Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lisa Jackson faces down Republican fire at energy committee hearing

Lisa Jackson was called today to justify the EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Fred Upton set the scene for where this shambles of democracy was heading by arguing that his party’s draft Energy Tax Prevention Act 2011 made "fossil fuels most affordable choice" for energy supply in the US. This would remove the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

The EPA's regulations made fossil fuels more expensive and the bill would address Barack Obama’s failure to mention affordable energy in his State of the Union address, he said, adding that the Chinese government and others have no plans to raise costs. Presumably, Upton’s bill does not include the level of spending the Chinese shower on its green economy given the Republican's Spending Reduction Act of 2011.

The Clean Air Act was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970 "to foster the growth of a strong American economy and industry while improving human health and the environment".

It was meant to regulate levels of ozone and other "criteria pollutants" such as lead, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide. Like most legislation in the US, once passed into law, acts are still a work in process with amendments and legal challenges being the most common means of defining laws. The most substantial amendments were made in 1990, and included provisions for emissions trading.

Joe Barton, Congressman from Texas, attempted to make himself sound smart by reeling off the list of pollutants covered by the original act, which did not include carbon dioxide. But he ended up making himself sound foolish. Barton not only missed that the world, science and US have moved on, but he chose to ignore that in Massachusetts v Environmental Protection Agency, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to force the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions as pollutants.

"A vote of 5-4 was good enough for corporations to run America – the statute is unambiguous," said Washington Congressman Jay Inslee. "Shouldn’t we trust the scientists?"

The EPA under the Obama administration has since gone further by issuing an "endangerment finding" signed in 2009 that greenhouse gases "threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations".

James Inhofe, who made it through the snowstorms from Oklahoma that no doubt added to his sense of righteousness, was the real warm up act. He said that he went along with the global warming "alarmists" until the Wharton Econometric Survey estimated that it would the American people $300bn - $400bn and managed to slip in several mentions of his book "Hoax".

He said: "There is nothing conclusive in the science. Let’s stipulate to it so we can talk about the costs which is just one of the problems we’re having with over regulations of the EPA."

He quoted Clive Crook, commentator on the FT and Atlantic who said of the "climategate" saga that the "stink of intellectual corruption is overpowering" and the Telegraph's James Delingpole who described climate science as the greatest scandal of all time.

Then Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA, took Inhofe's seat, with a composure and certainty of purpose that contrasted sharply with stupid comments such as "if I knew you better I'd come down here and hug you" from Barton, who tried to dispel rumours that the committee hadn't wanted Jackson to speak.
Bobby L Rush, an Illinois Congressman, said that the only reason why Jackson had been allowed to appear was because the minority had complained so vociferously about it.

"We had to kick and scream so that Madam Administrator could have her day and the opportunity–– not even in Court, but in the halls of Congress––to defend her agency's findings and judgments. How can we formulate good public policy, or look at ourselves as fair and decent lawmakers, if Congress as a body doesn't solicit the views of the EPA (or from the State of California) on this draft legislation?"

Rush gave Jackson the opportunity to give her background in chemical engineering, possibly making her the only scientist in the room. He asked whether she thought the committee should have invited scientists to testify.

"Yes," she replied, "If this is a referendum on the science, it would be important to hear from the best scientists in the country."

Then came the volley of complaints from Republican committee members:

John Shimkus, Congressman from Illinois, put up a graph which apparently seemed to show the ability to produce oil decline with the increase in Clean Air Act regulations. He pulled out a picture of coal miners in Kincaid mine "who should be given a medal" since 1,000 of them lost their jobs because of the Clean Air Act.

Steve Scalise from Louisiana wanted to know whether the EPA was planning a cap and trade scheme and claimed that the biggest threat to American jobs were regulations. He cited a steel company that had delayed construction in his state to await the results of federal legislation and has now scaled back its plans because of the EPA regulations.

He wouldn't let her respond properly before launching into another tirade about how Jackson had once blamed hurricane Katrina on global warming rather than inadequate levees. She just about managed to slip in denial before she and Scalise were shut down.

Jackson appeared a voice of reason amid the Republican din: "Our economy can grow, innovate, thrive in process of implementing CAA standards." She cited how auto manufacturers have responded to regulatory certainty by building lower emissions cars. "Knowing what the road ahead looks like makes it easier for them," she said.

She even managed to talk about the savings from using fewer fossil fuels through energy efficiency in counterbalancing the costs of reducing emissions (a topic not often covered in this debate at all).

After every Republican had spoken as if oil was in limitless supply in the US (it already imports 50%), Congressman Edward Markey said the EPA's regulation of emissions was crucial in reducing the US's need for oil.

He said: "This Polluters' Protection Act ties the hand of the EPA and even prevents it from thinking regulating emissions. It's like the memory hole in George Orwell's book 1984. Big coal and big oil have been working with the Republican thought police and want to disappear [these protections] down the memory hole. People who work in coal, oil and utility companies are watching us now to make sure EPA can’t do its job – to reduce oil demand from cars, planes or oil.

"[Under their proposals] we will have to import 5m barrels of oil a day by 2030 – more than we import from OPEC. That will be $164bn a year to OPEC that would fund al-Qaida, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood."

It was even suggested at one point that the Republican's bill is even more retrograde in outlook than the Bush administration. Henry Waxman of California had yesterday circulated a letter from Stephen Johnson that told Bush he was obligated to declare gases from power plants, cars and other sources a danger to the public.

Jackson said: "The endangerment finding was sent to the White House under the Bush administration, but the email wasn’t opened."

Much of the discussion centred around the science of climate change. But did climategate cause anyone to call for the repeal of the Climate Change Act in the UK? No.

Policy is too important to be left to the likes of Mssrs Upton, Barton, Shimkus, et all and they should not waste any more of Jackson's time or distract the legislative process, or mislead the public.

While the Republicans try to dismantle its environmental policies with inexpert but horribly effective arguments about science, China, Brazil and the EU are no longer asking why, but asking how. In these countries the low-carbon transition isn't about the environment, it's about the economy.

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