Climate Change Hearing Summaries (11-23-04)
In his final action as chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) held his seventh hearing on global climate change to discuss the recently released Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. Once again calling for more awareness and legislative action to mitigate the effects of climate change, he said, "This assessment adds to a substantial and growing body of evidence that clearly demonstrates that climate change is real and has far-reaching implications for society."
Dr. Robert Correll testified first as the chairman and principle author of the assessment on behalf of an international team of 300 scientists, experts, and native arctic elders who drafted the four year assessment. The report concludes that, "The Arctic is now experiencing some of the most rapid and severe climate change on Earth. Over the next 100 years, climate change is expected to accelerate, contributing to major physical, ecological, social, and economic changes, many of which have already begun. Changes in arctic climate will also affect the rest of the world through increased global warming and rising sea levels." He recounted some of the potential effects of climate change including sea level rise, widespread native species depredation, increased storm intensity, and changes in the ocean circulation, among others. The report concedes that since carbon dioxide has a 100 year residence time in the atmosphere, global temperature will continue to increase with or without greenhouse curbs. "If, on the other hand, society chooses to reduce emissions substantially, the induced changes in climate would be smaller and would happen more slowly. This would not eliminate all impacts, especially some of the irreversible impacts affecting particular species. However, it would allow ecosystems and human societies as a whole to adapt more readily, reducing overall impacts and costs."
Dr. Mark Serrez, a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, testified that the sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean has shrunk significantly since 1960. Since 1975, the area of Arctic sea ice lost could cover Alaska and Texas combined. Sonar data from submarines also shows that the sea ice is thinning due to a combination of climate warming and changes in the circulation of the sea ice. The thinning has caused significant changes in the ocean air circulation through changes in ocean density and chemistry. Less sea ice cover also decreases the Earth's reflectivity, thereby increasing atmospheric absorption of solar radiation and accelerating global warming.
Dr. Krupnik from the Smithsonian Institution discussed the effects of Artic warming on native Arctic peoples. He recognized the value of native environmental knowledge to the ACIA report saying that, "their observations of current climate change provide highly useful and reliable data to scholars, policy-makers, and general public." According to Dr. Krupnik, rapid climate change is endangering traditional ecological knowledge of arctic residents with respect to the local environment and subsistence practices. Many northern communities are going through a stressful transition since established subsistence activities, local safety, and food practices are most affected by changing climate.
The second panel, which consisted of Dr. Scott Borg from the Office of Polar Programs at NSF and Dr. Ghassem Asrar from the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, discussed current federal research efforts on climate change. Dr. Asrar said that together with the NSF, NASA provides the necessary observation tools such as satellite remote sensing to understand climate phenomenon. In closing he said, "The key to understanding our environment and making informed policy decisions is accurate and reliable information. Through our space-based perspective, our ability to incorporate our observations into reliable models, and our domestic and international partnerships, NASA is providing the necessary tools for examining these changes, understanding the mechanisms that control them, and predicting their future behavior."
Dr. Scott Borg emphasized the partnerships to produce a diverse set
of scientific data with other agencies such as NASA, NOAA, and USGS
as well as with university based researchers. He discussed NSF funded
research: "Measurements of atmospheric carbon-dioxide concentration
at the South Pole show that the present concentration of carbon dioxide
is higher than at any time during the last 420,000 years and that
it continues to increase. This is a clear indication of how humans
are affecting our environment." Yet, he also said that Antarctic
science is still in its nascent stages, yielding meaningful results
only within the past decade. He commended current research efforts
and referenced NSF's success 18 years ago when they discovered that
chlorflorocarbons CFCs were creating a large ozone hole over the Antarctic.
Since this research ultimately led to an international banning of
CFCs, scientists are now predicting that the ozone hole will heal
in under 50 years. In the questioning period, Sen. McCain did acknowledge
NSF and NASA's role in the CFC issue, however, he sharply criticized
the agencies for not raising awareness in the general public about
the effect of anthropogenic greenhouse gasses on global climate change.
On September 15, 2004, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a hearing on the impacts of global climate change. Senators McCain (R-AZ), Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Snowe (R-ME) listened to three leading climate scientists and an advocate for the Inuit tribes of the artic regions testify on their research and experience with global warming. In his opening comments, Senator McCain underscored his resolve to act on this issue noting, "We need to take action that extends well beyond eloquent speeches, and includes meaningful actions such real reductions in the emission of greenhouse gases. It has been said that we are the first generation to influence global climate change and the last generation to escape the consequences."
Dr. Daniel Cayan, Dr. Frumhoff, and Dr. Tebaldi discussed their landmark study, recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in which they and 17 other scientists modeled the effects of climate change on the state of California over the next century. The study demonstrated two possible models corresponding to the lowest and highest possible future greenhouse gas emission scenarios developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The highest scenario assumed that we do not curb emissions but instead continue on the current trend of exhaustive burning of fossil fuels. The lowest scenario assumed that we take significant measures to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases such as transitioning to clean renewable energy sources.
