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Summary of Hearings on Climate Change

(8/2/12)

  • August 1, 2012: Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Hearing on “Update on the Latest Climate Change Science and Local Adaptation Measures”
  • July 19, 2012: Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Hearing on Impacts of Environmental Change on Treaty Rights, Traditional Lifestyles, and Tribal Homelands
  • June 19, 2012: House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power Hearing On “The American Energy Initiative: A Focus on EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Regulations”
  • June 6, 2012: Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Hearing on the European Union's Emissions Trading System
  • June 22, 2011: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Hearing on the Proposed NOAA Climate Service

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Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Hearing on “Update on the Latest Climate Change Science and Local Adaptation Measures”
August 1, 2012

Witnesses:
Panel I
Christopher Field
Director, Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science, Professor, Stanford University
John Christy
Director and Distinguished Professor, Earth System Science Center, University of Alabama in Huntsville
James McCarthy
Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University

Panel II
John Griffin
Secretary, Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Margo Thorning
Senior Vice President and Chief Economist, American Council for Capital Foundation
Jonathan Felding
Director, Los Angeles County Department of Health, National Association of County and City Health Officials

Committee Members Present:
Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair
James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member
Bernard Sanders (I-VT)
Benjamin Cardin (D-MD)
Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
John Boozman (R-AR)

On August 1, 2012 the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing to receive an update on the latest scientific studies on climate change and strategies to adapt local communities its impacts. According to a 2011 National Academies report, America’s Climate Choices, climate change is occurring, poses a significant risk to humans and natural systems, and is primarily caused by the emission of greenhouse gases from human activities. Conclusions linking climate change to anthropogenic influence have been doubted by a select group of scientists and national leaders, including Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) who authored “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.”

Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) opened the hearing with statements that the evidence for climate change is “overwhelming” and “human activities are the primary cause.”  She mentioned the New York Times article featuring Richard Muller, a former climate denier who now agrees the scientific evidence that climate change is occurring and humans are “almost entirely” the cause. Senator Boxer cited her efforts in 2007, after becoming Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, to have senators express their views on climate change. More than one third of the Senate responded, including Senator John McCain (R-AZ) who called for action to mitigate and adapt communities for impacts of climate change such as drought, declining snow packs, forest fires, melting ice caps, species dislocation, habitat loss, and extreme weather events. Chairman Boxer discussed recent warming phenomenon, citing reports by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that the previous twelve months have been the warmest since record-keeping began in 1895 and during June 2012 over 170 all-time warm temperature records were broken or tied in cities throughout the U.S. She commended the Obama Administration for establishing new automobile efficiency standards that will reduce carbon by over 6 billion tons and save $1.7 trillion in fuel costs, and the efforts of the General Services Administration (GSA) in reducing energy consumption by 20 percent since 2003. Chairman Boxer emphasized the economic advantage of preparing the nation for climate change. According to a Brookings Institute report, 2.7 million people were employed at 40,000 clean energy companies throughout the nation, surpassing the number employed by the fossil fuel industry. She concluded that taking action to combat climate change now “will benefit us and future generations.”

In his opening statement, Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) claimed that the global warming movement has collapsed since the last climate change hearing in 2009 and efforts to institute a cap-and-trade system are “dead and gone.” He said the global warming movement failed because the “poor science” conducted by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was exposed by the science community and notable media outlets including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Newsweek, and UK Daily Telegraph. Ranking Member Inhofe emphasized that global warming is no longer addressed by the current administration, evident by the lack of federal representation at this hearing and the failure of President Obama to attend the Rio+20 sustainability conference. He said President Obama is now attempting to appear as a “friend” to the fossil fuel industry by proposing the construction of oil and gas pipelines through Oklahoma, but continues to spend $68 billion on a “global warming agenda” that “has been a disaster.” Senator Inhofe concluded that the nation should embrace the U.S. fossil fuel “energy boom” in order to improve the economy, ensure energy security, and become energy independent of the Middle East.

In response to Senator Inhofe’s claims, Chairman Boxer said the committee purposefully did not ask for federal witnesses in order to avoid having the hearing turn into an attack on the Obama administration.

Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT) labeled Senator Inhofe’s views as “extreme and dead wrong.” Although the U.S. cannot prepare to address climate change alone, Sanders said Americans have “a moral and economic responsibility to lead the world” by cutting greenhouse gas emissions and incorporating more efficient and sustainable energies such as solar, wind, biofuels, and natural gas into the energy system. He cited a 2009 report by the McKinsey & Co. consulting firm and a 2010 study by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, which confirm that we can reduce 2005 emissions levels by 17 percent by 2020. Through cost effective energy efficiency strategies such as retrofitting homes, households could save about 20 to 40 percent in energy costs and cut emissions by 20 to 40 percent. Addressing local adaptation strategies, Senator Sanders described the weatherization projects done on 55,000 homes in Vermont, which have saved households over $900 per year on fuel bills. He criticized the government system for providing the fossil fuel industry with over $113 billion in subsidies, while the wind and solar energy sector face extreme opposition to modest incentives. Sanders concluded that the “whole world is debating global warming…we can’t run away from this issue.”

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) agreed with Senator Inhofe’s climate change skepticism and said that empirical data has demonstrated the “incorrectness” of computer modeling climate projections. Senator Sessions presented several graphs and said the data does not prove that global warming causes extreme storms and record high temperatures. The first graph constructed by scientists at NOAA shows that there have been more record low temperatures than record high temperatures on average since the 1930s. The second graph produced by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, compared computer model temperature projections to temperature projections based on satellite data. Senator Sessions explained that the line graph constructed from the observational data shows a temperature increase from 1975 to 2010 of only two-tenths of one degree and that temperatures have stabilized over the last ten years. He emphasized that the observed temperature increase is much lower than what was projected by computer models. He concluded that the government should not ask the American people to “bear an immense economic burden” to meet the “visions of people who are not being proven correct by reality.”

In his opening statement, Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) said that climate change is “real and upon us.” He commented that average temperature values can be misleading and the nation needs to recognize the significant costs extreme weather events can have on society. He mentioned the financial and health burdens associated with the current drought, affecting 60 percent of the country, and the recent heat wave and subsequent power outage caused by the 2012 derecho storm in the D.C. area. “Extreme weather events are not theoretical… they are the new normal,” Cardin said. He said the nation should improve water, public health, and transportation infrastructure, strengthen the electric grid, and prepare coastal zones and low-lying areas for sea level rise. Senator Cardin mentioned his Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Act (S.1669) that would help adapt water systems to changing climate conditions. “We need to act now to protect our communities,” he concluded.

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) said the nation should not adopt a “laissez-faire” climate policy. He said the nation cannot deny the rise in temperature levels, which have led to the worst national drought in more than half a century, killing crops and forcing taxpayers to dole out $30 to $40 million for federal crop insurance payments, and have led to second most extreme wildfire on record, burning 1.3 million acres of land in Colorado in June. Senator Lautenberg said these events are “simply a sign of things to come” and Congress needs to “move on to solving problems rather than dismissing them.”

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D-RI) opening statement focused on scientific facts supporting anthropogenic climate change and the adaptation strategies being implemented in Rhode Island. Land surface temperature has increased by 2.5 degrees over the last 250 years, primarily due to increases in greenhouse gas emissions. In winter 2011-2012, carbon dioxide was measured at 400 parts per million (ppm), which is 50ppm over the maximum level scientists say the Earth needs to maintain a stable climate. He said that climate change is increasing the risk of extreme weather. According to the Environment America Research and Policy Center report, When It Rains It Pours, rainfall events are happening more often and producing about 10 percent more precipitation on average across the nation. In regards to climate change challenges, Senator Whitehouse claimed that coastal states are facing “a triple whammy” because they must not only adapt to extreme temperatures and extreme weather events, but also to sea level rise. He said that Rhode Island has begun to adapt through the adoption of a climate change policy by the Coastal Resource Management Council to protect private property and coastal ecosystems, evaluate adaptation strategies, and partner with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to evaluate hurricane evacuation scenarios.    

