Thursday, February 7, 2013

House GOP Rejects Calls For Climate Hearings - But Democrats Will Keep Pressing

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA)

Between President Obama's surprisingly hawkish second inaugural address, and the confirmation of John Kerry as Secretary of State, moves to combat climate change may be afoot in Washington.

That momentum extends to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where ranking minority member Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and his fellow Democrats have been pushing to move hearings on climate change onto the group's agenda for this congressional session. Unfortunately, Republicans still control the House and thus the committee, and have already shot down Democrats' efforts twice, according to a report in The Hill.

On Wednesday the Committee, along party lines, voted down Democratic amendments to its formal oversight plan for the 113th Congress....

One defeated amendment, from Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), would have required hearings on the role of climate change in drought, heat waves, wildfires, reduced crop yields and other effects....

A second defeated amendment, by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), called for hearings on climate-related coastal threats including sea-level rise, more frequent and intense storms, and ocean acidification. Both proposals called for witnesses including National Academy of Sciences members.

The good news is that Waxman intends to keep pressing, in order to get the GOP on record refusing to investigate an issue that is rapidly moving to the forefront of the American public's concern:

More votes - with a similar outcome - are expected when the meeting to approve the oversight plan resumes next week.

Waxman is offering a third amendment calling for a hearing on recent reports that warn, "the window for action to prevent irreversible harm from climate change is closing rapidly."

The need for American lawmakers to come to grips with the reality of climate change and global warming is pressing. In January, the Federal Advisory Committee released its draft of the third National Climate Assessment, and its prognostications were grim: If the United States remains on its current emissions path, most of the country will see a rise of 9 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit over the coming century, with ever-worsening extreme weather, heat waves, deluges and droughts as the result.

Encouragingly, there are signs President Obama will call for new policy pushes in next week's State of the Union address. Even without new laws from Congress, the executive branch has numerous regulatory tools with which it can combat climate change, including having the Environmental Protection Agency move to curb carbon emissions from both new and existing power plants. Nor are Waxman and other Democrats sitting idle - they've announced the formation of a new Bicameral Climate Change Task Force, "dedicated to focusing Congressional and public attention on climate change and developing effective policy responses."

As for where the Republicans are at, the House Science and Technology Committee is set to hold a hearing that appears destined to degenerate into a forum for climate denialism. The committee's new chair, Rep. Lamar Smith's (R-TX), has criticized "the idea of human-made global warming, railed against the media as "lap dogs" for not devoting enough airtime to climate deniers, and taken $500,000 from the oil and gas industries over his political career.

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