Lawmakers spar on warming as EPA hearings heat up

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The most important climate change hearing in town today will be held miles down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol Building, but the listening session on U.S. EPA’s marquee carbon rule is still drawing plenty of congressional interest.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a sponsor of the carbon dioxide cap-and-trade bill that cleared the House in 2009, will be among the first to testify on the existing power plant proposal this morning as the two-day listening session begins.

Markey commended EPA in prepared remarks for a draft rule that he said would make sure “millions of Americans are healthier” and create jobs. But he blasted Republicans for attacking the rule on economic grounds.

“If the critics of climate action like this EPA proposal spent more time believing in American innovation and less time attacking climate science, I believe our economy, our environment and our planet would all be better off,” he said.

Massachusetts is a case in point, he said. By slashing carbon emissions, including through participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the Bay State has grown its economy, he said.

“We’ve created good 21st century jobs,” he said in the excerpted remarks. “We’ve reduced the amount of electricity we consume. And we pay less for that electricity.”

Few members of Congress might visit the William Jefferson Clinton Building for the listening sessions today and tomorrow, though Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) does plan to make the trip tomorrow. Nonetheless, Congress will echo many of the same talking points at three climate-related hearings during the same two days.

And senators kicked off the debate last night when Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) objected to a resolution offered by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) that would have expressed the sense of the Senate that man-made climate change is real.

“The scientific record does not agree,” said Inhofe, blocking Klobuchar’s measure from passing by unanimous consent.

Inhofe, who is perhaps the chamber’s most vocal climate skeptic, referenced the so-called climate change “pause” — the fact that surface temperatures have slowed since 1998. Skeptics say that means climate change fears are overblown, but most climate scientists believe the oceans are storing much of the missing heat.

“Every time, they stand up and say, ‘Oh, the science is settled,’ and then we come up with more groups” that disagree, he said, pointing to a petition on his website that he said has been signed by thousands of scientists who disagree that man-made emissions are driving significant warming.

The continued drumbeat for climate-related policies like the EPA proposal is driven by interested Democratic donors, he said. But Australia’s decision to abandon its carbon tax should show that climate change policy is harmful to the economy and should be avoided, he added.

“And I believe that we will be able to protect the American people from the senseless global warming policies in the United States,” he said.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), speaking immediately after Inhofe, took a different view.

“I appreciate very much having had the opportunity to hear those words from what I can only describe as an alternative reality from the one that I inhabit,” said Whitehouse, who will be chairing a Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee hearing later today on the economic toll taken by climate change.

Whitehouse, who also co-chairs the Senate Climate Action Task Force, dismissed Inhofe’s contention that the science of man-made climate change is not settled. The petition on Inhofe’s website is not signed by large numbers of unconvinced scientists, said Whitehouse.

“I’m told that among the names on that petition are the Spice Girls, are people from “M*A*S*H” like Dr. Frank Burns,” said Whitehouse. “It’s almost a comedic effort.”

The oceans, meanwhile, are continuing to warm as a result of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, and the atmosphere appears to be warming in stages over many decades, he noted. Experts ranging from the Navy to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the property and casualty insurance and reinsurance industries urge the implementation of policies to combat its causes — measures like the one EPA has proposed, he said.

“The day will come when the United States Senate can face the fact that climate change is real,” he said, referencing the Klobuchar resolution. “And it’s a measure of our times and a measure of this body and a measure of the influence on it that it was not passed by unanimous consent but has been objected by the Republicans,” he added.

This week, 1,600 speakers are expected to testify on EPA’s draft rule in four cities: Washington, D.C.; Denver; Atlanta; and Pittsburgh. EPA has said it also has received 300,000 written comments on the proposal ahead of the Oct. 16 deadline for public review.