The models showed significant divergence between the two scenarios occurred only after mid-century. Dr. Cayan reported, "By mid-century, average summer temperatures are projected to rise about 2 to 4°F under the lower emissions scenario and 2.5 to 5.5°F under the higher-emissions scenario. Toward the end of the century, average summer temperatures are projected to rise about 4 to 8.5°F under the lower-emissions scenario and 7.5 to 15°F under the higher-emissions scenario." He went on to suggest that this temperature rise would likely result in declining precipitation and snowpack, rise in sea level, increase in the spread of infectious diseases, and a greater rate of heat related fatalities. California's current water woes would be exasperated if the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which holds roughly half of all fresh drinking water, were to shrink to 1/3 its current levels as predicted by this study. Declining water supplies compounded with rising temperatures would also deal a devastating blow to California's thriving agricultural and tourism industries.
Ms. Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a Canadian Inuit, offered an impassioned testimony, discussing how global warming has affected the Inuit peoples who inhabit the arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, and Alaska. The arctic regions are considered a barometer of the planet's health since that area always shows symptoms of climate change first. According to Ms. Watt-Cloutier, glacial retreat, permafrost melt, previously unknown species of animals and insects from warmer climes, and declining game have endangered the livelihoods of these hunter societies. An alarming number of hunters have perished from falling through the ice or drowning while attempting to cross torrential rivers that were once gentle streams. She pleaded with Senator McCain to steer the U.S. toward global leadership towards a low emission future.
In closing comments, the scientists underscored their conviction that global warming is linked to human activity, citing climate reconstructions dating back 2000 years which show that the earth has departed from its natural climate rhythm. They rebutted criticism by global warming skeptics, pointing to its near universal acceptance by the scientific community. The next challenge, according to Senator Snowe, is to raise awareness amongst the American people in order to drive public policy forward. It is difficult to pass legislation that would not register any recognizable effects until mid century. Since, "there is no instant gratification," Snowe remarked, "this is why science is our most crucial advocate."
On May 6, 2004 the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee met to discuss global climate change and how it is affected by human activities. Each of the witnesses testified in their area of expertise as to how human actions are increasing global temperature. For example, Dr. Fraser testified that based on 25 years of field research in the Antarctic, mid-winter temperatures have increased by six degrees in the last 50 years. He also said that the Adele penguin population has decreased by 60 percent since the study began. After the last climate change hearing on March 4th in which some conservatives claimed that the panel of witnesses was biased, Chairman McCain (R-AZ) asked if any organizations or individuals disagreed with Dr. Fraser's findings. Dr Fraser responded that there will always be people who disagree with scientific research.
After all of the witnesses had testified, Chairman McCain remarked that the testimonies were "very chilling, very concerning". He then asked each of the witnesses what action should be taken by the U.S. to address climate change. The overwhelming response from each witness is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide. Some witnesses responded that this should be addressed though an energy bill. Senator's Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Snowe (R-ME) were both in attendance. Each Senator expressed concern about climate change effects on ecosystems. Senator Lautenberg pointed out that the U.S. is the main exporter of CO2 at 25 percent of the global total while only accounting for four percent of the world's population.
On June 11, 2001, President Bush announced the creation of two initiatives to address climate change: one to address areas of scientific uncertainty, and another to support applied research and demonstration projects. The science initiative, the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), has made significant progress over the last two years by releasing an interagency inventory of science activities in July 2002, and a draft strategic plan in the fall of 2002. After extensive public comment, it released its final strategic plan and program plan in July 2003. In contrast, the research portion, the Climate Change Technology Program (CCTP) has not yet released a review of existing climate-related programs or a strategic plan for technology programs. In earlier discussions with the Science Committee, DOE Undersecretary Robert Card indicated that a draft plan for the CCTP would be released by July 2002. Undersecretary Card testified to the committee in February 2003 that a review of climate change technology programs would be complete by the summer of 2003, but that deadline passed as well. The only glimpse offered to the Science Committee came in the form of a letter from DOE delivered minutes before the hearing began. At the hearing, the administration did indicate its intention to release its long-awaited draft plan for public comment during the first calendar quarter of 2004.
The Department of Energy (DOE) spent $2.7 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2002 on applied energy research, development, and deployment programs. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) estimates that in FY 2002 the government spent more than $3.7 billion on climate change technologies, with $1.6 billion spent at the DOE. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) stated, "The $1.6 billion that was appropriated to climate change technology in fiscal year 2002 is a lot of money that needs to be closely monitored. I'm glad that we are finally having an opportunity to review the progress of the administration's Climate Change Technology Programs and to see how they fit into the long-term 'No Regrets' strategy."
