House hearing puts the heat on climate stagnators

April 26, 2007

The highest level investigation of global warming in the history of the U.S. Congress began Wednesday morning when Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), chairman of the brand-spanking new House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, banged down the gavel.

…In their opening statements, the panel’s Republicans were clear and unequivocal—Select Committee or no Select Committee, they intended to battle on against the threat of godless environmentalism and its fellow traveling sidekick, global warming.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the ranking Republican on the committee, was quick to lay down some know-nothing markers. He said that “this debate [which immediately signals that he is disregarding the latest IPCC report, in which a global consensus of thousands of scientists agreed there was at least a 90% chance that human activities were responsible for the observed warming of the planet] has not been characterized by common sense…

In her remarks, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) questioned whether the U.S. really had an energy problem at all: “We have vast reserves of oil and gas on land and in the sea that are not being tapped.” [She did not come back to this claim, nor did any of the witnesses…

Markey had rounded up as unimpeachable blue-ribbon panel of witnesses as one could imagine, a panel that provided very little satisfaction to these Republican critics. The panelists were:

  • General Gordon Sullivan, chairman of the Military Advisory Board to the CAN Corporation Report, “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change.”

  • Richard N. Haass, President of the Council of Foreign Relations
  • Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club
  • Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, USN, Retired
  • R. James Woolsey, Co-chairman of the Committee on the Present Danger, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency.

To a person, they agreed that global warming was real, that global warming was an acute problem, and that global warming created an array of serious threats to the country’s national security. They all agreed that the U.S. needed to develop the technology to capture and sequester CO2 from the burning of coal, and that we did not have those technologies today. Raising the fuel economy standard for America’s auto fleet was absolutely necessary. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil and reducing greenhouse gases offered the United States enormous economic opportunities to create new jobs and expand U.S. exports. And they all agreed that there was no “silver bullet” solution in sight; the country would need a strategy combining many different approaches to reduce consumption, and to develop alternative fuels to replace oil.

…Of the five witnesses, the one who most caught the committee’s attention was General Gordon Sullivan, who said that when he was asked to serve on the Military Advisory Board to The CNA Corporation’s report on National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, he was “a skeptic,” but that “after listening to leaders of the scientific, business and governmental communities both I and my colleagues came to agree that Global Climate Change is and will be a significant threat to our National Security and in a larger sense to our grandchildren and their children and to life on earth as we know it to be.”

…There were repeated questions about whether the witnesses thought that revving up nuclear power should be part of the solution, but the witnesses were lukewarm at best. Vice Admiral McGinn was the most positive, citing the Navy’s experience with using nuclear reactors to power ships and subs. But even McGinn was concerned about the transport of high-level nuclear wastes, and what the total cost of a kilowatt hour of nuclear-generated electricity really was.

…The most devastating riposte to the committee’s nuclear enthusiasts came from former CIA director James Woolsey, who said that moving to nuclear as an alternative to coal would create “huge international problems” because the international system for preventing countries with nuclear power plants from developing nuclear weapons “doesn’t work.” If nuclear was going to expand massively worldwide, Woolsey said, “We would need a completely different kind of treaty” to prevent many more countries from developing nuclear weapons.

…The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming has no legislative jurisdiction, although several of its members mentioned filing energy legislation.

[Excerpts only. For full report, see the original at Global Public Media.]

Tags: Energy Policy, Nuclear, Politics