WASHINGTON -- Democrats on Capitol Hill sought to move climate change back to the front of the congressional agenda Thursday morning, after a long period of inaction.
But the testy back-and-forth at a hearing of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), suggests that Congress is still paralyzed on global warming, even as many states aggressively enact their own policies.
Boxer and fellow Democrats are hoping to build momentum on President Obama’s release of a “Climate Action Plan” last month. The plan is a series of executive actions the administration is taking to nudge the country toward increased use of renewable energy.
Elements of the plan include: Permits for clean burning power plants are to be fast tracked, loans for alternative energy firms are to be made available, partnerships on fighting climate change will be launched with other countries, and so on.
The plan has annoyed Republicans, who had planned to use Boxer’s hearing to grill the administration on the effort. However, Boxer limited witnesses to independent scientists and other outside experts. No administration officials were invited to give testimony.
Before the hearing had even started, Republicans on the panel had sent a letter of protest to Boxer. In opening statements Thursday, they complained again. Boxer told them administration officials will be invited to testify at a later date.
Then, some GOP members of the panel outlined what they said was a White House conspiracy designed to mislead the public on the threat of climate change. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) declared that Obama “believes that government can make better decisions than the people, and regulating carbon dioxide will give him all he needs to make nearly every decision for the American people.”
Liberals on the panel responded with fiery comments of their own. “To deny the fact that the overwhelming majority of scientists who have published peer review articles believe not only is global warming real, but it is man-made, and to continue discussion of ‘we are not sure, let’s look at something else’, is almost beyond intellectual comprehension,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.).
Experts from the think tanks Climate Central and Climate Solutions then testified about the devastating effects they said global warming is having on the environment, and the need for immediate action.
An executive from the Reinsurance Assn. of America spoke of how the insurance industry is alarmed by what its modeling shows is an increasing frequency of extreme weather events caused by global warming.
Representatives from the conservative Manhattan Institute and the Institute for Energy Research gave opposing testimony, warning the action sought by Democrats in Congress will hurt the economy and have limited effect on the climate.
Boxer and others said the experts on the panel who testified in favor of a laissez-faire approach were from organizations that had received millions of dollars from big oil interests, including the Koch brothers, wealthy donors to conservative causes.
“Ninety-eight percent of scientists are saying one thing, 2% are saying something else,” Boxer said. “Yet we have endless money behind the 2% view. ... This isn’t a game. We’re playing with the lives of future generations.”
And so it went into the afternoon.