CLIMATE:

Action on emissions, economy go hand in hand -- CEQ chief

The chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality today emphasized the Obama administration's intent to mitigate climate change as it pulls the nation out of the biggest economic slump since the 1930s.

As it begins divvying up a $787 billion economic stimulus package -- what some say embodies the largest energy bill in U.S. history -- the Obama administration is pressing Congress to pass a cap-and-trade scheme that will cut U.S. carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. The president's budget proposal for fiscal 2010, meanwhile, includes more than $75 billion to support the development and deployment of clean energy technologies and services.

"The carbon price signal created by a cap-and-trade system will encourage energy efficiency, the low-hanging fruit of greenhouse gas emissions reductions," CEQ Chairwoman Nancy Sutley said during a carbon markets conference in Washington.

"More importantly, it will also encourage the development and deployment of the clean-energy technologies that will be critical to address climate change, enhance energy security and create jobs that can't be outsourced."

The draft cap-and-trade bill introduced last week by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) would advance President Obama's goals, she said.

Speaking with reporters after her speech, Sutley declined to say whether administration officials worked with the lawmakers to craft the bill, which would create a cap-and-trade program curbing U.S. emissions 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by midcentury.

The measure also would create a nationwide renewable electricity standard that reaches 25 percent by 2025, energy efficiency programs, limits on the carbon content of motor fuels, and greenhouse gas standards for new heavy-duty vehicles and engines.

"The Waxman legislation reflects the themes that the president has talked about, so it's a good place for us to start," Sutley said. "We'll find ways to work with the members of Congress."

Obama has said he wants 100 percent of emissions allowances to be auctioned under an economywide cap-and-trade system. Under the president's budget proposal, the program would produce more than $150 billion over a decade to invest in so-called green jobs and technologies.

The rest of the auction revenue would be used to help families, communities and businesses "transition to a cleaner economy," Sutley told the audience of carbon traders, bankers and investors.

The global economic downturn aside, 2009 is a critical year for long-term climate change policy, Sutley said.

In December, the United Nations will convene policymakers in Copenhagen to broker a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

"In setting out this agenda, the administration has signaled ... that the United States is ready to assume leadership in helping to bring the world together to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions," Sutley said.

Promising jobs

The economic stimulus has some $40 billion for domestic clean-energy technologies and services, including weatherizing homes, bolstering the electricity grid and expanding renewable energy generation.

Veteran activist and author Van Jones, Sutley's newly appointed economic adviser, said the money should help save or create millions of jobs that cannot be exported while transitioning the nation to a "clean-energy" economy.

"If we do not do this, we get in the caboose of the clean-energy revolution and let other countries in the engine," Jones said at an energy conference across town. "The most important work to do in the world is right here at home -- and people need jobs."

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