Global environmental challenges
Americans are ready for a climate bill
Rona Fried is the CEO of SustainableBusiness.com, a news, networking, and investment site for green business, including a green jobs service and a green investing newsletter. The following opinions expressed are her own.
We are in a dire situation. One that our president recognized in his oval office address on Tuesday night: America has postponed overcoming our oil addiction for decades. The first call to wean ourselves from oil came more than three decades ago by President Carter in the late 1970s. Had we done it then, the job would have been completed in 1985. It is beyond time to end our dependence on oil. And Americans are finally ready to do it.
Recent polls say Americans want the government to prioritize renewable energy. One conducted by Benenson Strategy Group found that 63% of voters support an energy bill that limits pollution and encourages companies to use and develop clean energy.
Why, then, is the energy bill languishing in the Senate? The House approved a bill a year ago, and versions have passed in Senate committees. It’s time for a Senate vote. But like every single bill since Obama has entered office, Republicans have filibustered it, forcing 60 votes for passage instead of a simple majority.
Those 60 votes are nowhere to be found because conservative Democrats and all Republicans are against the bill. How can that be if the majority of Americans are in favor of it?
The climate and energy bill, known as the American Power Act, will boost our economy, create jobs and reduce costs for American families and businesses. Typical criticisms of the bill — it will destroy jobs, destroy our economy and increase taxes — simply are not true.
Passing the Act, according to the EPA, would create 440,000 jobs a year through 2020 and 540,000 jobs a year through 2030 while saving families $35 a year on utility bills. And it would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45%.
The most controversial part of the bill is the cap on carbon emissions. But it is that very cap that is pivotal in reaping the rewards of industry and job growth.
A carbon cap would trigger the transition to energy efficiency and clean energy by making fossil fuels more expensive. It is the very investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy that would spark economic activity. The cap drives job gains in many sectors, including manufacturing, construction, services, and trade.
Comprehensive energy and climate legislation would shift energy investments and expenditures over the coming decades to new technologies, such as efficient appliances, green and healthy building materials and systems, and wind, solar, geothermal and tidal energy. Clean technologies would comprise a much larger share of the energy economy — the direction we want to go in.
Electricity and natural gas prices would rise because of carbon prices, but those increases would be more than offset by reduced energy consumption and utility rebates. Efficiency investments would lead to immediate employment increases because the work is labor intensive, and it would also lead to long term increases in GDP from energy savings and lower carbon prices. The EPA projects the legislation would save $312 billion in the economy through 2030, a third from industrial efficiency and the remainder from building retrofits.
In a report released on Wednesday, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy shows that if the energy bill enhanced efficiency provisions even more, we would triple the number of jobs created, get four times the energy savings, and save families more than $200 a year.
Passing the energy bill doesn’t mean an end to oil drilling, coal mining and nuclear. Those industries continue to get support through the bill. But Republicans are still trying hard to make sure there’s no way the bill can pass.
Last week there was a major vote on a resolution by Senator Murkowski (R-AK) to remove the EPA’s right to regulate greenhouse gases, which was originally instituted by the Supreme Court. Luckily, the resolution was voted down. It would also have nullified the new fuel economy standards for cars and light-duty trucks, which would reduce our reliance on oil, while saving Americans significant money at the pump.
But if Republicans take over the majority of Congress in the mid-term elections, we’ll move right back to this kind of antiquated ideology. It’s this back and forth that has so many Americans confused about climate change – they don’t know what to believe.
So, here are some facts. The National Climatic Data Center said on Wednesday that global temperatures were the warmest on record from January through May. Arctic sea ice melted 50 percent faster than the average in May. The earth is getting perilously close to exceeding a 2 degree Celsius global temperature increase, which would bring devastating consequences if it happens.
Inaction and outdated thinking have run their course. Our choice as Americans is to demand a clean energy bill or close our eyes and hope it’s not true. Meanwhile, we continue to send $100 million a day to Iran and live through environmental, and financial, disasters like BP’s Gulf oil spill.
Senate Democrats held a meeting on Thursday to review which measures in the energy and climate bill could garner the elusive 60 votes. Once again, they were unable to find the right formula that will get the votes. The only solution left now is to take the same path they took to pass health care reform. Democrats should use the Reconciliation process to pass the energy bill so they can pass it with a simple majority.
Making our climate a sustainable one is really a matter of life versus death, but unfortunately it has become a partisan issue. So come mid-terms in November Americans should know that if they vote Republican, an energy and climate bill will never be passed.