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The Big Green Moment
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., right, accompanied by Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Texas, center, and Rep. Rahm Emmanuel, D-Ill., left, gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 24, 2008, following a House vote on a bill to deploy light crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. (AP)

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., right, is sponsoring a bill to address climate change. White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel stands to the far left. (AP)

Starting today, Congress takes its first real look at capping carbon emissions.

It’s spurred on by some major momentum in the EPA and the looming deadline of a world climate conference in Copenhagen this December.

But Republicans, big business, and some Democrats are leading a strong countermovement and sounding the alarm about the costs and feasibility, especially in this economy.

This Hour, On Point: top environmental journalists, writer Bill McKibben and Congressman Ed Markey take stock of this big, green moment.

You can join the conversation. Do you support swift action to address climate change? Or are you worried that this effort could hurt the American economy? Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) is Chair of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee and co-author, with Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, of “The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009.” They’re holding hearings for the bill this week.

Juliet Eilperin, national environmental reporter for the Washington Post. She’s written recently about the paradoxes of the clean energy push.

Elizabeth Kolbert, staff writer for The New Yorker, where she writes extensively on climate change. She’s also the author of “Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change.” She has a new piece on the origins of Earth Day.

Bill McKibben is an environmentalist, writer, and activist. He’s currently scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College. Here’s some video of Bill rallying the grassroots.

More links:

The Wall Street Journal’s Keith Johnson has a good backgrounder on the EPA’s decision to declare carbon dioxide a pollutant. The New Republic’s Bradford Plumer thinks the EPA decision is not ideal, but there are few good options. And the New York Times’ Tom Friedman is worried about the complexity of cap-and-trade and advocates a simple carbon tax.

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  • Tom Gehman

    I think that as we contemplate adding more load to the nation’s electrical system and don’t seem to be accepting construction of massive new power plants, we must consider generating some of our electrical power using solar power on homes and wind farms.

  • Lilya

    An easy green suggestion that is not actually green:

    Let’s have a regulation that the third (brake/stop) light at the back of each vehicle be Blue, instead of just another Red.

    Get the idea?
    >> Sea of red lights = smooth going traffic
    >> One blue light in the distance => caution, release the gas pedal

    Save gasoline with no tradeoffs
    Less wear and tear on brakes
    Save lives, reduce crashes in numbers and severity
    Will reduce Highway Congestion
    Will $ave national wealth
    It just makes sense

    Low Enforcement will object with no valid reason
    Transition years will be confusing
    Cost will be about $0.50 per car at beginning and will eventually go down to about $0.00

  • david

    Most of the difficult problems in life can be solved with simple solutions. Instead of a massive tax with cap and trade just ask Americans to cut back on 5 percent of their energy needs. Instead of knocking down hydro-electric dams, build more of them. We don’t need a massive tax increase which will just get blown on earmarks to solve our excessive energy needs.

  • David

    Don’t all of the military assets in the Persian Gulf (which are ostensibly to provide security for tankers traversing the Straits of Hormuz and costing US taxpayers hundreds of billions if not trillion dollars) amount to “hidden” subsidies to the oil and gas industries?

    Does this artificially lower the price of oil and gas?

    Is there any chance of getting oil companies to pay for their own security detail and allowing the price of oil to rise to its “true cost”?

    Would this not lower consumption and allow renewables to be more competitive?

  • Dennis Sonifer

    Instead of cap & trade, why not energy tax on consumers — residential and commercial? Gasoline, heating oil, and electricity. Have it increment until tax gets quite high, closer to European countries. And market the idea — which is the truth — that a tax is money we collect from ourselves to spend on ourselves.

    Then use taxes to
    1) direct rebates to states to use as they will;
    2) fund more conversion to green energy;
    3) attack the deficit and budget problems;
    4) reduce some other tax, like Medicare from paychecks, that almost all will benefit from and benefit especially the poor and those that take public transportation.

    Consumers have some control over how they spend their money. If full tax rate phased in, gives consumers time to insulate homes, purchase more efficient cars, etc.

  • Diane Wanek

    I agree the cap-and-trade proposal is rather complex, but I can think of no better catalyst to encourage our utility/energy companies to get ahead of the curve in terms of technological change. I keep thinking about how we allowed our automobile companies to sit back and never make the important investments in retooling and new technologies through legislation that gave them a certain level of comfort. Now those industries have fallen behind. Had Congress been less coddling toward them, we wouldn’t have had to spend billions of tax dollars bailing them out, perhaps unsuccessfully. There is no question energy/utility and other carbon-producing companies are going to have to shift their vision at some point. It will be cheaper and smarter to prod them in that direction now through this complex but very smart cap-and-trade proposal.

