Waxman launches into Boehner on climate change issue

Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D.-Calif., a longtime champion of climate change legislation, took to the floor of the Republican-controlled House to say that it is time for that body to move on this issue.

Waxman, Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a member of the Safe Climate Caucus, called on President Barack Obama to act using his existing authorities.  Waxman also responded to recent remarks from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, criticizing Obama’s forthcoming plan to address climate change. 

He said Boehner made some “irresponsible remarks” about climate change. “He was asked about the reports that the President is prepared to act to protect the planet and future generations from climate change impacts,” Waxman said. “And here’s what the Speaker had to say, ‘I think this is absolutely crazy. Why would you want to increase the cost of energy and kill more American jobs at a time when the American people are still asking, ‘where are the jobs’?  Clear enough?’ Well, I could not disagree more strongly with Speaker Boehner. Presidential action to protect the climate and future generations is absolutely essential. The House is controlled by leaders who deny the science and are recklessly ignoring the risks of a rapidly increasing climate. The House has become the last refuge of the flat earth society. That is why the President must act using his existing authority under the law.”

Boehner’s assertion that acting to reduce emissions will hurt the economy is absolutely wrong, Waxman said. He pointed to prior legislation, like iterations of the Clean Air Act, that critics said would wreck the economy and didn’t.

Waxman noted that the International Energy Agency (IEA) recently released a report concluding that the world is not on track to meet the goal of limiting global average temperatures to be below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit or 2 degrees Celsius. “Now that is a tremendous concern because the scientists are telling us that, if we don’t achieve the goal of reducing the temperature rise, we are going to see some very severe impacts: flooding of our coastal cities; increased risk to our food supply; unprecedented heat waves; exacerbated water scarcity in many region; increased frequency of high intensity tropical cyclones; irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reefs,” Waxman added.

At the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over this whole question, the Democratic leaders there have asked for hearings to bring in climate scientists, because some of Republican members have said they don’t believe in the science, Waxman said. Democrats sent over 36 letters to GOP leadership and have never gotten a response from a single letter or request for hearings, Waxman said.

Waxman says mercury standards for power plants haven’t been a big deal

Waxman noted that when the Obama Administration issued mercury standards for power plants and other sources, House Republicans said it would cost jobs and raise electricity prices. “Well that hasn’t happened,” he said. “Implementation has gone smoothly, electricity prices have not gone up. In fact, wholesale prices have gone down and there have been no rolling blackouts as predicted by the doomsday scenarios.”

Notable is that if he is referring to EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), they don’t go into effect until April 2015, though some coal-fired power plants have already been shut due to MATS (and often other air control programs, as well) and other coal plants are on the shutdown lists of electric utilities and independent power producers nationwide. Utilities that are adding emissions controls for MATS compliance in many cases haven’t built those systems yet and those costs are not yet being rolled into ratepayer bills.

“The president has said if Congress won’t act, he must act,” Waxman said. “And he’s absolutely right. The President must act, and he has the authority to act under existing laws. Congress will not act because the leadership of the House of Representatives denies reality. They want to politicize science. They want to politicize science by ignoring it.”

Addressing climate change will require actions over the long-term, Waxman said. But the IEA report highlights four policies that could be implemented now and through 2020 at no economic costs.

  • First, the report recommended that countries adopt specific energy efficiency measures. “We don’t have to build new power plants if we use our energy resources more efficiently,” Waxman said.
  • Secondly, the report said that if countries limit the construction and use of inefficient sub-critical coal-fired power plants and switch instead to cleaner and more efficient plants, the air will get cleaner and the threat from climate change will be dramatically reduced.
  • Thirdly, the report recommended that countries reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas from upstream oil and gas production by installing available technologies in the short-term and pursuing additional long-term reduction strategies.
  • And fourth, the report proposed that countries accelerate the phase out of fossil fuel subsidies which exacerbate climate change by encouraging consumption of carbon-emitting energy.
About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.