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 Sen. Dianne Feinstein, delivering the keynote at a two-day global-warming conference, stressed the need for achievable steps to head off climate change, warning that the time has come to "stop talking and take action." (Steve McConnell photo)

Feinstein's pitch for cap-and-trade legislation
Speaking at a campus forum, she urges 'decisive action' to deal with climate change

| 28 February 2007

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) made a rare visit to the Berkeley campus Friday, Feb. 23, to promote what she called "a practical, achievable, and sustainable regimen" to combat global climate change, beginning with a package of five bills she has either introduced in the Senate or plans to offer in the near future.

The Stanford grad, making her first-ever public address to a blue-and-gold audience - as her husband, UC Regent Richard Blum, watched from the glass-walled perimeter of Barrows Hall's Lipman Room - cited the "crystal clear" scientific consensus that the earth is heating up, and that global warming is caused by humans' consumption of fossil fuels. "Scientists warn us that we may be close to a tipping point," she said. "And beyond that tipping point, catastrophe becomes a virtual certainty."

While "there is no single answer, no silver bullet," she added, "we need people of common purpose, working together, to find innovative solutions."

Feinstein's speech was the keynote of a two-day conference, sponsored by Berkeley's Institute of the Environment, Boalt Hall's California Center for Environmental Law and Policy, and the Goldman School of Public Policy, on so-called "cap and trade," market-based regulations for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Cap-and-trade rules - already in place in Europe for greenhouse gases, and in the Northeastern U.S. for sulfur dioxide - set legal limits on the amount of pollution an industrial plant, for example, may emit. Companies that bring their emissions below permissible levels earn "credits" they can sell to firms that need help meeting the cap.

With Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Feinstein is co-author of the Electric Utility Cap-and-Trade Act, which has been endorsed by PG&E and other major energy companies throughout the country. The bill would set an initial ceiling for electricity firms aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 6 percent below anticipated levels by 2011, and gradually ratchet it down until 2020, when emissions in the electricity sector would be 25 percent below currently anticipated levels.

Feinstein was preparing to introduce a similar bill for the industrial sector, and has three other pieces of global-warming legislation in various states of readiness, including one, modeled on existing California law, that she said would cut carbon-dioxide emissions from vehicles by 30 percent by 2016.

A plea for pragmatism

Acknowledging that many environmentalists are critical of cap-and-trade programs - indeed, California's other U.S. senator, Feinstein's fellow Democrat (and chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee) Barbara Boxer, is backing an alternative, broader-based bill to combat climate change - Feinstein also noted that the Bush administration opposes even more moderate, industry-friendly cap-and-trade schemes. She stressed the urgent need for pragmatic strategies that can be enacted into law, and, if needed, improved over time.

"Some want an economy-wide bill," she said. "Others want a sector-by-sector program. Some want just a hard cap. Still others want strong regulations for specific activities."

But given the enormity of the problem, it would be a "catastrophe," she said, to "let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

"We have to open our eyes to the danger," she said. "We have to confront it. And we have to make major changes."

And because climate change threatens the entire planet, she added, one major advantage of cap-and-trade schemes is that they can be implemented internationally. "Worldwide - that's the only way we solve this," she said.

Time to stop talking

For now, though, the key is to take action. "Fail to act, and humans will have caused the most sudden temperature shift since the dawn of civilization," she said, resulting in rising sea levels, loss of species, spread of disease, and, in California, the disappearance of as much as two-thirds of the Sierra Nevada snowpack. "But if we act soon and we act decisively, further global warming can be limited."

Feinstein said that while "every nation is part of the problem," it is up to the United States to lead, and she urged the lunchtime crowd to "add your voice in support of passage of a mandatory cap-and-trade program, the Ten in Ten fuel-economy bill" - which would boost fleet fuel-efficiency for all cars and trucks to 35 mpg by 2017 - "a low-carbon-fuels bill, and a national energy-efficiency program."

"Whatever you do," she pleaded, "don't shift the problem to the next generation. This is our problem to solve. The choice is clear. It is time to stop talking and take action."