- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The debate appears “all but over.” Instead of arguing whether climate change is occurring, lawmakers and policymakers increasingly focus on the nature and scope of solutions to address this phenomena.

As landmark legislation that seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions heads closer to debate in Congress, the Bush administration is preparing to layout its own principles and goals and to push Congress to act on the bill.

With a final bill that is likely to employ a variety of edicts and incentives geared to arrest global warming over the next few decades, there is growing realization that mitigating climate change may not come without substantial economic costs.

One thing certain is that, going forward, it will not be “business as usual” for the industries and corporations that will mostly likely have to fundamentally reinvent themselves to comply, and it should not be “business as usual” for the U.S. government.

The opportunity exists to squarely address the real economic, social and international challenges of climate change by clearly investing leadership of the issues in a single Cabinet-level department.

While advocates for business and limited government may initially cringe at this notion of consolidating authority in a single department, this action is one way of easing the coming regulatory burdens by bringing much needed clarity and focus to Washington’s climate change initiatives.

Right now, several Cabinet-level agencies have some function or role involving climate change policies. The Environmental Protection Agency, Energy Department, State Department and others tout various climate change missions on their Web sites, while officially overall coordination rests with the President’s Council on Environmental Quality.

This coordination both raises and belies the link of sustainable and affordable energy supplies to the economic growth of nations, not just the United States. The global competition for energy resources is already here, as is evidenced by China and India developing relationships with governments far and wide as they seek to fuel the machines of growth back home.

Such issues are plainly significant enough to the future well-being of the United States to warrant a single, bonafide authority in the president’s Cabinet that will pursue clearly delineated, sustainable energy policy and climate change strategies.

So who should lead the Cabinet on climate change? The Energy Department has a science and technology role, researching and developing new energy technologies that can address the power and transportation sectors, but energy is far from the department’s main mission if you follow the budget lines.

The EPA heads environmental science and assessment efforts, developing and enforcing resulting laws and regulations. But EPA’s lack of a larger scope with regard to economic and trade issues and its current quasi-Cabinet status are limiting factors, as is the fact climate change implications extend beyond the environmental sphere.

An intriguing candidate would be the Commerce Department, which has a broad mandate to promote the foreign and domestic commerce of the United States, while advancing the nation’s economic development. Commerce also counts the National Institute of Standards and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in its technically-oriented portfolio of responsibilities, areas that could be key to an expanded climate change role.

Climate change legislation will probably be realized in a stepwise manner as international agreements, verification mechanisms and the development of technology allow. Mitigation measures may require a long-term, game-changing effort on the part of industries and businesses in the U.S. in order to comply economically.

The global prospects of climate change reasonably compel the attention of the highest levels of our nation’s government if we are to act in a timely and effective manner. At stake may be such complex issues as the competitiveness of nations and geopolitical stability.

Sen. Hillary Clinton recently proposed establishing a single Cabinet-level department dedicated to “ending poverty as we know it in America.” While others can dissect the intricacies of this proposal, it is time to ask similar questions about climate change.

Focusing the responsibility for addressing climate change under a single, Cabinet-level agency will bring a needed, high-level focus to the issue and make the job of leading the nation into a carbon-constrained future a full-time, forward-looking mission.

Richard J. Campbell, a senior adviser in B&D; Consulting’s Energy & Climate Change Practice, has served in energy policy and technology roles with government and industry advisory bodies.

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