The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives yesterday kicked off a series of hearings about climate change to highlight the urgency of the issue and the need for congressional action.
“The majority of Americans consider meaningful action on climate change a moral imperative. They’re absolutely right. And they have friends on this committee, including the chairman, who are here to work on solutions,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, at a committee hearing yesterday on “Climate Change: Impacts and the Need to Act.” “Today we turn the page on this committee from climate denial to climate action.”
Grijalva also sharply criticized President Donald J. Trump for seeking to expand fossil fuel production on public lands, roll back clean air and clean water protections, and “suppress the role of science.”
“Every day we fail to act increases the costs of addressing this crisis for future generations,” Grijalva said on the same day that NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that 2018 was the fourth hottest year on record.
The hearing took place on the same day as a hearing by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce addressing the environmental and economic effects of climate change. Today, the Natural Resources Committee is holding a hearing on climate change and ocean health. On 12 February, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will hold a hearing on the state of climate science. Also, Democratic members of the House and Senate today introduced legislation rolling out a framework for a Green New Deal.
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the ranking minority member on the Natural Resources Committee, questioned how climate change fits into the committee’s jurisdiction. He said that the hearing should focus on solutions rather than rhetoric. “Speaking for Republicans, our goal is to fix problems by finding sensible solutions and encouraging innovation,” Bishop said. “The important question today is what are the practical ways we can reduce pollution, promote a healthier environment, and not decimate the American taxpayers’ and families’ check books.”
Noting that Grijalva and other Democrats have designated February as climate change month, Bishop quipped, “I appreciate the fact that you picked the shortest month of the year to do that.”
Governors Urge Congressional Action
Two governors testifying at the hearing pleaded for Congress to take action while also recognizing that they can take significant beneficial measures at state and local levels.
“In Massachusetts, climate change is not a partisan issue. While we sometimes disagree on specific policies, we understand the science and we know the impacts are real. Believe me, we are experiencing them firsthand,” said Massachusetts governor Charles Baker, a Republican. Baker added that congressional action can help make a difference on climate change, noting that federal and local policy measures have successfully tackled other big environmental issues, including reducing acid rain and protecting the ozone layer.
North Carolina governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said that state and local action is critical but so is federal action on measures like promoting emissions reductions. “Federal partners must join us in taking action to protect our people from the growing harm of climate change,” said Cooper.
Republican Witnesses Question the Urgency of the Issue
At the hearing, several witnesses called by the Republicans opposed sweeping climate change measures, questioned the urgency of the issue, and said that the benefits of fossil fuels outweigh their costs. Judith Curry, president of the Climate Forecast Applications Network, testified that “there is considerable disagreement” about issues, including “whether the recent warming has been dominated by human causes versus natural variability.” However, the Fourth National Climate Assessment, released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program last November, states, “The warming trend observed over the past century can only be explained by the effects that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, have had on the climate.”
In addition, Curry stated that “the known risks to human well-being associated with constraining fossil fuels may be worse than the eventual risks from climate change.” Derrick Hollie, president of Reaching America, an education and policy organization, picked up on that theme, saying that for members of the African American community, “energy poverty is a reality. Members of our community don’t have the luxury to pay more for green technologies. We need access to affordable energy to help heat our homes, power our stoves, and get back and forth to work each day.” He added that “any policy that contributes to energy poverty is a bad one for low-income families and minority communities.”
Climate Change and Social Justice
At the hearing, Grijalva countered that testimony by stating that climate change “is a matter of social justice,” with communities of color and Native American tribes “disproportionately impacted by climate change.”
Witness Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., the president and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, compared climate change and its impact on poor and disenfranchised communities to the civil rights movement. He invoked the memory of four college students who dared to sit at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., in protest of segregation in the South.
“Climate change is our lunch counter moment for the 21st century,” Yearwood testified. “Climate change is a civil rights issue.” Yearwood noted the impact of climate change, including that in the United States nearly 70% of people of color live within 48 kilometers of power plants. The Hip Hop Caucus is a group focusing on empowering communities affected by injustice.
Yearwood said that he completely disagrees that people of color are not concerned about climate change and the impact that it poses on them, their communities, and the broader world. “To sit up here honestly at this critical moment to then purport that people of color are somehow making the decision that they are more concerned about their energy bill than their health, their energy bill than their life, then that is literally ludicrous,” he said.
Is Congress Ready to Move Toward Solutions?
Kim Cobb, professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, testified at the hearing that “there are many no-regrets, win-win actions to reduce the growing costs of climate change, but we’re going to have to come together to form new alliances, in our home communities, across our states, and yes, even in Washington.”
She added, “The bottom line is that we are running out of time. Comprehensive federal policies are needed to speed the transition to low-carbon energy sources. Top on the list must be a price on carbon, to reflect the true costs of continued fossil fuel emissions, and to incentivize consumers, companies, and the market to find the cheapest, most effective means of reducing emissions.”
Cobb told Eos later that the hearing was “refreshing” because for the most part it “didn’t get dragged down in some of the weeds about questioning temperature records, questioning model performance, questioning some of the foundational conclusions of the National Climate Assessment.”
Cobb said that she felt somewhat optimistic. “Maybe we have turned the page and maybe this committee and the House of Representatives and Congress in general are actually ready to move toward solutions,” she told Eos. “There were numerous calls for that today, calls for bipartisan work on this subject. In fact, I walk away kind of heartened by where we are as opposed to where we were several years ago.”
After the hearing, Grijalva told Eos that he also felt that Congress might be able to move forward on climate change. “I thought we took a step to bipartisanship” at the hearing, Grijalva said, noting that each subcommittee will now hold its own hearing about climate change.
“There wasn’t the full-throated denial that I’ve been hearing for 2 years” from Republicans, Grijalva said about the hearing on Wednesday. “A lot of avoidance, but not the denial. Maybe that’s a step forward.”
—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer