Friday, July 3, 2009

Why I voted ‘No’ on climate bill

Walt Minnick represents Idaho's 1st Congressional District.


Last week I cast one of the most difficult votes of my congressional career, and voted against the House energy bill. Passions ran high on both sides of the issue, and I know that my decision frustrated some, including supporters and friends.

It was also a difficult vote because I believe, as do most Idahoans, that this country must act decisively to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and to deal with the threat a warming world has on Idaho's way of life. I also believe, along with the president and with many fellow members of Congress, that a new approach to energy is one of the best ways to jump-start our ailing economy.

However, this was a fatally flawed bill riddled with giveaways in exchange for votes. The bill also would have little immediate impact, and was not sound public policy for the future. Virtually everyone with whom I spoke—from the business community to energy producers to farmers to conservationists—agreed that "cap and trade" is the wrong approach.

"Cap and trade" failed in Australia, has had little impact in Europe and will never be adopted by our toughest foreign competitors, China and other emerging Asian nations. It would require the establishment of a massive new federal bureaucracy to measure and police greenhouse gas emissions from every farm, feedlot, manufacturing plant and vehicle in America. It would turn over determination of a big piece our energy costs to the same Wall Street speculators who brought us $4 per-gallon gasoline. And it would create uncertainty in future energy costs, making it difficult for businesses to plan and create new jobs.

Idahoans who urged me to vote no included:

Farmers worried about increased fertilizer and power costs.

Energy companies frustrated by the lack of consideration given to hydro and nuclear power.

Businessmen outraged with giveaways to rig the proposed "cap and trade" system in favor of coal production and major greenhouse-gas emitting heavy industry in the Midwest and California.

And thousands of ordinary citizens worried that their gasoline and electrical bills would rise as job losses mount in this sinking economy.

For all of them, I voted no. Moreover, this issue is just too important to get wrong.

I spent many years as a businessman, but I am also a lifelong outdoorsman and conservationist. I have spent many days and nights fishing Idaho's high lakes, floating its plunging rivers and enjoying the crisp air of its snow-covered mountains. But each year there is less snow, more intense wildfires and more diseased trees.

I also grew up on a dryland wheat farm that is still in my family. The brutal combination of rising energy costs and hotter summers have made it more and more difficult to stay on the right side of a razor-thin profit margin.

Those experiences have led me to believe that the right way to address our deteriorating atmosphere is to set a firm limit on emissions, fine the biggest polluters and rebate the proceeds to their customers. We should also create meaningful tax incentives to motivate investment in bio-fuels, co-generation plants, wind, solar and next-generation nuclear energy to create jobs here in Idaho.

We should also reward consumers and businesses for conservation and for investing in clean energy, which will create new jobs and maintain Idaho's way of life. That means tax rebates, lower costs and stability to help grow the economy again.

These concepts will hopefully be incorporated into a new bi-partisan bill approved by the Senate. As I said, this is too important to get wrong.

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