Center for American Progress

Energy Independence and Global Warming: Congress Acts to Fight Climate Change

Energy Independence and Global Warming: Congress Acts to Fight Climate Change

The Senate this week begins debate on sweeping energy legislation. It’s about time.

The Senate considers comprehensive legislation that would target a range of greenhouse gases to fight global warming. It’s about time.

The Senate energy package boasts provisions to address global warming emissions, energy efficiency, automaker fuel standards, gas prices, alternative energy, and energy independence. This debate presents an important opportunity for the Senate to take major steps to create a stronger, more energy-independent America and a world better prepared to combat the serious ecological dangers posed by global warming.

The Center for American Progress has been at the forefront of these efforts, weighing into the debate with a range of reports and policy proposals within the past year, among them:

In “American Energy,” CAP made substantial recommendations to achieve cleaner, homegrown energy, focusing on biofuels as well as power generated from biological waste, geothermal energy, wind, solar and ocean energy. Serious investment in these naturally occurring, renewable and American-based energy alternatives should be at the top of the list of priorities in this debate.

Investing time and money in these alternative energy initiatives would not only be a significant boost to the environment, which is seriously under threat from pollution caused by fossil fuels, but would also provide a significant economic boost as a source of jobs and savings for consumers.

Indeed, “Fueling a New Farm Economy” notes that greater development and use of biofuels and bioproducts could allow the United States to substitute 25 percent of our petroleum energy needs with cellulosic biofuels, generate $700 billion of new economic activity in our rural communities, and earn farmers $180 billion in new net income within two decades. Already, the biofuels industry has created one million U.S. jobs between 2000 and 2005.

In order to achieve energy independence and cut global warming emissions by 80 percent by 2050, these important policies must also be accompanied by a nationwide cap on the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere from electricity production, manufacturing, transportation, and other activities. Coal-fired electricity is a key element of our current and future energy mix. Yet managing greenhouse gas emissions generated by coal combustion remains a serious challenge in the face of global warming.

Our most recent report, “Global Warming and the Future of Coal,” describes how to begin the capture and storage of the carbon dioxide produced by coal combustion so that new coal plants do not worsen global warming. In tandem with our proposals to fuel a new farm economy, these measures would transform our environment and our economy. In order to rapidly develop the next generation of low carbon biofuels, CAP has proposed:

  • Rewarding farmers for performing environmental services on their working lands, including growing dedicated energy crops and cultivation practices that combat climate change.
  • Providing new clean energy tax credits and loan guarantees.
  • Encouraging farmer-owned-and-operated biorefineries and local-owned biofuel plant cooperatives.
  • Boosting the Renewable Fuel Standard to ensure demand for low carbon alternative fuels keeps pace with production capacity.

Implementation of these important steps, along with public promotion of alternative low carbon fuels and cars that run on these fuels, provide a strong opportunity for the United States to take the lead in creating a brand new, booming low carbon economy.

Another pressing energy issue is that of corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards, which govern automobile fuel efficiency. American-made vehicles have fallen behind their global competitors in the production of fuel-efficient vehicles, and instead have flooded the market with large, inefficient SUV’s and trucks. According to a recent CAP report, Pain in the Gas, the typical two-car American family will spend over $3,600 on gas this year if higher prices persist. The Center for American Progress proposes increasing CAFE standards to 37 miles per gallon by 2025 so that consumers have the means to reduce the amount of gasoline they need every day.

Unfortunately, with the opportunity to create such drastic and needed change just a week away, a number of opponents are beginning to line up to block progress towards reducing global warming emissions and fostering energy independence. With a debate looming in the Senate over a bill that would require automakers to increase fuel efficiency standards by a minimum of ten miles per gallon by 2020, pressure from The Big Three Detroit automakers—Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, and DaimlerChrysler—is beginning to be felt on the Hill to water down this bill.

The chief executives from the respective automakers claimed in meetings last week that CAFE increases would be debilitating financially. Despite their protests, it is in the eventual best interest of these automakers to comply with increased standards, and it is possible to work with automakers to reduce the financial strain they are experiencing from rising healthcare costs. Crushed under the health insurance of over 800,000 retirees, the Big Three have been looking for help from the government in paying out those benefits. As CAP proposed recently in “Healthcare for Hybrids,” an agreement between the government and automakers would help defray retiree health insurance—in exchange for higher vehicle fuel economy and alternative energy powered vehicles.

Many of the new clean technologies will require a workforce with specialized skills to install, operate, and maintain these energy providers. CAP worked with labor unions and the Apollo Alliance to develop a program that would ensure a well-trained workforce to ensure the steady growth of the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries.

Specifically, CAP supports an Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Workforce Training Program. These newly trained workers could enlist in the growth industries of wind and solar power, with 26 percent and 40 percent annual growth, respectively. The trainees could include veterans, those displaced due to energy industry changes, and others looking for a ticket to the middle class. 

As the Senate begins debate we urge its members on both sides of the aisle to turn to the Center’s reports for the facts, figures, and analysis to support sweeping reforms of our energy policies. And where our proposals have made it into legislation, which naturally urge Senators to give our ideas a fair hearing.

Read a memo to interested parties released today by the Center for American progress Action Fund:

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.