The "No Regrets" strategy is a climate change approach that provides benefits to the environment and the economy regardless of whether human-induced climate change turns out to be a significant problem. The subcommittee examined where carbon sequestration fits into this strategy because it would capture carbon emissions and store the carbon to prevent it from entering the atmosphere. Renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies, on the other hand, can reduce emissions of pollutants and dependence on foreign oil, as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions. David Conover, CCTP's Director, said, "If large-scale geological sequestration is proved successful, then continued use of fossil fuels will be possible, and future climate change strategies could be built on existing infrastructure for fossil fuels, thus accelerating progress and avoiding early and costly retirement of this infrastructure." Lending a geologic perspective, Sally Benson, a geohydrologist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, testified that long-term storage of CO2 is definitely possible. She added, "The existence of naturally occurring CO2 reservoirs proves that CO2 can be sequestered for hundreds of thousands of years or more."
Members also questioned the witnesses about the administration's priorities when it comes to climate change technology development, wondering whether the administration is doing enough on near-term energy solutions. Energy Subcommittee Chair Judy Biggert (R-IL) stated that "in the short-term, there is much more R&D already underway at the DOE and their federal agencies that could result in technology with immediate climate change benefits." According to Environment and Energy Daily, Energy Subcommittee ranking member Nick Lampson (D-TX) noted that most of DOE's high-profile efforts with regard to climate change are long-term projects like FutureGen, a proposed zero-emissions coal-fired power plant; FreedomCar, a plan to encourage fuel-cell powered vehicles; and the International Thermonuclear Energy Reactor, a proposed fusion reactor. He said, "While I applaud the vision of such climate technologies as FutureGen, I hope DOE will put more emphasis on technologies in energy efficiency now and not solely on large projects that may bear fruit ten to twenty years down the road. We can't lose our focus on transferring today's tools out of the labs and into the marketplace."
Citing a study that she co-led in 2000, Dr. Marilyn Brown, Director of the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory testified that there is a large reservoir of cost-effective, energy-efficient technologies available for deployment. Such technologies "could significantly reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emission, oil dependence, and economic inefficiencies, at no net cost to the economy." By 2020, Brown said the U.S. could be using the same amount of energy, but at much more efficient rates while sharply reducing emissions.
An attempt to clarify the administration's long-term goals, specifically
the stated goal to "stabilize" atmospheric carbon concentrations,
Conover could not offer specifics. In the letter sent the subcommittee
just prior to the hearing, CCTP officials said they would publish
two reports in December detailing ongoing climate change technology
initiatives and also laying out near- and long-term strategies.
On July 29, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held
a hearing to consider the history of climate change and the impacts
of mercury pollution, two contentious issues related to ongoing legislative
battles over energy and atmospheric emissions. The climate change
witness panel included scientists whose work lies in the middle of
a recent flare-up in the climate debate. Dr. Willie Soon, an astrophysicist
at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, criticized the
basis for the mainstream scientific conclusion that late 20th century
temperatures are an anomalous spike. He argued that the proxy records
used in hundreds of climate studies have a high degree of uncertainty
and that local and regional climatic shifts such as the "Medieval
Warm Period" or "Little Ice Age" are more important
than average global temperatures. Dr. Michael Mann, a professor of
Environmental Sciences and major contributor to the U.N.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, defended the research
under scrutiny as the consensus of thousands of scientists. He dismissed
Dr. Soon's findings for conflating temperature with hydrological conditions,
for failing to assess hemispheric or global temperatures, and for
ignoring recent decades in climate comparisons with historical trends.
Mann reaffirmed that the unprecedented warming in the late 20th century
is almost certainly a result of the human activities which have produced
the highest levels of atmospheric CO2 in 20 million years.
On July 8, 2003, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change, and Nuclear Safety held a hearing to review the potential of agricultural sequestration to address climate change through reducing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide. Subcommitee Chairman George Voinovich (R-OH) opened the hearing by asserting that steps to reduce atmospheric carbon should be modest because of uncertainties about the human role in climate change. Testimony by several panelists, however, described agricultural sequestration of carbon as a win-win situation with many benefits beyond the issue of climate change. According to Bruce Knight, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is integrating sequestration into many of its management efforts because the strategy is complementary to agency conservation measures. Advantages of sequestration practices described by the witnesses include:
Some debate on the effectiveness of sequestration took place between panelists. According to Rattan Lal, world soils have a large capacity to absorb carbon, and sequestration could eliminate up to a third of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. Joseph Bast contended that the potential was much less because soils will reach a carbon saturation level. Lal suggested better data were needed to more accurately establish sequestration potential. According to Debbie Reed, it would take decades of sequestration to reach saturation. Cynthia Rosenzweig asserted that sequestration could at minimum balance agricultural emissions, making U.S. agriculture "carbon neutral".
