Heat on Capitol Hill: Congress must get serious about climate change

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The first nine months of 2012 were the warmest on record for the United States as a whole. In Pittsburgh the period was the hottest in 65 years, and scientists are saying get used to it.

Anecdotal or not, these and other records assembled by the National Climatic Data Center add to the overwhelming body of evidence that Earth's climate is warming. Some of the change is natural; some is man-made. Plenty of symptoms -- from last week's super-storm Sandy to record Arctic ice melts to America's worst drought in a half-century -- suggest the need for a global response.

Four years ago, Republican presidential nominee John McCain declared climate change a major concern of his campaign. This year, members of his party mock any pretense of meaningful discussion of the issue.

Still, the next Congress needs to act. The preferable course is cap-and-trade legislation that would allow industries to barter among themselves for emissions credits, and thus maintain flexibility in responding to anti-pollution mandates.

Continued indifference to the issue of climate change is a prescription for failure. More than 100 scientists and public officials implored President Barack Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney to address the threat of rising sea levels during their final debate last month, but the issue did not arise.

Residents of interior states like Pennsylvania may feel insulated from any need to reinforce the New Jersey, South Florida and Louisiana coastlines against rising sea levels. Yet the billions of dollars it would cost to do this would affect all taxpayers.

Mr. Obama appeared ready to make major inroads on climate change during his first two years in office. Yet he has said too little about the matter since the Republican victory in the 2010 Congressional election.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has made updates to some pollution controls, requiring utilities to look to options other than their most antiquated coal-fired power plants. Much of the slack has been picked up by plants fueled by natural gas -- an improvement, yet still a fossil fuel with environmental baggage.

Both national security and price stability will require the country to develop a broader energy mix, including greater reliance on renewable sources. That, in turn will require the next Congress to get serious about climate change.

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