Panel Highlights Need To Take Lead In Addressing Greenhouse Gas Emissions; Market-Based Solutions Discussed

While no strict regulations have been adopted, Congress does continue to educate itself as regards climate change.

Led by Sens. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (http://energy.senate.gov) held a public hearing on climate change science in Washington, D.C., on July 21. Four respected scientists -- representing the National Academy of Sciences, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, National Center for Atmospheric Research, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- presented their views regarding the depth of climate change studies. Their mutual conclusions included:

  • For the past 130 years, the Earth has been warming more than can be explained by natural variables.
  • Warming can be attributed to the burning of fossil fuels and the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
  • Climate changes attributable to global warming have begun.
  • Even if scientists are unable to answer all the climate change questions, we do know enough to start taking corrective measures now.
  • Officials need to take a variety of steps to build a carbon-free economy by the next generation.

Committee members also had their say. "I believe climate change issues are the most significant issues our Congress will face," Bingaman said.

While he recognized that climate change highlights the need for leadership, Domenici mentioned the difficulty of convincing his colleagues that the United States should take the lead and show India and China -- two emerging economic powers -- how to implement expensive pollution control strategies.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) emphasized how she has seen first-hand how a warming climate is affecting her state of Alaska. To better understand the issue, she stressed the need for scientists to distinguish climate changes attributable to natural occurrences from those attributable to manmade causes.

An accomplished businessman, Sen. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) urged the need to address the issue in a pro-business fashion as did Sen. Craig Thomas (R-WY). Thomas stressed that, even though measures prompted by the international Kyoto Protocol will expire in 2012, implementing them in the U.S. would severely affect the national economy. Rather, he countered, increasing energy efficiencies and learning how to obtain more productive work from given units of energy could be one pro-business, win-win technique.

Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) emphasized the need to advance emissions-free energy technologies. In response, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) mentioned the opportunity to develop nuclear energy as an aggressive means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Domenici took this one step further and explained that, while the United States just cannot stop using energy, the nation does need to build a better energy infrastructure. "With encouragement from the energy policy legislation we are developing right now," Domenici said, "we will see a new nuclear power plant under construction within the next three years."

This year, the Senate defeated a bipartisan bill to adopt mandatory greenhouse gas emission limits. Last month, though, the Senate also adopted a nonbinding resolution calling for market-based incentives to reduce greenhouse gases.

WRITER NOTE: Stuart V. Price (svprice@comcast.net), principal with RSVP Communications, lives outside Washington and has developed stakeholder communication programs in the energy, engineering and environmental fields for 20 years.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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