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School of Public and Environmental Affairs

Steve Hinnefeld
University Communications

Last modified: Friday, October 23, 2009

SPEA policy brief: U.S. shouldn't go it alone on climate-change measures

Oct. 23, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A climate-change bill now before Congress is "ill-considered legislation aimed at a worthy objective," write Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs Dean John D. Graham and a co-author in the October 2009 SPEA Insights.

In a policy brief titled "How to Fix U.S. Climate Legislation," Graham and Art Fraas, visiting fellow with Resources for the Future, say the bill commits the U.S. to making economic sacrifices with no guarantee that other industrial nations will go along.

"There is plenty of time to fix the bill before it is sent to the White House for signature, but it will require major surgery," they write.

Graham and Fraas say the United States should exercise leadership by unilaterally reducing greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2020, but it should refrain from making longer-term commitments until it is clear that the European Union, China and India will also reduce emissions.

Each issue of SPEA Insights addresses a major public policy challenge, with recent issues having addressed health reform and the potential for carbon capture and storage. The brief on climate policy can be read online in PDF format at:

Graham and Fraas focus on House climate legislation authored primarily by Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Edward Markey, D-Mass., which would cap future greenhouse gas emissions and allow sources to buy unused allowances -- a "cap-and-trade" approach intended to hold down costs.

Art Fraas

Art Fraas

While the National Academy of Sciences has concluded that greenhouse gases are exacerbating global climate change, they say, unilateral controls by the U.S. will do little to reverse the trend. They note that the Congressional Budget Office says the plan will cost businesses and consumers tens of billions of dollars, with the burden falling most heavily on the Midwest and some southern states.

"Let's face it: The U.S.A. and other regions of the world are in something like a poker game, and we should not play with our hand exposed and all our chips on the table," they write. "If we subject our businesses to an expensive regulation that is not imposed on businesses in China, India and Europe, we will hurt U.S. workers and consumers without slowing the pace of climate change."

Graham and Fraas say Congress should legislate modest reductions in U.S. greenhouse gases between now and 2020. Then negotiators should do their best to reach an agreement on an international framework that covers the period from 2020 to 2050.

"The only effective way to slow the pace of climate change is collective international action that follows modest, unilateral leadership by the United States as well as Europe," they write. "And all countries will need to be monitored closely for implementation, since 'talk is cheap' in the history of environmental policy."