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Sierra Club leaders discuss energy legislation

Laura McCrystal | Monday, September 14, 2009

Legislation for clean energy and climate change in the United States is crucial at both national and local levels, especially given the upcoming international climate conference in Copenhangen in Dec., Sierra Club leaders Steve Francis and Bowden Quinn said in a lecture Monday night.

“We have a moral obligation … a responsibility to act,” Francis said in the lecture, which was part of Energy Week at Notre Dame.

Francis is co-chairperson for the Hoosier chapter of the Sierra Club and is also the appointed chairperson of the green energy committee for the South Bend Green Ribbon Committee. Quinn is the conservation program coordinator for the Hoosier chapter of the Sierra Club.

Both speakers addressed the importance of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which the House of Representatives passed in June and is currently under review in Senate committees. The legislation would allow for cap and trade emissions. This model sets a limit on the total number of green house gas emissions and allows emitters to trade their values.

“For political reasons, the [Sierra] Club felt that the cap and trade way was the way to go,” Quinn said. “It’s still a worthwhile step to take.”

The proposed legislation is strong in the area of energy efficiency requirements, which is a largely overlooked part of the bill, Quinn said.

When President Barack Obama meets with world leaders at the climate conference in Copenhagen in December, it is important that he has legislation to bring to the negotiations, Quinn said. This conference is crucial because the previous Kyoto Protocol, which was not ratified by the United States, is set to expire in 2012.

At the Indiana state level, Quinn said the Sierra Club is disappointed in recent environmental legislation.

Quinn did cite recent accomplishments in the state legislature including providing a fund for schools to convert to geothermal heating and cooling systems as well as looking to adopt updated codes for energy consumption by buildings.

Francis, who was appointed by South Bend Mayor Steve Luecke to the South Bend Green Ribbon Commission, spoke about action in South Bend.

Luecke is one of 1,000 mayors nationwide to sign the Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, which looks to reduce emissions and increase awareness on a local and personal level, Francis said.

“I think as individuals it’s difficult for us to figure out how we can meet that shared responsibility to do something,” he said.

Through the Green Ribbon Commission, South Bend is creating a baseline measurement of the city’s emissions. From that measurement, and with the help of $1 million, the city will seek to reduce emissions and develop new solutions and ideas. The commission has eight committees, including land use, transportation, green energy and recycling, Francis said.

“I think climate change is a non-partisan issue. It’s a human issue and we’ve got to bridge that divide,” he said. “Without leadership of the industrial democracies, I think we need to understand the rest of the world will not follow and is not responsible for the most part.”