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April 24, 2009 - ASCE Statement - The American Clean Energy Security Act of 2009

Statement of the American Society of Civil Engineers
Before the
House Committee on Energy and Commerce
The American Clean Energy Security Act of 2009

April 24, 2009

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) appreciates the opportunity to present its views to the Committee on the American Clean Energy Security Act of 2009.

ASCE Policy on Greenhouses Gases—ASCE supports public and private sector strategies and efforts to achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The policy contains specific recommendations to achieve this critically important goal.

The United States must establish a comprehensive, long-term infrastructure development and maintenance plan at federal, state and local levels. This plan must support sustainable development through a substantial reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and timely adaptation to the effects of climate change, while maintaining and enhancing environmental quality.

We need to stimulate private investment in greenhouse-gas-reducing technologies by establishing a market value for greenhouse gas emissions over the long term through the auctioning of emissions credits.

In our 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure ASCE reported that the average number of motor vehicle miles traveled under congested conditions rose to nearly 32 percent of all U.S. VMT in 2004. This results in billions of gallons of wasted fuel annually. And Secretary LaHood told this Committee just two days ago that transportation is “a significant contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.”

Congress should therefore create a market for emissions in order to encourage alternative energy sources and to raise revenues to address the problem of America’s aging infrastructure. A significant portion of the revenues from emissions credits should be allocated to the Highway Trust Fund and other infrastructure financing methods to support technology investment as well as the necessary investments in “green” upgrades to the nation’s deteriorating public works infrastructure in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

By authorizing the allocation (under existing federal infrastructure programs) of revenue from greenhouse gas emissions credits for infrastructure projects that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we can protect the environment and renew the nation’s aging infrastructure. Examples of such projects include new public transportation systems; projects to reduce major chokepoints that cause transportation congestion; and improvements in intercity rail transportation.

At the same time, we must establish clear and reasonable targets and schedules for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

We need to improve the energy efficiency of, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from, infrastructure systems over their entire life cycles by making costeffective use of existing technologies. These improvements should cover all sectors, and include both stationary and mobile sources.

We must encourage the use of non-greenhouse gas emitting energy-generating sources such as nuclear, hydropower, wind and solar, and we must support research into new technologies and materials to further improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As a nation, we must adopt additional incentives for the short-term development and implementation of high-efficiency and low- or zero-greenhouse-gas-emitting technologies and cost-effective carbon capture and storage.

Finally, ASCE believes that we must provide credits to those industries that take early action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; encourage actions by other countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions; and explore the utilization of forests and the ocean as carbon sinks or other mitigation technologies.

By the end of this century, if current trends continue, atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations could be twice what they were at the beginning of the industrial revolution. These increased concentrations are predicted to contribute to climate change, causing significant increases in global average temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns. The expected results will be increases in the severity of storms, floods and droughts, all of which will have substantial effects on our infrastructure, economy and quality of life.

Improvements in the durability and resiliency of our infrastructure systems will make them less vulnerable to effects of climate disruption. Improvements in the design and construction of our infrastructure systems can also increase their functionality and safety, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions during their construction and use.

National Transmission Grid—Our 2009 Report Card for America's Infrastructure assessed the state of the nation’s energy infrastructure at a D+. The U.S. generation and transmission system is at a critical point requiring substantial investment in new generation, investment to improve efficiencies in existing generation and investment in transmission and distribution systems. The transmission and distribution system has become congested because growth in electricity demand and investment in new generation facilities have not been matched by investment in new transmission facilities. This congestion virtually prohibits outages required for proper maintenance and can lead to system wide failures in the event of unplanned outages.

Electricity demand increased by about 25 percent since 1990, with construction of transmission facilities decreasing by about 30 percent. While annual investment in new transmission facilities has generally declined or been stagnant during the last 30 years, there has been an increase in investment during the past five years. Substantial investment in generation, transmission and distribution are expected over the next two decades and it has been projected that electric utility investment needs could be as much a $1.5 to $2 trillion by 2030. Some progress in grid reinforcement has been made since 2005, but public and government opposition, difficult permitting processes, and environmental requirements are often restricting the much-needed modernization.

