Senate EPW: “Climate change is Happening Now”. House E&C: “More fossil fuel exports!”

July 18, 2013

I’m testifying at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing today entitled:  “Climate change; It’s happening now.”  I’ll be calling for responsible limits on climate pollution, a fair price for dumping carbon in the atmosphere, and an end to federal support for new, long-term capital investments that lock in dangerous climate disruption (The Keystone Principle.)  My written statement is here.

Last month, I testified before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee about coal exports.  Seated next to me was a witness representing the National Association of Manufacturers, who objected to the notion that federal environmental analysis of proposed coal export facilities might include consideration of the climate impacts of burning the coal.Corn, toys, and coal

He worried that such an evaluation would create a slippery slope, leading to climate impact tests for other products, including corn and toys.

A little bit of common sense should suffice here.  The export of corn and toys is not one of the leading preventable causes of catastrophic global climate disruption.  The introduction of large amounts of cheap, subsidized, American coal into the world’s fastest growing economies is.  So we might want to look at that.  As the President said in a landmark of understatement, referring to the climate impacts of Keystone XL,  “It’s relevant.”

But the concern raised by the NAM witness is, in at least one respect, legitimate.  Because we have no meaningful national climate policy, we are left to ask and answer these kinds of questions on ad hoc basis, leading to outcomes that are surely less efficient and effective than we could achieve with a thoughtful, comprehensive policy.  The issue of where and how to ensure accountability for the costs of climate pollution is indeed a very important consideration for climate policy design.  But in June of 2013 — 25 years after Jim Hansen first confirmed to Congress that climate change was a real threat requiring decisive and immediate action — we were not having a hearing on climate policy design in the House of Representatives.  We were having a hearing on how to expedite coal export.

At that same hearing, the Army Corp of Engineers announced that it would not consider climate impacts in its environmental review of proposed export terminals.  This stands in direct contradiction to the principle the President established when he said the Keystone XL pipeline is not in the national interest if it contributes significantly to increased climate pollution.

Ironically, on that same day, the commander of the Corps called for new, stronger standards for levee design and flood protection to cope with climate disruption.

Yup, we can count on the Corps to request larger budgets for responding to climate impacts (as, sadly, they should) but not, apparently, to analyze those impacts in the context of decisions which might prevent them.  We are being set up for tons of “cure” at public expense, because we lack the responsible federal climate policies that would provide an ounce of prevention.

Hey, at least today the Senate is having a hearing on the subject!