Finding Common Ground on Climate Change in the New Congress

Finding Common Ground on Climate Change in the New Congress

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Allie_Caulfield

For climate change advocates, the November mid-term elections have shifted the movement from Congress to federal agencies, the courts and the states. 

Illustrating this shift are two key issues to watch this year. First, all eyes will be on California as it begins to implement the country's first cap-and-trade law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Second, a federal court last month upheld the U.S. EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and the administration has promised to move forward on regulating emissions first with utilities, before widening the scope later this year. Organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have pledged to continue litigation, and Congressional Republicans have signaled their desire to try to stop the administration from proceeding with this regulation.  

Though advancement of the environmental agenda is moving beyond Capitol Hill, public support for a cleaner environment remains high. According to an August poll by National Journal and Pew Research, nearly two-thirds of Americans still favor some type of climate change legislation that places limits on greenhouse gas emissions. A significant majority of newly-elected members, however, have little desire to advance any type of legislation that could be labeled as "climate change." 

Can climate change supporters find common ground in this new Congress? 

A cleaner environment should not be a partisan issue, but two changes must take place for climate change advocates and policymakers to find common ground in this new Congress. Supporters must identify incremental steps that enjoy bipartisan support and shift the ways in which they communicate this issue to Congress and to the public. On this last point, I offer four suggestions to help redefine this debate so that a bipartisan consensus could emerge in this Congress. 

Whether one believes in the science behind climate change or if humans contribute to global warming is unimportant. Instead, advocates for a cleaner environment should stop using phrases such as "global warming" or "climate change" to describe any legislation that advances a cleaner environment. As we've seen, these phrases have only served to polarize this debate.

Second, tie this agenda directly to job creation. The rapid movement of the global economy toward cleaner energy has become lost in the energy debate in this country. Additionally, China is emerging as the world's largest clean technology provider. The U.S. should not lose out on this opportunity to create good, long-term green jobs that support this emerging global market. 

Third, link a clean energy economy to energy security. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration in 2009, more than half of U.S. crude oil and petroleum imports come from countries that either have unstable governments or are hostile to U.S. interests. As long as that remains the case, the U.S. will continue to be subject to volatile changes in energy costs and potentially unreliable sources of oil. 

Finally, while the greenhouse gas emission reductions that clean technology provides are well documented, supporters should start highlighting the other benefits of using this technology -- namely, that clean technology helps companies reduce energy costs, increase productivity and work smarter. In other words, increased use of clean technology helps U.S. companies better compete in a global economy. 

Green is neither a blue or red state issue. Climate change advocates can find common ground in this new Congress if they tie their agenda to issues that better resonate with the American public. Words matter in this debate and the lingua franca for this Congress is job creation and energy security. 

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Allie_Caulfield.