The energy and climate bill up for a vote today in the House raises unanswered questions, but it's an important first step toward addressing the very real problem of climate change.
For that reason, House members should vote for the American Clean Energy and Security Act. Proponents are targeting some local lawmakers, including Reps. Joe Sestak (D., Pa.) and Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.).
If the United States is going to be the world leader in fighting global warming, it needs to walk the walk. This nation generates a disproportionate amount of the polluting greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
China, India, and other major polluting countries will never come to the table over carbon emissions unless the United States leads by example. There is symbolic value in this vote, as well as its practical attempt to reduce pollutants.
The heart of the bill is its "cap-and-trade" provision for carbon emissions. Businesses would need to pay for permits for each ton of carbon emitted. High polluters, such as coal-fired electric plants, could also purchase capacity from low polluters.
The legislation aims to cap greenhouse-gas emissions at 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and increasing targets through 2050. A portion of the money collected by government auctions of permits would go to offset consumers' higher energy costs; some of the revenue would be spent on clean-energy research.
Concerns about the cost of the legislation for consumers appear to be exaggerated. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the measure would cost each U.S. household about $175 annually by 2020. The Environmental Protection Agency projects it will cost the average household about $100 per year.
Some environmentalists complain that this bill has been watered down to the point where it won't have any impact on carbon emissions. And business leaders insist that the legislation will simply impose a huge new energy tax without any social benefit.
But there is much more to President Obama's push for a new energy plan than the desired results for long-term global warming. For three decades, the United States has grappled with the unproductive consequences of its dependence on foreign-supplied energy. This plan envisions new industries and jobs devoted to cleaner domestic energy.
This legislation offers the promise of a new way forward.