Sarah Lichtner
Can New Legislation Slow Glacial Melt?
Sarah LichtnerAugust 8, 2013

As I stopped along the side of the road, looking out at the expansive greenery of Glacier National Park’s valley and mountains beyond the ledge, I read a plaque that noted that the park’s glaciers are expected to disappear by 2030. Over the next two days of my trip, I noticed that other plaques in the park set 2020 as the glaciers’ expiration date, indicating that they have been melting at an even more rapid pace than originally thought. Since 1850, 150 glaciers have decreased to the 25 masses of moving ice that now remain.

Learning this news isn’t completely surprising. It seems that every day, headlines about the effects of global warming are everywhere. Though the National Park Service has been taking steps to reduce their energy use and the emissions they generate by updating their public shuttle systems and weatherizing historic park buildings to conserve energy, these actions alone cannot preserve the iconic views within national park boundaries. They also cannot ensure the protection of Glacier National Park’s 1 million acres, which comprise one of the largest intact ecosystems in North America.

But what can drive substantial change? The Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, also known as Shaheen-Portman, has the potential to make bigger dents in improving energy efficiency and reducing emissions. The bill will help make energy efficiency a national priority by emphasizing the need for coordinated action. It will engage business leaders, government, and other stakeholders in implementing change across residential, commercial, and industrial sectors.

A key focus of the bipartisan bill is to improve the energy efficiency of residential and commercial buildings, which account for about three-quarters of U.S. energy consumption, by strengthening national building codes. The bill will also increase investments in research and commercialization of energy-efficient technologies and processes to reduce energy use from manufacturing and require the federal government—the largest U.S. energy user—to reduce the amount of electricity used to power their computers.

The bill was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee earlier this summer. The Senate is expected to consider the bill sometime in September when the Senate reconvenes. With the backing of both a Democrat and Republican, hopefully the bill will get enough bipartisan support to pass both chambers and become law.

In the absence of action, Glacier National Park’s iconic glaciers will continue to melt in a clear demonstration of the effects of climate change. Taking the step to make real, widespread change through new legislation like Shaheen-Portman is the only way to slow the disappearance of Glacier National Park’s 7,000-year-old blocks of ice and preserve the unique ecosystems that surround them.