Waxman-Markey: Experts Debate Merits of Climate-Change Bill before Senate

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New York, September 25, 2009 – The panel at Columbia Law School Wednesday that debated the merits of the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill now in the Senate agree on this: lawmakers won’t be able to please everybody. In fact, they may wind up pleasing nobody.
But Steven A. Cohen, Executive Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, said, nonetheless, now is the time to act. “If we do nothing, that would be the worst thing of all,” he said.
The debate was sponsored by the Institute’s Columbia Climate Center, Climate Week NYC, and the Law School’s Center for Climate Change Law, whose director, Michael Gerrard, moderated the debate (Click here to watch).
“This week, many leaders of the world have come here to New York to talk about climate change, among other issues, and many eyes are trained on the United States to see what actions this country will take before or perhaps after the United Nations climate conference coming up in Copenhagen in December,” Gerrard said.
Diplomats from Indonesia, Britain, and France were among those in attendance, along with many lawyers and students from the Law School and other Columbia University schools.
Cohen staked out the position that, while flawed, there is enough in the 1,400-plus pages in Waxman-Markey that’s worthy of passing it now.
Citing what he called a “political moment,” Cohen said it was vital to get a measure through Congress before lawmakers become preoccupied with the 2010 mid-term election.
 “Barack Obama won a big majority; Democrats in Congress have a big majority. In 2010 their majority will get smaller,” Cohen said. “If there’s going to be climate legislation passed in America it’s got to happen in the next six months.”
Even though she also wants a climate bill sooner than later, Abigail M. Dillen, attorney with Earthjustice, a public-interest law firm, said the Senate should seize on the opportunity to bolster Waxman-Markey, which narrowly passed the House in late June.
“What the science keeps surprising us with is that we are so much closer than we had thought to tipping points at which the most-devastating consequences of global warming become unavoidable,” Dillen said.
Dillen criticized the bill for not requiring meaningful reductions in greenhouse gases before 2030. “Over the next 10 or 15 years we’re not doing much. The consequence of that is we’re keeping the cost of carbon low,” Dillen said. “It’s not going to be driving the innovation in the energy sector that we need.”
Roger Martella agrees Waxman-Markey is flawed, but for very different reasons. Martella is a partner at Sidley Austin LLP, and represents about 40 companies and trade associations, some of whom he said might be viewed as the “bad guys” in this debate.
However, “these are all groups that want to do their part to address climate change,” Martella said.
Martella is concerned that Waxman-Markey is not as fair or sustainable economically to utilities and businesses as it needs to be. “It should be a level playing field, not singling out some industries over others,” he said.
Martella also said the impact of any legislation will be muted if other countries do not also take meaningful steps to address climate change.
“Are we really just shifting this problem to other parts of the world that use eight times as much energy as we do?” he said. “How can we take that into consideration?”
The debate was the first of several events at the Law School and Columbia University over the next month devoted to climate change and the Copenhagen conference. Visit www.law.columbia.edu/centers/climatechange for a complete listing.

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