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10 Truths that Should Be Said at This Week’s House Climate Change Hearing

SOURCE: AP/Matthew Brown

Smoke rises from the Colstrip Steam Electric Station in Colstrip, Montana.

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This Wednesday, September 18, the House Energy and Power Subcommittee will conduct a long-overdue hearing on climate change. It is unfortunately not to seek scientific facts from reputable institutions, such as the National Academy of Sciences, the American Meteorological Society, and similar experts, as requested 27 times by Ranking Committee and Subcommittee Members Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Bobby Rush (D-IL). Instead, the hearing is titled “The Obama Administration’s Climate Change Policies and Activities.”

The scheduled witnesses are Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy. During the hearing, they will probably be subjected to a barrage of phony claims by the 14 climate-science deniers who are serving on the subcommittee in an attempt to discredit President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan. These members undoubtedly will repeat the false and misleading claims made by the big polluting utilities, coal companies, oil companies, and other special interests that profit from the status quo of no limits on carbon pollution.

Instead of these stale attacks on settled climate science, hyperinflated estimates of the cost of cleanup, or denial of executive authority to act, here are 10 truths that should be said at the hearing.

No. 1: Climate science is settled

The National Academy of Sciences, American Meteorological Society, draft National Climate Assessment, and myriads of other scientific bodies have all concluded that climate change is real and due to human activities. A recent survey of 20 years of peer-reviewed research on climate change found that:

Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW [anthropogenic, or human-caused, global warming], 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. … Our analysis indicates that the number of papers rejecting the consensus on AGW is a vanishingly small proportion of the published research.

Similar to the tobacco industry denying that smoking cigarettes can cause cancer, many big polluters and organizations funded by them continue to deny the link between burning fossil fuels and climate change. Nonetheless, the overwhelming scientific verdict is in: Industrial carbon and other pollutants are responsible for climate change.

No. 2: Climate change harms Americans and our economy

Spewing carbon pollution into the air may be free to coal-fired power plants and oil refineries, but Americans bear the costs. The 25 most damaging climate-related storms, floods, heat waves, droughts, and wildfires in 2011 and 2012 took more than 1,100 lives and caused a total of $188 billion in damages. The number of these extreme weather events, as well as the price tag, has grown over the past three decades. (see Figure 1)

No. 3: Military leaders warn that climate change will harm national security

Earlier this year, U.S. Pacific Command Commander Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III said that climate change poses the greatest security threat in the Pacific region. What’s more, the Defense Department’s latest Quadrennial Defense Review Report warned that climate change “may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world.”

No. 4: There is no limit on carbon pollution from power plants

Power plants are responsible for 40 percent of the industrial carbon pollution emitted in the United States. Yet these plants can generate unlimited tons of carbon pollution, even though there are restrictions on their mercury, acid rain, and smog pollution. President Obama’s Climate Action Plan would set carbon-pollution standards for new and existing power plants.

Some congressional allies of big coal companies and utilities support limiting carbon pollution from power plants to the average level today, but this would simply freeze in place the current high levels of pollution.

No. 5: The Roberts Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, has the authority to set carbon-pollution standards

The Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA ruled that climate change pollutants are covered under the Clean Air Act, and as such, the agency’s administrator must consider whether these pollutants “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” If the administrator finds that this is the case, he or she has the authority to limit pollutant emissions. President George W. Bush’s EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson and President Obama’s Administrator Lisa Jackson both made this endangerment finding based on science. This decision provides the legal basis for the EPA to set carbon-pollution limits on power plants, oil refineries, and other major industrial polluters.

No. 6: Pollution-reduction programs create jobs

Requirements to reduce air pollution create jobs because they require companies to invest in new equipment, practices, or technologies, all of which generate additional employment. Research by the University of Massachusetts and Ceres, for instance, found that:

… new air pollution rules proposed for the electric power sector by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will provide long-term economic benefits … in the form of highly skilled, well-paying jobs created through infrastructure investment in the nation’s fleet of power plants.

Their research estimated that the new air-pollution rules limiting mercury and other toxics from power plants would create 637,922 direct jobs over five years.

