Barbara Boxer, Senator from California and chair of the Senate committee on the environment and public works, kicked off three days of hearings on the latest version of the Kerry-Boxer climate change legislation. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and E.P.A. Administrator Lisa Jackson all spoke to the committee about their organizations’ plans for mitigating C02 emissions and adapting the U.S. to climate change. Salazar called for expanded landscape conservation cooperatives, which can protect critical carbon sinks and wildlife habitats. Salazar said landscape conservation cooperatives can serve as both wildlife migration corridors and a major part of a U.S. C02 bio-sequestration strategy. While preventing deforestation in developing countries like Brazil and Indonesia was crucial, the U.S. “also needs to focus on reforestation,” argues Salazar. U.S. lands are the key sources for biosequestration and geological sequestration of C02.
To support renewable energy production, the interior department has set aside 1,000 square miles of federal land for solar use. Solar installations on federal land could generate 100,000 megawatts of solar power. Hydropower, geothermal energy, and off-shore wind are other key renewable energy sources Salazar wants to promote.
In his remarks to the committee, Chu added that while moving quickly on climate change is critical to avoiding disaster, creating global and U.S. renewable industries also presents huge opportunities for U.S. firms. “Which countries are going to manufacture and export renewable energy technology? Which are going to be dependent on other countries for their solar panels and wind turbines?” Citing Energy Information Administration (EIA) figures, Chu argued that the combined global wind and solar markets will become multi-trillion markets within a few decades. “U.S. policy decisions now affect the size of the U.S. share of these future markets.” Chu added that China has already decided to aggressively target renewable energy markets and is now investing $9 billion per month in solar and other technologies. “The U.S. has already fall far behind. We are now producing just seven percent of the world’s solar panels.”
Multiple speakers urged comprehensive and rapid action. Senator Kerry argued that science is “screaming at us to take action,” and a “voluntary approach won’t work.” Oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and scientific studies foresee no sea ice in the Artic in summer by 2013. Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland noted that there are already climate refugees in Maryland. Steven Chu quoted M.I.T. researchers: “There is a 17 percent change that there will be a 11 degree Fahrenheit increase by mid-century,” arguing that a 11 degree decrease in temperature would lead to a new ice age, so a 11 degree increase could lead to “unknown effects.”
However, not all senators were convinced. Senator James Inhofe, ranking minority member of the committee, wondered about the costs of the bill in terms of jobs and economic growth. Other minority members complained about the fast pace of the legislative review, and argued for more detailed economic analyses of the impact of the legislation from the E.P.A.. Senator Voinovich asked: “Why try to jam the bill through?” Voinovich also wanted more economic analysis done on the cost of wind power versus nuclear power installations, arguing that nuclear power was more cost-effective given the high cost of creating transmission lines to bring wind power to cities. Other senators also called for a greater role for nuclear power in the legislation, saying that “100 new nuclear power plants would be cheaper.”
Senator Boxer and Kerry focused on the cost of the legislation per household, and argued the bill would create new green jobs. Boxer said that the new Senate climate change legislation would cost 30 cents per day per household. Senator Kerry said the bill would create hundreds of thousands of new green jobs that can’t be exported and pointed to a chart showing state-by-state net job increases. “Energy produced in the U.S. equals jobs.” Kerry added that the information technology economy was $1 trillion; a new clean energy economy could be $6 trillion. “We will create 5-10 Google equivalents.”
Kerry noted that six more Senate committees will review the climate change legislation with expected mark-ups and votes on November 3.
The White House also contributed to the push for climate change legislation as well. President Obama toured a solar installation and also spoke on renewable energy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) last week.
Image credit: Brays Bayou Greenway Framework, Houston, TX. SWA Group, Houston, Texas