Christopher Field, Director of the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science, testified that a changing climate involves changes in the frequency, intensity, duration, spatial extent, and timing of extreme weather events. He summarized three conclusions about climate change: it is real, it has already caused increases in extreme weather events, and it amplifies the risk of extreme weather events that can lead to disasters. He said scientists can now better quantify the way climate change alters weather patterns and have concluded that extreme weather events are 20 times more likely to occur during La Nina periods. Field mentioned the severity of the 2011 Texas drought and said it is the nation’s responsibility to support agricultural producers and ensure that farmers and ranchers have access to appropriate and reliable climate information. Field concluded that “protecting and enhancing our natural legacy, our economy, and our people” from the challenges of climate change requires an objective understanding of the associated risks.

In his testimony, Director and Distinguished Professor of Earth System Science at the University of Alabama-Huntsville John Christy said scientists do not understand the climate system well enough to accurately predict risks and recent anomalous weather cannot be blamed on increases in carbon dioxide emissions. Christy cited a study that shows human disturbance to Earth’s surface disrupts the normal formation of the cooler, surface air layer during the night, when nighttime low temperatures are measured. He asserted that this study proves there is a discrepancy in temperature measurements that biases toward warming trends. He concluded that there is no legislative or fiscal action that could hinder the impacts of climate on society and that climate change alone is a weak platform to base a centrally planned change in energy production, infrastructure, and cost.

Professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard University James McCarthy testified on the ocean’s response to changes in increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. He said new evidence and improved measurement techniques show most of the heat added to the atmosphere is stored in the ocean. Data collected by an international collaboration of universities and agencies, from a vast array of instrumented ocean buoys known as Argo floats, have shown that the usually constant temperature of the deep ocean is steadily increasing over time. Warming in the Arctic can slow the propagation of weather patterns across central North America because of alteration to the upper atmospheric jet stream, which McCarthy said explains the phenomenon of extreme cold temperatures in addition to extreme warm temperatures. He explained that the warming of the deep ocean is causing sea level to rise at a rate three times faster then it was over a century ago. McCarthy asserted that there is no scientific debate over whether or not the Earth’s temperature is increasing, and it can only be explained by the increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

During the first question and answer session, Chairman Boxer asked John Christy to discuss the reliability of the study that discredits regional thermometer station measurements. Christy said the study has not yet been peer reviewed, but the thermometers are sensitive to “clutter” and long wave radiative forcing nearby some stations. Christopher Field disagreed and said NOAA has released peer-reviewed studies that have found no problems with any of the temperature measurements. Boxer then asked if state and local governments should ignore reports of climate change that could potentially harm the agricultural and tourism economies. Christy responded that there is no doubt climate change is occurring; it is merely a question of what steps should be taken to address climate change.

Ranking Member Inhofe asked if the credibility of the IPCC had been “cleaned up.” Christy responded that he does not expect much to change because the panel excludes scientists with different views on climate change. Inhofe then commented that one extreme weather event is not indicative of anthropogenic global warming. Christy agreed and said there are not a record number of high temperatures because the bases of these claims are taken from 30 year record stations rather than 100 year record stations. Christy added that scientists do not clearly understand the climate system.

Senator Sanders asked the panel if the majority of the scientific community was correct in believing that global warming is real. Field said scientific conclusions are nearly unified and McCarthy replied that evidence that humans are contributing is unequivocal. Christy said he is unsure the extent to which humans contribute.

Senator Sessions asked Christy to explain why there are both record high temperatures and record low temperatures. Christy replied that current thermometer stations are a poor metric to use for climate change and that temperature has leveled off over the past few years.

Senator Lautenberg commented that there is a difference between “a projection and a hoax.” He claimed that there has been a movement to discredit science and convince Americans to disbelieve the facts. Lautenberg asked the panel to explain the recent circulation of scientists’ emails that express uncertainty of climate change science. McCarthy said none of the investigations into this issue have found any reason to question the possibility of climate change and the “science stands unaffected.” Lautenberg then questioned the biological implications of climate change. McCarthy informed him that there is evidence on every continent of changes in the distribution of organisms, which reflect changes in the climate consistent with warmer, wetter, or drier conditions.

Senator John Boozman (R-AR) expressed his annoyance when the scientific community makes a conclusion one way or the other because it is not helpful for decision-making and they often turn out to be wrong. He discussed the rise in electricity prices that would occur if cap and trade were implemented and asked how the nation could respond to “man-made” climate change and not hurt the economy. Field responded that there are studies being conducted to develop smart adaptation strategies. He added that there would be consequences if the nation continues to increase greenhouse gas emissions in the same way there would be consequences to the economy if nothing is done to prepare.

Secretary John Griffin of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources opened the second witness panel of by discussing Maryland’s response to the impacts of climate change. Due to regional land subsidence and global sea level rise, the coast of Maryland has experienced sea level rise of about one foot over the last century and could see an additional rise of three to four feet over the next 100 years. Griffin said climate change is increasing the coastal community’s vulnerability to more frequent and severe floods, which submerge tidal marshes and lead to shoreline erosion, salt water intrusion, and higher water tables. He discussed a United States Geological Survey (USGS) report, which concludes sea level rise has risen three to four times faster than the global average since 1990 along an east coast “hotspot” stretching from Cape Hatteras to Boston, Massachusetts. Highlighting Maryland’s vulnerability, Griffin said the sate is currently losing 580 acres of shore every year due to erosion, thirteen Chesapeake Bay islands have disappeared underwater, and the 2.8 degree Fahrenheit increase in Chesapeake Bay water temperatures threatens critical eelgrass habitats. Griffin emphasized the efforts of Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley to mitigate the impacts of regional climate changes by creating the Maryland Commission on Climate Change. In addition, Governor O’Malley supported the Maryland Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act of 2009, which commits the state to reduce greenhouse emissions 25 percent by 2020, and instituted a Climate Action Plan to guide state-level climate adaptation efforts.

As Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health, Jonathan Felding testified on the impacts of climate change on public health. Felding emphasized that extreme weather events cause more physical and mental health cases, increase the prevalence of vector-borne diseases, and disproportionately affect elderly, poor, and young populations. He said there is a significant cost associated with changes in the frequency, intensity, and distribution of extreme weather events as well. Estimates show that six climate change-related events from 2002 to 2009 were responsible for more than $14 billion in health costs. Felding provided several examples of health sector adaptation strategies, including the enhancement of emergency preparedness plans and performance of climate-health vulnerability assessments in Los Angeles County, and the development of a heat vulnerability index in Portland, Oregon. He informed the committee that health departments across the nation have taken action to adapt because climate change threatens health and basic survival. He suggested that the nation expand upon investments made by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and create a clear action plan throughout all levels of government. 

