No environmental issue has garnered more attention on Capitol Hill than climate change and the associated debate over global warming. This issue has been the topic of countless hearings over the past several years, most of which have been essentially economic in focus, although some have dealt with climate change science directly. With the Senate on record in its opposition to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the Clinton Administration has yet to submit the treaty for ratification. In the meantime, debate swirls around whether the Administration's climate change-related initiatives are attempts to implement the Kyoto agreement without congressional approval. This issue is of great interest to geoscientists, both those whose research is directed at improving our understanding of long-term climate change and those whose jobs in the petroleum and coal industries would be directly affected by restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions.
Most Recent Action
In the middle of November 2000, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) held the sixth Conference of the Parties (COP6) in The Hague, Netherlands, to discuss ways in which the nations and organizations represented could implement the Kyoto Protocol and the goals of the Convention on Climate Change. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol (a result of the COP3 meeting), has been a contentious issue between the Clinton Administration and Congress. Its congressional critics see Kyoto as a deeply flawed treaty that fails to hold developing nations, such as China and India, to the same standards as developed nations in greenhouse gas emissions -- specifically carbon dioxide. Negotiations at The Hague ultimately broke down over disagreements between the United States and the European Union on the role of carbon sequestration. Language in the Kyoto Protocol focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions but leaves the door open for developed countries to receive credit for sequestering carbon in long-term "sinks" such as forests and agricultural soil or by injection into deep wells. The U.S. government has supported research in carbon sequestration and understanding the carbon cycle in hopes to use the results to maximize sequestration credits. The European Union argued that doing so would short-circuit the treaty's central goal of emissions reduction. Instead of completely closing the negotiations, representatives have suspended the discussion until the COP7 meeting in Morocco in May or June of next year. No matter how the election works out here at home, the debate over carbon sinks is likely to remain heated, initially over whether to accept them and eventually over how to measure them.
As the second congressional session proceeds, both scientific and political aspects of global climate change continue to be issues of debate and concern. While major legislative action has yet to take place, briefings for Hill staffers are being held with rapid frequency.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) chaired a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing titled The Science Behind Global Warming on May 17, 2000. McCain, along with Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), heard from several expert witnesses, most of whom were involved with the recent National Research Council report, Reconciling Observations of Global Temperature Change, and/or the IPCC's Third Assessment Report on Climate Change, currently being released in several draft sections. While the expert testimony covered several different themes within climate change science, a few key issues were stressed by all of the witnesses as conventional wisdom accepted by an overwhelming majority of the scientific community. These included:
A May 4th hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Production and Price Competitiveness focused on carbon cycle research and how agriculture might help to reduce climate change by sequestering carbon dioxide. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), a member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, introduced S. 1066, the Carbon Cycle and Agricultural Best Practices Research Act. S. 1066 authorizes the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to conduct research on storing carbon in soils and how agriculture might help solve the climate change problem. In his opening statement, Roberts noted that "agriculture may have the ability to store 200 million tons of carbon annually or the equivalent of 307 million tons of coal." He said that the research would focus on best management practices that would reduce soil erosion, reduce fuel costs, improve soil fertility and water quality, and increase production. Witnesses at the hearing included: David Hofmann, director of NOAA Climate Monitoring and Diagnostic Laboratory; Keith Collins, Chief Economist at the USDA; Richard Stuckey, Executive V.P. of the Council for Agriculture Science and Technology; Charles Rice, Soil Microbiology Professor at Kansas State University; John Kimble, a research soil scientist with the USDA; William Richards, former Chief of the Soil Conservation Service; and John Haas, a farmer from Larned, Kansas. (5/4/00)
A report titled Carbon Management: Assessment of Fundamental Research Needs was released by the Department of Energy's Office of Science late in 1999. An overview of the DOE's Carbon Management Program is available on the web at: http://cdiac2.esd.ornl.gov/index.html. According to the DOE website, the report covers five areas of concern:
On June 15, 1999, Rep. McIntosh introduced H.R. 2221, the Small Business Family Farms and Constitutional Protection Act, designed to "prohibit the use of Federal funds to implement the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change until the Senate gives its advice and consent to ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, and to clarify the authority of Federal agencies with respect to the regulation of emissions of carbon dioxide." With this bill, McIntosh hopes to dampen support for early action emissions crediting legislation in the Senate (see below).
