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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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November 2, 2007 12:06 PM

Bloomberg on climate change

Posted by David Postman

Here are some excerpts from the prepared text of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Seattle speech:

How do we do it? I think we need a strategy that embraces four basic principles, and I'd like to briefly outline them today. First, we need to increase investment in energy R & D. Right now, we're spending just one-third of what we were in the 1970s. If we really want to be able to manufacture competitively priced biofuel and solar power, if we really want to sequester the carbon dioxide released from coal, we have to be willing to make the commitments that will drive private capital to these projects — and right now, we're just not doing that.

Second, we have to stop setting tariffs and subsidies based on pork barrel politics. For instance, Congress is currently subsidizing corn-based ethanol at 50 cents a gallon — and you can argue that's good agricultural policy, but you can't argue that it's good for consumers or the environment. Because it isn't. Consumers pay more for food, and producing corn-based ethanol results in much more carbon dioxide than producing sugar-based ethanol. But are we subsidizing sugar-based ethanol? No! We're putting a 50-cent tariff on it. Ending that tariff makes all the sense in the world, but for the politics. Everyone knows that politically driven policies are costing taxpayers billions while providing only marginal carbon reductions — but we need leaders who will do something about it!

Third, we have to get serious about energy efficiency — and the best place to start is with our cars and trucks. In 1975, Congress passed a law requiring fuel efficiency standards to double over 10 years, from 12 miles a gallon to 24, with incremental targets that auto manufacturers were required to meet. But since 1985, Washington has been paralyzed by special interests. If the same incremental gains had been adopted for the last two decades, think of where we would be now! We'd all be saving money at the pump, we'd be producing less air pollution and greenhouse gas, Detroit would be in a stronger competitive position and the "Big Three" may not have lost so many more jobs. (Just yesterday, Chrysler announced another 12,000 job cuts.)

Those job losses hurt hard-working Americans, and we have to ask ourselves: Do we want even more middle-class factory workers to be handed pink slips and left to look for service jobs at half the wages? Because that's the direction we're heading in if we continue to fall further and further behind other countries in producing fuel-efficient vehicles. The current Senate energy bill would raise Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards from 27.5 to 35 miles per hour by 2020. That's nowhere near the leap we made from 1975 to 1985, and many foreign cars are already getting 35 miles to the gallon. Even so, U.S. automakers are trying to water down the Senate bill — and if Congress caves, you can bet the loudest cheers will be heard in Japan. Raising fuel efficiency standards is the best thing we could do for U.S. automakers — and it would've been done years ago, but for the politics.

Fourth and finally, we have to stop ignoring the laws of economics. As long as greenhouse gas pollution is free, it will be abundant. If we want to reduce it, there has to be a cost for producing it. The voluntary targets suggested by President Bush would be like voluntary speed limits — doomed to fail. If we're serious about putting the brakes on global warming, the question is not whether we should put a value on greenhouse gas pollution, but how we should do it. This is where the debate is moving, and I'd like to briefly touch on the pros and cons of the two approaches that are most often discussed: creating a cap-and-trade system, and a putting a price on carbon.

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