America is faced with a triple threat of challenges: an economy in recession, an overdependence on foreign energy, and a warming planet. Within a matter of days, the U.S. House of Representatives could vote on legislation that begins to address all three.
By capping and setting a price on carbon dioxide emissions, the American Clean Energy and Security Act will help create a clean-energy economy for the 21st century — one that will help pull the economy out of recession, strengthen America's energy security in a volatile world, and address the threat of global climate change.
As members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership — a coalition of 29 of the world's leading environmental groups and cross-industry global corporations — the Environmental Defense Fund and FPL Group helped develop a blueprint for change (http://tinyurl.com/n7hfsg) that would address the nation's energy and environmental challenges. We believe that only by capping and setting a price on carbon can emissions-free energy technologies compete on a level playing field with fossil fuels.
The American Clean Energy and Security Act is a critical step in the nation's effort to combat what President Barack Obama has called the "potentially cataclysmic disaster" of climate change. By capping and pricing emissions, the bill will harness the power of private markets to develop and deploy carbon-reduction technologies at the lowest cost. Investors will respond to the market's demand for clean energy and fund the most promising solutions.
Evidence shows that "cap and trade" systems can work. Applied to the problem of acid rain in the 1990s, this approach cut pollution faster and at a lower cost than anyone predicted. Not surprisingly, Gov. Charlie Crist's climate and energy task force unanimously agreed that "a strong national cap-and-trade program is the preferred method for achieving substantial reductions in (carbon emissions), and Florida should advocate for a national program."
The American Clean Energy and Security Act is carefully designed to protect households and small businesses during the transition to a clean-energy economy. It provides a portion of the emissions permits "exclusively for the benefit" of energy consumers through electricity and natural gas distribution companies. Put another way, the legislation is designed to keep energy costs down.
Just as important, the bill protects American competitiveness by providing assistance to industries that could face competition from countries that have not yet capped their own emissions.
Enacting legislation to cap and price carbon is the equivalent of buying an insurance policy against the worst effects of climate change, such as more intense hurricanes and droughts. The insurance won't be free, but the costs will be worth it if we can ensure that our children and grandchildren inherit a habitable world.
The United States has been debating climate change for more than 20 years. It's time for the country to take meaningful action. Every day we delay, another 18 million tons of CO2 are released into the atmosphere, most of which will remain there for close to a century. And with every year of inaction, the carbon reductions needed to deal successfully with climate change become larger and harder to achieve.
The legislation now before Congress isn't perfect — no bill ever is. But it is the product of hard-fought compromises and has an advantage that no other legislation to address climate change has ever enjoyed: It actually has a chance of becoming law this year. To allow that opportunity to slip away would be a tragedy for Florida, for the nation and for the planet.
Fred Krupp is president of the Environmental Defense Fund. Lew Hay is chairman and CEO of FPL Group, the nation's leading producer of renewable energy from wind and solar power.