Butterfield: Hotter Climate Demands Attention

Posted February 4, 2010 at 2:16pm

NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies recently declared 2009 as the second-hottest year on record. Further, the Goddard Institute found that the last decade was the hottest in history; hotter than the 1990s, which were hotter than the 1980s, which were hotter than the 1970s.

Looking ahead, the American Enterprise Institute-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies projects a 22.6 percent loss in agricultural profits in North Carolina because of increasing temperatures. Currently, agriculture in North Carolina is a $10.3 billion industry. So while there may be concern about the costs of transitioning away from the foreign fossil fuels that we depend on, the people I represent cannot afford to lose a quarter of their agricultural profits because of climate change in the long term.

Agriculture is just one obvious example of an industry facing major consequences from inaction. We need policies that hold polluters accountable and create American jobs in the growing clean energy sector. And we can all agree that the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. We must seize this opportunity to ensure America is that nation.

Last year, I voted in favor of the American Clean Energy and Security Act because it provides the best opportunity to fuel the development of renewable energy and the new green energy economy while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gases. According to industry leaders, ACES will unlock billions of dollars in pent-up investment and spur jobs creation with an estimated 1.7 million new clean energy jobs.

That was more than six month ago. In the Senate, this plan to reduce pollution while creating jobs and jump-starting our great big American engine of innovation remains mired in partisan politics. If the Senate fails to act on this initiative, we will have missed the opportunity to confront carbon pollution and lead the renewable energy economy. Our future economic success depends on an energy policy that prioritizes clean, low-cost, domestic sources of energy.

Americans need and deserve an energy policy that prioritizes clean, low-cost, domestic sources of energy. ACES accomplishes this through the market-based approach to capping carbon emissions, which grants businesses the flexibility to adopt cleaner energy sources and production techniques, and favors industries that are early actors. Further, it requires that 20 percent of all electricity come from renewable sources by 2020, spurring growth in wind, solar, hydro, biomass and nuclear power.

The American work force will also have to be ready to meet the new demand. The ACES Act would authorize the secretary of Education to award grants to universities and colleges to develop curriculum that prepares students for careers in renewable energy, energy efficiency and other forms of global warming mitigation. In my district, Wilson Technical Community College offers a course called “Green Building for Residential Contractors,” but it has far more interested students than available seats. We need many more programs like this to provide an educated and ready work force.

The bill is also crafted to protect consumers from transitional costs. According to analyses from the Congressional Budget Office, the Energy Information Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, the legislation would result in an increased cost of $80 to $175 per household in 2020. However, those costs would be further reduced by increases in energy efficiencies. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy recently concluded that the energy-efficiency provisions would save consumers $215 per household in 2020.

The Senate must find consensus on these issues. The growing bipartisan collaboration of Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is a good start toward finding a solution, but it will take a commitment from Senate leadership to move any measure.

During President Barack Obama’s recent State of the Union address, he noted the results of last year’s investment in clean energy in the North Carolina-based Celgard, which will create 1,200 jobs nationwide making advanced batteries. The promise, need and potential are there, but we must act swiftly.

As Obama eloquently stated, there are a great number of difficult decisions to make about opening new offshore areas for gas and oil development, and a need for investing in advanced biofuels, clean coal technologies and safe, clean nuclear power generations plants. We need a comprehensive energy and climate bill that provides the incentives needed to help make clean energy profitable.

The American people are rightly depending on the Senate to provide a common-sense bill that helps drive the new green energy economy and holds polluters accountable. Future generations face myriad problems both domestically and abroad from climate change. Should Congress fail to achieve agreement on carbon reduction, we must, at a minimum, ensure the resources are available to move the domestic renewable energy industry, work force and technology forward.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) is vice chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment.