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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

What's Next for the Congressional Global Warming Committee?

Air Date: Week of
David Kreutzer, Research Fellow in Energy, Economics, and Climate Change at The Heritage Foundation.

The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming was created in 2007 by Democrats who hoped it could stand up to challenges to climate change solutions. Now, with Republicans regaining control of the House, the committee is likely to fold. We'll hear two opinions - one from David Kreutzer of the conservative Heritage Foundation, the other from longtime environmentalist John Passacantando - on the legacy of the committee.


GELLERMAN: The incoming Republican leadership has indicated it might disband the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. In 2006, Nancy Pelosi, as the new Speaker of the House, created this committee after the mid-term elections of 2006, after both houses of Congress switched control from Republican to Democratic.

With the White House and bigger majorities after the 2008 elections, Democrats hoped to enact comprehensive energy and climate legislation – but their control of Congress has proved short-lived. David Kreutzer, Research Fellow in Energy, Economics, and Climate Change with the Heritage Foundation has these thoughts.

KREUTZER: Decades-long mandates are fickle things. Republicans recaptured the House much more quickly and decisively than any could have thought two years ago. With their new majority in the House, Republicans are likely to do something many Democrats probably wish they had done themselves two years earlier: eliminate the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

David Kreutzer, Research Fellow in Energy, Economics, and Climate Change at The Heritage Foundation.

Though the Select Committee never had legislative authority -- it could only hold hearings and make recommendations -- it was the bull-horn for climate legislation, and its leaders were instrumental in passing the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill of 2009. That bill would have levied an energy tax of tens to hundreds of billions of dollar per year. And for the first decade, virtually all of the revenue had to be promised to a host of special interests from tree farmers to utility companies in order to engineer the slimmest of majorities for the bill’s passage.

A large tax increase during a recession is bad economics and bad politics. So the deal making and arm-twisting backfired, especially for those who voted “yes” in energy and manufacturing districts. Virtually none who voted for Waxman-Markey made that vote part of their campaign this year. Instead those in close races bragged they didn’t vote for Waxman-Markey, or they did their best to dance around their vote.

It appears even the Select Committee saw the writing on the wall. In 2009 the committee issued 104 press releases, 52 percent of which were about global-warming science or legislation. As cap and trade became an anchor around the necks of legislators, the bull-horn turned elsewhere. Of the 131 press releases in 2010 only 16 percent concerned global-warming science or legislation, whereas 52 percent dealt with the Gulf oil spill, a much more popular target.

What then does the future hold for the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming? Encouraging a politically suicidal vote for many House members as its main accomplishment, the committee is likely to die early in the next Congress, with little mourning on either side of the aisle.

CURWOOD: David Kreutzer, Research Fellow in Energy, Economics, and Climate Change with The Heritage Foundation. But, former Greenpeace USA leader John Passacantando sees the situation – and the GOP’s plans – rather differently.

Longtime environmentalist John Passacantando is head of Our Next Economy, a business designed to help renewable energy efforts.

PASSACANTANDO: Ed Markey’s Select committee on had two roles-- one good, one bad. And now, without it, things are going to get ugly. First the good: While some of the biggest polluters were paying front groups to deny global warming- and the mainstream press was blindly covering it- Markey’s committee brought in top scientists to talk about the emerging science on climate change. Experts explained climate change’s role in driving wild fires, more powerful storms, the meltdown of the Greenland ice sheet, even the impacts in New England.

This committee investigated and exposed polluters use of front groups to send fabricated letters opposing climate legislation to house members from senior citizens, minorities and veterans. Markey’s team probed into BP and Haliburton’s roles after the deep oil well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. The Select Committee was the central, trusted place in America- where the truth could be told about climate change.

Now the bad: Markey’s committee, working closely with Henry Waxman’s team, wrote and passed climate legislation, hoping the Senate could do the same and President Obama could sign it. Unfortunately, many of the biggest environmental groups, with notable exceptions like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, simply didn’t hold the line. The House Bill was a massively complicated 2,000 page document containing huge subsidies to the coal industry and coal burning power companies like Duke Energy, an unfortunate part of the Democrat’s base.

This climate bill also created a sketchy carbon-trading regime for Wall Street that sounded eerily like the market in securitized mortgages that brought us the financial bubble. Then a similar bill collapsed in the Senate, but the ‘yes’ vote in the House remained a terrible liability in the election. Some three-dozen Democratic house members who voted for this bill lost their seats. Of course these members faced races in the toughest of economic times, adding to that a vote for a climate bill that became a corporate giveaway didn’t help.

And, finally, the ugly: Incoming Republican Speaker John Boehner has promised to get rid of these specially created select committees. He’s also skeptical when it comes to climate change. And, with no limit to how much money corporations can now plow into political campaigns, he’s likely to find plenty of support in this new era. What’s next? Do you remember back in June when Republican house member from Texas, Joe Barton, apologized to BP for the rough treatment it was getting from the White House for pumping all that oil into the Gulf of Mexico? The polluters are going to be handled with kid gloves again. Good times for them, bad times for the planet. This storm will pass, but for right now, hold on. It’s going to be a wild ride.

CURWOOD: John Passacantando is president of Our Next Economy, a business designed to help renewable energy efforts navigate the opposition from fossil fuel interests.



David Kreutzer's webpage

John Passacantando's Our Next Economy


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