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A Changing Policy Climate
By: Daniel Yergin
What a difference a year can make. In twelve months the center of gravity has strikingly shifted in the debate over U.S. climate
change policy. Eleven states have developed mandatory greenhouse gas limits. More corporations are calling for federal policy. And
numerous studies and media stories, including the report this month from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change and Al Gore's movie, are tipping the scale of public opinion.
But the biggest difference is in Congress. Since January, Capitol Hill has been inundated with a wave of climate bills. At this point, a
federal climate policy seems inevitable. That's certainly what many electric power company senior executives think. More than 80
percent of those polled in CERA's most recent executive power survey expect a mandatory carbon policy by 2015.
But designing a U.S. climate change policy is a big undertaking. It may be difficult to reach a consensus in this Congress; however,
a real debate is underway. At the very least, that debate will be an important prelude to the 2008 presidential election and a signal
that climate policy is moving to the front and center of U.S. politics.
The Bush Administration's existing climate change policies emphasize research, technology development and public-private
partnerships such as the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. The new policy proposals would move to a
mandatory approach of regulating carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
These bills seek to accelerate investments in lower emitting fuels and technologies by setting specific emissions targets.
The obvious questions for setting these emissions targets are, "What level of reductions will be required?" and "On what timetable?"
We will hear much discussion about these in the coming months. But
there are other, less obvious questions that will really chart the course for U.S. climate policy.
To start, policymakers will need to decide any program's s