Tim WirthTim WirthTim Wirth — former Democratic senator from Colorado, former Clinton-era climate negotiator, and current U.N. Foundation president — raised quite a hubbub this week when he told Bloomberg news that the cap-and-trade bill in Congress had “gotten out of control.” 

“The Republicans are right — it’s a cap-and-tax bill,” Wirth said. “That’s what it is because they are raising revenue to do all sorts of things, especially to take care of the coal industry, and it makes no sense.”

Conservative pundits, like those at the Red State blog, latched onto his comments, citing them as evidence that Democrats are deeply divided on the issue.

But in a statement issued on Wednesday, Wirth said his quotes in the Bloomberg article “deserve clarification.” He maintained that he supported passage of the Waxman-Markey bill in the House and remains a “cap and trade advocate.” He said the Senate must pass a climate and energy bill, and it should include ambitious efficiency standards, support for nuclear power, and a strong natural-gas component.

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Here’s the key portion of Wirth’s statement:

Concerning the Waxman-Markey legislation, let me reiterate my statement of support when it was considered by the House: “This legislation is the first step toward an energy policy for the 21st century. It will lead to technical innovation, good domestic jobs, less use of oil and more protection of the world we live in.”

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Legislation in the Senate is the second step. The Senate will require a different combination to unlock the necessary votes to pass this critical legislation this year. As noted in the Bloomberg story, I have repeatedly argued that to win passage, legislation must include a number of important elements: very strong efficiency standards, agriculture-related provisions, a package for nuclear power, a carbon emissions standard for new power generation, and a strong natural gas piece.

As one of the original 1990 authors of the highly successful cap-and-trade legislation to address acid rain, I believe in the cap-and-trade approach and believe it should be targeted only at utilities. I also don’t think an auction is necessary — in fact, none of the five successful cap-and-trade programs has included an auction, and one isn’t necessary in the Senate energy/climate bill for it to be successful in reducing emissions. Unfortunately, the existence of an auction can be used by opponents to caricature any and all cap-and-trade programs as “cap-and-tax.” As a cap and trade advocate, I think we should avoid anything that gives climate legislation opponents a chance to label it as “cap and tax.”

Senate passage of legislation is absolutely essential for U.S. security, economic and climate interests. I think the ingredients for passage this year for a strong legislative package are now becoming clear, and hope that the Senate moves ahead with the urgency and vision that will be required.

With best wishes,

Timothy E. Wirth