In late June, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change released a report based on new information gathered from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report predicts slightly higher rates of global warming and accompanying sea level rise. In 1995, the Pew Center predicted changes from +1.4 to 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100. The new estimates, based primarily on measurements of sulfur dioxide emissions that were lower than previously predicted, have bumped those numbers up to +2.3 to 7.3 degrees Fahrenheit. Sulfates act to cool the atmosphere and to some extent counter the effects of increasing green house gases. The report credits reduced sulfate emissions (driven by efforts to reduce air pollution) as a partial cause for the predicted warming. Critics of the new report point out that sulfates' role in the system is not well known and that they act as only one piece of a complicated system. The Pew report and accompanying press release are available online.
On July 29, 1999, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced S. 1457, "The Forest Resources for the Environment and the Economy Act". This legislation, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), encourages forest projects that remove greenhouse gases (mainly CO2) from the atmosphere while at the same time improve habitats and protect waterways. Money for these projects could be acquired from the State Forestry Department and would be distributed using a revolving loan program. A summary of a September 30th hearing regarding this bill, held by the Forests and Public Land Subcommittee, chaired by Craig, is available on the Summary of Hearings on Global Climate Change web page.
On October 6, 1999, Rep. David McIntosh (R-IN) held yet another hearing in a series aimed at criticizing the Clinton Administration's support of the Kyoto Protocol. The hearing was held jointly by McIntosh's National Economic Growth, Natural Resources, and Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee and the House Science Committee's Energy and Environment Subcommittee. It was titled Is CO2 a Pollutant and Does the EPA have the Power to Regulate it? A summary of the hearing can be found on the Summary of Hearings on Global Climate Change page of the AGI Website.
The energy and water appropriations bill, signed by President Clinton on September 30, 1999, contains an amendment introduced by Rep. Joseph Knollenberg (R-MI) prohibiting the administration from using any funds to implement the Kyoto Protocol.
While Sen. Wyden's bill, S. 1457, draws bi-partisan support because of the low-profile manner in which it addresses climate change, other bills introduced in the Senate during the 106th Congress have caused considerable controversy and debate. These bills include: S. 547, the Credit for Voluntary Reductions Act of 1999, presented by the late Environment and Public Works Committee Chair John Chafee (R-RI), and S. 882, the Energy and Climate Policy Act of 1999, presented by Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Frank Murkowski (R-AK).
Debate about S. 882, resurfaced in March at a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. While those representing the Clinton Administration noted that it may be a good start for more comprehensive legislation, the bulk of the testimony focused on S. 1776, a bill introduced by Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID). This bill would make the Department of Energy (DOE) the main agency in charge of research on global climate change. The administration supports the continuation of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), which was created by the Global Change Research Act of 1990. The USGCRP is an interagency program that brings together experts from all of the scientific agencies that conduct research pertinent to climate change.
On July 18, 2000, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a hearing on the National Assessment on Climate Change. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) chaired the committee hearing that provided Dr. Anthony Janetos and Thomas Karl, co-chairs of the National Assessment Synthesis team that authored the assessment, a chance to summarize and explain some of the findings in the report. Dr. Raymond Schmitt from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution discussed how the report's findings are limited due primarily to our incomplete understanding of the interplay between oceans and the atmosphere, a key factor in the climate modeling that forms the basis of the assessment's findings. Providing a different view on the climate change issues, Dr. Fred Singer argued that there has been no warming over the last twenty years. Also at the hearing were Dr. Jerry Melillo, Co-Director, Ecosystems Center, Marine Biological Laboratory; Dr. Robert Mendelsohn, Edwin Weyerhauser Davis Professor, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University; and Dr. Peter B. Rhines, Professor of Oceanography and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, who were not able to give oral testimony because of the Senate schedule. More information on the hearing is available at the Climate Change Hearings website. (8/22/00)
