Senate Climate Hearings Produce Positive Bi-Partisan Forecasts For Cleaner, More Renewable Energy
WASHINGTON, MARCH 5th 2019: The Senate Committee of Energy and Natural Resources met over the last 2 weeks to discuss energy policy, innovation in energy sectors, and perhaps most importantly, how these areas are effected by climate change. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chairman of the committee and republican senator of Alaska, stated that over the course of the hearings , the committee had heard “…about the effect that climate change is having on decisions in the electricity sector,” and that “the electricity sector is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to climate change, but also quite possibly the most visible and all-encompassing.”
In her opening statement, Murkowski mentioned the desire to encourage research and development in technologies like carbon-capture utilization and storage, (CCUS), but that all manner of climate change solutions whether it’s an increase in efficiency or utilizing CCUS “has to be a priority for us.”
She went on to explain the tribulations facing her native Alaska: “We have no choice. in the Arctic, we’re seeing warming at twice the average of the rest of the Lower 48. It is directly impacting our way of life.”
An individual concerned about the effects of human-induced climate change would consider this is a bright spark for a republican-majority senate that doesn’t spend much time discussing the issues associated with climate change.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a democrat from West Virginia and top-ranking member of the committee, noted the rarity of the event as both a first for the 116th Congress and for the senate as a whole for a number of years.
While climate change is a topic that tends to bring out the Robert Oppenheimer or Arthur Holly Compton within a speaker, the hearings maintained a practical focus on energy solutions for a changing world. It was clear throughout the hearings that both Murkowski and Manchin carried concern about how the climate crises will effect their constituents, with both of their state economies relying heavily on the energy sector.
“All communities, including those in energy-producing states like West Virginia and Alaska, are experiencing the harmful impacts of the climate crisis. And these impacts are often felt disproportionately in West Virginia communities which are already suffering from the downturn in coal production, resulting unemployment, and the negative effects of coal company bankruptcies on retirement and health benefits. Therefore, the path to a climate solution must offer West Virginians opportunity – not additional economic burdens,” said Sen. Manchin.
Sen. Murkowski also expressed concern for her own rural communities. She questioned, without great skepticism, how policy changes, market forces, and consumer demands which have steered the energy sector into a greater variety of inputs would maintain its resilience in the face of a changing climate.
Referring to the reliability of the changing power grid, Sen. Murkowski said “as much as we all want to ensure that we’re moving towards reduced emissions, we’re lowering the cost, we all want to make sure it’s there. Because when it’s not it’s dark and it’s cold.”
The cut of the jib remained on related topics for most of the hearings, while touching on the effects or urgency of climate change was mostly limited to discussions on grid reliability. A number of experts attended the hearings, representing the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC), the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE), NextEra Energy, Rice University, and the Analysis Group.
Several of these experts, such as Joe Kelliher, the executive vice-president of federal regulatory affairs for NextEra Energy, demonstrated his confidence that the changing grid could not only stay resilient in the face of a changing climate, but also through the process of introducing even more innovative additions to the energy sector.
Strangely it was the democrat Manchin who played down the focus on reducing carbon emissions. “Solutions must be grounded in reality, which requires the recognition that fossil fuels aren’t going anywhere anytime soon,” he said.
He also questioned the findings of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, released at the end of 2018. “The National Climate Assessment says that in the next ten years, if we don’t make drastic changes across the world, with all 7 billion of us living on planet earth, the damage done to the climate could be irreversible. Are you all in agreement with that? And, if that’s the case, with China relying almost 60 percent on coal and India relying almost 70 percent on coal with no plans to change quickly, what do we do?”
While certainly not reaching the levels in the Green New Deal, a bizarre and bold attempt to cut the head off the climate-change-snake proposed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the young democratic senator from New York earlier this year, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee clearly cemented the desires to combat global climate-change by reducing emissions and implementing new forms of innovative energy.
It was discussed by a bi-partisan committee and a panel of experts, and even though the focus remained on economic consequences and grid capabilities, the talks could end up producing far more than the dramatic, and seemingly unrealistic Green Deal.
Lisa Murkowski, perhaps thinking as much, mentioned the necessity for immediate, bi-partisan policies that will draw people to the negotiating table. “We do have a considerable role to play in developing reasonable policies that can draw bipartisan support that I think will be a pragmatic contribution to the overall discussion,” she said.