Environment Overview

The Earth's climate has changed many times during the planet's history, with events ranging from ice ages to long periods of warmth. Historically, natural factors such as volcanic eruptions, changes in the Earth's orbit, and the amount of energy released from the Sun have affected the Earth's climate. Beginning late in the 18th century, human activities associated with the Industrial Revolution have also changed the composition of the atmosphere and therefore very likely are influencing the Earth's climate.

Climate change affects people, plants, and animals. Scientists are working to better understand future climate change and how the effects will vary by region and over time. Scientists have observed that some changes are already occurring. Observed effects include sea level rise, shrinking glaciers, changes in the range and distribution of plants and animals, trees blooming earlier, lengthening of growing seasons, ice on rivers and lakes freezing later and breaking up earlier, and thawing of permafrost.

In the United States, scientists believe that most areas will to continue to warm, although some will likely warm more than others. It remains very difficult to predict which parts of the country will become wetter or drier, but scientists generally expect increased precipitation and evaporation, and drier soil in the middle parts of the country. Northern regions such as Alaska are expected to experience the most warming. In fact, Alaska has been experiencing significant changes in climate in recent years that may be at least partly related to human-caused global climate change.

In the U.S., our energy-related activities account for three-quarters of our human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, mostly in the form of carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels. More than half the energy-related emissions come from large stationary sources such as power plants, while about a third comes from transportation. Industrial processes (such as the production of cement, steel, and aluminum), agriculture, forestry, other land use, and waste management are also important sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

For a better understanding of where greenhouse gas emissions come from, governments at the federal, state and local levels prepare emissions inventories, which track emissions from various parts of the economy such as transportation, electricity production, industry, agriculture, forestry, and other sectors. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes the official national inventory of US greenhouse gas emissions, and the latest green house gas inventory shows that in 2007 the U.S. emitted over 7 billon metric tons of greenhouse gases.

The Federal government is also using voluntary and incentive-based programs to reduce emissions and has established programs to promote climate technology and science. This strategy incorporates know-how from many federal agencies and harnesses the power of the private sector.

The EPA plays a significant role in helping the Federal government reduce greenhouse gas emissions and greenhouse gas intensity. The EPA has many current and near-term initiatives that encourage voluntary reductions from a variety of stakeholders. Initiatives, such as ENERGY STAR, Climate Leaders, and the Methane Voluntary Programs, encourage emission reductions from large corporations, consumers, industrial and commercial buildings, and many major industrial sectors.

In 2009, President Obama took office promising to do the following:

  • Boost Renewable Fuel Requirements
  • Cap Carbon Emissions
  • Create Energy-Efficiency Grant Program
  • Create Global Energy Forum
  • Create Green Jobs Corps and new green-collar jobs
  • Double Clean-Energy Funding
  • Double Fuel Economy Standards
  • Double Renewable Energy Within Four Years
  • End American Dependence On Foreign Oil In Ten Years
  • Foster International Relationships To Protect The Environment
  • Give Annual Energy Speech
  • Help Manufacturers Go Green
  • Help U.S. Automakers Adapt
  • Increase Money For Low-Carbon Coal Technologies
  • Increase Number Of Plug-In Hybrid Cars
  • Invest $10 Billion Per Year In Clean Technologies Fund
  • Reduce Electricity Demand 15 Percent In 10 Years
  • Reduce Oil Consumption
  • Require 25 Percent Of Electricity To Come From Renewable Resources
  • Require Government Vehicles To Have Flexible-Fuel Tanks
  • Set Goal Of Making New Buildings Carbon-Neutral
  • Sign Law To Phase Out Incandescent Light Bulbs
  • Take Steps To Lower Oil Prices

Once in office, President Obama’s first action on environmental initiatives occurred through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Recovery Act specifically includes $7.22 billion for projects and programs administered by the EPA. These programs are intended to promote both “green” jobs and a healthier environment. These environmental areas include:

  • Clean Water State Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund: $4 billion for assistance to help communities with water quality and wastewater infrastructure needs and $2 billion for drinking water infrastructure needs.
  • Brownfields: $100 million for competitive grants to evaluate and clean up former industrial and commercial sites.
  • Diesel Emissions Reduction: $300 million for grants and loans to help regional, state and local governments, tribal agencies, and non-profit organizations with projects that reduce diesel emissions.
  • Superfund Hazardous Waste Cleanup: $600 million for the cleanup of hazardous sites.
  • Leaking Underground Storage Tanks: $200 million for cleanup of petroleum leaks from underground storage tanks.

In June, the House of Representatives passed H.R.2454 - American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. The legislation was designed to create clean energy jobs, achieve energy independence, and reduce global warming pollution and transition to a clean energy economy. In July, the bill was placed on the Senate Legislative calendar, but to date, the Senate has taken no major action on climate legislation.

Congressional Republicans responded to the proposed legislation with the following:

  • House Republicans recognize that as gas prices and home utility bills rise, American families are dealt an even greater economic hardship.
  • The Democrats' answer to the worst recession in decades is a national energy tax that will lead to higher energy prices and further job losses.
  • Thousands of dollars in extra energy costs and millions of jobs lost is a high price to pay for an energy policy that will do very little to clean up our environment.
  • The American people deserve better. The American Energy Act (the Republican alternative legislation) is an all of the above plan that will provide energy independence, more jobs here at home, and a cleaner environment.
  • The American Energy Act increases our domestic supply of energy by lifting restrictions on ANWR, the Outer Continental Shelf, and oil shale in the Mountain West.
  • The House Republican plan renews America's commitment to clean and emissions-free nuclear energy. The Department of Energy has stated the best way for utility companies to reduce carbon emissions is to increase their supply of nuclear energy.
  • Despite the enormous success of nuclear energy, no new nuclear reactor has been ordered since the presidency of Jimmy Carter. The House Republican plan builds on the success of nuclear energy by laying down a national goal of ordering100 new nuclear reactors over the next twenty years.
  • Revenue generated by the sale of leases will be invested in renewable and alternative sources of energy. The House Republican plan also encourages conservation through proven tax incentives.
  • The American people don't want a national energy tax; they want energy independence. The House Republican plan is the comprehensive energy solution this country desperately needs.

The Show-Me State series, along with the Republican Party, believes in energy independence. We support an approach that encourages the production of nuclear power, clean coal, natural gas, solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, as well as offshore drilling in an environmentally responsible way. We oppose cap and trade legislation that would impose a national energy tax on families and small businesses that could affect job rates and raise utility prices even more.

Click here for more information on Energy and Climate Issues.

Sources: EPA.gov; GOP.gov; NationalJournal.com; OpenCongress.org