Democrats call for House hearing on new greenhouse gas report

House Energy Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and another top committee Democrat sent an Oct. 21 letter to top committee Republicans requesting a hearing on the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

That report finds that warming of the climate system is “unequivocal” and that humans are the primary driver of the warming. The committee held its first hearing on climate change in the 113th Congress on Sept 18 with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

In the letter the Democrats write: “We are the Committee charged with crafting a responsible energy policy for the nation. As we carry out this responsibility, it would be reckless and irresponsible for the Committee to continue to deny the climate science or to ignore the warnings of the world’s best climate scientists.” 

The Democratic members added: “Good legislation needs to start with an understanding of the problem. That is why we said at the September 18 hearing that the Committee should hear from the world’s best scientists so we can be informed about the risks of climate change. The best place to start is with consideration of the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).”

Recipients of the letter include full committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., who has consistently said that global warming science and not a basis for actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One of the major ways the Obama Administration plans to reduce those emissions is pending regulations of emissions from power plants, particularly coal-fired power plants.

More than 830 authors and review editors from 85 countries are contributing to IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, the first volume of which was released on Sept. 27, the Democrats said. This first volume alone cites more than 9,200 scientific publications, the majority of which were published in the last six years.

According to the IPCC, the evidence showing that humans are the primary driver of this warming has grown since the last IPCC report in 2007. IPCC scientists now state with 95% confidence that “human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” This is the same level of confidence that scientists have about smoking causing cancer, the Democrats noted.

For the first time, the IPCC also established a climate budget the planet needs to follow in order to limit warming to 2°C (3.6°F), the level beyond which the impacts of climate change could be irreversible and catastrophic. To ensure a 66% chance of limiting warming to this level, IPCC scientists concluded that there needs to be a limit on cumulative man-made CO2 emissions of 1,000 gigatons, at most. There has already been consumption of half of that budget, with emissions of 531 gigatons of carbon through 2011. “We may exhaust this remaining budget within three decades if we do not immediately change course,” the Democrats added.

Obama representatives say greenhouse emission limits being pursued

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Moniz said in his Sept. 18 testimony to the house committee that despite planned CO2 rules for new and existing power plants, there is still a role for fossil fuels like coal and natural gas on the U.S. energy stage. DOE plays a central role in developing the technologies that will be part of a low-carbon future, Moniz noted in his prepared testimony.

“We invest in advanced fossil energy, nuclear energy, renewable energy, advanced fuels, electric vehicles and other low-carbon technologies,” he added. “This is part of the President’s all-of-the-above approach to energy policy. Coal and natural gas generate almost 70% of the electricity in the United States, and they are projected to remain significant sources of domestic energy in the years to come. The public and private sectors must work together to ensure that all energy sources will be part of a low-carbon future.”

That is why, as part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, DOE is working on a draft solicitation for $8bn in loan guarantees for advanced fossil energy technologies, Moniz said.

EPA head Gina McCarthy said in her Sept. 18 testimony: “EPA will soon issue new proposed carbon pollution standards for future power plants, reflecting new information and the extensive public comments on our 2012 proposal. For existing plants, we are engaged in outreach to a broad group of stakeholders with expertise who can inform the development of proposed standards, regulations, or guidelines, which we expect to issue in June of 2014.”

The plan also calls for the development of a comprehensive, inter-agency strategy to address emissions of methane – a powerful greenhouse gas that also contributes to ozone pollution, but which has substantial economic value, McCarthy noted.

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.