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Senate Bill Looks to Regulate Atmospheric "Super Pollutants"

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Creative Commons
A new U.S. Senate bill is looking to establish more regulations for non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions.
"Each ton of carbon dioxide will be with us, contributing to global warming and climate change, 100 years from now."
Chris Phelps

Last weekend's climate change march brought thousands of protesters to New York City. A new bill now making its way through the U.S. Senate is also aiming to reduce the impact of so-called atmospheric "super pollutants."

Think of "short-lived climate pollutants" as greenhouse gases that aren't the 800-pound gorilla of America's global warming policy: carbon dioxide. It includes black carbon, "which is essentially soot from combustion," said Chris Phelps, state director of Environment Connecticut. "As well as methane, which comes from things like the extraction of oil and natural gas, as well as things like hydrofluorocarbons that you find in refrigerants or air conditioning units."

Phelps said that first and foremost, dealing with global warming requires dramatically reducing carbon dioxide emissions. "Each ton of carbon dioxide will be with us, contributing to global warming and climate change, 100 years from now," he said. "The flip side is: things like HFCs, or methane, if we can reduce those in significant quantities now, can produce a more quick and near-term reduction in the rate of increase of global warming."

Thesenate bill, which is sponsored by Connecticut's Chris Murphy, says short-lived climate pollutants account for 40 percent of current global warming, and that reducing their impact could slow sea-level rise and cut global warming rates by more than half-a-degree Celsius by 2050. 

Credit Distraction Limited / Flickr Creative Commons
Flickr Creative Commons
A methane-collection device at a landfill.

Roger Reynolds, who looks at emissions for Connecticut Fund for the Environment, said policymakers are just now starting to think about other types of greenhouse gases, like methane. "We were handling methane leaks, previously, from a public safety perspective," he said. "If it got too much -- where it could be combustible -- we addressed it. Increasingly in Connecticut, New England, and hopefully now throughout the country, we're going to look at it more from a climate change perspective -- understanding how much these gases contribute to climate change, and regulating and controlling them on that basis."

Murphy's bill now heads to the Senate's committee on Environment and Public Works.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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