When President Obama selected Senator John Kerry to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State many environmentalists were hopeful. They felt Secretary Kerry would tackle the issue of climate change aggressively. Kerry has long been a “climate hawk” and indicated at his confirmation hearing nothing has changed.
“I would respectfully say to you that climate change is not something to be feared in response to — the steps to respond to — it’s to be feared if we don’t. 3,500 communities in our nation last year broke records for heat … and we had a derailment because of it. We had record fires. We had record levels of damage from sandy, $70 billion. If we can’t see the downside of spending that money and risking lives for all the changes that are taking place, to agriculture, to our communities, the ocean and so forth, we are ignoring what science is telling us. .I will be a passionate advocate on this not based on ideology but based on facts and science, and I hope to sit with all of you and convince you that this $6 trillion market is worth millions of American jobs and we better go after it.”
Will Kerry be able to deliver? Given the fact that climate change deniers are in the majority in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and they hold de-fact veto power in the Senate that remains to be seen.
Keystone XL Pipeline a test
One test will be the Keystone XL Pipeline. President Obama denied the permit for the northern leg of the pipeline that would bring Canadian tar sand oil through the heart of the United States to refineries and export ports on the Gulf. After that denial, the company building the pipeline made changes in the route to eliminate opposition from Nebraska’s Governor who objected because it would have crossed the Ogallala aquifer. Nebraska is now on board.
Many Americans, however, are not. A Rally was held last week in Washington at which 50,000 protesters demanded the pipeline not be built. Secretary Kerry must approve the application before the president gives final approval. It is thought that if Kerry strongly objects, the president will deny the permit once again.
Another area that Kerry can exert influence is in the realm of global climate treaties. A UN climate conference in Qatar failed to produce anything but an extension of the Kyoto Accord, which the U.S. did not sign. Nations are meeting to find common language on a new treaty.
The U.S. has not been a strong leader in climate change on a global basis because we remain one of the world’s top carbon polluters. Austerity programs by Congress make funding to help developing nations confront climate change nearly impossible.
Perhaps leadership from Secretary Kerry could change that.
New data was released this month by the EPA showed that two-thirds of the carbon pollution in the U.S. comes from power plants. The good news is that carbon from electrical generation actually decreased 10% over 2010 levels due to a shift from coal to natural gas by many utilities, and the doubling of solar and wind generation. Unfortunately, Congress has tried to kill if not stifle the growth of solar and wind energy.
If Kerry is successful in getting the U.S. on board with global climate change reduction targets, it would by necessity require more coal burning power plants to be retired, and it would provide more incentive for utilities to shift to wind and solar.
The 2-ton elephant is in the Senate which would have to ratify any climate treaty. Climate deniers, funded by campaign contributions from big oil and fattened by standing-up meals from lobbyists, hold veto power in the Senate. It would take half a dozen Republicans to break rank to ratify a treaty.
As long as the odds are, there is still hope that Secretary Kerry can play a major role in implementing President Obama’s new call for action on climate change.