"A sickening parade of know-nothingism and shilling" occurred in Washington on Wednesday, said one vocal critic of the U.S. Congress.
The occasion: the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing about “The Obama Administration’s Climate Change Policies and Activities.” It was the first Congressional inquiry into comprehensive Climate Action Plan the President announced on June 25.
Representative Ed Whitfield (R, KY) chairman of the subcommittee, had invited representatives of 13 federal agencies to appear. These included the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, and Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, State, Agriculture, Transportation, Interior, Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Treasury.
The other agencies have plenty of information to share, according to Bloomberg News. "The Export-Import Bank has a renewable-energy portfolio. The Agency for International Development has a global climate-change and development strategy. The Pentagon is investing in alternative fuels. The Department of Transportation has a climate-adaptation plan."
The day before the hearing, Whitfield primed public opinion on the meeting by flaying the Obama administration for sending only two officials to testify: Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy. “What does it say about an administration that is largely unwilling to testify on its top policy initiative?” Whitfield asked.
"Are you trying to hide something?" Joe Barton (R, TX) jabbed. Are you embarrassed by it, or you just don't care to respond to Congress?" (Barton has reportedly received over $2 million from fossil energy interests throughout his Congressional career. He has profited more than anyone else on the subcommittee from climate-denialist funding sources, consuming about half the incoming lobbying funds.) Bloomberg News played right into Barton and Whitfield's strategy by accusing the President of a "pathetic response," being "unwilling to play ball," and trying to "stiff the subcommittee."
In fact, subcommittee hearings rarely command the attention of even two cabinet secretaries testifying. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D, CA), ranking member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce and a Congressman for almost 40 years, said the presence of both the environmental and energy secretaries evinced the seriousness of the Administration regarding this topic. With Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, the junior Senator and former state Attorney General from Rhode Island, Rep. Waxman spearheads the bicameral Task Force on Climate Change established this past January to address the issue.
EPA and Energy are the primary agencies responsible for overseeing the U.S. response to climate change. Another view regarding representation at the meeting would be that the government saved a lot of both time, paperwork, and money by leaving the response to these two departments and avoiding a lengthy three-ring circus of witnesses.
Whitfield asked the agencies to report on how much money they have spent on climate change. He then answered the question himself by stating that “More than $77 billion was spent between 2008 and 2013 across the government on climate activities." It is tempting to ask why the hearing, then?
"If the Obama administration has this great climate change program, you should be able to answer in detail and in glowing terms," Barton said. McCarthy and Moniz did exactly that. Each described the President's comprehensive June 25 Climate Action Plan in detail.
"The plan has three key pillars," said McCarthy:
- Cutting carbon pollution in America
- Preparing the country for the impacts of climate change; and
- Leading international efforts to combat global climate change.
She also pointed out that "Many of the programs that we run are programs that Congress specifically directed us to run."
Cutting U.S. carbon pollution
McCarthy cited use of the Clean Air Act to save an estimated $1.7 trillion for consumers, cut America’s oil consumption by 12 billion barrels, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6 billion metric tons. Moniz reported that domestic energy production has surged since Obama's election. "Oil imports are at a twenty year low and domestic oil and gas production are at the highest level in nearly two decades. And yet carbon dioxide emissions have gone down. We can grow our economy and reduce carbon pollution at the same time."
Preparing the country for the impacts of climate change
Regarding this stated objective, the administrators spoke to certain needs:
- Identifying our vulnerabilities,
- Protecting/improving our infrastructure, and
- Strengthening our resilience to climate impacts we’re already experiencing and those that can no longer be avoided.
Moniz discussed the fuel economy mandates worked out with the auto industry after Obama's first inauguration. He then targeted waste, citing rules to cover microwave ovens, metal halide lamp fixtures, commercial and industrial refrigerators, and electric motors. These are expected to slice consumer energy bills by up to $28 billion and cut CO2 emissions by over 350 million metric tons over 30 years. To the groans of climate liberals, he also touted $14 billion allocated to loan guarantees and R&D investments for advanced fossil energy technologies, including enhanced oil recovery, CO2 reinjection, and "clean coal."
