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The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is nearing a historic vote on legislation that would make major changes in the way the United States produces and consumes energy from hydrocarbon resources like coal and petroleum.
Sometime in early December the committee is likely to take up S. 2191, America’s Climate Security Act, a bill that would establish a nationwide cap on the release of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases over the 38-year period from 2012 to 2050.
The bill sponsored jointly by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-CT, and Sen. John Warner, R-VA, is the most consequential environmental legislation to come before the committee since the Clean Air Act was amended nearly 18 years ago to establish the cap-and-trade program for sulfur dioxide.
The Lieberman-Warner plan caps emissions of the six primary greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons, and perfluorocarbons. For each of those gases, the bill proposes a common unit of measurement, called a "CO2 equivalent." A CO2 equivalent is the quantity of a greenhouse gas that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determines makes the same contribution to global warming as one metric ton of CO2.
Additionally, the bill would regulate greenhouse gas emissions from the electric power sector, the industrial sector, and the transportation sector.
ASCE believes Congress must address the problem of climate change as soon as possible. ASCE Policy Statement 360, Impacts of Global Climate Change, and ASCE Policy Statement 488, Greenhouse Gases, support enactment of the major greenhouse gas abatement programs contained in the Lieberman-Warner bill.
The policies followed lengthy debates among members. The discussions were informed by ASCE research going back nearly 20 years. In 1990, for example, the Society’s Journal of Cold Regions Engineering reported that "the current trend of global warming is expected to produce some of its most significant changes in Arctic ocean and coastal areas. As the average air and sea temperatures increase, sea level will rise and the polar ice pack [will] shrink. Wave action may increase and the coastal permafrost, degrade, resulting in widespread inundation and flooding of low-lying areas."
In 2006, ASCE’s Journal of Infrastructure Systems found that motor vehicles contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. "The transportation sector accounts for a significant percentage of United States energy consumption (27.4 percent) in 2003. It is responsible for 32.3 percent of the total United States emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) 46.6 percent of nitrogen oxides (NOx) (a [principal] precursor of smog, 65.7 percent of carbon monoxide (CO), and 1.4 percent of emissions of particulate matter smaller than 10 µm (PM10)," the authors reported.