On Tuesday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee had a
second hearing on climate change, centering on the economic consequences
and effectiveness of several proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It also offered an opportunity to gain further insight about the positions
of various senators on this committee. Given the prevailing mood of
the House leadership and many of its Members about legislation to control
these emissions, it is generally felt that any action will occur first
in the Senate. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), chairman of this committee,
is a key person to watch.
There has been some movement in the Senate regarding the question of
whether the earth is warming, and the degree to which man's activities
are responsible for this warming. Domenici's opening statement at this
hearing bears careful reading:
"I am pleased that the Committee is continuing its discussion
on climate change. It is clear that something is happening with the
earth's climate. I am aware that many in the scientific community
are warning us that something needs to be done. I am also aware that
there are equally qualified members of the scientific community who
do not share those views.
"Nevertheless, I believe that it is prudent to heed
the warnings we are hearing and begin to find ways of alleviating
the human contribution to climate change. With this hearing we will
continue the search for meaningful, economically feasible answers
that will produce real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
"It is clear to me that developing a system of mandatory
controls on carbon emissions could be a daunting task. Controls must
be effective - they must produce positive emission reductions. The
cost of such controls should have the least possible overall negative
effect on our economy and any burdens must be as equitable as they
can possibly be.
"It is often said about legislation, the devil
is in the details' and I am hoping that our witnesses today will help
us identify some of the devils' we may encounter as we try to
develop an effective response to climate change."
Ranking Member Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), a supporter of controls, lauded
Domenici for holding the hearing when so many issues were competing
for the Senate's attention. Bingaman cited the general scientific consensus
that human activity is responsible for global climate warming, and spoke
of the need to find "a path forward that we can agree upon."
Domenici's views are not aligned with those advocating an immediate
move to tighter controls. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) began her
opening comments by thanking Domenici for "an open mind on this."
She then cited a recent study that found hurricanes are now more intense
with Feinstein suggesting that global warming trends may be responsible.
Domenici jumped on her statement, saying that any attempt to link hurricanes
such as Katrina with a global warming trend was "absurd" and
Four witnesses testified about the economic and environmental impacts
of different proposals to control greenhouse gases. This panel of witnesses
was originally scheduled to testify at a July hearing which ran longer
than anticipated (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/114.html.)The
witnesses at this week's hearings were Anne Smith of CRA International,
Jason Grumet of the National Commission on Energy Policy, Richard Morgenstern
of Resources for the Future, and Howard Gruenspecht of DOE's Energy
There was general agreement that research is needed to develop breakthrough
technologies to control greenhouse gass emissions. Their testimony (see
ample evidence of the difficulty involved in devising a workable, affordable
system of emission controls.
Among the most important attributes of any control system is fairness.
Domenici commented upon this, saying "fairness is important,"
since it will be instrumental in gaining the support of senators, and
ultimately their votes, for any legislation to control greenhouse gases.
Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics