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Legislation to Watch

With a swing in the Congressional majority and an increasingly eco-conscious American public, several pieces of progressive environmental legislation may finally reach the floor for a vote. Here are six recently introduced bills that, if passed, could go a long way to protecting the land we love, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.

1 Roadless Area Conservation Rule

Introduced by Senators John Warner and Jim Webb from Virginia, this bi-partisan bill introduced in the House and Senate would permanently protect 58.5 million acres of America’s premiere public land. Since the Clinton Administration adopted the Roadless Rule in 2001, the U.S. Forest Service has received more than 4.2 million public comments supporting permanent protection of these remote areas. However, one of the first acts of the Bush Administration was to suspend the rule. In 2005, the Bush Administration eliminated national protection, giving governors the option to petition for protection of roadless areas in their state, but federal courts recently declared the Bush Administration’s directives illegal. Permanent protection would guard these areas from commercial logging regardless of the whims of current and future administrations.

2 Clean Water Restoration Act

Two U.S. Supreme Court rulings issued in 2001 and 2006 diminished the Clean Water Act’s ability to protect “non-navigable” wetlands, questioning the authority of the EPA to enforce the Clean Water Act on streams, wetlands, and ponds that aren’t part of a major waterway. The U.S. has lost more than half of its original wetlands and continues to lose more than 80,000 wetland acres each year. These wetlands are some of the most productive ecosystems in nature, supporting a variety of species and enhancing overall watershed health. The Clean Water Restoration Act would enhance the Clean Water Act to encompass the wetlands that are key to watershed health.

3 Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act

During the last couple of months, seven bills have been introduced that address global warming emissions. The Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act is perhaps the most aggressive of the lot, eschewing the common “cap and trade” systems that other bills propose and setting aggressive reduction deadlines on an earlier timeline than the rest of the field. The Global Warming Pollution Act would freeze global warming emissions in 2010, (two years earlier than most other bills introduced) and then start reducing emissions year after year. By 2020, global warming emissions would be reduced by 14%. By 2050, the emissions would be reduced by 83%. Instead of the “cap and trade” program, the bill sets strict standards
for power plants and automobiles while also providing investment for new, cleaner energy technologies. The bill also requires the U.S. to derive 20% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and sets energy efficiency standards similar to those found in California. It’s a dramatic bill that many say is too drastic to gain majority support, though it has been publicly supported by presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, as well as former Vice President Al Gore.

4 CLEAN Energy Act of 2007

Introduced by Congressman Nick Rahall of West Virginia in the House, this bill would repeal $14 billion in subsidies benefiting the biggest oil companies operating in the United States by closing tax loopholes and collecting unpaid royalties from oil and gas produced in public waters. That $14 billion surplus would then be used to establish a “clean energy fund” which would primarily fund investments in clean energy and renewable power like wind and solar energy facilities. The surplus would also fund energy saving incentives for businesses and individuals. The bill has already passed in the House and must now make its way through the Senate.

5 Ten in Ten Fuel Economy Act 

This long- overdue bill introduced in the Senate would raise the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards for new vehicles to 35 miles per gallon fleet- wide by 2019. CAFÉ standards have been stagnant at 27 mpg’s for 16 years. If enacted, this bill would save 2.3 million barrels of oil per day by 2027 (roughly the amount we import from the Persian Gulf) and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 392 million metric tons per year, the equivalent of taking 37 million cars off the road. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

6 Clean Water Protection Act

The Clean Water Act of 1977 bars industries from dumping waste into American waterways. In 2002, however, the Bush Administration redefined language within the Clean Water Act in order to include mining waste as “fill material,” thereby making debris from mountaintop removal acceptable to be dumped into our streams. Since then, coal companies have dumped millions of tons of rock and debris into nearby streams, burying more than 1,200 miles of waterways and severely affecting water quality along the Appalachian range. The Clean Water Protection Act would restore the original intent of the Clean Water Act by preventing disposal of waste material from mountain top removal sites into streams.