The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) released the National Synthesis Assessment on Climate Change report entitled Climate Change Impacts for the United States: the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change on June 12, 2000. The assessment was commissioned by Congress in 1990 and put together by scientists from academia and both the public and private sectors. Some key findings include the conclusion that the average annual U.S. temperature has risen 1 degree Fahrenheit over the 20th century, and could rise 5 to 10 degrees more in the next 100 years. A rising sea level would erode coastlines, decrease permafrost and increase the likelihood of storm surges. One of the short-term positive results may be an increase in vegetation that relies on carbon dioxide for photosynthesis and may flourish with increased precipitation. Yet even this scenario may crumble in the long term as droughts, fire, insects and disease increase in occurrence as well. The loss of current indigenous systems, plants and animals may be one of the most precious losses. One of the most prominent findings is that local areas may experience more drastic changes than obvious on a regional or national scale. The public comment period of the synthesis report ended on August 11, 2000, but some of the regional and sectoral reports will be forthcoming. AGI sent out an email Agency Alert on the report on June 29, 2000. (6/30/00)
Following up on a promise made during his run for president, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has held a series of climate change hearings as chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. The latest of these, held on September 21st, looked primarily at what actions and approaches companies and groups can take voluntarily to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Witnesses included Jeff Morgheim from BP, Ann Mesnikoff from the Sierra Club, Fredrick Palmer from the Western Fuels Association, Inc, and Joseph Romm from the Center for Energy ad Climate Solutions. In his opening statement, McCain stated that he plans to introduce a bill in the near future that will propose "an International commission of scientists to study climate change and to provide unbiased, sound scientific analysis to anyone in search of the facts on global warming" - a plan that sounds similar to the existing International Panel on Climate Change. More information on the hearing is available on the Summary of Hearings on Global Climate Change website.
Recent International Action
On March 9th, Kjell Magne Bondevik, the Prime Minister of Norway, resigned in protest of a parliamental vote to build several new gas-fired power plants. The resignation marks the first government breakup that has ever resulted from issues related to global warming (Environment News Service, 3/9/00). While most of Norway's electricity is currently produced from hydro-electric dams, there has been recent resistance to the construction of more because of the effects of dams on the landscape. While Bondevik's government wanted to put off building power plants until cleaner gas-burning technology was developed, his opposition felt that they must come up with a way to meet the growing demand for electricity.
On a similar note, the UK has announced plans to reduce emission of greenhouse gases by an amount considerably more than required under the Kyoto Protocol. They plan on accomplishing this goal through a series of measures including improved home efficiency requirements and better planning for the impacts of climate change (Greenwire, 3/9/00). However, the British Independent reported that a panel of the House of Parliament found the government's publicity drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions -- "Are you doing your bit?" -- has been ineffective.
S. 547, the Credit for Voluntary Reductions
Act of 1999
On March 4, 1999, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair John Chafee (R-RI) introduced S. 547. In his introductory remarks, Chafee said, "There is growing certainty in the international scientific community, and indeed within our own business community, that human actions may eventually cause harmful disturbances to our global climate system." He continued by acknowledging that a great deal of uncertainty exists in the manner in which the U.S. will address this issue. Because of this uncertainty, he said, business leaders are reluctant to take action to reduce emissions because they believe that these actions would not be credited under a future system. Chafee said, "it is this uncertainty, this regulatory and financial risk, that our legislation intends to diminish." A hearing was held on the bill by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on March 24, 1999.
Chafee's bill would allow the president to enter into "a legally binding early action agreement" with businesses. These businesses would be given credits for their greenhouse gas reductions made over a baseline during the voluntary period. These credits could be for activities that reduce emissions and sequester carbon, including actions taken overseas. The bill proposes using emission levels from 1996 through 1998 as a baseline. Chafee stated, "Because we do not know when, if ever, the US will impose emissions reductions, we do now know the duration of the actual voluntary period. The bill does, however, establish a 10-year sunset on the voluntary crediting period. "Businesses would be responsible for measuring, tracking, and reporting their emissions. The bill is similar to one he introduced towards the end of the 105th Congress (S. 2617), but contains several changes aimed at making the bill more acceptable to industry. For example, S. 547 does not proposed to amend the Clean Air Act and place the Environmental Protection Agency in charge of the program, as last year's bill did.
