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Act now on climate change

Global warming and economy are twin ills, so address them together.

From Jim Rogers, Duke Energy CEO, and Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University:

As President-elect Obama prepares to take on the enormous challenges facing our country, some have suggested that the climate crisis must take a back seat to the economic crisis. Pass measures to get the economy moving again, they say, and deal with the problem of global warming later.

This timid approach would be a mistake. Our environment, energy supply and economy are intertwined. We know this first hand. We are the leaders of an energy company that employs 18,000 and is the third largest carbon dioxide emitter among U.S. corporations, and of a university institute that considers interaction between markets and environmental challenges.

So we offer this advice to President-elect Obama: Do not postpone efforts to address climate change because of our suffering economy. Tackle climate change in a manner that will revitalize our economy. Crisis brings great opportunity – this is the moment to fix our economy and propel our nation toward a clean-energy future.

Action to address climate change is at hand, through regional carbon markets that have been created in the absence of federal action, and through the prospect of EPA regulation under the Clean Air Act. But Congress can do the job better, by setting up a fair cap-and-trade system.

Placing a federal limit on carbon emissions is good business. It sends a clear signal to the markets that we need to find new ways to power our cars, manufacture our goods, heat and cool our homes and generate and transmit electricity.

Capping greenhouse gas emissions will be neither cheap nor easy, but must be fair. That's why revenues generated by such a program should be used for only two purposes: To invest in energy solutions and to avoid disproportionate impacts of cost increases on consumers.

A cap on greenhouse gas emissions must be coupled with a fund for the technology transformation that is essential to de-carbonizing the economy. Such a technology fund will endow our climate policy with the tools to achieve our goals, and it will help provide economic stimulus throughout the country – through both public and private investment.

It can be a resource for low-interest loans to replace current power plants with low- or no- emission alternatives that would otherwise take decades to deploy.

We need to know sooner rather than later if we can capture CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants and safely and economically store it underground. We must learn to more effectively harness and store power from the wind, sun and ocean, as well as build more efficient power lines.

All of this will help our economy by injecting capital into advanced technologies that will be built in the U.S. and that can be exported abroad. By investing in our future much in the same way our Marshall Plan invested in Europe 60 years ago, we can solve our economic and environmental crisis simultaneously.

Creating something as big as an American energy revolution requires transformational leadership. President-elect Obama understands that clean energy can reignite our economy. By passing the financial bailout package earlier this year, Congress has shown that it can put partisan bickering aside to get things done. It needs to do the same thing on a comprehensive carbon package—a Green Economy Act – in 2009.

Our climate and economic challenges are twin ills, and we should not treat either in isolation. The cure for one will help us heal the other, and help our nation emerge stronger and healthier than ever.

For The Record offers commentaries from various sources. The views are the writer's, and not necessarily those of the Observer editorial board.

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