As expected, Friday's debate on the floor of the House of Representatives produced the usual misinformation and hysteria that have typified the nation's climate change deniers. But in the end, some measure of reason prevailed, and House passage of the landmark American Clean Energy Act is rightly seen as an important step toward reducing America's production of greenhouse gases.
This is not a bill without flaws. Its targets are not aggressive enough given the threat posed by climate change. There are too many loopholes for polluters, particularly in the area of carbon offsets. Some environmental groups have already withdrawn their support because of these weaknesses.
But such shortcomings don't warrant abandoning such an important and groundbreaking effort.
As much as President Barack Obama and other supporters of the bill have touted its significance as a means to reduce dependence on foreign oil and to create green jobs in the field of renewable energy, its real importance is to get the nation moving (finally) against global warming.
Too often lost in the debate is just how serious a threat human-induced climate change poses in the form of rising sea levels, more-extreme weather and droughts, retreating glaciers and a loss of fresh water resources, increases in disease and poverty, and much political upheaval and instability around the world. The evidence of climate change is too unequivocal and the consequences too dire to be ignored.
Yet that course of action is precisely what opponents, primarily Republican conservatives, would prefer. Their chief criticism - that the bill would be too costly - is directly contradicted by the Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan agency that has projected its cost at $175 per household by 2020. When rebates are considered, many families should actually come out ahead.
The centerpiece of the House bill is the cap-and-trade system that the White House has endorsed as a means to offer polluters an incentive - and some flexibility - to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Recent polls show that most Americans not only approve of restrictions on greenhouses gas emissions, a majority also believe some form of cap-and-trade program is necessary.
That is not to suggest that moving the nation away from carbon-based energy will be easy. For economic incentives to work, there obviously has to be some penalty for producing excess carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. But the sooner Americans make that sacrifice, the easier it will be in the decades ahead.
Now, the Senate will have an opportunity to take up the issue, and we would urge that body to build on what the House has passed. Even now it may be too late to completely avert the consequences of climate change, but there's clearly still time to ameliorate the most disastrous of its effects.