November 23, 2010
In This Issue
The House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, chaired by retiring Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), held a hearing Nov. 17 entitled “A Rational Discussion of Climate Change: the Science, the Evidence, the Response,” the subcommittee’s last hearing on climate policy before Republicans take control of the House next year.
“I believe that many members of the public, and perhaps some in Congress, have never had the opportunity to consider the basic science and the long history of investigation and data that underlie understanding the greenhouse effect and, more recently, ocean acidification,” said Chairman Baird in a subsequent press release. “I place a paramount importance on scientific integrity, and this hearing was a chance to go back to the basics for an open discussion.”
Committee Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX), whom Baird acknowledged as the prospective Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee next year, read through a prepared statement questioning the Obama Administration’s position that cutting greenhouse gas emissions is a policy that is justified by the science asserting “reasonable people have serious questions about our knowledge of the state of the science, the evidence and what constitutes a proportional response.”
Per the request of the committee Republicans, each of the three panels of witnesses included one climate skeptic, though the overwhelming majority of panelists were unanimous in their testimony regarding climate science. National Academy of Sciences President Ralph Cicerone, an atmospheric chemist, said there are “multiple lines of evidence” that demonstrates humans are warming the planet and warned lawmakers that the potential for “sudden, abrupt changes” in the climate is substantial.
Gerald A. Meehl, a climate modeler at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, noted that since January 1, 2000, “there have been 311,734 record daily high maximum temperatures set and only 152, 329 daily record low minimum temperatures, a ratio of about two to one.”
Climate skeptic Richard Lindzen, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he believes that doubling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, compared to the level at the start of the Industrial Revolution, would cause just one degree Celsius of warming. According to other members of the panel, that’s at the very low end of the range of likely outcomes supported by mainstream climate science.
Meehl countered that “we have multiple lines of evidence” that suggest the most likely value is around three degrees Celsius. He asserted that evidence includes analyses of how the Earth’s climate has responded to cooling induced by large volcanic eruptions and data on ancient climatic conditions collected from ice cores, tree rings and other natural records. Richard Alley, a glaciologist at Pennsylvania State University concurred: “If you could bet on one horse, [three degrees Celsius] is the best horse.”
Alley, at one point used the top of his forehead as a reference to the North Pole, and stated that melting polar ice caps and mountain glacier “shrinkage” constitute some of the best evidence that human activities are causing Earth to warm. “When you estimate warming by looking at how much the ice is shrinking, it agrees with the thermometers,” he noted.
Subcommittee member Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) asserted that scientists who claim humans are having a significant impact on climate are trying to “frighten the public.” He questioned the idea that human activity is contributing to the melting ice, citing that polar ice caps were also found to be melting on the planet Mars, which lacks human life.
Alley countered that solar satellites have proven the un has not gotten brighter and that Mars, being an entirely different planet, has numerous independent variables such as dust bowls that make such a comparison unsound. Alley noted that government scientists have spent “millions of your dollars” studying the sun as a factor in climate change, studying volcanoes as a factor and that these studies have led scientists to conclude that “it’s mostly us” [humans] contributing to climate change.
Rohrabacher also accused Democrats of overstating the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), however, noted that even a small amount of carbon can have a large impact, likening the climate to a car tilting on the edge of a cliff so delicately that a baby could push it over the edge. “If we are at a tipping point, it’s irrelevant whether our contribution is small or large,” he said. Baird alluded to Bartlett’s car reference at the close of the second panel, inquiring “why not stop pushing, if there is doubt.”
Energy and Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Bob Inglis (R-SC), who lost his re-election primary earlier this year in part due to his moderate views on issues such as climate change, noted that the 112th Congress may prove difficult for climate scientists, but encouraged them to keep coming to testify so the overwhelming evidence continues to remain on public record.
“I encourage the scientists that are listening out there to get ready for the hearings that are coming up in the next Congress,” he said. “Those will be difficult hearings for climate scientists. But I would encourage you to welcome those as fabulous opportunities to teach. Don’t come here defensively. Say, ‘I’m glad to have an opportunity to explain the science.'”
