In the next few weeks, Congress will decide the country's Fiscal Year 2015 funding priorities. A lot is riding on whether we fund necessary environmental, clean energy and reclamation programs or leave them to wither. I'm hoping we do the right thing.
It's important to know the context. Americans paid an average of $3.57 for a gallon of gasoline last year. Compare that to the $2.40 per gallon average in 2009. The Republican "more drilling brings the price down" argument clearly isn't working. It is, however, making oil companies a hefty profit at our taxpayer-subsidized expense. We need a better national strategy.
This year President Obama requested about $6.9 billion for clean energy technology programs at the Department of Energy, the Department of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency. Many parts of his proposal are smart investments in our environmental future. Unfortunately, the administration wants to accelerate the already rapidly expanding exploitation of domestic oil and gas fields. This would do grave damage to our already heavily stressed climate.
How stressed? Last month, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a series of reports finding once again that human activities are the leading cause of higher atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) levels and a warming climate. The reports find that CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industrial processes have contributed 78 percent of total GHG emissions since 1970. The scientific community expects the volume to double -- some even say triple -- by 2050.
Unfortunately, my Republican colleagues have other things on their minds. In the guise of being worried about the economy, they have introduced a number of bad bills to allow oil and gas companies to drill and frack wherever and however they please. This won't help the consumer. Since 2008 oil production from federal lands and waters has gone up 7 percent and 35 percent, respectively. Despite that dramatic increase in extraction, gas prices haven't gone down since 2009.
More oil and gas activity adds more CO2 to the atmosphere, causing our climate to get warmer. The scientific consensus on those questions is overwhelming. The only debate today exists in professional climate change denial circles. If my conservative colleagues are concerned about the country we leave our children, my question is this: Is our environmental debt out of control? Is it time for us to scale it back?
Solving environmental degradation and curbing climate change are not easy tasks. But I believe we have the chance to do what's right for our future now, without waiting. We need to curb the carbon dioxide emissions already polluting our atmosphere; just as seriously, we need to start making sustained investments in a cleaner future. Part of the president's proposed budget would address this, especially through increased renewable energy production investments and through the Climate Action Plan.
Republicans keep arguing for sequestration as the only way to reduce the deficit. I think they're wrong, but their argument raises an important question: When you see a problem, when is it time to stop contributing to it? When is enough enough? When Congress finalizes the FY2015 budget, I hope my colleagues bear in mind the need to start chipping away at the environmental debt we're leaving our children. Coming generations of Americans will judge us harshly if we continue to pollute our atmosphere in the name of short-term profits, especially when there's a better way.
This post is part of a series from the Safe Climate Caucus. The Caucus comprises 38 members of the House of Representatives who have committed to ending the conspiracy of silence in Congress about the dangers of climate change. For more information, visit the Safe Climate Caucus website and like the Safe Climate Caucus on Facebook.
Follow Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RepRaulGrijalva