Congested transmission paths, or "bottlenecks," now affect many parts of the grid across the country. One recent estimate concludes that power outages and power quality disturbances cost the economy from $25 billion to $180 billion annually. These costs could soar if outages or disturbances become more frequent or longer in duration. There are also operational problems in maintaining voltage levels. Transmission problems have been compounded by the incomplete transition to fair and efficient competitive wholesale electricity markets. Because the existing transmission system was not designed to meet present demand, daily transmission constraints or "bottlenecks" increase electricity costs to consumers and increase the risk of blackouts.

Similarly, the nation’s portfolio of generation capacity continuously needs improvement for long term stability. Continued economical, reliable, and environmentally acceptable energy generation and transmission, coupled with energy conservation, are critical to industrial and commercial expansion, economic growth and stability.

The American Clean Energy Security Act—As drafted the Waxman-Markey legislation would attack climate change in three ways: it would establish a “clean energy” program that promotes renewable sources of energy and carbon capture and sequestration technologies, low-carbon transportation fuels, clean electric vehicles, and the smart grid and electricity transmission; (2) an “energy efficiency” program that increases energy efficiency across all sectors of the economy, including buildings, appliances, transportation, and industry; and (3) a “global warming” program that places limits on the emissions of heat-trapping pollutants. In addition, it would establish a period to protect U.S. consumers and industry from economic dislocation and protect green jobs during the transition to a clean energy economy.

ASCE supports each of the three main prongs of the American Clean Energy Security Act. ASCE supports government policies that encourage anticipation of and preparation for possible impacts of climate change on the built environment.

Global or local climate change could pose a potentially serious impact on world-widewater resources, energy production and use, agriculture, forestry, coastal development and resources, flood control and public infrastructure. Examples include:

• Alterations to the hydrologic patterns for multi-purpose water resource projects, of particular concern to civil engineers working in the hydroelectric industry, and water supply utilities where reservoir storage capacity may need to be increased.
• Climate extremes such as floods and droughts and other significant variations in hydrologic patterns that may necessitate changes or additions to flood control infrastructure to provide adequate public safety and performance.
• Changes in frequency and strength of tropical storms that will require changes in coastal protection systems.
• Increase in ocean levels that will require adaptation of coastal infrastructure, including ports.
• Changes in permafrost conditions that require retrofitting existing foundations and alterations to foundation design.

Such impacts could require modified agricultural practices and measures to deal with rising sea levels, water supply and quality, threats to critical infrastructure facilities and the potential for the outbreak of disease.

Civil engineers are responsible for design and maintenance of infrastructure projects that facilitate economic development and protect human health, welfare and the environment. Climate change may result in significant impacts to this infrastructure. Civil engineers and government policy makers must work together to anticipate and plan for these impacts.

ASCE supports the maintenance and expansion of power generation and a national transmission infrastructure based upon reasonable projections of increased demand and need to maintain the nation’s energy security. This is consistent with the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and independent examinations of the state of the nation’s energy infrastructure. ASCE supports the continual evaluation and improvement of the nation’s electricity infrastructure system to support an integrated operation and control scheme that provides reliable and safe electricity to the nation. Specifically, ASCE supports:

• Design and construction of adequate transmission infrastructure to provide reserve margins and operating capacity, which are an important part of the national reliability plan of the North American Electric Reliability Council.
• Incentives to promote energy conservation, the development and installation of highly efficient fossil and nuclear generation and renewable technologies (solar, wind, hydro, biomass, and geothermal).
• A long-term generation research and development plan that extends current energy supplies through efficient use and explores new and potential energy sources.
• Research and development for DC transmission and high voltage superconducting materials. Design and construction of these type facilities would serve to support civil engineering applications and maintain the transmission integrity and ability to meet the nation’s energy needs.
• Ongoing need for R&D in areas related to improving and enhancing the nation’s transmission and generation infrastructure.