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Waxman: Clean Energy Solution to Federal Deficit

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former Congressman Wayne Gilchrest
Congressman Henry Waxman

Beware of the policymaker with all the answers. S/he won't fly given the makeup of the present Congress. Particularly on environmental issues. Particularly when s/he is up against deniers who want to cut taxes and entitlements for the sake of the deficit.

Indeed, increasing the debt limit is a looming issue, said Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) today at the Center for American Progress (CAP) in Washington, DC. Supporting him was a Republican Congressman, currently retired but always supportive on cleaning up the environment, Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD).

Neither dignitary had all of the answers. But they, along with Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and former Congressman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) are working on legislation to address two exigent issues: the behemoth and growing deficit and climate change.

Solutions to the deficit crisis championed by Republicans include lowering taxes on the rich and drawing on entitlement funds. Waxman and Markey have a new idea: reduce the deficit while addressing climate change, despite the deniers.

Two previous efforts to solve the budget problem failed--a fiscal bargain and then supercommittee discussions.

Waxman and Markey propose, in lieu of energy credits for environmentally friendly industries, charging a price for carrbon emissions, a pollution tax. This policy would move us from dependence on carbon fuels, challenging policymakers and other stakeholders to steer this country toward clean energy, to catch up with China's rapid growth in this area (with the world's greatest quantity of solar panels) and with Europe, which already has a tax ons carbon consumption.

Said Carol Browner, moderator and Distinguished Senior Fellow for the CAP Action Fund, the challenge to Waxman and Markey is to figure out how to prioritize carbon pollution among all of Congress and not just Democrats and Markey and those contributing generously to their efforts. A most effective target for such efforts, the one to get through to, is Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), chairman of the House Budget Committee. Waxman, ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, does not believe in raising taxes on corporations, whom he calls the country's job creators, and whose investments in the economy he wishes to encourage.

What is not accomplished today will be more expensive later and impossible after that, he said, specifying the dramatic increase in ocean acidification, coastline reduction, and melting ice sheets, which have produced waters eight times the volume of Lake Erie.

Reduced carbon emissions also subtract other air pollutants and reduce health problems, continued Waxman. The more we study, the more bad news becomes evident from continued abuse of the environment.

Browner recalled how productive elimination of lead from gasoline was. The ozone-layer conversation comes up again and again without effective results. We must pay more attention to science, which constantly generates new knowledge on the relevant issues. With her robust background as an EPA administrator, she advocated more communication between that agency and scientists. She praised the rapport in Washington, DC, between scientists and policy makers. People in this country must understand the importance of science, she said.

Gilchrest answered a question I was going to ask when this former teacher encouraged fostering a more inquiring mindset among young students. I was going to express worry about finding out recently that the millennial generation is far less concerned with environmental exigencies than boomers and their closer successors--far less concerned than us older folks that, for instance, global warming in the preceding century, generated by industry, exceeds that generated in the preceding twenty thousand years.

The former Congressman continued that we cannot afford not to raise the price on carbon emissions; the oil supply will decrease largely in this century, despite, or because of the high demand by more than one billion people in India and China; here our dependence on foreign oil has decreased from 60 percent to 40 percent and we are moving to decrease our consumption of gasoline by driving less often. Waxman would add a two-cent increase in the price per gallon of gasoline.

By contrast, the Republican chorus "Drill, baby, drill" persists, though more domestically generated oil will not lower its price, which is determined by the world economy rather than more locally. Even Canada's oil surplus doesn't lower the price of its gasoline.

Said Waxman, alternative fuels and electric cars will go far in the direction of cleaning up our environment. The Congressman was optimistic about the possibility of safe fracking and strongly recommended the use of natural gas, with its reduced amount of carbon emissions, to fuel our electricity and therefore benefit the economy.

Strongly supporting more intensive support of energy alternatives by President Obama, Gilchrest noted that innovation and ingenuity are natural to the human condition, citing as an example the most influential administration of JFK. The young president strongly advocated physical fitness as a goal of every American and his promise to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s came true. Leadership and charisma go a long way toward accomplishing important goals.

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Marta Steele is an author/editor/blogger who has been writing for since 2006. She is also author of the 2012 book "Grassroots, Geeks, Pros, and Pols: The Election Integrity Movement's Nonstop Battle to Win Back the People's Vote, (more...)

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