  • Dennis Sonifer

    Unfortunately, won’t the American people need a cataclysmic crisis before we will change? Something like the attach on Pearl Harbor before the US would enter WWII.

    The weakness of democracy is when facing complex issues where there are moneyed stakeholders that are against the change.

  • Ken Hall

    Interesting, that the majority of people are far more concerned with the cost of electricity and hydrocarbon fuels than the loss of the capability of the Earth to continue supporting life in the not too distant future. The so called intelligent primates refuse to acknowledge the largest contributor to the impending catastrophe as a result of global warming is the “human” right to have as many offspring as they possibly can so as to support the bankrupt economic growth growth growth concepts that push for exponential increases of human population and consumption of the Earth’s resources. Me thinks the humans are about to receive their just deserts; unfortunately the remaining flora and fauna on the Earth are likely to receive the same undeserved.

  • maria rutzmoser

    Why does no one ever talk about our ever growing population? Unless we rein our own numbers in and stop our out-of-control growth, we will never, never be able to heal the damage we have done to our environment. If we cut our carbon emissions by 20%, but increase the number of emitters (us) by 20%, we will cancel out our gains. A short course in population ecology should convince anyone that this is a fundamental issue not only for future human generations, but for the entire biosphere.

  • David

    This is why I don’t trust some journalist. They can be arrogant and have superiority complexes.

    I called in with the statement that utility rates will be increasing one way or the other because we are running out of electricity, and that the coal lobby’s strategy of scaring people over increased utility rates due solely to a carbon cap and trade policy is disingenuous. My comment was misinterpreted and rebuffed by one of the journalists who haphazardly commented that the U.S. “is the Saudia Arabia” of coal. Well great, but you still have to build more dirty coal fired powerplants or nuke plants to supply the burgeoning need, and they take a lot of time and money to do that, and nobody wants them in their backyards. Case in point, in the New England area we are planning on laying down miles of new transmission lines to bring down hydro generated power from Canada. If we have so much available energy now, like this misinforming journalist said, why would need to pipe in power from Canada. It takes about 10 years to build a big powerplant toots. I’m not going to waste my time calling into On Point anymore. It’s too rushed to make a valid point.

  • Rita

    Oh great.

    Obama’s science advisor testifies that he *still* thinks 1 billion may day due to global warming in ten years.

    Hanson warns we now only have 4 years left to change.

    McKibbon raises the alarmism here saying that no, we only have this year left.

    So irresonsible, yet unchecked. Onpoint gets its rating boost, so that is a plus, but again the host doesn’t understand either basic science or economics and so again doesn’t ask any hard questions.

  • http://(None/Listener) James Schuele

    Following up on a caller’s statement that cap-and-trade opponents’ use of the term “carbon tax” is Orwellian intentional mis-naming of the more accurate term “carbon pollution cost”, and responses(paraphrased)from Juliet that an alternative term to “carbon tax” currently isn’t available, and from Betsy about recent EPA designation and also about “carbon tax” term use in relation to need for “accuracy in reporting”:
    Juliet and Betsy, seems to me the search for accurate descriptor might include the term establishment of a capped “carbon pollution market”–a market that would, like any market, establish pricing that intermediates carbon pollution supply and demand.
    Betsy, I’m concerned about the potential for anyone living in the Washington “bubble” who attempts to serve as accurate reporter/fair witness being unwittingly co-opted by adopting one side’s preferred term (e.g. “carbon tax”) as a “valid” descriptor.
    Thanks for your reporting work, and for listening…

  • Wayne Young


    With all the talk about cost , who is going pay to take care of all the millions refugees displaced as a result of the disappearance of the glaciers around the world that supply water to a sixth of worlds population ?

  • Erik T

    James Hansen’s “Carbon Tax and 100% Dividend” proposal sounds much simpler and cheaper to administer than a “Cap and Trade” system. It would be much less susceptible to manipulation by vested interests, and would directly benefit those who choose to lower their carbon footprints. It is available at: http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2008/20080604_TaxAndDividend.pdf

    If an insurmountably large portion of the U.S. population is so dense that they will oppose anything that has the word “tax” in its name, regardless of the proposal’s actual merits and its benefits to them, let’s rename Mr. Hansen’s proposal as the “American Energy Freedom and Climate Responsibility Dividend”.

  • http://www.solar-hot-water.org Scott Wilson

    On the subject of giving away allowances: In Europe, they gave away allowances to the big utilities, and it turned out to be an enormous windfall for them. They also simultaneously raised rates. How are we going to prevent that happening here, if we give away allowances to big emitters?

