions was "good business."

Those understanding the urgency of passing a law that significantly lowers the nation's carbon footprint, which Lieberman-Warner's cap-and-trade system would have required, are and should be encouraged by its defeat because it's almost certainly pivotal.

It could well mark the last time demagoguery kills landmark legislation curbing climate change if:

• A President McCain or a President Obama lives up to his promise. Each candidate for the White House says, unlike its current occupant, that he supports an emissions cap and a requirement that polluting companies buy credits from greener industries.

• And if voters this election year keep stacking Congress with lawmakers wanting to lower the nation's thermostat. Armed with an eco-friendly mandate, they could strengthen their climate bill by tuning out special interests. That would allow them to reduce carbon emission 80 percent by 2050 by, among other things, imposing a moratorium on traditional coal plants. That's more than what some industries want, but it's what scientists say is needed to avoid global warming's worst effects. Lawmakers also could add more support in the bill for nuclear energy, an alternative power source some environmentalists oppose but which independent energy analysts know needs to help power the nation if it's to burn markedly less fossil fuel.

What's the worst case? More progress. More states pass bills curbing emissions, should Washington fiddle. Connecticut did that during the debate over Lieberman-Warner, as Florida and California did before it.

But it's hard, given the changing winds on climate change, not envisioning a better or best-case scenario.

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