Global Warming at the Starting Gate

Posted December 2, 2007 at 11:00pm

What a difference a year makes. This time last November, Congressional Democrats were preparing to transition to majority leadership. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would soon make a commitment to America that this Congress would address pressing issues such as oil dependence and global warming. She would soon create the Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee, which I chair, to make it clear that oil dependence and global warming were top-priority issues in this new Congress.

This time last year, Al Gore and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change hadn’t yet shared a Nobel Peace Prize for groundbreaking work on science and awareness regarding the looming climate crisis, “An Inconvenient Truth” hadn’t yet won an Oscar, and 2006 had yet to set the record for the warmest year ever in the United States. The Supreme Court had not yet handed down its landmark decision in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, rejecting the Bush administration’s position that it lacked authority to regulate heat-trapping pollution under the Clean Air Act. And near-$100-a-barrel oil was a speculator’s dream, not a grim reality.

The chill of November 2006 led to August heat, when the House and Senate passed major energy bills. These bills have resulted in a combined energy package (up for vote this week) that will raise fuel economy standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2020 and dramatically increase the amount of renewable fuels used in America’s vehicles. The bill will, by 2030, save more than twice the amount of oil America currently imports from the Persian Gulf and will make a significant down payment on the global warming emissions reductions needed to save the planet. Democratic leaders will continue to fight for renewable electricity standards that will boost the use of wind, solar and other alternative fuels, and to repeal billions of dollars in giveaways to the oil industry.

What’s next?

Starting this week, representatives from hundreds of countries will meet in Bali, Indonesia, to discuss the next international treaty intended to curb the heat-trapping emissions that are threatening the planet. The Bush administration consistently has rejected capping the carbon dioxide emissions that are causing our climate catastrophe and recently began its own separate negotiating process to continue the president’s global warming strategy of touting ineffectual, voluntary, “aspirational goals.” The international community is unlikely to be fooled, however, and progress toward a “road map” for future international climate negotiations is expected.

Meanwhile, Congress, states and cities will all be making significant progress on global warming and energy in the coming year.

House of Representatives

With the passage of the energy bill, Congress will turn its attention to economy-wide climate legislation. Nearly 175 Members of the House (40 percent of all Members) already are co-sponsors of one of the major global warming “cap-and-trade” bills introduced in this Congress. Speaker Pelosi has announced her desire to pass climate legislation by the end of 2008, and House Energy and Commerce Committee leadership appears committed to moving on this front.

Senate

The Environment and Public Works Committee is poised to report America’s Climate Security Act (S. 2191) favorably to the full Senate, which would require emissions cuts of 70 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has announced his support for federal climate legislation and his willingness to bring a climate bill to the Senate floor next year.

State Action

The total number of states that have joined regional initiatives that require significant global warming emissions reductions through a mandatory “cap-and-trade” system is now at 21. Three others have established binding statewide targets. In total, 55 percent of Americans live in states that have established mandatory heat-trapping emissions reduction targets, a number that will continue to grow in 2008.

Seventeen states (representing over 46 percent of Americans) have adopted or will soon adopt global warming emissions standards for vehicles. The federal district court in Vermont recently held that federal law does not prohibit such measures. What remains to be seen this year is whether the Bush EPA will grant these states the waiver they need to enforce these tailpipe standards, or spurn their ambitious action.

Local Government Action

More than 725 mayors have signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement — which calls for cuts of local heat-trapping emissions by 7 percent or more from 1990 levels by 2012. Mayors such as Michael Bloomberg of New York and Greg Nickels of Seattle will continue to push for global warming action here in Washington and promote emissions-cutting practices in their own cities.

Judicial Rulings

As a result of the Supreme Court’s April decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, the EPA will now be forced to regulate global warming emissions — from both vehicles and other sources, such as power plants. More delays and obfuscation can be expected from the EPA, but look for Congressional committees like mine and the climate grass-roots movement to make a full-court press to force EPA to act.

From the Grass Roots to the ’08 Elections

In November, thousands of young people came to the Capitol to lobby Congress in the largest climate and energy show of force ever seen in Washington. April saw 1,400 “Step It Up” global warming action rallies occur in all 50 states. 2008 will see a continuation in this rising tide of activism, giving global warming and energy independence an unprecedented role in the unfolding presidential and Congressional elections.

While the Bush administration continues to drag its feet on global warming and energy, the American public, Congress and Democratic political leaders are ready — and pushing! — for action now. This past year has shown what a difference an engaged Speaker and committed Democratic leaders can make. Expect the coming year to bring dramatic steps forward in the fight to save the planet and secure our energy independence.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is chairman of the Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee.