Altmire discusses greener practices

Credit: Courtesy of Altmire administration Credit: Courtesy of Altmire administration Congressman Altmire and other leaders listed recycling as a part of plans. (credit: Michelle Liu/Photo Staff) Congressman Altmire and other leaders listed recycling as a part of plans. (credit: Michelle Liu/Photo Staff) Congressman Altmire and other leaders listed recycling as a part of plans. (credit: Michelle Liu/Photo Staff) Congressman Altmire and other leaders listed recycling as a part of plans. (credit: Michelle Liu/Photo Staff)

In an effort to address rising levels of carbon dioxide emissions and global warming, Congress has recently introduced the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 to try to promote the development of green technology and a decreased dependence on fossil fuels.

Jim Hansen, the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, argues that one of the major problems associated with global warming and climate change is the possibility of significant rises in sea levels. In an article in The New York Review of Books, Hansen points out that a study of the connections between temperature and sea levels can be obtained from a look at the Earth’s history. He observes that the last time the Earth’s temperature was five degrees higher than temperatures seen today “was three million years ago, when the sea level was about 80 feet higher.” If a similar temperature increase and sea level rise were to be experienced, many East Coast cities, including Boston, New York, and Washington, would be underwater, and the homes of almost 50 million U.S. citizens would be destroyed.

In order to halt the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the bill proposes that a cap and trade system be implemented on carbon dioxide emissions. This method, which proved successful in reducing sulfur dioxide emissions in the early 1990s, consists of setting a limit to the quantity of emissions from a particular group of industries.

The allowed amount of emissions is then divided up into individual permits, which are distributed to each company. Each permit gives the holder the right to emit a certain amount of the pollutant. The companies can then buy and sell the permits as needed to maintain their business.

Ultimately, those companies that can reduce their emissions most efficiently will benefit financially. This plan allows the market to drive environmental improvement and gives companies flexibility in the manner in which they reduce their emissions.

According to Ed Perry, the global warming coordinator with the National Wildlife Federation, this plan will allow for further development of wind, solar, and geothermal energy sources. Perry stated that “the technology for these green energy sources is there, but a level playing field is not.” By making industries pay for their pollutants, there is more of an economic incentive to pursue alternative energy sources and the “playing field” is effectively leveled.

The cap on carbon dioxide emissions is complemented by a requirement set on utility companies to generate 25 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by year 2025 and the creation of an infrastructure that will aid the transition to green technology and the creation of green jobs.

The legislation also takes into account the strong competition between U.S.-based companies and overseas corporations by allocating money for rebates to U.S. companies facing the increased energy prices associated with this cap on carbon.

In the long run, however, Perry commented that the development of green technology in the U.S. is essential if the country is to stay competitive in energy production.

“China, Japan, and Germany are currently the top three solar energy producers,” he said. “We may very well find ourselves relying on the products of other countries for energy sources if we do not start focusing more on research into alternatives to fossil fuels.”

The cap and trade method is not foolproof, however, as pointed out by Emily Bayer, a sophomore civil and environmental and biomedical engineering double major.

She commented that “cap and trade programs are typically difficult to regulate, and often businesses will generate exceptions to get past new regulations.” Bayer also made the point that many larger companies will “trade to obtain as many permits as possible and go on with business as usual, forcing other companies who don’t have the same resources or leverage to bear the brunt of the regulations.”

These potential problems have not gone unrecognized, and this Thursday, April 16, business, labor, and environmental leaders including Fred Redmond, the international vice president of United Steelworkers; Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation; and Congressman Jason Altmire will be meeting to discuss solutions to the current energy, environmental, and economic crises.

The meeting will take place on the Carnegie Mellon campus in Porter Hall 100 at 7 p.m. Everyone is encouraged to attend; as Perry stated, “Current college students are among those who will be the ones to see and live with the effects of today’s decisions about the environment.”