Other than the war in Iraq, the environment and global warming are the most problematic issues facing our country. Thanks in large part to Al Gore’s advocacy and the film An Inconvenient Truth catching the public’s attention, however, the green movement is finally back in vogue after a decade on the outs. It couldn’t have come any sooner.
As the largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world, (the main culprit in the global warming crisis) the U.S. must take a leadership role in reducing emissions. Legislation before Congress, the Safe Climate Act (H.R. 1590) is key piece of forward-thinking policy that sets science-based, national green house gas emission targets with measures to reduce emission through advancing technology in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and cleaner cars. By cutting emissions just 2 percent per year beginning in 2011 as mandated in the bill, we could reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. By further cutting emissions by 5 percent per year, by 2050 emissions will be 80 percent lower than 1990 levels. This is the objective most scientists agree is necessary to avert permanent and potentially irreversible global climate change.
I am also one of a handful of members in Congress who support the adoption of a tax on carbon and am a strong proponent of tougher fuel efficiency standards for automobiles and trucks. Unfortunately, the votes may not be there today to secure passage of these bills.
While these tougher, more effective “green” proposals are not yet politically palatable, significant progress on the environment is being made. Late this past summer, the House passed the “New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security and Consumer Protection Act” (H.R. 3221). During its consideration, I worked to support the addition of a renewable energy portfolio provision that requires electric utilities to produce 15 percent of their electricity from clean renewable sources. With this recent House action, Congress has moved one step closer to adopting a comprehensive, environmentally responsible energy bill, and one that will take important steps towards developing our country's vast renewable energy resources.
If the renewable provision and the tougher vehicle fuel efficiency standards that were included in the Senate’s version of the energy independence bill become law, we will have the beginnings of a substantial commitment toward lowering greenhouse gas emissions and greater, cleaner energy independence. From these efforts, we will be able to achieve about 40 percent of the greenhouse emissions reductions needed by 2030. That’s the equivalent of retiring 300 coal-fired power plants. It would also reduce our dependence on foreign sources of oil by 10 million barrels of oil per day.
Throughout modern history, we have treated our natural resources and the environment in which we live as though it were expendable and would always remain the same. More recent scientific research has shown that this is not the case. Our environment is more fragile than we had previously imagined or cared to consider. It will take a concerted effort on our part to undo the damage. But it’s a fight we can and must win.