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Gingrich vs. Kerry: Shoot-out at the climate change corral

Story Highlights

• Gingrich says incentives should be used to reduce carbon emissions
• Kerry: Waiting on market like saying 'Enron, you take over the pensions' for U.S.
• Gingrich, Kerry exchanged words at climate change debate in Washington
From Bob Franken
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. John Kerry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich met in Washington on Tuesday for a verbal duel about climate change, finding agreement on the problem but vastly different approaches to a solution.

Gingrich said he accepts there is a general consensus among scientists that Earth has gotten warmer over the last century and that humans have contributed to that problem, conceding that his views might not find favor with some of his fellow conservatives.

But the former GOP speaker said he believes the best way to solve the problem is to unleash the spirit of American entrepreneurship, not the power of government. That means using tax credits and other incentives to encourage the development of technology to reduce carbon emissions, rather than capping them by government decree.

"Regulation and litigation are the least effective methods of getting to solutions," Gingrich said at the debate, which was sponsored by the John Brademas Center for the Study of Congress.

"Rewarding entrepreneurship and investing in science and technology -- reshaping the market with incentives -- are the fastest ways to get change," he said.

Kerry agreed that the marketplace will play a key role, but he said an "economy-wide" cap on carbon emissions is vital because climate change is such a pressing crisis.

"You can't just sit there and say, 'Oh, let the market respond,'" Kerry said. "That's like saying, 'Barry Bonds, go investigate steroids.' Or like saying, 'Enron, you take over the pensions for America.' Not going to happen."

A cap, he said, would provide the structure businesses would need to craft a response.

The Massachusetts Democrat likened his approach to caps on sulfur-dioxide emissions imposed in 1990 as part of the Clean Air Act, to combat acid rain affecting lakes and streams in the Northeast. He said industry has been able to reduce emissions more quickly and more cheaply than anyone expected at the time.

But Gingrich, who voted for those sulfur-dioxide caps as a member of Congress from Georgia, said they affected a relatively small number of plants compared with carbon caps, which would be vastly more complicated to administer.

The former speaker also argued that government limits on carbon emissions would not work as well as incentives to reduce them.

"The morning you provide the incentives, there'll be 50,000 entrepreneurs figuring out how to get the money," he said. "The morning you try to do it by regulation, there'll be 50,000 entrepreneurs hiring a lawyer to fight you."


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