The Common Good

Who Should Pay for Our Pollution?

Congress is hard at work on historic energy and climate change legislation. The House of Representatives plans to vote on a bill in the next few weeks, with the Senate to follow in early fall.

The bill is full of worthwhile provisions: investment in green jobs, modernizing our energy systems, and new pollution regulations. It also contains some less than desirable pieces like plans to give away the majority of pollution credits to industry in the initial years instead of auctioning them to create revenue for clean technology and assisting low-income consumers.

In my five years in Washington I've learned that supporting large pieces of legislation can be tricky. At Sojourners, we try to filter all of our policy work through the lens of caring for the most vulnerable, both in our country and around the world.

Often, it turns out that Jesus' command to love our neighbor as ourselves provides a pretty good guide for reviewing complex legislation.

Which brings me back to the climate change bill, titled the American Clean Energy Security Act. There are many programs and components to the bill that people who care about God's creation can rally around. The question is, "Where can our voice make the biggest difference in the debate?"

The answer, we figured out, has to do with the tedious term "international adaptation," but the meaning behind the term is pretty simple:

  1. People around the world suffer from climate-related disasters 20 times more than people in industrialized nations.
  2. The U.S. constitutes about 5 percent of the world's population, but we have been responsible for 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gases.
  3. Any U.S. climate change legislation should include resources to help less-developed countries "adapt" to the consequences of global warming that we've helped cause.

International adaptation funding pays for things like early warning systems for storms, irrigation techniques for droughts, and resources to develop clean energy sources. The funding is supposed to come from auctioning off emission credits to energy corporations.

The only problem is Congress decided to provide most of those emission credits for free to energy corporations in the current version of the bill. Why? To negotiate with energy corporations not to oppose the bill's passage.

The end result is virtually no funding to help vulnerable populations mitigate the effects of climate change in the coming decades. While most climate change experts recommended at least $7 billion be allocated to international adaptation projects, the bill currently contains only one percent, or approximately $1 billion.

I'm not suggesting that energy corporations are evil entities or that they should not be a part of climate change negotiations. Nor am I suggesting that the United States is responsible for the rest of the world

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