OPINION: U.S. Has Opportunity to Lead World in Reducing Global Warming

By U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.)

Climate change is real and it is affecting the Earth. Earlier this year, I traveled with my Senate colleagues to Greenland where we saw dramatic evidence of retreating glaciers and rising sea level caused by global warming over the last decade.

This year, a U.N. panel on climate change released a report providing strong scientific evidence that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases from human activity have caused substantial global warming since the 1950s.

Locally, we can see the effects of global warming. Global warming pollution has risen by 55% since 1960. The Blackwater Wildlife Refuge on the Eastern Shore, and Smith Island, situated in the Bay, have both lost approximately 30% of their land to rising sea levels.

The United States has an opportunity to become a world leader in the fight against global warming. I have co-sponsored the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, S. 2191, which requires a 70% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050. S. 2191 sets short-term and long-term goals for reducing emissions, particularly carbon dioxide from most sectors of the economy, recently passed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, of which I am a member.

S. 2191 would reduce greenhouse gases by instituting a free-market system of “cap and trade” in which the government would allocate shares of emissions credits. A similar cap-and-trade system is used to control acid rain, and has proven successful.

Electricity generating companies and major industries would initially get modest, free allocations to help them transition to cleaner technologies. These free credits would gradually be phased out, providing strong incentives for cleaner and more efficient energy production and conservation, which would also help us toward our goal of energy independence.

The Committee-approved bill also included my amendment that would boost funding for mass transit systems by an estimated $46 billion over the life of the bill. With transportation emissions currently accounting for 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, a major boost in mass transit will yield big benefits.

The legislation also strengthens energy efficiency standards for appliances and buildings in order to address commercial and residential-sector demand not directly covered by the cap.

In 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that if the United States cuts emissions to levels specified in the bill, and other nations make modest reductions as well, then greenhouse gas levels will be low enough to avoid catastrophic impacts.

This climate change measure is not perfect, but it is a very good beginning. If enacted, it would be the strongest climate change law in the world. Global warming is real and it’s increasing. It’s time to move aggressively to implement a policy that will help us, and the world, tackle this looming threat to our environment.

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