Pittsburgh inspires National Wildlife Federation

| Friday, May 1, 2009

Larry Schweiger remembers Pittsburgh of the 1950s -- streetlights on during the day, soot and other pollutants covering everything. It's a scene many outsiders still associate with the city.

This weekend, Schweiger, CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, comes home and will show attendees at the Reston, Va.-based group's 73rd annual meeting that Pittsburgh turned itself around. He believes America can do the same, using alternative energy sources and addressing global warming.

"Pittsburgh didn't leave itself trapped in the past; it reinvented itself, took a new way forward, and today is a vibrant city and more secure since it's not dependent solely on steel," Schweiger said during a Thursday interview. "It's a great symbol of what we can do with this nation."

Before becoming head of the National Wildlife Federation in 2004, he served for eight years as CEO of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

Government leaders need a vision of what can be done to reduce pollution, as Pittsburgh's leaders did years ago, Schweiger believes.

"I'd love to see a maglev (magnetic levitation) train run from Pittsburgh to Washington, or to Philadelphia or to Baltimore, to show that it can be done," Schweiger said. "We can run a maglev train on wind power, or solar or geothermal, but if we run it on fossil fuels it doesn't prove anything."

Schweiger, who still maintains a home in McCandless, and the National Wildlife Federation has set as a priority getting legislation enacted to place mandatory caps on carbon emissions.

The so-called cap-and-trade system is as part of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, known as the Waxman-Markey Bill.

Under a cap-and-trade system, an upper limit is placed on the amount of emissions allowed, a limit that reduces over time. To stay under the cap, companies can bury carbon dioxide, change the fuel burned, purchase allowances, trade with a lower pollution emitter to get more allowances, or make a deal with farmers or forest owners to sequester the carbon dioxide on their land.

"I worked many years ago with Sen. John Heinz on the first use of cap-and-trade, used to lower sulphur dioxide emissions," Schweiger said. "It cut emissions by 50 percent, at 110th the cost that experts projected it would cost. A cap-and-trade model for carbon emissions would set specific caps, limits, and encourage investment."

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