05/31/2010 02:44 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This Memorial Day, Congress Puts Their Political Lives Ahead of Ours

Soldiers and statesmen risk all for their country. Politicians risk nothing, it seems. Consider the latest case of flaccid backbone in Congress.

Putting a price on carbon is the single biggest step we could take to secure the nation's freedoms and prevent the loss of more young soldiers on the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan, and nations to come.

But instead of bipartisan commitment to pass a revenue-neutral price on carbon - something that should have been done when fossil fuels first became weapons of war in the 1970s - Congress is taking the politically easy way out, again.

Here's the back story: In the Bush Administration's final two years, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in Massachusetts vs. US, requiring that EPA make a determination about whether carbon is a danger to public health under the Clean Air Act.

Everyone knew what that ruling would be: that carbon is, of course, a pollutant, and that EPA is legally required to regulate it. It's a simple matter of science - only blind pollution skeptics could deny it.

Now, Senator Lisa Murkowski and 41 cosponsors have proposed that Congress "disapprove" the legal finding that carbon emissions are a danger to health. That's akin to Congress telling Isaac Newton that it "disapproves" of gravity. EPA's endangerment finding is founded on science, pure and simple.

Of course, nothing in politics is simple, so let's unravel this a little bit.

Senator Murkowski is right about one thing: there is a much smarter way to drive down carbon emissions than for EPA to just regulate them. Put a price on carbon. Refund the proceeds to the public. Use regulation as a backstop - not a first line of defense.

A simple revenue-neutral price on carbon would drive down pollution from coal and other high carbon fuels, and drive up investment in the digital and clean technologies that can readily replace them. It's good for jobs, health, the environment, and soldiers who hope to be veterans one day.

But earlier this year, on their way to vote for a price on carbon, members of Congress suddenly collapsed forward with a curious case of pre-election spinal breakdown, bumped their heads, and fell unconscious. Their political coma is expected to last through November.

To her credit, Senator Murkowski has awakened to signal that she personally supports a price on carbon, if the proceeds are rebated to the public. That's a good first step.

But removing EPA's ability to regulate carbon will only reward Congress for continuing to place the nation at risk, to protect their chances for re-election.

It's an open secret in Washington that EPA regulation is the hammer that can most effectively convince Congress to do its job, and nail a price on carbon. EPA regulation may work for some major sources of carbon emissions, like electricity generating plants. But you can't regulate every little source of carbon - and those little sources are the primary source of the problem. Only a price on carbon can efficiently do that.

So by eliminating EPA's ability to regulate carbon, Congress is eliminating its political problem. It no longer needs to put a price on carbon. It can push that national necessity off to another future administration - presumably, the one that will also rescue social security, save Medicare, restore our balance of payments, hold off a surging China, rebuild our infrastructure, balance the budget, and de-thaw hell.

In opposing both a price on carbon and EPA regulation, Republicans and many Democrats claim they are taking a stand against taxes and regulation. But they're doing the opposite. They know that, with a price on carbon, they could cut taxes on payroll, obviate regulation, and deliver more jobs and prosperity. They know that, by failing to do so, they force EPA and the states to regulate, regulate, and regulate some more.

But they prefer to look anti-tax than to be anti-tax.

A vote for the Murkowski resolution is more than simply a vote to deny the science of climate change, and to accept Congressional meddling in the conclusions of science whenever it chooses. It is a vote for political cowardice that will bring about preventable casualties on the environmental, health, and military battlefields.

The nation's subsidies of the old carbon economy are far too costly, in both lives and livelihoods. It's time for serious advocates on the left and right to risk setting aside their mutual demonization, and work together to put a price on carbon.

Bill Shireman is President of the Future 500 (, and founder of the Republican Leadership Network.