THE health-care debate has been so combustible that the political fire is in danger of sucking the oxygen out of other important congressional business. That can't be allowed to occur, because the other concern about health - that of the planet - will only be hurt by delay.
On June 26, the House of Representatives passed, by a narrow margin of 219-212, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, HR 2454, which would wean the nation away from fossil fuels with incentives to encourage alternative energy sources such as wind and solar.
The payoff would come at several levels: the creation of new jobs in green industries, greater national security by lessening the nation's reliance on importing oil from dubious foreign regimes, and reduction of global warming gases. And, of course, less pollution also benefits the overall health of the American people.
Using a cap-and-trade system - a limit would be set on overall emissions, but companies could buy or sell credits to comply - the bill would reduce emissions in stages resulting in an 83 percent reduction over 40 years. While climate change still has its skeptics, despite the ever-growing body of evidence, even the Pentagon has become concerned about the implications of a planet convulsed by global warming-linked upheavals.
Before health care became demagoguery's cause du jour, the climate bill was the focus of dire predictions that are sure to be soon revived. The critics say cap-and-trade is just a tax increase on businesses. No, it is a market mechanism offered as a more palatable alternative to a direct carbon tax.
Critics say that it will bankrupt the country, but the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cost per household by 2020 will be only $175, which is less than the likely rise in the cost of cable TV over that period.
They say it will kill jobs, but the potential for job growth is huge. A recent study by a project of the Pew Charitable Trusts found that green energy jobs are already exploding at a rate of 9.1 percent a year. More than 35,000 Ohioans already have clean-energy jobs.
It is not only environmentalists who support this bill. Groups with a personal stake in jobs and a good economy, ranging from the United Steelworkers to Alcoa, are backing the bill as a reasonable and much-needed step for the nation.
It is now up to the Senate. Supporters of the bill expect it to be introduced in the Committee on the Environment and Public Works shortly after the summer recess, next Tuesday or Wednesday.
This bill is good for the planet and for America's place in it. It cannot be allowed to die.