Evaluating House-Passed Climate Bill

Times’ Broder, New Yorker’s Kolbert, Stavins of Harvard on ‘On Point’ Program

New York Times Washington, D.C., bureau reporter John Broder sets the table and New Yorker writer Betsy Kolbert and Harvard University economist Robert Stavins deliver the goods in a WBUR-FM “On Point” hour-long discussion of the House of Representatives cap-and-trade bill. The program is online at onpointradio.org.

Broder opened the dialogue, anchored by guest host Jane Clayson, with brief but useful background information on the tough go through the House and prospects, he said, for an even more uphill fight in coming months in the Senate.

Things should really hit the fan, Broder reported, when a House-Senate conference committee eventually comes together, perhaps late this year, to iron out inevitable differences in the chambers’ two bills. Broder – who said he does think the Senate will pass a climate bill – recommended keeping a close eye on who congressional leaders select from both the House and the Senate, and from both parties, as conferees: Both their ideologies and their geography – their home-state politics – will be critical if a likely protracted and difficult conference committee is to come to eventual agreement.

Stavins and Kolbert agreed with the conventional wisdom that the House-passed bill overall represents a worthwhile start … but one replete with flaws and shortcomings.

Stavins was critical of last-minute additions to the House bill: one denying presidential discretion in imposing tariffs; and a second one allowing tradable permits based on “unobserved and unobservable hypothetical” uncapped agricultural emission reductions from “what they normally would be.”

“Who knows what they normally would be?” Stavins asked rhetorically. He said both provisions should be omitted from any final bill.

Kolbert referred to the House bill as a “hold your nose” vote but said that if implementation proves not to be overly costly and the program generally works well, “maybe we’ll realize we can tighten the cap more quickly.” Stavins said the bill can be useful if it helps establish a leadership position for the U.S. in coming international negotiations. “Does this put us back in a credible position to work on a meaningful international agreement?” he asked. His support for enactment suggests that he thinks, at least hopes, the answer is Yes.

In response to one of a number of listeners’ questions, Kolbert strongly rejected a caller’s suggestion that the scientific understanding of climate change is weak. “A canard,” Kolbert replied: The “relative scientific community” is “only growing more and more concerned …. the problem is more serious than the published scientific consensus would have you agree. In the scientific world, there really is consensus on this problem.”

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