Congress Must Quickly Enact Clean Energy Law, House Panel Told

Environmental News Service

April 22, 2009

"On this Earth Day, we must state in no uncertain terms that we have a responsibility to our children and their children to curb the carbon emissions from fossil fuels that have begun to change our climate," Energy Secretary Steven Chu today told the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment.

The committee Tuesday began four days of hearings to consider a discussion draft of comprehensive energy legislation, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009.

Chu warned that the world "will turn increasingly to unconventional sources of petroleum, which could lead to higher prices for consumers. With these rising energy costs and mounting changes to our climate, the development of clean, renewable sources of energy will be the growth industry of the 21st century," he said.

"The key question is – who will lead the world in making the fuel-efficient vehicles, wind turbines, solar panels, and other products and technologies that will power tomorrow’s economy?" said Chu, a Nobel Prize winning physicist and advocate for more research into alternative energy and nuclear power.

"There are two dangers, either one of which could dramatically weaken America’s future," he warned. "The first is that the world will fail to take action on climate change in time to prevent its worst potential effects. The second is that the United States will fail to seize this opportunity to lead, and the new clean energy jobs will be created overseas rather than in America."

"We can neither let our planet get too hot nor let our economy grow cold. We must get off the sidelines of the clean energy race and play to win," the energy secretary said.

Advanced energy industries "will be to the 2010s what Internet software was to the 1990s," U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson told the committee.

She said the Obama administration supports the bill’s proposals that aim to reduce America’s dependence on oil and cut back on the hundreds of billions of dollars that Americans pay to other oil producing countries every year.

Pat Davis and Ernie Oakes of the Energy Department test drive a Smart Fortwo Passion Cabriolet at the National Renewable Energy Lab. July 2008. (Photo by Pat Corkery courtesy NREL)

"The legislation would launch programs to promote electric vehicles and deploy technologies for capturing, pipelining, and geologically storing carbon dioxide produced at coal-fueled power plants," she said.

The measure would establish new low-carbon requirements for vehicles and fuels, and programs to help reduce vehicle-miles traveled with increased transportation options and help for communities that want to plan for sustainable growth.

And the bill would put a declining cap on the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide that traps the Sun’s heat close to the planet. Emissions allowances would be traded on a new carbon market – sold by utilities and factories that emit less than their allowances and purchased by those that emit too much.

"That market-based system aims to protect our children and grandchildren from severe environmental and economic harm, and great threats to national security while further invigorating advanced, American energy industries," said Jackson.

"Now, the ‘no, we can’t’ crowd will spin out doomsday scenarios about runaway costs," Jackson predicted. "But EPA’s available economic modeling indicates that the investment Americans would make to implement the cap-and-trade program of the American Clean Energy and Security Act would be modest compared to the benefits that science and plain common sense tell us a comprehensive energy and climate policy will deliver."

She reminded the committee members of the Beltway corporate lobbyists who insisted in the late 1980s that the Acid Rain Trading Program would cause "death for businesses across the country." That measure was drafted by the same committee and signed by Republican President George H.W. Bush in 1990.

But the acid rain program, which allows trades of permits to emit sulfur dioxide, now delivers annual health and welfare benefits estimated to be over 120 billion dollars at an annual cost of only three billion dollars, Jackson said.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told the committee that "as the stewards of investments possibly at risk from the impacts of climate change, we want to equip decision makers with the data and tools they need to ensure that our transportation infrastructure and systems can sustain sea level rise, changing weather patterns, and other potential long-term consequences of climate change."

The department has already issued a study alerting state and local officials in the Gulf Coast region to potential changes in climate that could disrupt transportation services, said LaHood.

He said the DOT funds the development of alternative fuel technologies and deployment of alternative fuel buses, including hydrogen fuel cell buses, diesel-electric hybrid buses, and supports alternative fuels infrastructure investment for transit systems across the United States.

LaHood said a modern air traffic system, called the Next Generation Air Transportation System or NextGen, is in the works with "energy and environmental concerns at the heart of the effort," and the department is working with theaviation industry to reduce high altitude emissions and with the maritime industry to reduce ship stack emissions.

Committee Chairman Congressman Henry Waxman of California opened the hearing by saying that he and Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts drafted the bill using as a blueprint a plan proposed by the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a coalition of energy and manufacturing corporations and environmental organizations.

Today’s hearing featured testimony from six key leaders of USCAP: DuPont, ConocoPhillips, Duke Energy, Alcoa, NRG, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Chad Holliday, chairman of E.I. DuPont de Nemours, told the committee, "We believe that the consensus achieved by the members of USCAP, who represent a tremendous breadth of the U.S. economy and civil society, provides a useful guide for policymakers such as yourselves who ultimately bear the responsibility of finding a politically viable solution and transforming ideas into law. This was the core idea behind the formation of USCAP, and we are pleased to see that many of the ideas we have developed are reflected in this bill."

"We appreciate your recognition of the inextricable linkages between climate and energy policies that must provide the diverse and adequate low-carbon energy supplies we will need as we combine economic growth with greenhouse gas emission reductions," Holliday said.

Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, also said the draft’s integrated approach to energy and climate legislation is the right path to take and urged quick action.

"Passing effective climate legislation is NRDC’s highest priority," she said. "It is vital to enact legislation this year."

The current recession is no reason for delay, Beinecke said, because millions of clean energy jobs would be created but there would be no impact on energy costs until 2012 when the bill would limit carbon emissions.

"If we delay and emissions continue to grow," she warned, "it will become much harder to avoid the worst impacts of a climate gone haywire. In short, a slow start means a crash finish, with steeper and more disruptive emission cuts required for each year of delay or insufficient action."

But Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute told the committee that his organization opposes "all domestic measures to ration energy through mandates or taxes" including the draft bill. "Each and every title is fundamentally misguided," said Ebell. "In ou
r judgment, the American Clean Energy and Security Act cannot be improved enough to warrant enactment. It should not be introduced. If it is introduced, it should be defeated."

"Cap-and-trade has been widely sold as a ‘market-based approach’ to reducing emissions," Ebell said. "This is terribly misleading. Cap-and-trade subordinates markets to central planning. It takes the most important economic decisions out of the hands of private individuals acting in the market and puts them in the hands of government."

To Ebell, the most disturbing thing about the Waxman-Markey draft is its reliance on the recommendations of USCAP.

"It should be noted that most of the environmental organizations that belong to USCAP largely serve as front groups for big business interests," Ebell charged. "Thus, the authors of the draft bill have invited the beneficiaries of what could turn out to be the biggest transfer of wealth from consumers to special interests in American history to write the rules for this legalized plunder."

Congressman Joe Barton, Texas Republican who serves as ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, today wrote to Energy Secretary Chu and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis asking them to define what a green job is, and how many are expected to be created by the Waxman-Markey global warming bill or similar global warming legislation.

Barton and all Republican members of the committee, today asked Waxman and Markey to hold more hearings on their "massive" global warming bill.

"Your ambitious schedule of nine separate panels during this week’s three days of hearings is going to touch on many important topics, including the effect of mandatory cap and trade on the domestic economy, international trade competitiveness and participation of the developing world, green jobs and job market projections, and the oversight and trading of a $2 trillion carbon derivative market," the Republican lawmakers wrote.

"Your discussion draft affects every element of our economy and certainly deserves greater hearing treatment than a mere three-day marathon of topics."

Read the original story on the Environmental News Service website 

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