  • http://www.synapse9.com Phil Henshaw

    Our problems are indeed becoming unmanageable, but to spread the right message we need solutions that do not make them worse… We need to think it through more.

    The problem is that the ecologists and economists made a large basic error, proposing that constraining the “bads” and promoting the “goods” will work to stabilize the system. That is tragically wrong.

    Constraint only works to stabilize their equations, equations of “controlled variables”. If our growth system is constrained to prevent its “bads” it will go out of control instead, because it is made of individually behaving parts that will not be constrained from conflict..!!! It’s our misunderstanding of our solutions that have been creating our unmanageable problems all along, right?? Our present solutions, because they will push the system out of control, are unfortunately more of the same.

    I discovered it through a way of connecting physics and economic models. See http://www.synapse9.com/issues/concept$.htm and my blog http://www.synapse9.com/blog phil

  • Alex Szczech

    Dennis Sonifer is correct — a direct energy tax on consumers is superior to a ‘cap and trade’ scheme.

    Maria Rutzmoser critique is spot on. Human population is the primary force driving environmental degradation. It must be addressed humanely if we are to have any hope of a sustainable future. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090418075752.htm

  • Richard Cole

    ** I don’t know where the idiotic “…[it] isn’t rocket science, it’s auto mechanics” bromide came from, but by repeating it Rep. Markey reflects poorly on himself. The problems that he would have us solve are NOT TRIVIAL. Many of them run up against the Laws of Thermodynamics, which limit the amount of energy you can get out of a fuel.

    ** “Carbon Cap & Trade”. It isn’t simple. When asked, Ms. Kollbert, an environmental writer, was unable to explain it even though it has been prominent in the discussion for years. There was some dissention as to how, if we go down the C&T course, to initially distribute the “permits”. A simple auction would result in Morgan Stanley and the various hedge funds buying up the permits and later selling them at grossly inflated prices to the power companies, et al. John and Jane Doe would get the shaft again.

    ** The comment above regarding NIMBY for coal and nuclear plants applies to wind, hydro and solar installations, as well. The pictures you see of “wind farms” don’t convey their size. Detroit Edison as negotiated easements on about 100 square miles of land to install wind turbines equivalent to about one coal-fired or nuclear power plant that would occupy about 1/4 square wile. One group of NIMBYs that deserve a BLACK MARK are the ones in Nevada who have prevented (they caused politics to override science) the Yucca Mt. nuclear waste repository.

    ** Now, perhaps we do need to start now, but something we should not do is embark on a crash program. We could end up committing to spend trillions on today’s immature technology that could push aside the mature that will be developed that would have done a better job for mere hundreds of billions. (BTW: The U.S. was in WWII before Pearl Harbor. That only changed what it meant to be “in it”.)

  • globert

    Oh btw, according to the Department of Energy the costs of wind power are between 3 and 6.4 cents per kWh. Average capital costs of Windturbines are $1480/kW (2006).

    New nuclear on the other hand has reached costs between 25 cents and 30 cents per kWh:

  • Tim Burrows

    I am with the guy who called in and mentioned overpopulation. Yes, global warming needs to be tackled, and the only long-term solution has to involve reducing our already crowded planet. I look forward to the day when there will be limits on how many people children can have. Perhaps if someone has more than two, they should be forced to pay a higher tax rate. This will force people to be more responsible in their childbearing.

Aug 29, 2014
Ukrainian forces guard a checkpoint in the town of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Ukraine's president Petro Poroshenko called an emergency meeting of the nation's security council and canceled a foreign trip Thursday, declaring that "Russian forces have entered Ukraine," as concerns grew about the opening of a new front in the conflict.  (AP)

War moves over Syria, Ukraine. Burger King moves to Canada. Nine-year-olds and Uzis. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

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Beyoncé performs at the 2014 MTV Music Video Awards on Sunday, August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, California. (Getty)

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Beyoncé performs at the 2014 MTV Music Video Awards on Sunday, August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, California. (Getty)

Sex, power and Beyoncé’s feminism. The message to young women.

Aug 29, 2014
Ukrainian forces guard a checkpoint in the town of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Ukraine's president Petro Poroshenko called an emergency meeting of the nation's security council and canceled a foreign trip Thursday, declaring that "Russian forces have entered Ukraine," as concerns grew about the opening of a new front in the conflict.  (AP)

War moves over Syria, Ukraine. Burger King moves to Canada. Nine-year-olds and Uzis. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

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