CRITICS OF the climate-change bill approved by the House last year insist it will end up costing households far more than the postage-stamp-a-day estimate by federal agencies. And those criticisms are finding a receptive audience among skeptics of government programs, weary of watching costs go up in health care and Social Security. But the history of environmental regulation is quite different from health subsidies and pensions: In most cases technology quickly catches up to environmental rules, making the cost of even substantial improvements in clean air and water far less than initial projections.
More evidence of the affordability of reducing greenhouse gas emissions came earlier this month with the report showing that Massachusetts is on target by 2020 to reduce emissions by 18.6 percent below 1990 levels. Much of the reduction comes from the state’s highly cost-effective energy efficiency programs.
A copy of the report should be Fed-Exed to Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to bolster his support for congressional climate-change legislation. Graham is one of the few GOP senators who has stepped forward to work with Democrats on a bill to cap greenhouse gas emissions, earning him the furious enmity of right-wing groups for daring to break the party’s unified opposition to the Obama agenda. Supporters of a bill were taken aback recently when The New York Times quoted Graham writing off the so-called cap-and-trade plan endorsed by the House and a Senate committee. “Realistically, the cap and trade bills are going nowhere,’’ he was quoted as saying.
Before the day was out, Graham had changed his tune. “To jump-start nuclear power, wind and solar and the green economy, you’ve got to price carbon,’’ he said.
That reassurance comes as a great relief. Even before the Democrats lost their filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate, it was clear that supporters of climate change legislation would need at least a few Republican votes to offset “no’’ votes from Democrats in states most dependent on high-carbon coal. The legislation is vital: Without it, it would be next to impossible getting fast-growing countries like China and India to reduce their own emissions .
In recent months, GOP committees in two South Carolina counties have voted to censure Graham, in part for his stance on climate change. The senator’s remarks to the Times appeared to be a surrender to his home-state critics. If, instead, the remarks simply indicate a determination to round out a cap and trade agreement with incentives for greater domestic energy production, that is fine - as long as they pass environmental muster.
Hopefully the new Massachusetts report on cost-effective ways to curb emissions - and the proven history of environmental regulations costing less than advertised - can help Graham be a poster child for the bipartisanship that Americans want to see in Washington.