The Road to a Clean-Energy Future Begins Now

The American Clean Energy and Security Act, authored by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-CA) and House Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chair Ed Markey (D-MA) would achieve a significant reduction in the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. The ACES mandates a 17-percent reduction in greenhouse gases below 2005 levels by 2020. That translates into a cut of 2.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2020 compared to inaction, according to a projection based on an analysis by the World Resources Institute. This is comparable to taking 500 million cars off the road, which is twice the number of U.S. cars today, and half the cars expected in the world in 2020.

This pollution reduction estimate is very conservative, since it does not include other complementary policies in the bill that would also reduce greenhouse gases. These provisions include renewable electricity and efficiency standards that would give utilities until 2020 to generate 15 percent of their electricity from the wind, sun, and other clean sources. Utilities would also have to reduce electricity demand by 5 percent. These measures would further reduce greenhouse gas pollutions.

The ACES would also slash energy use in new buildings by 50 percent by 2016. Buildings are responsible for nearly half of energy use and greenhouse gas pollution, so this provision would achieve additional reductions beyond the cap.

These pollution reductions come not a moment too soon, since scientific evidence of global warming harms continue to mount. In addition to fiercer storms, longer droughts, wetter floods, and scarcer food, global warming will harm human health. Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organisation, noted that “Climate change will affect, in profoundly adverse ways, some of the most fundamental determinants of health: food, air, water.” It is morally irresponsible to do nothing in the wake of this mounting evidence of the coming catastrophe.

Despite scientists’ urgent pleas to act, many conservatives would prefer to do nothing. House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Joe Barton (R-TX) plans to introduce an energy bill that ignores global warming, except to prevent action to stop it. Instead, it would continue the Bush-Cheney energy policies of “drill, baby, drill” and “burn, baby, burn.” These policies led to an increase in average annual family energy costs of $1,100.

On Monday, May 18, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will begin debate and vote on The American Clean Energy and Security Act. It is not a perfect proposal that will magically solve our energy problems. But it would slash global warming pollution by 1.2 billion tons, comparable to removing 500 million cars from the road. It would create thousands of jobs manufacturing steel for wind turbines and building energy-efficient buildings. ACES would reduce our oil use and increase our national security. Representatives Waxman and Markey have done monumental work to start on the long road to a clean-energy future after being stalled for the last eight years.

Thanks to Joe Romm and Tara McGuinness.

Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy at American Progress. For more analysis of climate legislation, please see our Energy and Environment page.