Cantwell to Xi: China should send a ‘reverse trade mission’ to the US

By:  Joel Connelly
Source: Seattle PI

She began talking clean-energy cooperation with China on a 2006 trip to Beijing, and at a Washington, D.C., meeting on Friday, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., laid an idea on President Xi Jinping: China should send a “reverse trade mission” to the United States to explore technologies that would cut its carbon emissions and clean up its air.

“He said, ‘It is a good idea and I will explore it when I get home,'” Cantwell said in an interview.

During Xi’s visit, China made what may be a game-changing pledge in efforts to curb climate change. It pledged to institute a cap-and-trade program, a strategy using free-enterprise incentives to cut emissions, first proposed by Republicans but later dismissed as “cap and tax” by 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

The Chinese commitment to cut emissions represents a “tremendous opportunity” that “opens the door” to mark clean-energy technologies developed in the United States, Cantwell argued.  She talked energy with Xi as he met with members of Congress.  Republicans at the meeting focused on China’s incursions in the South China Sea.

Cantwell was also one of four Washington attendees at Friday night’s White House state dinner in honor of President Xi. The senator took her nephew Grifynn Clay, a student at Gonzaga University. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., was on the guest list, along with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

They kept company with the likes of Apple CEO Tim Cook, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, director Lee Daniels, and Motion Picture Association of America chief ex-Sen. Chris Dodd.  High on the guest list, as he was at Tuesday’s dinner in Seattle, was ex-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

After nine years of work — during which time China became the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases — Cantwell is convinced that China is serious about cleaning up its act, and cleaning up its air.  Gov. Jerry Brown of California voiced similar sentiments in Seattle earlier this week after a bipartisan group of U.S. governors met with their Chinese counterparts, and with Xi.

In a country run from the top down, with high officials in Beijing breathing filtered air, Cantwell believes the pressure to clean up China’s polluted air is coming “from the bottom up.”  The masses  — or at least the country’s new middle class — are angry at pollution and demanding action.

“It is not a matter of jawboning from the U.S.,” said Cantwell.  “This is the Chinese people who are insisting this must be dealt with.  It has become a public issue.  It has become a public health issue.”

In coal-dependent northern China, studies have shown shorter lifespans, greater levels of lung-related diseases and enormous costs in both health and environmental degradation.

“Maybe they (China’s leaders) have seen examples, and concluded, ‘This is having consequences we don’t really want,” said Cantwell.

The senator added caveats.  “China has set goals in the past,” she said, noting that a big, diverse country must now make cap-and-trade work.  “What we have to see is a result.”

Climate has been on the agenda this week in centers of power.  Pope Francis warned against the despoiling of the Earth in his Thursday speech to Congress, and again when speaking to the United Nations General Assembly on Friday.  The Democrats on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where Cantwell is the ranking member, on Thursday unveiled an energy plan that stresses clean energy and energy efficiency.

And there is China.

The People’s Republic has resolved to embark in 2017 on an emission-trading system that will cover power generation, steel, cement and other key industrial sources, as well as a “green dispatch” system in which clean-energy sources will get preference on the power grid.

If it works, Cantwell believes this will lead to more agreements with other countries.

And, hopefully, it will shut up some climate scoffers.  Just last week, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said China has done nothing to control its emissions.  He ignored the fact that China spent $89 billion last year and is moving aggressively on wind generation.  What will be America’s reaction if the Chinese make cap-and-trade work?