The Plan For Climate Change (Hartford Courant)

Joe Lieberman, Connecticut's independent U.S. senator, and Sen. John Warner, the Republican from Virginia, are poised to introduce a global warming bill that could set the standard for congressional action on cutting greenhouse-gas emissions. Unless the final bill reflects some key principles, however, we fear the result will be more hot air - the last thing we need in the world.

The first principle should be clear, rigorous and immediate goals for nationwide reductions in greenhouse gases.

The United States alone accounts for roughly a quarter of the world's emissions of carbon dioxide, the leading culprit in climate change. Putting aside for a moment the global consequences of inaction - worsened droughts, increased famines, steadily rising sea levels, continued shrinkage of the polar ice caps and species extinction - the United States' contribution to the problem creates a moral imperative for a national solution.

There's another reason we should strive for standards that are realistic and rigorous: because we can. More than most countries, the United States has the technological know-how and the means to achieve such goals. Other proposals in Congress have called for a 15 percent cut in the United States' greenhouse-gas emissions from current levels by the year 2020 (to 1990 levels) and at least an 80 percent cut by 2050. We support those goals.

Principle No.2 is the creation of a cap-and-trade system. Under this system, the government would set a cap on greenhouse-gas emissions for each sector of the economy. Polluters would then get permits, or "allowances," for their emissions, with the total number of permits limited by the cap. Less-polluting businesses would be able to sell their allowances, rewarding them for reducing their greenhouse gases.

Ideally, the federal government should auction off these permits. In so doing, it would generate revenues that could be used to offset increased energy costs to consumers or to encourage the development and implementation of clean-energy technologies.

Finally, energy solutions should be applied across the entire economy.

Electricity generating plants - coal-fired power plants, especially - as well as car, bus and truck exhaust account for about 80 percent of the United States' greenhouse-gas emissions. The rest comes from homes, farms and businesses.

Fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles are an important part of the solution. Electricity generators should also be required to rely more on renewable sources of energy.

But construction codes should also be revamped to improve energy efficiency for commercial, governmental and residential buildings. The federal government should promote cleaner fuels for cars, buses and trucks and incentives for wind, solar, fuel-cell and other clean-energy technologies.

For years now, Congress and the Bush administration have looked the other way while the science on global warming became more and more conclusive. Today, the signs seem evident everywhere. Summers and winters are undeniably warmer. Southeastern and Western areas of the nation are in the grip of drought. Forest fires are occurring on an unprecedented scale.

We must act boldly and decisively now or face the question of why we failed the future.