Status Report

AIP FYI #87: Hearings Highlight Differences on Bush Global Climate Change

By SpaceRef Editor
July 29, 2002
Filed under , ,

Hearings held two weeks ago by House and Senate committees
revealed both consensus and conflict surrounding the Bush
Administration’s global climate change policy. With rare
exception, almost all agreed that the world’s climate had
warmed. The causes of this warming trend and what should be
done to counteract it remain in contention.

The first hearing was before the House Science Committee.
Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) began by saying, “It’s
extremely hard to figure out what the Administration is doing
in, or planning for, its climate change science and technology
programs. We have had trouble getting answers to our
questions and we’ve heard contradictory descriptions of
programs from different agencies and even from different parts
of the White House.”

Three Administration witnesses testified: OSTP Director John
Marburger, DOE Undersecretary Robert Card, and Commerce
Assistant Secretary James Mahoney. Marburger defended the
Administration’s program, explaining the need for a science-
based policy, that scientific uncertainties were real and
significant, and existing climate models limited in their
scope. Mahoney, the director of the federal interagency
climate change program, called climate change the “capstone
issue of our generation.” He feared advocates of an immediate
reduction in greenhouse gas emissions were employing a “ready-
fire-aim” strategy. He admitted that “Yes, there is a
problem,” but then added, “what specifically do we do about
the problem?” Mahoney briefly described a major workshop in
early December that will lead to the development of a
comprehensive plan. Card’s testimony centered on two points:
first, the Administration’s plan to reduce the “intensity” of
emissions (defined as the emissions per dollar of GDP) by 18%
over the next ten years, which he said would be both
“meaningful and difficult.” Second, he advocated the
development of nuclear, fusion, wind, hydro, and clean coal
technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

There was considerable discussion about the Administration’s
plan. Marburger said “I believe that an intensity goal is an
appropriate goal for the state of knowledge that we have and
for the nature of the problem.” The alternative method for
the reduction of emissions, he said, would be the curtailment
or elimination of industrial operations. Marburger admitted,
however, that he did “not expect to see” a reduction in the
absolute emissions during the ten year period. The
discussion turned to nuclear power, with Card declaring that
it is difficult to be serious about a climate change strategy
without being serious about increasing the utilization of
nuclear power. There needs, Card said, to be a large change
in the nation’s energy mix. Regarding climate models,
Marburger contended that they “are not yet up to the point
where they can provide useful advice,” calling for their
further refinement since “the empirical data always comes too
late” about such phenomenons.

If the exchanges between the Administration witnesses and the
members of the House Science Committee were relatively low-
key, the hearing the next day before the Senate Commerce,
Science and Transportation Committee was anything but.
Senator John Kerry (D-MA) charged that the Administration’s
policy “appears to have taken several steps backwards,” later
declaring “I believe the [Administration’s] commitment remains
rhetorical.” “This issue has been talked and talked for too
long now,” he said. Joining Kerry in his criticism was
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who cited the then-raging Arizona
wild fires as evidence for those predicting that climate
change would lead to increased fire hazards. He was, he said,
disappointed with the “business as usual approach.” Declared
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), “At this point, I think this is
a fight.”

The Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental
Quality, James Connaughton, seemed to be the point man for the
Administration at this hearing. Also testifying were
Marburger, Mahoney, and R. Glenn Hubbard, Chairman of the
Council of Economic Advisers. Connaughton and Hubbard
contended that an immediate reduction in greenhouse gases
would seriously damage the economy. Using the intensity
approach to eventually reduce the level of emissions would be
less harmful, they claimed.

Kerry pressed Hubbard on the warnings contained in the
Administration’s “U.S. Climate Action Report” (see FYI #73).
“These are projections based on scenarios,” not predictions,
Hubbard replied. The discussion returned to the intensity
approach, Kerry charging that it would allow emissions to
increase. Boxer called the Administration’s approach a
smokescreen, and said “It’s baloney.”

The discussion went back and forth, with neither side on this
issue yielding little if any ground. At the conclusion of the
hearing, Kerry and the Administration officials spoke of a
willingness to work toward a common approach. Judging from
the tone of the Senate hearing, that consensus will not be
forthcoming in the near future.

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
The American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3095

SpaceRef staff editor.