Likewise, a carbon-pollution standard for power plants would generate thousands of jobs in labor-intensive energy-efficiency retrofits in buildings; the manufacture, installation, and operation of wind and solar power; and other investments necessary to slash this pollution.

No. 7: Carbon-pollution reductions will increase energy efficiency, saving consumers money

Reducing wasteful electricity is a cost-effective way to reduce carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. This involves improving transmission lines, employing smart-grid technology to better manage electricity use, and making buildings and homes more efficient. Using less electricity will also save consumers money by lowering their electric bills.

The Natural Resources Defense Council’s plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, for instance, would achieve about half of the required reductions via energy efficiency. Its plan would have “only $4 billion in compliance costs in 2020,” compared to $25 billion to $60 billion in economic benefits from lower health costs and other savings.

No. 8: Carbon-pollution reductions are affordable

Resources for the Future, or RFF, a nonpartisan think tank, estimates that a “4 percent reduction in the average emissions rate [of power plants] … results in a reduction of 93 million short tons of carbon dioxide emissions” but would lead to an electricity-rate rise of only 1.3 percent. This approach would achieve $25 billion annually in net benefits, according to RFF. With energy efficiency measures, consumers could actually save money because they will use less electricity.

Big corporations opposed to public health and safety rules dramatically exaggerate their impact in order to frighten politicians into opposing the rules. For example, big, dirty utilities predicted that President George H.W. Bush’s program to reduce the sulfur pollution responsible for acid rain would drive electricity rates sky high. Yet rates were lower in 2006 (in inflation-adjusted dollars) after the reductions were implemented than in 1990 when they became law.

No. 9: U.S. leadership will increase worldwide pollution reductions

Time and again, the United States recruits other nations to join its climate-pollution-reduction efforts. Earlier this month, the members of the G-20 agreed to support additional measures to use the Montreal Protocol to phase down hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs—a super pollutant that is a significantly more potent climate pollutant than carbon dioxide. China recently announced that it will ban new coal-fired power plants in three regions, including Beijing, in order to cut its share of coal usage to below 65 percent by 2017.

Canada also adopted the United States’ limits on carbon pollution from motor vehicles. A former senior regulatory official Cass Sunstein noted that “pragmatic steps by the planet’s most important nation are likely to help spur action by others — and to lead to technological advances that will ultimately be in the interest of the world as a whole.” Under President Obama’s climate plan, the United States will continue to build comprehensive multilateral and bilateral agreements with other nations, ensuring that all of the world’s major polluters slash their emissions.

No. 10: Power-plant pollution regulations prompt increased investment and innovation to reduce coal pollution

Congressional supporters of big coal companies argue that “carbon capture and storage,” or CCS, technology to burn coal with significantly fewer emissions is far from commercialization and too costly. Yet last month, the Charleston Gazette in West Virginia reported that:

A new study suggests that technology to capture greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants may be more ready for wide deployment than industry officials and coal-state political leaders would have the public believe. The new review, published last week in the journal Energy Policy, found that most experts on the process don’t question the “readiness” of carbon capture and storage, or CCS, technology. … most CCS experts continue to see the lack of a “carbon price” — in the form of some sort of mandate to reduce emissions — as a key barrier for the technology’s advancement.

In other words, President Obama’s plan to set carbon-pollution standards for coal-fired power plants is essential to boost CCS technology.

Unfortunately, many of these legislators voted against the American Clean Energy and Security Act in 2009, which would have provided billions of dollars for CCS research and deployment. Now they oppose the EPA’s efforts to attack climate change, which would boost the development of CCS and enable many coal plants to continue operation while slashing their pollution.

Conclusion

Secretary of Energy Moniz and EPA Administrator McCarthy will likely mention many of these important truths—as will Reps. Waxman and Rush on the subcommittee. It’s time for all committee members to acknowledge these truths, so that Congress can support solutions to the growing health and economic threats posed by climate change.

Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress. Thanks to Matt Kasper, Special Assistant for the Energy Program at the Center.

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