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FYI Number 137: September 22, 2005

Senate Hearing Provides Further Insight on Prospects for Climate Change Legislation

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 (see http://www.ucar.edu/news/releases/2005/hurricanestudy.shtml), 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 "nuts."

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 Information Agency.

There was general agreement that research is needed to develop breakthrough technologies to control greenhouse gass emissions. Their testimony (see http://energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Hearings.Hearing&Hearing_ID=1496)provided 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
fyi@aip.org
301-209-3095

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