In her testimony, Senior Vice President Margo Thorning of the American Council for Capital Foundation described three primary challenges faced by the private sector in adapting to near and long term variations in climate. Firstly, climate models vary greatly in estimates of when and where temperature changes will occur. The second challenge is that the business community rarely plans more than 3 to 15 years in advance. The last challenge is that it is difficult for the private sector to adapt when subjected to stringent regulatory policies. Thorning emphasized that regulation, such as those under the Clean Air Act (P.L. 95-95), reduce investments, hinder job growth, and reduce the amount of that could be used to adjust to climate change. She said many businesses have already begun to adapt. In the agriculture sector strategies are being used that are implemented under the normal course of business to address more direct impacts, termed “no regret” strategies. Utility industries are using more “hard adaptation” strategies by preparing energy distribution and transmission lines for extreme weather events. Thorning suggested that the federal government can assist companies to cope with the impacts of climate change by ensuring national economic growth, retain capital cost recovery rules, and consider a consumed income tax under which all saving is deducted and all investment is expensed. In addition, she recommended the federal government reform regulatory processes.

Chairman Boxer began the second question and answer period by asking if companies are already preparing for the impacts of climate change. Thorning responded that companies are shifting to “no regret” policies that will help sustain their business and prepare for potential climate impacts. Boxer commended Thorning for introducing the “no regret” terminology and said Congress should implement a similar policy strategy. She said the leadership in the private sector could be used to move Congress forward on climate change.

Ranking Member Inhofe asked how the creation of a carbon tax would affect the economy. Thorning said a carbon tax could weaken the nation’s global economic competitiveness and that the best approach would be to switch to a broad-based consumption tax. Senator Inhofe stated that China has surpassed the U.S. as the largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Provided this trend, he questioned how enactment of legislation that would cap U.S. emissions could affect the economy and manufacturing base of the U.S. Thorning replied that capping U.S. emissions would have no impact on the global concentration of greenhouse gas emissions because of the economic growth of China and India. She added that scaling back on EPA regulations would reduce investment uncertainty within the business community.

Senator Cardin asked what the state and local government of Maryland is doing to respond to the unique sea level rise challenges on the coast. Griffin informed the Senator that Governor O’Malley is taking steps to build a more reliable electric grid and working with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to create an ocean policy, improve building codes, and provide local officials with tools needed to reduce the vulnerability of coastal populations.

Senator Sessions said he doubted that flooding and extreme weather events were caused by greenhouse gases. He asserted that it would burden the economy to ask the American people to do something “not in their economic interest.” Thorning agreed and said that states with a renewable industry sector spend 30 percent more on energy than people living in states without renewable energies. Sessions concluded that the low cost of natural gas is “exciting” and the federal government should not diminish the economy with high, artificial energy costs.

An archived webcast of the hearing, majority and minority statements, and witness testimonies can be accessed on the Environment and Public Works committee web site.

-NEH


Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Hearing on Impacts of Environmental Change on Treaty Rights, Traditional Lifestyles, and Tribal Homelands
July 19, 2012

Witnesses:
Panel I
Joann Chase
Director for the American Indian Environmental Office, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Margaret Davidson
Acting Director for the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Panel 2
The Honorable Mike Williams
Chief, Yupiit Nation, Akiak, Alaska
The Honorable Tex “Red Tipped Arrow” Hall
Chairman, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, New Town, North Dakota
The Honorable Thomas Dardar
Chief, United Houma Nation, Golden Meadow, Louisiana
Bill Frank
Chairman, Northwest Fisheries Commission
Malia Akutagawa
Assistant Professor of Law, William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawaii at Manoa,

Committee Members Present:
Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Chair
John Barrasso (R-WY), Vice-Chair
Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)

The Special Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing on July 19 to examine the disproportionate impact that climatic changes have on tribal homelands and the resources available to mitigate and adapt to the changing environment. Scientists agree that rising temperatures worldwide have negatively affected the environment, ocean temperature and local wildlife. Native communities rely on nature more than most modern Americans for their commercial livelihood and spiritual beliefs and have therefore been disproportionately affected by climate change.

Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-HI) opened the hearing by discussing the “sacred” relationship between tribal nations and the environment. He said they have lived in and studied nature for hundreds of years before the U.S. was colonized by Europeans. Respect and care for the environment is the core of all native people’s world view, according to Akaka. The relationship is reciprocal- people will be protected by their environment to the degree that they protect it. The chairman explained that because of native reliance on the environment for food, sellable goods and spiritual health, they are “disproportionately impacted” by environmental deterioration due to climate change.

Vice-chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) criticized the federal agencies’ policies for combatting climate change saying they “always have negative impacts.” These impacts are usually economic rather than environmental, according to the vice-chairman who claimed regulations on greenhouse gases hinder economic growth. Many argue that improving technology to lower emissions will create jobs, but Barrasso argued that this research will be done by the federal government and must be paid for by taxpayers. The vice-chairman looked forward to the witnesses’ testimonies, hoping their experience could lend insight on how to deal with climate change.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said it was clear to see the “changing climate’s” effect on coastal communities in her opening statement. She said many native villagers in Alaska, the state with more than half of the tribal nations in the country, are in danger of flooding from rising sea levels. Murkowski does not recommend moving these communities as a viable option to reduce the danger. Many have been living in the same place for hundreds of years, and the process would be very expensive. The senator praised witness Mike Kelly, chief of the Yupiit nation, as an “overall leader” for many Alaskan issues. She said the environment can be fixed, but can be done without “sacrificing the economy.”

The first panel of witnesses began with testimony from JoAnn Chase, the director of the American Indian Environmental Office (AIEO) of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. Chase explained that the duty of AIEO was to “strengthen” human health and environmental protection in Indian nations. She said the office “bring[s] tribes to the table” when consulting for them on environmental issues. Tribes can even make recommendations for other EPA protection programs. The tribes are especially disappointed in the lack of interagency communication, according to Chase. She testified that the government must “act now” to alleviate the effects of climate change.

Margaret Davidson, acting director of the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management  of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), testified to the success of the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) in monitoring climate change and its effect on Earth’s environments. She said the office received positive feedback along with criticism and suggestions for lowering emissions and combating effects of climate change at the First Stewards Symposium this week. The symposium, meant to bring tribal nations from across the U.S. to discuss climate change issues, and the NCDC were based on recommendations by tribal leaders.

During the question and answer section of the first panel, Chairman Akaka asked what federal services are available to tribes suffering from environmental effects of climate change. Davidson said the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Taskforce has drafted provisions to alleviate and prevent environmental impacts of climate change and is currently accepting public comment.

Mike Williams’s testimony began the second panel by stating “our temperatures are increasing, our ice is melting, our ocean acidifying and our villages sinking.” He said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates three tribal villages must be relocated or will “literally be swept out to sea.” Some communities have begun to move themselves due to lack of government action. Williams continued that this has been the driest July in 104 years, causing snow and permafrost to melt at record-breaking rates. Permafrost melt releases methane and carbon dioxide which only advances global warming. Williams has raced the Iditarod for most of his life, but says this is the first year the location has had to be moved because of melting snow in Alaska.

Chief of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation (MHA) Tex Hall’s testimony focused on the need to delegate more autonomy for tribal nations to alleviate environmental effects of climate change. As a tribe in North Dakota, the MHA is not in danger of flooding from rising sea levels, but all recounted the dangers to his tribe when the Garrison Dam flooded their lands in 2011. The MHA formed its own rules to fine oil and gas companies for dumping on the reserve. Hall asserted that tribes could form its own rules to protect itself from environmental impacts from climate change, but legislation would have to be passed to give them the authority and resources.

Tomas Dardar, Chief of the United Houma Nation, testified that coastal tribal nations are “fighting an invisible enemy” in attempting to combat effects of climate change. The Houma Nation is along the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and was struck by the effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Fishing is the main livelihood of Houma members and many have still not financially recovered from devastation. Dardar pleaded for federal acknowledgement, lack of which prevented his people from receiving public aid during the crises.

Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced Billy Frank, Chairman of the Northwest Fisheries Commission, whose testimony focused on the loss of Pacific salmon in the Northwest U.S. Fishing is an important industry in this area of the country, and declines in fish populations have adversely affected many in the commission. Frank argued that “no help” is coming from the federal government to combat ocean acidification, or the “poison in the ocean.”

Malia Akutagawa, assistant professor of law at the University of Hawaii (UHI) Manoa, outlined the requests of tribal nations to the federal government in her testimony. She recommended the government provide incentives for individuals moving their houses or businesses away from shores to accommodate sea level rise. The government must provide food security, and protect marine organisms from ocean acidification and rising temperatures. Akutagawa testified that the government should support non-governmental organizations, indigenous organizations and universities which monitor and mitigate climate change effects like forest fires, invasive species and ocean acidification. She pointed out the need for the government to review placement of national reserves to reflect changing migration patterns due to changing climates.

During questioning, Cantwell asked how the government can best combat ocean acidification. Frank responded that the government should hold hearings in the northwest to hear from locals how ocean acidification has affected their livelihoods. Akutagawa suggested the government continue its support of the Center for Island Climate Adaptation and Policy, (ICAP) a research institute hosted by the UHI William S. Richardson School of Law.

Akaka asked how tribes are responding to and preparing for climate change. Hall said laws were set up by tribes to prevent oil spillage on his reservation, but tribal powers must be extended to give them greater authority over their lands. The chairman asked how the United Houma Nation received aid  during Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon spill. Dardar replied that most aid was private. His tribe applied for emergency funding but because they are not a federally recognized tribe they could only receive some money from Louisiana. The rest of the aid came from private organizations.

For opening statements, testimony from witnesses and a web cast of the hearing, please visit the committee web site.

-SJG

House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power Hearing On “The American Energy Initiative: A Focus on EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Regulations”
June 19, 2012

Witnesses:
Panel I
Robb MacKie
President and CEO, American Bakers Association
Carl Shaffer
President, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau
Charles Smith
President and CEO, CountryMark Cooperative LLP
William Chameides
Dean, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University
Daniel Weiss
Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy, Center for American Progress
Louis Cox, Jr.
President, Cox Associates
Gerry Sweeney
President and CEO, Rain Cll Carbon LLC
Panel II
David Wright
Commissioner and Vice-Chairman, Public Service Commission of South Carolina
Steven Winberg
Vice President, Research and Development, CONSOL Energy Inc.
Barbara Walz
Senior Vice President for External Relations and Environment, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc.
David Doniger
Policy Director, Climate and Clean Air Program

Subcommittee Members Present:
Ed Whitfield (R-KY), Chair
Bobby Rush (D-IL), Ranking Member
John Sarbanes (D-MD)
Greg Walden (R-OR)
Lee Terry (R-NE)
David McKinley (R-WV)
Mike Pompeo (R-KS)
Morgan Griffith (R-VA)
Joe Barton (R-TX)
Gene Green (D-TX)
Brian Bilbray (R-CA)
Pete Olson (R-TX)

Full Committee Members Present:
Fred Upton (R-MI), Chair
Henry Waxman (D-CA), Ranking Member

On June 19, 2012, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power held a hearing to discuss the current, pending, and potential future greenhouse gas regulations instituted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the authority of the Clean Air Act (CAA, 42 U.S.C. 7401-7671). Following the 2009 EPA Endangerment Finding, which states that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) endanger public health and welfare, the EPA enacted Mobile Source Regulations, Stationary Source Regulations including a Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permitting program and New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), and GHG reporting regulations. The hearing focused on the potential impacts of the new regulations on the economy, the job market, and consumers.

Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) opened the hearing with concerns that the EPA GHG emission regulations exhibit “regulatory overreach” and essentially serve as a “backdoor cap and tax policy.” Whitfield asserted that legislative action to address climate change should lie with Congress due to the high volume of regulations, the underestimation of costs, and direct job loss associated with EPA regulatory oversight. Whitfield cited examples of federal court decisions that support his position, including the Sackett vs EPA decision which rejected EPA efforts to deny due process to landowners, the Luminant Generation Company, LLC et al vs EPA case which overturned the EPA’s “arbitrary and capricious” rejection of three Texas permitting regulations for Pollution Control Projects, and the Mingo Logan Coal Company vs. EPA decision that overturned the EPA’s attempt to invalidate a West Virginia coal mining permit. Whitfield concluded that the “EPA-fulfilled prophesy that no new coal plants will be built in this country” will destroy jobs and increase electricity costs for consumers.

In his opening remarks, Ranking Member Bobby Rush (D-IL) stated that the classification of the EPA regulations as “unnecessary job-killers” rejects peer-reviewed studies and scientific research, and “illegitimately” denies that the regulations could lead to healthier livelihoods for citizens. Representative Rush stressed that mitigating GHG emissions would increase the number of jobs, rather than eliminate them. He cited a Chicago Tribune article entitled “Extraordinary Extremes: Climate Scientists Explain Our Crazy Weather,” which discussed the record-breaking heat in Chicago and significant increase in reported tornadoes throughout the country during March 2012. Rush then explained that this article, scientific models, and climate research provide evidence of the tie between natural disasters and human-induced climate change. He listed several steps that could be taken to mitigate the effects of climate change, save consumers money on utility bills, reduce dependence on foreign oil, and protect the environment. His suggestions included investment in renewable energy, advancement of efficiency policies, improving appliance technology, and producing fuel-efficient vehicles.

Full Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) remarked that the former cap-and-trade initiative was “bad news all around,” however the new GHG regulations “are looking worse.” Upton claimed that the proposed permitting requirements for power plants and the agricultural industry would be an economic roadblock that would “reverberate throughout the rest of the economy.” Upton mentioned his Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011 (H.R. 910) to amend the CAA and reverse the GHG regulatory authority given to the EPA. He concluded that this bill would ensure a “pro-jobs, pro-growth, and pro-energy future for America.”

In his opening remarks, Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) focused on the small projected change in temperatures as a result of climate change. He stated that the small temperature would not lead to a significant adverse health effect for an individual. Rather, the additional $7 trillion in costs needed to reach GHG emission reduction standards will more negatively affect the nation. He used tail pipe emissions covered in the Light-Duty Vehicle Standards as an example, claiming the standards would require up to $4000 per car in additional production costs.

In his opening statement, Full Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) described some of the significant impacts caused by climate change such as ocean acidification and decreasing crop yields. He claimed that the Republican Party has denied the evidence presented in review reports released by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the Vatican, and the National Academy of Sciences. The majority party has voted 37 times on the House floor to block efforts to reduce climate change, 45 times to prevent investments into clean energy and energy efficiency, and numerous times against cleaner vehicles and incandescent light bulbs. Waxman said the North Carolina bill to reject the use of projected rates of sea level rise for state planning exemplifies the failure of Republican legislators to “accept reality.” He concluded that the “price of denial will be paid by American entrepreneurs, workers, and communities” and by “many generations to come, starting with our own children and grandchildren.”

Robb MacKie, President and CEO of the American Bakers Association (ABA), began the first panel of testimonies by describing the adverse economic effects of the CAA regulations on the wholesale baking industry. He highlighted the magnitude of the baking industry which consists of more than 700 baking facilities and suppliers, generates more than $102 billion in annual revenue, and employs 600,000 people. MacKie informed the Committee that 20 percent of the baking industry is currently covered under Title V permits to reduce emissions. A larger portion of the baking industry would be required to participate under the new permitting process, which would lower the carbon dioxide emissions threshold to 250 tons per year (tpy). He said this would increase compliance costs and constrict bakers’ ability to respond to market demands. MacKie expressed particular concern over the PSD regulation on “biogenic” carbon dioxide, which includes emissions released during the natural fermentation of yeast when dough rises. The EPA PSD regulations require precise emissions estimations, but MacKie said measuring yeast carbon dioxide would be “technologically challenging and costly.” MacKie concluded that the “overly broad” EPA tailoring rule, which determines the stationary facilities that must comply to CAA permitting programs, would force American families to pay more for baked goods.

President of Pennsylvania Bureau Carl Shaffer testified on the permitting processes required in the farming industry under the CAA. He noted that the tailoring rule regulations for GHGs extends the requirement of NSR/PSD and Title V permits to smaller farms and result in many unintended consequences. Shaffer estimated that average additional costs due to permitting requirements would be $23,000 per farm: a total of $866 million in the agricultural sector from for Title V permits alone. He said the animal industry would be the most affected because about 90 percent of livestock production emits between 100-250,000 tpy of GHGs, which makes them subject to Title V permit requirements. Shaffer said the CAA thresholds of major GHG sources, those that emit more than 100-250tpy, “cannot be changed through regulation” and allow “little or no flexibility.” He concluded that regulation of utilities, refineries, manufacturers, and other input providers incur indirect costs on farmers and ranchers and applauded the goals of H.R. 910 to prevent these additional costs on agriculture.

In his testimony, Charles Smith of CountryMark Cooperative discussed the costs his company would have to incur under additional EPA regulations. He stated that the EPA estimates of compliance costs are underestimated and gave the example of the EPA cost estimate of $9,500 for installation of Continuous Emission Monitoring Systems, when the actual cost of installation for CountryMark was $450,000. Smith stated that replacement of the tailoring rule by the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) to establish GHG statutory limits of 100 and 250tpy would be “orders of magnitude more stringent” for refineries. He finished his testimony with a statement that EPA mandates would increase capital, operating, and product costs and reduce domestic refining capacity. He recommended that “rational, reasonable cost analyses” are conducted for EPA regulations.

In the following testimony Daniel Weiss, Director of Climate Strategy for the Center for American Progress, described the significance of the 2007 Massachusetts vs. EPA ruling. As a result of the case, the Supreme Court ruled that the CAA applies to pollutants that contribute to global warming, giving the EPA the authority to set GHG emissions limitations. Regulations under the Obama Administration have set a goal to have the largest facilities reduce emissions by 7000 tpy. Weiss asserted that this goal would have no net impact on the economy. Partisan claims that the EPA is instigating a “war on coal” are “untrue,” Weiss said. Coal companies are supported by carbon capture and storage (CCS) research and development funding established under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (P.L. 111-5). Weiss then commented on the public health effects associated with human-induced climate change and cited an article that said California has seen 20 times as many cases of West Nile Virus in mosquitoes which Weiss attributed to global warming. Weiss suggested that the House “help reduce the threat to Americans’ health, safety, and jobs posed by climate change.”

William Chameides, Dean of the Nicholas School of Environment at Duke University, testified on the America’s Climate Choices 2012 Report issued by the National Research Council. The report’s findings state that climate change is caused by GHGs and poses risks to humans and natural systems, the impacts indicate a pressing need to prepare for the impact with federal policies, and uncertainties about the severity of climate change impacts are not a reason for inaction. Chameides mentioned the evidence of rising temperatures, measurements of the highest carbon dioxide concentrations in the past 600,000 years, and studies that show natural systems, such as volcanoes, are not the cause of recent climate trends. He said the adverse changes in climate will be “difficult or impossible to undo” and if emissions are reduced soon, the associated risks and costs will be less. He concluded that an iterative risk management approach that is flexible and adaptable is key to reducing the impacts of climate change.

Louis Cox, Jr. focused his testimony on the public health effects associated with GHG emissions. He asserted that the predictions that tighter GHG regulations could reduce mortality rates among the elderly and save lives are not based on careful research analyses. Cox said the data does not predict that physiological changes in individuals do not occur following changes in GHG pollution levels. In fact, the rising temperatures caused by climate change lead to fewer deaths relative to abnormally cold temperatures. Rather than rely on “invalidated assumptions,” Cox suggested scientists conduct independently verifiable risk analyses before assuming a causal relationship between health and GHG emissions.

In his testimony Gerry Sweeney, president and CEO of one of the largest producers of calcined petroleum coke, discussed the importance of energy cogeneration to allow the capture of byproduct heat, lower costs, reduce GHG emissions, and ultimately increase international competitiveness. Sweeney stated that investment incentives would be more effective than regulations. The regulations his company, Rain CII, is already subject to are “lengthy and costly” and the new CAA regulations would impact the manufacturing sector with higher operation costs and higher electricity prices. He emphasized that delay from regulatory uncertainty risks losing commercial industrial opportunities to “more nimble competition abroad.”

Chairman Whitfield began the first question and answer period by asking Cox to explain in more detail the public health risks caused by GHG emissions and what assessments are needed to better evaluate the risks. Cox replied that the only public health effect would be from heat waves caused by rising temperatures and that scientists are using unreliable computer simulations to assume air toxicity health impacts. Representative Whitfield asked the panel to verify that low-sulfur requirements have inadvertently led to an increase in emissions. Weiss commented that this is correct because many installation and process changes increase the GHG emissions the EPA is trying to control. Whitfield then asked how the tailoring rule regulations are integrated into the farming process. Shaffer responded that it is true that regulations could affect everything from manure management to space heating to operating for drying and curing, and said he was uncertain how the farming community would be able to deal with the costs.

Ranking Member Rush asked William Chameides to respond to Cox’s comments that climate change has no effect on public health. Chameides acknowledged that finding causal relationships between air quality and mortality is difficult, however there are methods to look at past public health trends and model future scenarios. He used examples of the power plant shutdowns for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia which led to a decrease in the number of hospital visits, and the 2003 record heat wave in Europe killed 20,000-35,000 people.

Representative Barton stated that the EPA Endangerment Finding as a “preconceived conclusion” and said the original 1990 CAA amendments were not intended to cover GHG emissions as a criteria pollutant. He recommended that congressional leaders have a “real debate” on GHG emission regulations as applied to the CAA.

Representative Waxman asked if the United States should expect to see more extreme weather events in addition to the intense heat waves and increased frequency of heavy precipitation. Chameides replied that more extreme weather is expected, but it is difficult to connect these events to climate change. Waxman questioned whether the U.S. should be concerned about melting permafrost and what should be done to address this issue. Chameides responded that permafrost melt will emit methane, a potent GHG. He concluded that with every ton of GHG that is emitted, there is an increased risk for geopolitical problems, poor public health, loss of adequate and clean water supplies, waste of clean energy investments, and unsustainable environmental conditions.

Representative Lee Terry (R-NE) directed questions about GHG emissions from farms to Carl Shaffer. Shaffer responded that average farm will be over the EPA GHG limit of 250 tpy and would have to comply with Title V permits. Shaffer expressed concern that the more stringent restrictions coincide with a time when the nation needs to recruit more farmers and the only way to fall below the emissions threshold is to reduce the quantity of livestock.

Representative Gene Green (D-TX) asked what role congress could have in reducing the effects of climate change. Chameides recommended instituting adaptation preparations and policies that would create a level playing field for clean energy in the marketplace.

Congressman David McKinley (R-WV) stated that many are losing jobs because of the administration’s “war on coal.” Representative Morgan Griffith (R-VA) added that he is concerned about the need for international collaboration to improve global air quality. Chameides agreed that GHG emissions are an international problem, “but traditionally America has been a world leader.”

Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) stated that 37,350 farms would be regulated by the EPA if the tailoring rule was overturned and asked if this would be economically significant. Shaffer said this would create “unfair competition” between large and small farmers, delay operating and construction timeline, and require re-permitting every five years. Representative Greg Walden (R-OR) reiterated Representative Pompeo’s concerns that about the economic impacts of GHG regulations. Shaffer said the new permitting requirements would have reduced the economic viability of small farms and have a “ripple-down effect” on the local community. Witness Gerry Sweeney added that permitting costs will put international limitations on business.

Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD) asked what the consequences would be if the federal government does not take action to plan and create adaptation procedures for future climate change. Although the full impacts of climate change will not manifest for another 20 to 30 years, Chameides recommended that preparation for the effects of climate change should be analogous to fire-prevention building codes and become an integral part of future infrastructure planning. He concluded that the federal government could have a critical role in coordination, information sharing, and community empowerment.

Representative Pete Olson (R-TX) concluded the first panel discussion with a statement that the EPA should be required to conduct a thorough economic analysis on the costs that could result from the GHG regulations.

During the second panel, David Wright of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) described the impacts the regulations on electric utility generating units under the EPA NSPS for GHG emissions would have on the power sector. Wright emphasized that the standards are based on the performance of natural gas combined-cycle units (NGCC) and exclude transitional sources, coal-fired power plants that commence construction within 12 months of the proposal date. He said NARUC is concerned that these qualifications will affect resource diversity and consumer costs. Furthermore, NARUC is concerned that new regulations would create uncertainty about existing power sources and result in over-reliance on natural gas. Wright summarized an economic study on the impact of mercury regulation, the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), the coal-combustion residuals rule, and the cooling water intake structures regulation, which estimated an additional $21 billion in annual costs between 2012 and 2020. The increase in production costs could raise average retail electricity prices by 6.5 percent. Wright concluded that the U.S. needs to increase environmental performance while maintaining energy reliability and stable utility rates.

In his testimony, David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) told the committee of the widespread national support for reductions in carbon pollution. He said 60 percent of Americans believe carbon pollution will result in staggering health costs and two million Americans support the EPA carbon pollution standard for new power plants. He cited the American Electric Power v. Connecticut Supreme Court decision to allow the EPA to institute a NSPS and reduce the 40 percent contribution to total carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Doniger emphasized that the EPA standards would have no new effect on the power industry, rate payer, or job market. He concluded that the EPA has helped develop CCS technology and “clean up” the two most polluting sectors—power plants and motor vehicles.

Steven Winberg, Vice President of R&D at CONSOL Energy Incorporated, focused his testimony on the development of CCS technology. Winberg stated that CCS is the most affordable option to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and will be a critical technology for developing countries, where 70 percent of the total global GHG output will source from in 2035. He said CCS is currently too expensive for broad-scale deployment and suppliers are at least 10-15 years from commercializing CCS technologies. Winberg stated that the EPA NSPS will prevent construction of new coal-fired power plants because the technology needed to reduce emissions below the established threshold is not yet available. He said advancing CCS would require an increase in technology investments, a national regulatory framework for carbon dioxide storage, and several pilot-, commercial-scale, coal-fired power plants with applied CCS technology.

In the final testimony, Barbara Walz commented on the efforts of the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association to provide 1.5 million people with affordable electricity. Walz stated that most of the power is from coal-based power plants. She said the EPA NSPS will “effectively ban the construction of new coal-fired power plants” and will have “far reaching and possibly devastating” effects on rural communities. Walz described that Tri-State’s $70 million investment for a new coal-fired electric generating unit may have to be halted because it does not be able to comply with the “stringent” Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). She added that the GHG NSPS requirement for coal-fired boilers and natural gas-fired combined cycle turbines to remain below a 1,000 pound carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour is unachievable for nearly all units. She concluded that the EPA has adopted an “unrealistic field of dreams philosophy.” Walz suggested the EPA institute compliance deadlines that allow companies to develop, install, and test new technology and implement “achievable” GHG emission standards.

During the second question and answer period, Chairman Whitfield stated that there are negligible benefits associated with reducing mercury levels under MATS. He asked the panel to comment on the potential rate increases for consumers and the reliability of EPA regulations. Wright responded that the Public Commission of South Carolina has petitioned to have study conducted on the potential impact of EPA regulations and has ongoing dialogue with EPA representatives to discuss compliance costs. Walz said that she is unsure if the $70 million coal-fired power plant will be continued due to unreliable and stringent EPA regulations.

Ranking Member Rush asked Doniger if the EPA is trying to prevent construction of new coal-fired power plants and if the EPA is conducting a “war on coal.” Doniger replied that market realities have driven energy decisions away from conventional coal-fired power plants, regardless of EPA NSPS. He added that the EPA has the partisan-neutral goal to protect public health and the environment from the adverse effects of carbon pollution by encouraging the development of coal-fired plants that use CCS technologies.

Representative McKinley told Doniger his claim that mining employment is increasing is false and that West Virginia lost 1,400 coal jobs in May 2012. McKinley questioned how many CCS facilities were operating in the U.S. Doniger responded that there are currently three being developed. Representative Griffith stated that the increase in electricity rate costs associated with the EPA GHG regulations would negatively affect the poor, middle class, minority, and elderly. Representative Pompeo concluded the hearing and stated that to put the EPA regulations in place is “ludicrous” and the claim that the regulations will not impact ratepayers is “silly.”

Witness testimonies, opening statements, and a webcast of the hearing can be accessed on the committee’s web site.

-NEH


Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Hearing on the European Union’s Emissions Trading System
June 6, 2012

Witnesses
Panel I
The Honorable Ray LaHood
Secretary, Department of Transportation

Panel II
Jos Delbeke
Director General of the European Commission, Directorate-General for Climate Action
Sean Cassidy
First Vice President, Air Line Pilots Association, International
Edward Bolen
Preisdent and CEO, National Business Aviation Administration
Annie Petsonk
International Counsel for Climate and Air, Environmental Defense Fund
Nancy Young
Vice President for Environmental Affairs, Airlines for America

Committee Members Present
John Rockefeller (D-WV), Chairman
Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Ranking Member
Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
John Thune (R-SD)
Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Jim DeMint (R-SC)
Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
John Kerry (D-MA)
Mark Begich (D-AK)
Olympia Snowe (R-ME)

On June 6, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing on the European Union’s (EU) Emissions Trading System (ETS). The EU ETS, launched in 2005, is a cap and trade system employed by the EU member states. Factories, power plants and businesses are given emissions caps by their nation’s government and are required to monitor the amount of carbon dioxide they release on a yearly basis. If an organization or country goes over the emissions cap, it must buy permits from countries or organizations which stayed below their cap.

In January 2012, ETS was applied to international airlines based in any country, requiring them to adhere to emissions guidelines set by the EU. The next trading period for ETS begins in January 2013, which is when the EU will require airlines to acquire proper emissions caps.

Chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV) began his opening statement by urging airlines in the U.S, and internationally, to reduce carbon. He said he hoped to hear from the second panel of witnesses what airlines have done and will continue to do saying, “Good intentions don’t work … will not reduce emissions.” The chairman said he “support[s] the goals, but oppose[s] the actions” of the EU in applying ETS to international airlines and believes it is an imposition on U.S. sovereignty. Rockefeller raised concerns about how funds acquired by ETS will be spent as there is no provision requiring them to be spent on reducing emissions, which is not consistent with a Directive which amended paragraph three of article 30. The chairman said many in the airline industry and the Obama administration intend to follow an emissions regulation plan by the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). He said he is skeptical of this as it could be a way for the airlines to “delay and defer any real action” since ICAO would most likely need a lot of time to draft an emissions regulation for international airlines.

Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) expressed confidence in the aviation industry, arguing they “are willing to have voluntary standards.” Hutchison said she too views the EU as “acting outside its prerogative” by applying ETS to international flight. Hutchison said this violates U.S. and ICAO authority by essentially taxing foreign companies.

As Ranking Member of the Subcommittee for Aviation Operations, Safety and Security and the sponsor of a bill prohibiting U.S. airlines from partaking in the ETS, Senator John Thune (R-SD) gave an additional opening statement. The senator discussed his and Senator Claire McCaskill’s (D-MO) bill, the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011 (S. 1956) which would give the Secretary of Transportation the authority to allow airlines and other U.S. companies to refuse to pay for any emissions cap imposed by the EU. A similar bill, the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011 (H.R. 2594), has been passed in the House of Representatives. Thune claimed the imposition of ETS on international aviation is “arbitrary, unfair and against … international law” according to ICAO and the Convention on International Civil Aviation, known as the Chicago Convention. He said other countries including India, China and Russia have voiced opposition to the ETS.

Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) gave an opening statement as the Chairman of the Subcommittee for Aviation Operations, Safety and Security. She began by expressing support for the scientific community’s consensus on the anthropogenic cause of global warming. However, she agreed that the imposition of ETS on U.S. airlines was illegal and expressed doubt that a cap and trade system could reduce emissions. Cantwell cited the possibility for fraud and rewarding historic polluters in a carbon cap and trade system. She supported the airlines’ compliance with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) which will use airspace more efficiently, thus reducing emissions. While she believed action should be taken against the EU, the senator cautioned about the disadvantages of a “trade war” with the EU.

In his testimony, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood expressed the administration’s strong opposition to the imposition of ETS on non-EU airlines on “both legal and policy grounds.” LaHood and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton sent a letter to their EU counterparts to express disappointment in their “go it alone policy” and urged them to include others in policies with an international effect.

LaHood asserted that his department will “take a backseat to no one” in reducing green house gas (GHG) emissions in transportation. He lauded the U.S. airlines for carrying more passengers and cargo while actually reducing emissions. The Federal Aviation Administration reports a 12 percent decrease in GHG emissions from airlines from 2000 to 2010, with a 15 percent increase in passenger and cargo transport per plane in the same period. The secretary said he would express support for a policy if it were made in collaboration with other countries, industry and environmental groups.  He assured the committee that the administration is attempting to do this through the ICAO.

Hutchison asked LaHood his opinion of S. 1956, Thune and McCaskill’s bill. The secretary reiterated his discontent with ETS as a “lousy policy” but declined to speak for or against the bill. McCaskill asked how the administration could oppose ETS imposition on U.S. airlines without legislation and noted that the secretary’s power does not allow him to defy ETS. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) said that China and India have already begun to prohibit their airlines from paying any fees related to ETS. The secretary agreed with McCaskill that sufficient legislation, like S.1956, would give him the power to prohibit airlines from participating in ETS, but reasoned that the administration can still make international policy through ICAO.

The chairman was skeptical that ICAO could produce action in so short a period before ETS is imposed on international aviation, but LaHood explained that a discussion on the issue would be productive and ICAO is the best institution available for that discussion. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) asked if the administration had composed a framework for an international agreement through ICAO. LaHood reemphasized that ICAO is the best place to create an agreement though the ICAO has not begun composing an agreement because “they haven’t been pushed to.” Senator Mark Begich’s (D-AK) questions clarified that while ICAO can begin the discussion, other resources and policy makers will be needed to form an agreement.

Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) urged the committee and LaHood to oppose the Law of the Sea (LOS) treaty claiming it would allow the Secretary General of the United Nations to impose a tax on U.S. sea vessels just as ETS would on airlines. Before his questioning, Kerry denied this claim and asserted there are no environmental regulations imposed by LOS. Kerry said he felt the EU is at least moving in the right direction with ETS, though he said agrees that ETS has no legal right to impose on international aviation. He argued the EU is trying to reduce emissions and is “right to question whether the U.S. is serious about this issue.” He accused the U.S. of being the “chief foot-dragger” against carbon emission control, debating that the United States Conference of Mayors have done more to combat climate change with their Climate Protection Center than the federal government. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) sympathized with the EU’s logic, saying, “They just want clean air.” However, he said still opposes the ETS imposition on U.S. aviation.

Prompted by the chairman, LaHood explained how airlines are buying more fuel efficient aircraft. He said he predicts that the more efficient use of airspace emplaced by NextGen will decrease airline emissions dramatically. The secretary told Hutchison in response to one of her questions that NextGen is a top priority for the FAA. Thune brought up the argument that the U.S and other countries charge arrival and departure taxes for foreign aircraft that land and take off on their soil. Secretary LaHood said the major difference is how these policies were enacted. The arrival/departure tax was agreed upon by nations party to ICAO, while the ETS was formulated by countries in the EU and is now being imposed upon others. Thune agreed that this was a significant difference. Cantwell asked the secretary about asked about possible effects from ETS on non-commercial flight, such as private and shipping aviation. LaHood said he could not speak on this issue in detail, but was confident the second panel could provide a better explanation.

The second panel of witnesses was opened by Jos Delbeke, the Director General for the Directorate-General for Climate Action of the European Commission. He cited that European citizens feel climate change is one of the most important issues of today, inspiring the EU to introduce ETS. Delbeke reported that the EU is willing to revise the policy and is committed to a global solution to airline emissions. He argued ETS is in accordance with the Chicago Convention as it does not charge a tax in another state. Funds paid to increase an emissions cap will go to another corporation and though it will likely be a European company, money will not go through the EU. Delbeke asserted that any use of the word “tax” or “fine” is irrelevant to ETS; it is a market-based approach to reducing carbon emissions. He ended his testimony by denying any claims of discrimination in favor of European airlines and assured the committee that any money made from ETS will be put toward lowering emissions.

Captain Sean Cassidy testified on behalf of Air Line Pilots Association, International and discussed the detriments of ETS on the 10 million people employed by the airline industry. He felt the system was a “job-killer” and would surely decrease the economic activity of the airline industry from its 2010 level of $1.1 trillion. He argued that the ETS is a tax, citing a conclusions report by the Council of the European Union which claims the system has “the potential to generate revenue.” He claims the ETS is a dismissal of efforts by U.S. airlines to reduce emissions while increasing the number of passengers. He supports the pursuit of an agreement through ICAO as well as S.1956.

Edward Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Administration, testified that in his view, the ETS is “fatally flawed.” His organization represents non-commercial aircraft owners and businesses, who he claims are “treated even worse” than commercial airlines. He gave an example where a small commercial plane that flies to Europe two times or less a day is exempt from the cap and trade while a non-commercial craft which makes one flight a year is not exempt. He argued that European factories with less than 25,000 tons of emissions per year would even be exempt.

In her testimony, Annie Petsonk of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) showed support for EU ETS calling it “modest, effective and reasonable.” She argued with a set of charts that the decrease in emissions was due to the relative small number of flights during the 2008 financial crisis and the FAA predicts emissions will increase through 2020.The ETS allows many channels to garner emissions credits, even through industry projects in developing countries. Petsonk correctly asserted that though the ETS does not explicitly state money raised must be used to address climate change, there is a provision that member states must state how the fund will be used. ETS states this allocation must be in accordance with Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. European nations like Germany have already earmarked trade funds for programs which combat climate change. A FAA-supported study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimated a increase of six U.S. dollars (USD) to round trip airfare, but argued that airlines have “great flexibility to choose when, where and how to meet their caps” and will most likely not raise ticket prices.

