What is the best way to reduce the United States carbon footprint?
The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is proof that something important needs to happen in the next couple weeks in terms of the United States Congress passing an energy bill that weans the country from its dependence on oil and other fossil fuels. There top two contenders are cap and trade or cap and dividend, but neither one has the support to pass the Senate.
Cap and trade was gaining strength in Congress, passed in the house last June, but the Senate hasn’t been able to bring it to the floor for a vote. That is because a small group of citizens, mostly Tea Party members, spoke out against it due to the possibility of job losses and increased utility costs.
But cap and trade protesters haven’t taken into account the real impact on the health of workers in mines and on the health of workers drilling for oil. What about the health costs of people living near mines and oil refineries? These costs aren’t mentioned by them because they only care about the cheap price of oil and coal.
West Virginia University did a study in 2008 about the impact of coal mining on the Appalachia economy and the socioeconomic impact of mining. The results showed a decrease in life expectancy of people working and living near coal mines. The study also showed that areas that don’t rely on coal mining do better.
Oil drilling and Oil refineries are also responsible for a wide range of health and environmental impacts that range from increased cancer rates to increased hydrogen sulfide emissions. The Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School did a study that highlights the need to move away from using oil as a means of energy.
An oilman from Texas named Thomas Boone Pickens also has a plan called the Pickens Plan that promises to create jobs, modernize electric grids, provide incentives to homeowners and commercial property owners to reduce energy consumption, and switch from oil to natural gas in automobiles. Pickens used United States Energy Information Administration statics that claim natural gas burns cleaner than coal.
Cap and dividend is used in the Cantwell-Collins bill, better known as the Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal Act, which gained corporate support from ExxonMobil and AARP. This bill's goal is to require fuel producers to buy credits at auction and the revenues raised from the auction will be given back to low- and middle-class Americans in the form of rebates. The bill doesn’t deny that utility cost won’t go up in states that rely on coal power, but it does promise help in paying those bills.
Jim Doyle tried to get his Clean Air Job Act passed this April, but couldn’t get it passed due to the lack of support from his own party members. The bill promised to create 15,000 green jobs, but also demanded power companies get 25% of their power from renewable sources by 2025.
Utility bills also seemed to be a sticking pointing in getting the legislation passed. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that utility bills in Wisconsin increased by 39% to 70% since 2001.
It is unlikely that coal and oil will reach a high enough price that companies will look to alternative energies—unless government gets involved. Higher prices in theory should lead to change, but the problem with theory is that it isn’t always right.