Despite concerns over federal spending, lead senators have said they will push for a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) next year that would boost investment in inland waterways, harbor maintenance and levee safety.
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) said such a bill could win bipartisan support, just as the last WRDA to pass Congress did in 2007, which overwhelming overrode a veto from President George W. Bush. “I hope to continue working in a bipartisan fashion to ensure we pass a WRDA next year,” Sen. Inhofe stated in prepared remarks during a recent hearing on the issue.
Prior to the past decade, a new WRDA traditionally is passed every two years. However, the bill prior to the 2007 act was passed in 2000. Although lawmakers had hoped to push one through this year, Boxer and Inhofe conceded that it would be impossible before the current session of Congress ends.
Republican leaders in both the House and Senate have pushed for a moratorium on earmarks in the next Congress. Inhofe has argued vehemently against such a ban and insisted that WRDA projects do not constitute earmarks, since the legislation authorizes projects but not does appropriate the money to pay for them.
Whether the earmark debate will thwart next year’s attempt to pass a WRDA remains to be seen. This year, House GOP leaders — acting under a similar, self-imposed moratorium on earmarks — took the unprecedented step of asking that all project requests from Republicans be withdrawn from the WRDA bill that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed in July.
Absent the bill passing Congress and reaching the president before the end of the year, the panel will have to re-introduce a new WRDA in the next Congress. Rep. John Mica, the presumptive next Chairman of the committee, strongly supported the last WRDA bill and cited “a new water resources measure” as among his priorities as chairman in a press release published shortly after the election. However, the incoming Republican leadership’s opposition to earmarks and increased federal spending makes passage of a bill next year uncertain.
The House bill (H.R. 5892), if enacted, would have authorized about 300 projects, covering the range of traditional Army Corps mission areas: navigation, flood damage reduction, environmental restoration, shore protection, hydropower, recreation, aquatic plant control and water supply.
Lawmakers are working to bundle a slew of waterways, public lands and wildlife bills into a monumental natural resources package that could attract enough bipartisan support to pass before Congress ends next month. Staffers and environmental lobbyists are working to determine which individual bills could attract the support needed to pass the potentially landmark package.
Bills under consideration for the end-of-year lame duck session include water and wildlife measures out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that would protect the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound, Long Island Sound, Gulf of Mexico and San Francisco Bay. Aides are trying to combine those bills with others out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that would protect more than two million acres and create new national parks, monuments, wilderness areas and wildlife sanctuaries.
Other potential add-ons originate in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and would protect oceans and estuarine resources like coral reefs and species such as sharks, Pacific salmon and the southern sea otter, improve fisheries management, combat algae blooms and promote oceanic research.
House passage of such a measure would be contingent on primarily what type of opposition would be generated from House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Doc Hastings (R-WA), who has said he dislikes “omnibus” measures. The other question is whether leadership can or will make time for such a package to receive consideration before the clock runs out on the 111th Congress.
Environmental groups are framing the issue in economic terms they hope will resonate on Capitol Hill. The Outdoor Foundation released a report stating that outdoor recreation contributes $730 billion annually to the U.S. economy while supporting 6.5 million jobs. It also noted the multiplier effect of dollars invested in environmental restoration and the boost to surrounding property values that comes with preserving land.
Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), the current ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee and the presumed chairman when Republicans take control of the House next year, wants the panel to add the word “Energy” to its name, expanding the committee’s portfolio and taking jurisdiction over a key issue away from the high-profile House Energy and Commerce committee.
“This proposal would allow one committee to focus on health care and Obamacare…and one committee to focus on energy, our all-of-the-above approach, and the administration’s policies that hurt energy jobs and American-made energy production,” Hastings wrote in a letter addressed to the Republican Conference. “This will enable both committees to be more effective and achieve real oversight and legislative accomplishments.” The change would also more closely align jurisdiction with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a move that Hastings says would advance “our ability to ultimately achieve legislative success.”