Petsonk claimed that ETS imposed flight will create jobs in the airline industry, citing the need for workers to develop, build and implement emissions-capping technologies. She stated ICAO has struggled with the issue of reducing airline emissions for 15 years, and has only started to make progress this year, she speculates, from EU ETS. She counter argued the sovereignty issue by discussing arrival and departure taxes levied by many nations, including the U.S.

Petsonk closed by presenting a scenario where S. 1956 or H.R. 2594 passes and the Secretary of Transportation prohibits airlines from participating in ETS. EDF alleges that the airlines’ insurance policies cannot cover a breach in compliance, and S.1956 gives no path for the secretary to absolve the airlines of responsibility. She suggests taxpayers may have to “foot the bill” in this scenario.

Nancy Young testified for Airlines for America (A4A) in opposition to ETS imposition on international aviation. Her testimony defined the imposition as a dangerous precedent which could result in taxing carbon emitting U.S. exports to Europe like automobiles, other machinery and chemicals. She argued ETS is “about a new source of tax revenue for … Europe” and will have little effect on the environment. She presented data from the Environmental Protection Agency which claims commercial aviation represents 1.7 percent of GHG emissions for the U.S., more than ten times less than non-aviation transport (24.8 percent). She claims the airline industry’s self-imposed emission cutting reforms have done more than the cap and trade “tax” introduced by the EU.

To begin his questioning, Rockefeller compared some of the panel’s testimony against the EU to attacks on the EPA and the president by coal companies as a way to “[make] it OK to hate the government … more importantly, [make] it OK not to do anything about cleaning up [the] product.” He asserted that the technology which reduces airline emissions was not industry’s accomplishment saying, “Don’t congratulate yourselves… the Congress did that.”

The chairman questioned Bolen on the 67 percent increase of emissions from non-commercial aircraft. Rockefeller qualified that two-thirds of aircraft over the U.S. are general aviation and private aircraft to emphasize the industry’s sizable effect on GHG emissions. Bolen said the industry now uses pioneering technologies such as the use of composite metal which makes planes lighter and Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) for more direct flight paths. He explained the general aviation community’s excitement for projects like NextGen and the Greener Skies Initiative.

Prompted by Thune, Delbeke argued that ETS is an “exception” to most EU policies in that it is explicitly stated that funds raised from ETS must be used to combat carbon emissions. Petsonk supported his answer citing that German legislation requires money made from allowance auctions to be spent on lowering emissions.

Young explained to Thune that costs to airlines as a result of compliance with ETS, $3.1 billion between 2012 and 2020, may not be passed on to consumers, but if it is not it will certainly disadvantage the airlines in buying equipment and alternative sustainable fuels. Bolen showed that private companies have already begun to pay to register for the ETS.

Cassidy argued that ETS introduces another level of instability, in addition to terrorist threats and other security concerns, and increased fuel prices, to an industry which represents 5 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP).

Delbeke alluded to the fact that differing estimates were made about the impact of ETS, which he attributed to a misunderstanding of the acquisition of allowances. He explained that 90 percent of emissions credits are given out for free by the EU. Delbeke further stated that ICAO decided in 2004 it would not formulate a global aviation cap and trade agreement; rather it should be developed by individual states.

Cantwell’s final question was whether the aviation industry would follow a target set by ICAO for global emissions. Young responded that ICAO has set up a target, with a framework that was provided by the airline industry in 2010. She explained that the next step is for ICAO and the airlines to come to agreement on how to implement the framework and achieve these targets.

Witness testimonies, opening statements, and a webcast of the hearing can be found on the committee’s web site.

-SJG

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Hearing on the Proposed NOAA Climate Service
June 22, 2011

Witnesses
Dr. Jane Lubchenco
Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Robert Winokur
Deputy Oceanographer, U.S. Department of the Navy

Members Present
Ralph Hall, Chair (R-TX)
Eddie Bernice Johnson, Ranking Member (D-TX)
Jerry McNerney (D-CA)
Federica Wilson (D-FL)
David Wu (D-OR)
Sandy Adams (R-FL)
Andy Harris (R-MD)
Ben Quayle (R-AZ)
Terri Sewell (D-AL)
Steven Palazzo (R-MS)
Paul Broun (R-GA)
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
John Sarbanes (D-MD)
Brad Miller (D-NC)
Marcia Fudge (D-OH)

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a full committee hearing to discuss the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s (NOAA) proposal to create a new climate service within NOAA. In his opening statement, Chairman Hall (TX-R) raised concerns about the creation of a climate service. “My objection to this proposal has been the concern that the focus to create a climate service will severely harm vital research at NOAA by transferring resources away from fundamental science to mission-oriented research and service-driven products. This hearing is only the first step in the Committee’s examination of NOAA’s proposed Climate Service,” he said.  Hall additionally raised concerns regarding the lack of timeliness and consideration for the committee on behalf of NOAA; outstanding questions from a hearing on March 10 remain.

In her testimony and during questioning, Admistrator Jane Lubchenco of NOAA explained the need for NOAA to reorganize itself and create the Climate Service office. She explained the importance of climate studies, citing uses such as knowing where to build homes and where to plant certain crops. Climate studies also allow the American public to prepare for droughts and floods. Lubchenco stressed that “science is the foundation of all that we do.” She stated that a climate service would remain science based, minimize disruptions as information is transferred, and provide better climate services to the public or private customers. The Climate Service office would house both the science and service aspect of climate in the same entity, she said. Lubchenco felt that the creation of the Service would allow for greater collaboration with non-agency scientists as NOAA’s climate services would be in one place in the organization.

In his testimony and questioning, Robert Winokur of the Navy stated the importance of climate information for naval operations. He cited such uses as planning exercises, search and rescue operations, and routing long distance flights. Additionally, he mentioned the importance of climate data for estimating heating and cooling costs. Winokur’s main concern for the Navy is that it should have a single entry data point for climate services. When questioned by Sandy Adams (R-FL) regarding this, Winokur stated that currently the Navy must go through various branches and departments within NOAA to acquire the necessary information. He noted the benefit of having a single entity to facilitate the acquisition of data and ultimately facilitate national defense.

The committee held several concerns regard the restructuring of NOAA, one of which was the fear of politicizing NOAA’s mission. Andy Harris (R-MD), raised concern about the scientific validity of an article published on March 10, 2011 on NOAA’s Climate Portal. The article was first published in the December 2010 issue of the Chesapeake Quarterly. According to Harris, the article raised concerns about rising sea levels in the Chesapeake Bay, yet it did not mention land subsidence as an additional factor to sea level rise. Lubchenco argued that the Climate Service office would not diminish the quality of caliber of science done within NOAA.

Paul Broun (R-GA) questioned the need for the Climate Service office. He believes the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) already in place within NOAA achieves what what are the proposed service’s goals. Lubchenco countered the argument by stating that the CPC alone cannot do what needs to be done. The proposed Climate Service is in response to the increased demands and requests for climatological information. Lubchenco stated that the Climate Service is a “win-win” for the American public. Additionally, she stressed the extensive research NOAA has done in how to best steward taxpayer’s dollars, while addressing the increasing demands for climate services and climate sciences. She stated that no single line office has lead the effort to create the Climate Service and that NOAA as a whole supports the proposal.

Full testimonies and archived webcast of the hearing can be found here.

-EMD

 

Contributed by Linda Rowan, Geoscience Policy Staff; Erica Dalman 2011 AIPG/AGI Summer Intern; Stephen Ginley, 2012 AIPG/AGI Summer Intern; and Nell Hoagland, 2012 AIPG/AGI Summer Intern.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Geoscience Policy.

Last updated on August 2, 2012

 
 

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