The EPA administrator cited the National Drought Resilience Partnership, ensuring the security of freshwater supplies, protecting water utilities, and protecting and restoring forests. She admitted that EPA alone could never reduce all the greenhouse gas emissions needed to combat climate change, but she said that "We are working within our authority to do what we can."
“Even though we want as clean air as we can, we still want to be able to turn on the lights and, particularly in Texas, have our air conditioning in the summer,” said Rep. Gene Green. The 20-year Texas Democrat from Houston offered support to conventional energy interests and played gently on fear with the conservative public. Green worries that EPA’s rules threaten the reliability of the nation's huge, even ungainly, power grid.
The Obama administration partially offset the angst and addressed our vulnerability to grid breakdown with a joint memorandum of understanding signed in August by federal officials, Republican Governor Christie of New Jersey, and the New Jersey Transit Corporation. The agreement establishes a new “NJ TransitGrid” designed to provide highly reliable power within a critical East Coast transportation corridor if the traditional grid should be compromised. The New Jersey effort represents what may become a more defensible network of "microgrids" in various parts of the country to limit the force of climate-related events like last year's superstorm Sandy.
International actions taken by Obama
"America’s leadership can galvanize international action," Moniz stated about the third pillar of Obama's program. He cited how world leaders, including President Ronald Reagan, had signed the Montreal Protocol to address ozone depletion by phasing out CFCs.
However, the DOE Secretary neglected to mention the American recalcitrance on signing the Kyoto accords and related international agreements. This year Obama has made some international strides that begin to offset previous American omissions.
Testimony regarding these advances included the Climate Action Plan, the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum with 23 other nations, a new bilateral agreement on hydroflourocarbons with hitherto reluctant China, G20 unanimity on using the 1987 protocol to address the HFC problem globally, limitation of government support for new coal plant financing overseas, recently adopted by five Scandinavian nations as well, the 2014 Quadrennial Energy Review, and clean energy technology sharing with key countries such as China, India, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia.
Summary of the subcommittee arguments
“I believe that it is a disservice to the public to suggest a policy approach meaning to address climate risk when in fact it will not, despite tens of billions spent and countless jobs lost,” the supposedly moderate Rep. Fred Upton (R, MI), Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and ex officio member of the subcomittee, said of the Obama climate plan.
Critical Republicans have offered no alternatives to the President's climate plan. Instead, the subcommittee hearing echoed with assertions like Upton's, innuendo from Barton, and bluster from Whitfield.
"My question for House Republicans is simple," Rep. Waxman declared in his statement to the group. "What is your plan? If you don’t like the President’s plan, what is your proposal? ...Saying “no” to every solution is not a plan. Doing nothing is not a plan. If all the Republicans on this Committee do today is criticize, they are either denying the science or ignoring it."
“This Congress has rightly been called the ‘do-nothing Congress.’ But on climate, we're doing worse than nothing. We are affirmatively obstructing progress.”
Waxman characterized the President's overall plan: "[It] is reasonable; it is affordable; and it will protect our atmosphere for our children and future generations. It will also make our country the global leader in the clean energy economy of the future."
Not to mention, at least it is something that responds to a critical area where the U.S. has often waffled before.
Award-winning science writer Sandy Dechert covers environmental, health, and energy policy and issues. She has reported extensively on climate change and extreme weather disasters, including superstorm Sandy, the 2012-2013 drought, and the massive summer wildfires of the past decade. She also detailed events and policy at last fall's 18th UN climate change summit meeting in Doha, Qatar and has covered the progress of the Obama administration in this area.
You are welcome to reproduce this article in whole or in part provided you stipulate authorship by "Sandy Dechert for Examiner.com" and/or link to this page. If the article interests you, please "like" it, share or tweet, and/or send me a question or comment! To keep up with the most current news, subscribe here and Examiner will email you when I publish new articles. All pictures and quotations here remain the property of their respective owners. Contact: email@example.com. Tweet @sandydec for updates. Thanks for reading!