The mechanism by which sequestration should be implemented was also
discussed. Knight explained that the private sector is interested
in sequestering carbon largely because it expects to be able to trade
credits in the future. Reed described an example of emerging carbon
markets in the Pacific Northwest, and voiced support for a cap and
trade system of regulation. Robert Stallman, Bast, and Sen. Voinovich
each declared opposition to a cap and trade system for carbon.
Cosponsor of the bill Senator Joseph Lieberman testified before the committee to provide a general outline and goals of the legislation. Lieberman's written statement cited a 1979 National Academy of Sciences report that stated, "When it is assumed that the CO2 content of the atmosphere has doubled, the more realistic of the modeling efforts predicts a global surface warming between 2 degrees and 3.5 degrees with greater increases in higher altitudes." He went on to say that action is needed in addition to more research on the impacts of climate change. Overall, the legislation would cap the nation's emissions of greenhouse gases and provide companies flexibility in how to meet these levels. The cap-and-trade program is based upon the successful Acid Rain Trading Program. The bill would cover four sectors -- electric utilities, industrial plants, transportation, and large commercial facilities -- requiring them to return to 2000 emission levels by 2010 and 1990 levels by 2016. Lieberman also discussed the carbon sequestration provisions of the bill that would allow farmers, who follow strict regulations, to claim credits that they can sell. He highlighted that the flexibility of the bill would allow the nation's ingenuity to meet the goals while at the same time building the economy.
Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA) provided his strong support for the legislation, predicting that the hearing would be remembered as one of the most important hearings of the 108th Congress. Inslee, like many other speakers at the hearing, made reference to current voluntary actions taken by several major companies. British Petroleum (BP), for example, decided to reduce the company's GHG emissions to 1990 level within 11 years. BP ended up lowering its emissions by 10% in three years. As Inslee said, "Here is a hard-headed, bottom-line corporation, which showed the way to the American business industry that this can be done." Inslee suggested that the nation should aim to be a leader in emission-reduction technologies but that federal leadership is needed.
The first panel consisted of Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere James Mahoney, who is also the Director of the US Climate Change Science Program (CCSP). Mahoney's testimony primarily covered information regarding the Administration's discussion draft strategic plan for federal research that was released in November 2002 and the topic of a three-day conference at the beginning of December 2002.
The second panel consisted of representatives from nonprofit organizations
and industry. Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew
Center for Global Climate Change, testified in support of the
legislation, noting that "The Pew Center also believes that the
cost to the United States of meeting a given emissions target can
vary substantially depending on the policy approach taken." Much
of Claussen's testimony discussed the current status of the Kyoto
Protocol in several countries and actions being taken by many governments
and industries around the world. Claussen also talked about actions
state are taking that, "while not necessarily directed at climate
change, are achieving real greenhouse has emission reductions."
Fred Krupp, President of Environmental
Defense, began by echoing the statement that the McCain-Lieberman
bill builds from the nation's ingenuity: "By requiring GHG emissions
across virtually all sectors in the U.S. economy, the McCain-Lieberman
bill taps the know-how and inventiveness of the broadest possible
swath of economic players." Krupp went on to talk about some
concerns that Environmental Defense has regarding the legislation:
the need for specific language for carbon sequestration projects to
meet the criteria for credit, the need to ensure that companies that
have taken pro-active, emission reduction steps are not penalized,
and that role of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
in administering the cap-and-trade program. Of particular concern
was the Title II of the bill that describes the National Greenhouse
Gas Database: "The language fails to ensure that credit-generating
reductions are real and surplus and thus consistent with environmental
integrity." Randy Overbey, President of Alcoa's
Energy Business, discussed the voluntary steps that Alcoa has taken
to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions 60% by 2010, nitrogen oxides 30%
by 2007, and GHG emissions 25% by 2010. Alcoa is a charter member
of the EPA's Climate
Leaders Program and has developed a climate
change policy that uses best practices to improve energy efficiencies
in its global operations. Overbey also talked about the Voluntary
Aluminum Industrial Partnership that aims to reduce the emission
of perfluorocarbon (PFC), which is often emitted from aluminum smelters
when there is an interruption in smelting, "by at least 40% in
year 2000 relative to emissions in the base year 1990." Jack
Cogen, President of Natsource
LCC, an energy and environmental commodity broker, testified
primarily on the global environmental commodities market and the cap-and-trade
system outlined in Title I of the legislation.
Sources: hearing testimony.
Contributed by Margaret A. Baker, AGI Government Affairs Program; Brett Beaulieu, AGI/AIPG 2003 Summer Intern; Emily M. Lehr, AGI Government Affairs Program, Gayle Levy AGI/AAPG 2004 Spring Semester Intern and David Millar, AGI/AAPG 2004 Fall Semester Intern.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Lasted updated November 23, 2004