New climate working groups in Senate Environment Committee must address preparedness, adaptation


Yesterday Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), announced that she has established five committee working groups to tackle various aspects of a new and improved version of the Lieberman-Warner climate change bill considered last year.  We offer some early input on the topics they will cover and approaches we would like to see them take, and encourage this Committee to reach out to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to coordinate and cooperate on overlapping areas of jurisdiction, especially as regards climate change impacts and adaptation and overall preparedness for climate disruption.   

post by Anne Polansky

The April 22 EPW press release lists the five working groups by topic and membership:

1) Regional Issues:
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)

2) Cost Containment:
Senators Max Baucus (D-MT), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR)

3) Targets and Timetables:
Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Tom Udall (D-NM)

4) Market Oversight:
Senators Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

5) Coal Research and Technology:
Senator Tom Carper (D-DE)

Sen. Boxer didn’t spell out any details regarding guidelines or marching orders for these working groups. 

CSW will be offering our input and suggestions, starting with these early views:

• We highly commend Chairwoman Boxer for engaging in a broad deliberative process within the Committee; this type of good governance is rare and should occur more often.

•  The Regional Issues working group, comprised of just one Senator, Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), is a very important area of focus.  We would encourage other Senators, especially Sheldon Whitehouse, to participate in this working group, as he has persuasively articulated in the past the climate change impacts we can expect in coastal areas and other regions.  Climate change impacts assessments and adaptation strategies must be a central focus here.  We would strongly urge Sen. Klobuchar, who is also a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation which has primary jurisdiction over the agencies and programs that will be most fully engaged in the scientific research, climate services, decision support, and the more operational side of the federal role in enhancing US preparedness for climate disruption at the local and regional level, to encourage coordination and cooperation between these two committees on this crucial topic. 

• The Cost Containment working group comprised of Sens. Baucus, Cardin, and Merkley should take on the task of quantifying the costs associated with inaction, particularly the costs society will incur as a result of escalating climate change impacts such as increased occurrences of extreme weather and threats to public health and natural resources.  Claims within the Senate that the cost of cap-and-trade is too high and will result in unacceptably high energy costs for consumers must be countered with credibly substantiated claims that the costs to consumers of inaction are equally as daunting, if not more so. 

• The working group addressing Targets and Timetables spearheaded by Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Tom Udall should consider including a provision establishing a feedback loop with evolving scientific evidence linking atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, and associated emissions reductions levels, with targets and timetables, so that they can be adjusted as needed to avoid catastrophic climate change impacts.  A provision of this nature is included in the existing version of the climate bill discussion draft authored by Reps. Waxman and Markey.  See the CSW critique of this provision, emphasizing the value of this mechanism but the over-reliance on the National Academy of Sciences and under-reliance on the existing interagency climate research program (USGCRP/CCSP). 

• The Market Oversight working group, populated by Sens. Sanders, Whitehouse, and Gillibrand, would be wise to keep an eye on the “environmental and social justice” angle; a number of NGOs have raised concerns that cap-and-trade could unfairly disadvantage the poor and disadvantaged components of society.  Efforts must be made to help ensure that these communities are not further compromised by the need to move to a low-carbon economy. 

•  The Coal Research and Technology working group, with Sen. Tom Carper as the sole member, must take swift and aggressive steps to ensure that the US has an authoritative mechanism and/or entity that can serve as the “truth police” for claims made about “clean coal” technology.  The public discourse and commercial advertising on this matter are rife with claims that simply haven’t been vetted at the level of scientific and technical credibility that the issue warrants.  This working group should also focus on establishing a process within the federal government for assessing and evaluating viable alternatives to burning coal, so that these alternatives can be compared on equal footing with “clean coal” options. 

CSW will look forward to learning more about the progress of these working groups. 

We would encourage each of them to scrutinize the Waxman-Markey discussion draft, as many of the provisions in the adaptation subtitle are worth considering for adoption in Senate bills.  CSW provided extensive input:

Comments on the adaptation provisions in the Waxman-Markey draft climate legislation

Yesterday, Barbara Boxer also issued a statement in honor of Earth Day, making a public plea for climate legislation, but most crystal ball predictions tell us not to hold our breath: 

“On this Earth Day we need to dedicate ourselves to addressing global warming, because it is the biggest challenge we face. I call on all my colleagues in the Senate to step up to the plate and help us pass a global warming bill that will be good for the environment and good for the economy.”

The prospects of enacting comprehensive cap-and-trade legislation this year seem to be quite low.  E&E News reported on the working group announcement, characterizing this move as Boxer’s “first tactical step on climate legislation for 2009” and interpreting her lead-in statement –  “We are moving forward on a solid footing with dedicated senators taking the lead on these critical issues.”—as a signal of a shift in political strategy, after letting Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and John Warner (R-VA) take the lead in the last Congress.  Sen. Boxer should actively engage as many other Senators as she can in this effort in order to get a shot at gaining the 60 votes that would be needed to pass a bill. 

E&E also reported:

Several moderate Senate Democrats have since spoken up against moving forward on global warming without sufficient consideration given to their home-state concerns, including North Dakota’s Byron Dorgan and Michigan’s Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow.  The “Gang of 16” have held closed-door talks this year and plan to write up legislation of their own before the next climate debate, Stabenow told reporters earlier this week.


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