It’s a sobering time to be an environmentalist. The Bush years, of course, were an interminable journey through the nine circles of Hell – but expectations were low. Now, more than eight months into the Obama administration, supporters of prompt and potent action on climate change don’t quite see a star-specked sky full of hope.

any pundits and prognosticators have already written off the chances for substantial progress at December’s Copenhagen summit to devise a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. And like every issue on the Senate agenda other than health care, climate-change legislation could easily be pushed to next year, when it would likely die at the hands of election-year incompetence.

Even success doesn’t look much like success. The American Clean Energy and Security Act, approved by the House in June with a mere four votes to spare, compromised quite a bit to assure passage. It handed out too many permits for free, embraced clean coal and gave the go-ahead to poorly designed offset programs, which allow individuals and businesses to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by displacing them, through programs like reforestation, for example.

But what about the Environmental Protection Agency? The Supreme Court essentially ruled in 2007 that the agency had to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. After the Bush administration ignored the ruling for a couple of years, the Obama EPA has moved forward. So if Congress cannot get its act together, there’s a fallback, right?

Unfortunately, the Clean Air Act, which was not designed to address a global crisis like climate change, severely handicaps the EPA’s regulatory power. For example, if it could implement cap-and-trade, the program would be state-based – not a nationwide, well-coordinated strategy. Additionally, any EPA regulations will be held up for years by lawsuits.

Yet all does not have to be lost. Legislation may be weak, but it is the best hope in this country for confronting climate change. And as such, progressives should fully support it.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) released their long-anticipated climate change bill last Wednesday. Though the chances of its passage appear slim, the bill is not dead on arrival. But opposition is fierce, and lackadaisical support will not be enough to secure passage. Environmentalists must be mindful of political realities and embrace a coordinated strategy.

This won’t be a simple task for purists, so I’ve put together a handy guide of five key phrases that I’ve grudgingly accepted in this debate. They may not be pretty, but they are undoubtedly critical to the fate of legislation in the Senate.

*I’m suing.* OK, so this quip already comes naturally to many environmental action groups. In all seriousness, though, court challenges to greenhouse-gas emissions are currently the most effective force in the climate-change debate. Recently, a federal court of appeal ruled that citizens can challenge nearby carbon emissions as a “public nuisance.” Other cases are pending. Eventually, industry will realize that congressional action is less costly than a deluge of lawsuits.

*Natural gas provides a clear path to immediate, inexpensive emissions reductions.* The House bill did not tap the political potential of the natural gas industry’s support. Sure, natural gas is not a clean fuel source, but it is cleaner, emitting 50 percent less carbon dioxide than coal and 30 percent less than oil. Without any significant infrastructure improvements, coal-fired power plants can begin mixing coal with natural gas to reduce emissions.

*Nuclear power is safe, clean and essential.* From a policy perspective, this policy should not be difficult. Nuclear energy has a proven safety record in the United States and will be necessary to achieving major emissions reductions in the near term. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are pushing hard for incentives to expand nuclear power.

*Farmers are valuable allies.* Corn-based ethanol is energy intensive to produce and has no net benefit for the climate. Meat production produces an enormous amount of emissions. Corporate farms want to receive funds through offset programs for environmentally dubious practices that they would undertake anyway. I could go on, but the inconvenient truth of the matter is that the bill will have to be approved by the Agriculture Committee – not exactly a hotbed of committed environmentalists.

*Clean coal is not an oxymoron.* Carbon-capture technology will take years to perfect, longer to ramp up to the scale needed and even longer to become cheap enough to be practical. The sheer dishonesty of this line of thought makes it tough to pull off, but too many members of Congress hail from coal-producing states, where the coal lobby has far too much political muscle; clean coal will inevitably factor into our energy future.

The matter is simply one of cost-benefit analysis. If environmentalists believe, as I do, that addressing the threat of catastrophic climate change is more important than the compromises I’ve outlined, then the choice is unambiguously clear: Stick to the script.

Sam Harbourt is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at harbourtthehoya.com. The Pragmatic Progressive appears every other Monday at www.thehoya.com.

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