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Tamminen: Congress Moving Backward On Green Front

A few weeks ago in Lamont, California, a fighting rooster killed a man, when the bird slashed him with the blades he had attached to its legs. A bizarre one-time oddity? No, just days earlier a man in India was also killed when his fighting rooster slashed his throat. Just what is Mother Nature trying to say?

Global Warming
CNBC.com
Global Warming

“In thousands of years of civilization, the conflict between humankind and Nature has never been as serious as it is today. The depletion, deterioration and exhaustion of resources and the worsening ecological environment have become bottlenecks and grave impediments to the nation’s economic and social development.”

Who said that—Al Gore or Leonardo DiCaprio? Neither. It was actually Zhou Shengxian, the environment minister of China, backed by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who added, “We must not any longer sacrifice the environment for the sake of…unsustainable growth.” China is apparently listening.

Nor does Mother Nature limit her revenge to those who are cruel to animals or who foul her atmosphere. She stops giving us our milk money, or at least makes us do more chores around the house to get it.

Take, for example, the price of oil. When oil was easy to find and extract, it cost around $10 a barrel. We now get much of it from the tar sands of Canada, where it takes about three times as much energy input for every usable unit of energy output and therefore costs over $50 a barrel to extract and process. Of course it’s not hard to extract oil from Mother Earth in places like the Middle East—these days, it’s just very expensive to get it out of the Middle East.

But Mother Nature apparently has at least one powerful ally—former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In a speech last week in Washington D.C., the Governator called on America to adopt three policies that have greened California’s environment and its economy simultaneously: a national energy efficiency campaign (California uses energy 40-percent less per capita than the rest of the country, saving each household about $560 per year on electric bills); a robust renewable energy mandate (California has minted money and jobs by obtaining 20 percent of its electricity from domestic renewables and aiming to get a third by 2020); and higher fuel economy standards for cars and trucks (such laws save California motorists an average of $1,300 per year and make us far less dependent on foreign oil).

So is Congress heeding the advice of Mother Nature, the Chinese, or Governor Schwarzenegger? Nope.

House leadership recently proposed to curtail USEPA’s ability to protect the health of Americans from the same harmful pollution that the Chinese are now going to tackle.

Speaker John Boehner has even eliminated eco-friendly cups and utensils from the House cafeteria. Yes, cornstarch products, made in America from the harvest of our own farms, have been replaced by the old plastic versions made from oil—60 percent of which we still import from other countries, like Libya and those costly tar sands of Canada.

I’m not suggesting that anyone in Congress need fear vengeful chickens or corn farmers, but continued abuse of Mother Nature, by fooling around with reasonable pollution limits and by keeping us addicted to expensive, polluting foreign oil—while China and California are adapting to the not-so-subtle signals that our planet is sending us—is enough to make you wonder.

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Terry Tamminen, former secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, is president of Seventh Generation Advisors and an operating partner at Pegasus Capital Advisors, and author of "Cracking The Carbon Code: The Key To Sustainable Profits In The New Economy").

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