By Senator Benjamin L. Cardin
For the sake of our national security and our economy, America needs an energy policy that makes us much less dependent on foreign sources of energy and weans us off fossil fuels. It also is becoming increasingly clear that we must develop an energy strategy that addresses the dangers of global warming, particularly if we want to protect our environment.
Recently, a U.N. panel on climate change released a report stating that with near certainty scientific evidence shows that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases from human activities have caused substantial global warming since the 1950s. Many energy and environmental experts believe there will be a doubling of carbon dioxide concentrations by mid-21st Century. Such a doubling could cause a climate increase of 3.5 to 8 degrees, melting ice caps and causing a rise in sea levels.
I recently testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, of which I also am a member, about the threat that global warming poses to Maryland. A significant part of Maryland is in low-lying areas that would be inundated if global temperatures keep rising. I outlined for the committee some very troubling facts about the impact of global warming on Maryland:
* Global warming pollution in Maryland has increased 55% since 1960;
* More than 12% of Maryland is designated as a Special Flood Hazard Area by the National Flood Insurance Program;
* An estimated 68,000 Maryland homes and buildings are located within a flood plain;
* According to the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), Maryland is the 3rd most vulnerable state to flooding, and has the 5th longest evacuation times during a tropical storm; and,
* Tidal records for the last century show that the rate of sea level rise in Maryland is nearly twice the global average.
We are already seeing the effects. About a third of Blackwater Wildlife Refuge on the Eastern Shore has been lost in the past 70 years. Smith Island, situated in the Chesapeake Bay, has lost 30% of its land to rising sea levels since 1850. Finally, Allstate Insurance Corp. has stopped writing new homeowners policies in coastal areas of Maryland, citing concerns about a warmer Atlantic Ocean and the possibility of stronger and more frequent hurricanes hitting the Northeast United States.
Energy independence and global warming are tied together. Both depend on the United States conserving energy and finding alternative, less-polluting energy sources. Such a shift in energy policy would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a major cause of global warming.
We can accomplish this goal if we make a national commitment to reduce our energy consumption. From increasing CAFÉ fuel efficiency standards for vehicles to promoting energy efficiency in our tax codes, we need to reward conservation. We also must make renewable energy commercially viable. Congress can take a lead by encouraging investment in renewable energy infrastructure and technologies so they become commercially viable.
Our nation put a man on the Moon in less than a decade. We can become energy independent by 2017 if we commit ourselves to this goal. And, in the process, we can reduce global warming. We should never forget that our future depends on it.