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FYI Number 123: October 11, 2006

Recent Developments in Washington Regarding Climate Change

There has been considerable activity in Washington during the last month regarding climate change. In addition to the speech that House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) gave at the recent Climate Institute's Washington Summit on Climate Stabilization (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/121.html), there have been two House hearings, the release of a report by the Bush Administration and another by the Congressional Budget Office, and charges made that NOAA delayed the release of material on its website regarding the relationship between hurricane intensity and climate change.

In September, the Administration released its much delayed "Strategic Plan" for the U.S. Climate Change Technology Program. This program is described as a planning and coordinating entity for twelve federal agencies "aimed at accelerating the development of new and advanced technologies to address climate change." The Department of Energy is the lead agency for this program.

This 274-page document "articulates a vision for new and advanced technology in addressing climate change concerns, defines a supporting planning and coordination mission, and provides strategic direction to the Federal agencies in formulating a comprehensive portfolio of related technology research, development, demonstration, and deployment (R&D)." The report has a one-hundred year horizon and examines technologies that could dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as hydrogen, biorefining, nuclear fission and fusion, clean coal, and carbon sequestration. The section on carbon sequestration is 22-pages long, while that for fusion energy (covering the potential role of technology, technology strategy, current portfolio, and future research directions) is four pages. The report is described as a "broad [technology research, development, demonstration, and deployment] roadmap to the future," the authors explaining that it does not provide detailed roadmaps for specific technologies or a comprehensive mitigation strategy, and is neither a policy or budget document. "Further, the Plan makes no judgements as to what constitutes a dangerous level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere." The program is described, and the report can be read, at http://www.climatetechnology.gov

"Was it worth the wait?," asked Judy Biggert (R-IL), chair of the House Science Committee's Subcommittee on Energy, at the September 20 hearing when the report was released. Biggert, whose subcommittee has oversight responsibility for 90% of the programs in the Climate Change Technology Program, strongly supports the Administration's policy of using technology development to address climate change. "Technology investments are like an insurance policy against climate change," she said. Testifying before the subcommittee were Stephen Eule, who is the director of the program, and witnesses from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, New York University, and BP. In general, subcommittee members and the witnesses felt that the plan did not go far enough, wanting more specific recommendations on how to deploy technologies and how to stabilize or reduce emissions. Ranking Minority Member Mike Honda (D-CA) faulted the plan, saying "it does not provide the roadmap necessary to help the Administration set priorities and make choices among competing technologies." In her closing remarks, Biggert said, "Let me also put everyone on notice that ths issue is not closed," citing the need for better tools and processes for DOE and Congress to utilize the technologies that were described in the report. Documents for this hearing can be viewed at http://www.house.gov/science/hearings/energy06/Sept%2020/index.htm

Two days after this hearing, the House Committee on Government Reform held an oversight hearing entitled "Climate Change Technology Research: Do We Need a ‘Manhattan Project' for the Environment?" Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA) began the hearing stating "As we sit here today, the debate over climate change science continues, but this Committee - as well as the Administration and many others in government - already have recognized the important facts: that global mean temperature has increased over the past century, and that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has contributed to this warming." Davis noted that the Climate Change Technology Program has no budgetary authority and does not employ administrative or analytical staff (sharing staff with other offices on an as-needed basis.) In his remarks, Ranking Minority Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) said, "the plan has no timeline for actions and no goals for what we need to achieve. Thinking about technology research and development is very important. But by itself, it will do nothing to solve the problem." As expected, there were a variety of opinions from the witnesses about how the federal government can work most effectively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Concluding this hearing, Davis said he felt most Members of Congress agree that there is a climate change problem (a position opposite of that which Boehlert has; see the link to his speech above), and that he will work on bipartisan legislative language that can be accepted. He ended by declaring that investing only in R&D will not suffice. Testimony and other material can be viewed at http://reform.house.gov/ under "Hearings."

The Congressional Budget Office released a 19-page paper entitled "Evaluating the Role of Prices and R&D in Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions" in September. Approaching emissions from an economic perspective, the report's authors concluded "Pricing [such as fossil fuel taxes or cap-and-trade programs] and R&D policies are neither mutually exclusive nor entirely independent – both could be implemented simultaneously, and each would tend to enhance the other." "Neither policy alone is likely to be as effective as a strategy involving both policies." This report can be read at http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/75xx/doc7567/09-18-CarbonEmissions.pdf

Two letters from prominent Members of Congress have recently been sent regarding a report in Nature magazine about the suppression of a NOAA statement on the relationship of global warming to hurricane intensity. In late September, 14 senators (including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)) wrote to the Inspector Generals for the Department of Commerce and NASA. In this letter they stated, "We write to you today to request a formal investigation into continuing reports of political interference with the work of scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). We are deeply disturbed by what appears to be repeated instances of scientists at these agencies having publication of their research and access to the media blocked, solely based upon their views and conclusions regarding the reality and impacts of global warming." House Science Committee Ranking Minority Member Bart Gordon (D-TN) sent a letter earlier this month to Under Secretary of Commerce Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher. Gordon's hard-hitting letter states: "This is unacceptable and I intend to get to the bottom of the situation at NOAA. I ask for your full cooperation every step of the way. I have seen a copy of an October 3, 2006, e-mail you sent to your staff reiterating your support for scientific debate and transparency. I am glad you share my belief in the importance of transparency as I have some questions and requests of you to better understand the background to this situation." A copy of the Senate letter can be viewed at http://lautenberg.senate.gov/newsroom/record.cfm?id=264104& Rep. Gordon's letter, which contains several useful weblinks, can read at http://sciencedems.house.gov/Press/PRArticle.aspx?NewsID=1206

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
301-209-3095

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