Per Capita Davis: What’s up in Washington?

By February 15, 2011

Of course, any member of Congress can propose any law he or she wants, and there is a very long road to travel between having a bill introduced and actually having it signed into law. But here are some of the proposals emerging from the new Congress that relate to climate change.

First; the budget. The Republican majority in the House is seeking mid-year program cuts up to $100 billion, including a reduction of $900 million from energy efficiency and conservation programs and $1.8 billion from the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (the arm of the federal government that regulates carbon dioxide emissions).

The Energy and Power subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee recently held a hearing to review EPA regulations related to climate change during which members asserted that the scientific studies warning of the consequences of increasing greenhouse gas emissions amount to a massive hoax, and that the Supreme Court did not really give the EPA authority to regulate carbon dioxide.

A bill introduced by Rep. Upton, R-Mich., the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and jointly drafted by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., would abolish the EPA’s authority to issue regulations for the purpose of limiting climate change and would repeal the finding that CO2 emissions are a danger to human health and welfare. According to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, responding to questions at the above-mentioned hearing,  “The bill would, in its own words, repeal the scientific finding regarding greenhouse gas emissions.” She further commented that, “Politicians overruling scientists on a scientific question — that would become a part of this committee’s legacy.”

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., along with 113 co-sponsors, introduced HR 97 to nullify the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the EPA is required by the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide and to abolish the EPA’s authority to regulate CO2 emissions.

Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, introduced HR 153 to prohibit the EPA from implementing any kind of cap-and-trade system to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, introduced a bill that would prohibit the EPA from enacting regulations to limit pollution — including CO2 emissions — from cement plants.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Rep. Shelley Capito, R-W.Va., introduced legislation to create a two-year moratorium on any EPA regulations to limit carbon dioxide and methane emissions. This bill also would retroactively stop enforcement of regulations currently in effect to require new power plants and factories to reduce their carbon pollution.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., introduced a bill that would prohibit any part of the federal government, from the president on down to the EPA, to take any action with the primary purpose of controlling climate change. It would repeal the current requirement that big polluters track and report their emissions, and it would pre-empt state action to reduce emissions (including California’s authority to regulate carbon emissions from cars, one of the main planks of AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act).

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, also has re-introduced his legislation (what he calls the Better Use of Light Bulb, or BULB bill) to repeal light bulb efficiency standards enacted by Congress in 2007 and now in effect in California that effectively bans the future use of inefficient incandescent light bulbs.

It’s hard not to notice the number of “R’s” after the names of the representatives and senators introducing these bills compared to the number of “D’s.” Not that there aren’t any “D’s” — there are. If there weren’t, Congress would have enacted climate change legislation in the previous session. Although the new Republican majority consists of a far greater number of climate skeptics than the previous Democratic majority, the preservation and protection of the status quo appears to be a bipartisan issue.

It’s also hard not to wonder how climate science endorsed and supported by virtually every credible scientist on the planet can be labeled a “hoax.” It beggars the imagination how even if one doesn’t believe that the observed increases in CO2 in the atmosphere, the rising temperatures in the northern latitudes, and the increasing number of extreme weather events are not caused by human activities emitting greenhouse gas emissions, it still makes sense from a conservative viewpoint to increase the efficiency of light bulbs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Failure to see the potential disaster looming in front of us is perhaps most perplexing. It is not just tree-huggers sounding the alarm. A 2007 report by senior retired military officers pointed out the potential national security implications of climate change and this was followed up by a National Intelligence Council assessment that raised the same concerns. The CIA established a Center on Climate Change and National Security in the 1990’s and has been cooperating with other governments to assess potential dangers from climate change since then but the center was largely ignored and under-funded during the Bush administration.

In 2009, Sen. Barrasso, R-Wyo. (see above),  attempted to block the CIA’s use of funds for the center asserting that, “The CIA’s resources should be focused on monitoring terrorists in caves, not polar bears on icebergs.”

It’s tempting to extrapolate from the CIA’s experience and conclude that the U.S. “intelligence” on climate change is woefully backwards.

— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. This column appears the first and third Thursdays of each month. Send comments to  [email protected]

John Mott-Smith

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