Senate Hearings Kick Off Climate Bill Debate
With Democrats and Republicans deeply divided about the need for and cost of curbing climate changing pollution and pursuing an energy economy that tilted away from dirty and expensive fossil fuels, the United States Senate today launched a potentially far-reaching debate on legislation designed to secure the environment and propel a new industrial chapter for the American economy.
The focus of the first of three days of hearings this week before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is a 923-page version of global warming legislation introduced last week by its chairperson, Democratic California Senator Barbara Boxer. Senator Boxer and Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, introduced the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (S. 1733) in a bid to advance a 21st century environmental and economic transition that some economists and policy specialists have compared to the start of the industrial revolution of the 19th century.
A bill that contains similar provisions, including a commitment to invest billions in energy efficiency, clean energy manufacturing, alternative energy development, limits to carbon pollution, and to cap carbon emissions and launch a new market for trading in carbon pollution permits passed the House in late June.
The Obama administration, following a restive summer during which it had little to say on the issue, has dramatically stepped up its public support for the legislation. In late September, during Climate Action Week in New York, and again during the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, President Barack Obama detailed the need for climate action and investment in clean energy technology and practices as imperative to the safety, security, and prosperity of the United States and the world.
Last week, during a speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the president said he was serious about about tackling global warming, and saw it as an opportunity to showcase American innovation. “The world is now engaged in a peaceful competition to determine the technologies that will power the 21st century,” said President Obama. “From China to India, from Japan to Germany, nations everywhere are racing to develop new ways to producing and use energy. The nation that wins this competition will be the nation that leads the global economy. I am convinced of that. And I want America to be that nation. It’s that simple.”
The path to gaining 60 votes in the Senate to pass the climate and energy legislation is strewn with political and ideological impediments. Many Republican lawmakers on the panel, led by Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, expressed skepticism that climate change is actually occurring. Others said they were convinced the bill would lead to job losses and economic decline.
Senator Kerry refuted both notions in his testimony, asserting the cost of doing nothing was far more expensive. Flooding, drought, national security crises caused by dependence on foreign oil, damage to forests and oceans, and a host of other consequences of climate change represent a threat to the world’s economy and governing abilities unlike anything that has occurred previously.
On Tuesday, top Obama officials also made their case before the panel. They will be followed by testimony by more than 50 witnesses including military leaders, utility CEOs and NGO executives.
In addition, global support for climate action is increasing. Over the weekend UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon published an op-ed in the New York Times emphasizing a positive outcome for Copenhagen and calling upon the U.S. to show leadership. “Can we expect the United States to play a leading role” in Copenhagen?, Ban asked. “Yes, we can.”
And on October 24, hundreds of thousands of advocates across as across the globe mobilized to promote climate action at 5,200 locations, from the Himalayas to the Great Barrier Reef. Rallies took place in over 182 countries, all centered on the number 350, which scientists say is the upper limit of how much carbon dioxide the atmopshere can safely handle, measured in parts per million. Learn more