The current Chairman of the Natural Resources panel supports the change. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), the current chairman of the committee, said it would make sense but noted that past efforts to do so have never progressed far, since members of the Energy and Commerce Committee do not want to give up authority. Hastings is backed by first-term resource committee members looking to keep energy policy in the spotlight next session.
Members of the Energy and Commerce Committee are fighting against giving up jurisdiction over energy, citing the committee Republicans’ efforts to oppose Democrats’ healthcare and climate change initiatives. All 18 returning Republicans on Energy and Commerce signed onto a letter to GOP leadership opposing the change. Signatories Reps. Fred Upton (MI), Joe Barton (TX), John Shimkus (IL) and Cliff Stearns (FL) are all seeking to chair the committee in the 112th Congress.
“We demanded four long days of markup, challenging the Democrats and their theories of global warming and the American economy,” the letter states. “Though the cap and trade bill barely passed the House, it went nowhere in the Senate, largely in part to the hard work of our Committee.”
The Natural Resources Committee currently oversees energy development on federal lands while Energy and Commerce has broader jurisdiction over energy policy in general, including the U.S. Department of Energy.
A Republican aide said the Republican conference and leadership will make a decision on shifting jurisdiction before they would formally change the House rule that governs which subjects committees oversee.
To view the Hastings letter, click here:
To view the Energy and Commerce Republicans’ letter, click here:
Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) appears to be the lead contender for the top Democratic spot on the House Natural Resources Committee, after Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) back-tracked his challenge for the seat. The opening was created by the current chairman, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), who is leaving the committee to replace defeated Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN) as the ranking Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure panel.
Rep. Markey currently serves as Chairman of both the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Environment as well as the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which many speculate the Republicans will abolish next year.
Committee Republicans are pledging to open public lands and the outer continental shelf to more energy development and to address Interior Department policies they oppose. Both Markey and Grijalva are promising to oppose that agenda, but Grijalva said he wants to make sure his western perspective is included.
Rep. Grijalva, who was once on the short list to be President Obama’s Interior secretary, was always perceived as a long-shot against Markey. The Massachusetts Democrat has decades more seniority, a higher profile in the party and is close to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Markey also poured more than $130,000 into fellow Democrats’ campaigns in the run-up to the 2010 elections. Grijalva, who was locked in a tight race to keep his seat, gave $10,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Grijalva is also running to be chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
TheEnvironmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized two rules Nov. 22 for regulating the underground sequestration of carbon dioxide with the aim of protecting water supplies and providing guidelines to help the expansion of carbon capture and sequestration technology for fossil fuel-burning power plants.
Drinking Water Protection:
The first rule creates a new “Class VI” injection well for geological sequestration of carbon dioxide that would be regulated under a different set of construction, monitoring and testing requirements under EPA’s Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program authorized by the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Greenhouse Gas Reporting:
The second rule requires reporting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from large sources and suppliers in the United States. Information gathered under the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program will enable EPA to track the amount of carbon dioxide sequestered by these facilities. The program was established in 2009 under authority of the Clean Air Act and requires reporting of greenhouse gases from various source categories in the United States.
Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies have the potential to enable large emitters of carbon dioxide, such as coal fired power plants, to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This technology allows carbon dioxide to be captured at stationary sources like power plants and large industrial operations and injected underground for long-term storage in a process called geologic sequestration.
In February, President Obama set up the Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage, co-chaired by the EPA, to make recommendations about the barriers to widespread, cost-effective CCS deployment within 10 years.In August, the task force concluded that with additional federal coordination, the nation could cost-effectively achieve the deployment of five to 10 commercial-scale CCS demonstration projects within 10 years.
The rules are likely to have the greatest impact on enhanced oil and gas recovery operations, as they are currently the most prevalent carbon sequestration projects in the United States.
For more information on the geologic sequestration rule, click here:
For more information on the greenhouse gas reporting final rule, click here:
Sources: ClimateWire, Environment and Energy Daily, E&E News PM, the Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the House Science and Technology Committee, Nature.com, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, POLITICO