But here are the big things we need to understand as the Senate gears up to rock and roll on some sort of climate change and energy security legislation this summer.
The biggest: Passing a sensible energy policy now does not revolutionize the economy overnight... but it lays the groundwork for a long-term econoic revolution. Pass the strongest possible combination of the above proposals, and we'll still be burning coal and oil tomorrow and for years to come. But we start the long process of shifting our reliance to more domestic renewable sources, like the wind on our prairies, the geothermal heat beneath our feet, and the sun that shines on every American's roof. We start the process of using all energy sources more efficiently, so that every drop of oil and turn of the wind turbine pushes our cars and computers farther.
The sooner we get serious about basing our economy on clean domestic renewable energy, the less need there will be for us to go after the hard oil. The easy oil is gone: we're going to extremes like drilling 30,000 feet below the sea floor and squeezing oil from sand and shale. The price of extracting those fossil fuels will only go up; the price of processing the wind that keeps blowing and the sun that keeps shining will only go down. The sensible course is to start using those renewable sources now and engineer a smooth, long-term energy transition, while we still have some fossil-fuel wiggle room, rather than trying to manage a crash-course conversion to new energy sources when our fossil-fuel tank really is on E.
Some things can happen quickly. McGovern tells me that last summer's House bill targeted a 17% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020. He says just a couple years of recession has already gotten us halfway to that goal.
Of course, buying less, doing less, and leaving millions of Americans out of work aren't the most favorable options for energy conservation. Repower South Dakota would rather see us pass clean energy legislation now to unleash the industrial oomph that's just waiting for Washington to finally set the rules for the new energy economy and say Go! Pass legislation now, and the utilities will get busy with those transmission lines we need for the South Dakota wind industry. Utilities and big industry will start trading happily under a cap-and-trade system (just as they did, successfully, in the 1990s under the Clean Air Act). Energy projects would take off, bringing jobs and economic activity just when we need another big push to get the economy out of its rut.
Oh yeah: and strong clean energy legislation will cut pollution, save lives, and keep our kids from having to evolve gills and webbed feet.
Legislators will be home over the Fourth of July to help us blow things up in celebration of our independence. This patriotic holiday would be the perfect time to remind them we could boost American independence and blow fewer things up in the Gulf of Mexico and the Middle East if we pass serious climate change and energy security legislation.