Friday, August 28, 2009

The Mountain that was God: - Romanticizing about the Clean Air Act (Waxman-Markey)

The Mountain that was God, that is how the Indians describe the majesty of the Rainier Mountain in Washington State. The awesomeness of the glacier part of the mountain during the summer months of July through October makes you marvel about the beauty of nature; and, challenges you to ask everyone: why we don’t want to preserve our environment the way nature has offered it to us? Walking through the glacier view trail of the mountain gives you a feeling of grace and beauty. My children refer the feeling simply as “paradise”. Not only do you experience some serenity about the environment, you can literally feel the melting snow down the slopes turning to effortless clean water for you to drink.

I imagine if we all can work hard, to keep our water, air and environment clean, maybe we will not have to suffer too hard to the extent that some of us have to see our doctors often. And if you are contemplating where I am taking the blog to this night, I’ll say save your breath, it is not about passing the health care reform thing again! I am more interested in how far the support for Waxman-Markey bill is waning; and, if we actually need to shore it up to ensure that it passes in Senate, later this year or early next year.

Contrary to the position of some environmentalists who believe that the bill as a policy instrument is only full of symbolism, with little or no impact on the real world experience, I will say welcome to your premeditated illusion. To these people, many of the provisions of the bill, including the targets and timetables are unattainable. My position to this is that there is no one silver bullet to the problem of carbon vis-à-vis environmental pollution. What we have in Waxman-Markey, is not a magical solution to a problem that has taken several centuries to accumulate. Rather, it is an attempt for the first time to work steadily and constructively to undo the accumulated damage that we have done to the environment.

The ethos of Waxman-Markey is not to provide answers for all things that are impacting our environment; rather, it is exploring solutions to carbon emission level and its consequential impact on the environment, including the imbalance in the ozone layer, which in turn probably affects the degree of global warming. As a policy instrument, the bill leaves room for practical solutions to carbon emissions and some more. The bill attempts to include stronger carbon emissions targets, setting out attainable premium targets. And God forbids if we are unable to attain the goal, nothing prevents us from reviewing the bill and introducing a global climatic change index that would help us track global warming. The ultimate goal is to prevent further carbon emissions pollution and bring some balance to the environment.

When the authorizing legislation of the Clean Air Act was about to expire under the Bush Administration, there were so much apprehension from members of congress, environmentalists, academics and industry officials as to the necessity of its continuance. There were those in the debate who maintained that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had gone beyond the confines of its authority, the way it administered the act, and asked that the bill be rewritten to curtail the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency, in enforcing its provisions. Others had called for congress to play a greater role in fashioning specific emissions targets and control mandates. My modest position is that an agency as the EPA ought to have all the necessary authority to accomplish the goals and tasks of maintaining a clean environment. The Congress however, still retains the power to do as it pleases. We must however appreciate that based on the information we now have out there regarding global warming, any instrument of government that calls the agency to question as to its overreaching effort to secure a clean environment would not be doing our environment any good. Those of us living in Western Washington could tell you about our experiences regarding pollution of our waters; and, a quick trip down the Puget Sound, would frankly tell you that the EPA needs more authority to make a difference considering the gravity of the problem of water, air and environmental pollution.

In the acrimonious environment that we find the debate on Waxman Markey, I would still like to default to the New York Times columnist Tom Friedman’s views on the
Waxman-Markey bill as it emerged from the House of Representative: “There is much in the House cap-and-trade energy bill that just passed that I absolutely hate. It is too weak in key areas and way too complicated in others. A simple, straightforward carbon tax would have made much more sense than this Rube Goldberg contraption. It is pathetic that we couldn’t do better. It is appalling that so much had to be given away to polluters. It stinks. It’s a mess. I detest it.” Despite his assessments though, I will still call on all our Senators to ensure that we move ahead, to please support the bill and let us pass it into the law of the land.
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