Chafee emphasized that he in no way supports the US ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 United Nations treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Some of the 11 bipartisan original cosponsors made the point even more clearly in their remarks on the Senate floor. Senator John Warner (R-VA) said, "I continue to feel strongly that the [Kyoto] protocol is fatally flawed. This bill is about protecting United States companies that have or are interested in taking voluntary steps to lower their output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. "Other Senators, however, who believe the US has a role in international emission reductions support the bill as well. Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) called the bill "an insurance policy to protect us from the dangers of climate change."
Reaction to Chafee Bill
Outside Congress, the bill has some unlikely allies. Fred Krupp, executive director of the Environmental Defense Fund, said the bill is "a bipartisan breakthrough which can jump-start emissions reductions." Similarly, Kevin Fay, executive director of the International Climate Change Partnership, a business group whose membership includes British Petroleum-Amoco, General Motors, and General Electric, said that his group has "consistently stressed the need to provide legally binding assurances that voluntary actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be credited in any future mandatory scheme adopted by the government."
Although the Chafee bill appears to have more support than previous climate change initiatives, it is likely to have a difficult journey. Several senators believe it will increase support for the Kyoto Protocol and oppose it on those grounds. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Frank Murkowski (R-AK) said the bill is "clearly a case of putting the cart before the horse." He said lawmakers "should not rush to implement a treaty that has not been ratified or even submitted to the Senate." In addition, several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, criticized the bill for having too many loopholes. They joined with other environmental groups to issue a statement that the bill "could only move forward with major alterations." In showing the strange bedfellows that this bill has produced, the Sierra Club and Ozone Action went even farther by joining with the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, who is a vocal opponent of the Kyoto Protocol, to voice their opposition to the bill.
A July 15th hearing titled, "Credit for Early Action: Win Win or Kyoto
Through the Front Door?", was called for by Rep. David McIntosh.
This hearing was held to weigh the implications of early action programs
like those proposed by S. 547. A full summary can be found on the
S. 882: Energy and Climate Policy Act of 1999
Senator Murkowski joined with nine cosponsors to introduce S. 882, the Energy and Climate Policy Act of 1999 on April 27, 1999. The bill has three components. First, it would authorize $2 billion for research and development on new technologies to stabilize greenhouse gases. Second, it would expand existing Department of Energy voluntary greenhouse gas reduction programs. Finally, it would establish an Office of Global Climate Change within the Department of Energy.
During his remarks on the Senate floor, cosponsor Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) summarized the bill by stating, "This legislation turns the debate away from unachievable, UN-mandated, arbitrary, short-term targets and timetables as dictated by the Kyoto Protocol toward a long-term strategy that focuses on sound science, increased research and development, incentives for voluntary action, and public-private technological initiatives that are market driven and technology based." Murkowski added that amendments to the bill may be proposed on several other "commonsense approaches." He listed protecting the US Global Climate Change Research Program from politics, promoting voluntary agricultural and forestry practices to sequester carbon, and promoting US exports of clean technologies abroad as examples of areas that could be added to his bill.
Cosponsors Hagel and Byrd (D-WV) are also the authors of Senate Resolution 98 from the 105th Congress. This resolution, adopted 95-0, has been the rallying cry against the ratifying the Kyoto Protocol in the Senate. The nonbinding resolution states that the US should not be a signatory to any treaty or protocol that would harm the US economy and that does not hold developing countries to the same mandates as developed, or Annex I, countries.
Climate change was a top environmental issue during the 105th Congress. Most of the debate centered around the issue of implementing two international treaties that were negotiated during that time: the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and a follow-up agreement in Buenos Aires in the fall of 1998. AGI's 1998 climate update includes information on those treaties as well as on actions taken by the Clinton Administration and Congress. In addition, other updates on the AGI site at http://www.agiweb.org/legis105.html#climate contain information on hearings held before and after the Kyoto negotiations, a summary of economic analyses of the treaty, a report on National Research Council activities on climate change, and a summary of an August 1998 Capitol Hill seminar on global change research. The Committee for the National Institute for the Environment website has several excellent Congressional Research Service reports on climate change.
Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributed by 2000 AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Intern Audrey Slesinger, 1999-2000 AGI/AAPG Geoscience Policy Intern Alison Alcott, 1999 AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Intern Scott Broadwell, and Kasey Shewey-White and Margaret Baker, AGI Government Affairs.
Last updated December 5, 2000
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