by Judy Berk
Carol Weston is my senator in Augusta so I feel compelled to respond to her column that opposes federal legislation that would boost clean energy jobs, help avoid catastrophic climate change, and make America and Maine more energy independent.
In her Aug. 8 column, “Americans can’t afford cap-and-trade legislation,” Sen. Weston criticizes the “cap-and-trade” bill adopted in the U.S. House of Representatives, even though she voted for a cap-and-trade bill here in Maine in 2007.
The federal climate and clean energy legislation working its way through Congress is modeled on Maine’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative passed by the Legislature in 2007 by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 35-0 in the Senate, and 120-7 in the House.
Now, Maine and nine other states are implementing the RGGI program, and it is working well, generating funds from the sale of carbon credits, and investing that money to increase energy efficiency, create jobs and reduce energy costs. Maine’s RGGI program will provide millions of dollars for investments to reduce energy costs at Maine’s paper mills and businesses, as well as for low-income households and other homeowners. That is why companies like Verso Paper supported the bill.
Economists and Republicans generally prefer a market-based cap-and-trade approach to regulatory strategies. In this market-based approach, a cap sets maximum pollution levels allowed, and trading gives the private sector the flexibility to reduce pollution in the most cost-effective manner. The nation’s acid rain program demonstrated that cap-and-trade works.
So why was Sen. Weston for cap-and-trade and then against it? Some commentators have suggested that for political reasons some politicians may want the president to fail on his legislative priorities. I have a hard time believing that is so, since the issue of climate change and developing a clean energy economy is so critical.
The federal energy bill winding its way through Washington could bring an estimated $800 million to Maine for efficiency investments through 2019, generating energy cost savings of more than $2.6 billion and creating an estimated 7,800 jobs in Maine’s energy efficiency sector.
The fact is that real economic growth will not come from more of the status quo — an addiction to yesterday’s fuels: dirty oil and coal. Maine and the U.S. will benefit greatly when we send less of our hard-earned money overseas to buy oil, and put more Americans to work making our homes and businesses more efficient and building clean, renewable native power sources such as wind power.
Furthermore, ignoring the impacts of climate change will cost real money and real jobs and dramatically harm Maine’s way of life, flooding our coastal communities, causing outbreaks of illnesses like Lyme disease; increasing asthma attacks; and threatening our blueberry, forestry, lobster, skiing, maple syrup and other natural resource industries.
I agree with Sen. Weston about this: Today’s challenges require government to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit that has made our country the world’s economic superpower.
The time has come to put Americans to work making our homes and businesses more energy-efficient and building clean renewable power. Federal climate and clean energy legislation will do just that. I encourage Sen. Weston to stick with her previous position in support of cap-and-trade, and I hope that, when they return to Washington from their summer break, Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins work hard to ensure passage of strong climate and clean energy legislation.