Backers of a bill that would be the first significant step by the United States government to really do something about global climate change are hoping that Sen. Hillary Clinton will be more interested in moving toward a solution than in campaigning on a problem.
As a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Clinton is considered a swing vote on the progress of America's Climate Security Act. That's a bipartisan measure that would take necessarily aggressive steps toward reducing the amount of greenhouse gases poured into the air by American utilities and factories.
As a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, though, Clinton faces a political temptation: nudging the bill aside so that she will be able to tell environmentally concerned voters what an unmitigated tragedy it is that government has done nothing about climate change. There's no indication she will do so, but this is not a Democratic measure.
The bill is the work of two of the Senate's more aggressively moderate leaders, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, and Sen. John Warner, a Virginia Republican. Both are considered among the Senate's serious thinkers on national security issues, and both rightly see the hazards of climate change, as their bill's title suggests, as a serious threat to national security.
It is an approach that is both serious and, in theory, achievable.
The idea is to use both mandates and rewards to seriously reduce the output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by significant amounts, with benchmarks in 2012, 2020 and 2050. By that last year, the goal is a reduction of greenhouse emission to 70 percent below 2005 levels.
Most proposals to reduce greenhouse emissions have been reflexively fought on the theory that the economic costs of compliance would be too much. But, expanding on an idea that helped curb acid rain in the United States, the bill would establish what's called a cap-and-trade system. It would allocate emissions credits to greenhouse producers and reward companies that exceed their goals by allowing them to sell their unused credits on a regulated exchange.
Rather than throw up their hands and declare climate change an inevitable doom, the bill adopts the hopeful theory put forward by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- the other winners of this year's Nobel Peace Prize -- that efforts by the United States have a hope of keeping atmospheric carbon below the 500 parts per million point that could tip climate change to climate catastrophe.
Some in the environmental movement lament the bill as too little, too late and object to the fact that polluters could wind up profiting from their reformed behavior. But some leading green groups -- Environmental Defense, the League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resources Defense Council -- have embraced the measure.
They view it as a serious step forward, more than anyone could have hoped for if it hadn't been for the leadership of Lieberman and, especially, Warner, a respected and serious Republican who has decided, as he nears retirement from politics, that making a difference on this crucial matter is how he wants to go out.
Clinton could boost her own respected-and-serious quotient, something that should be important to her these days, if she would support America's Climate Security Act.