February 7, 2011

Air Today, Gone Tomorrow

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I saw this bumper sticker on a Ford Explorer on my way up to Ithaca a few weeks ago, right next to a big Cornell crest. “Modern technology owes ecology an apology.” Sort of ironic, but I decided to cut the driver some slack. Yeah, she might be driving a big SUV, but I’m sure she does other things to help preserve the environment. Global warming is one of those things that people care about, right?Turns out I might have been wrong, at least where it matters: in politics. To combat global warming, the Environmental Protection Agency announced last month that industrial facilities — factories, mills, power plants — will have to account for production increases in carbon emissions. They’ll then have to include this rise in their requests for permits allowing them to produce harmful greenhouse gases. However, earlier this week, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, revealed draft legislation to undermine the EPA’s ability to curb greenhouse gas emissions in American factories and plants. He and fellow Congressmen on this Committee cited heightened electricity prices and unemployment as dangerous potential results of the EPA’s influence over the industrial world.Upton is well-educated and experienced in Congress. In 2009, he was quoted as saying: “climate change is a serious problem,” and on his website he once asserted: “I strongly believe that everything must be on the table as we seek to reduce carbon emissions.”True. I agree. A lot of people agree. Until recently, Upton agreed. In an editorial for the Wall Street Journal, he rejected a proposed temporary two-year ban on EPA’s regulatory policies. He seemed irritated that the EPA gave itself the “green light” to curb carbon emissions using its own research as justification. However, he also wrote that he was not even convinced that carbon emissions were a problem, let alone in need of regulation. Therefore, not only did he decide that Congress should indefinitely put a stop to the EPA’s plans, he questioned the scientific legitimacy of carbon pollution. Lo and behold, his website no longer carries the damning quotation.As bothersome as it is to hear someone powerful question what I see as a scientific truth — that greenhouse gases are a powerful source of negative climate change — I also understand that Upton has worked within the energy policy world for a long time. He’s the chairman of a congressional environment committee, and I’m a freshman in college. I’m sure there’s a lot of stuff he knows that I don’t.What I do know, however, is how to use my logic. Rejecting a temporary ban in favor of an indefinite one is an unnecessarily extreme exercise of Congressional power. In his editorial, Upton proposed that the EPA has been granted too much power by the executive branch — that the agency could actually prevent any kind of construction in any industrial plant in the nation … forever. My response to this?  If Congressional Republicans feel that the EPA has too much power, they would do well not to overstep the limits of their own power when correcting the imbalance. Upton and his cronies proposed this legislation last week, acting as if the only options are a two-year ban or an indefinite one. If Upton wants to write an editorial in the Wall Street Journal criticizing the potential two-year pause as arbitrary, then he should give a real period of time that he believes to be sufficient. Don’t offer no solution in response to an arbitrary one — offer a researched solution.Creating change can be expensive. Upton, Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) are right to think about employment and utility prices when making choices for this country. This being said, since the new Congress came to power it’s been clear that there’s an increase in repeal efforts. These push us backwards as opposed to creating new opportunities to lower prices and increase employment. Between healthcare and environmental policy, Congress and political media in the U.S. have been obsessively covering issues that were already debated before the bills passed in the first place. I respect the legitimacy of Republican control in the House because I respect the democratic process. However, I for one don’t want to watch the next two years become a backtrack of the previous two. However, it’s a bigger problem than just repealing past legislation. We need to allow the Clean Air Act to do what it’s supposed to — protect our environment and citizens from the industries we rely on. And while we let that legislation and the EPA do their jobs, let’s go ahead and do what Americans have always done best: innovate.   How about, as national leaders on energy policy, the Committee and representatives like Upton and Inhofe come up with ideas that promote cheaper clean energy alternatives.  Create new jobs. Encourage new businesses. Don’t protect the industry that fattens my bank account now, but kills my grandchildren later. The environment is of paramount importance, and to ignore that is to be a short-sighted, irresponsible wielder of the public trust. I want politicians, on the left and on the right, to take a step back and realize that this isn’t a partisan issue. They need to be 100 percent supportive of environmental legislation, or else sacrifice the well-being of the people they pledged to represent. So I guess I don’t want to agree with the bumper sticker. If we suspend the EPA’s influence, we force modern technology to bow to ecology — recanting, repealing and regressing our way back into the 20th century. Instead, let’s go ahead and use modern technology to our advantage for the future generations the Clean Air Act protects today.

Maggie Henry is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at mhenry@cornellsun.com. Get Over Yourself appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Maggie Henry