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Volume 87 Issue 9 | p. 9 | News of The Week
Issue Date: March 2, 2009

Climate Change, Energy Priorities

President links issues to nation's economic future as Congress takes action
Department: Government & Policy | Collection: Climate Change

RATHER THAN BEMOANING the high cost of combating climate change, President Barack Obama in his first address to Congress laid out a vision tying America's future economic growth to its success in developing carbon-free energy technologies. Recent activity in Congress also underscores the high priority that climate change and clean energy have achieved.

In his Feb. 25 speech, Obama stressed that three areas—energy, health care, and education—are "absolutely critical to our economic future."

"It begins with energy," he continued. "We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century.

"And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient," the President pointed out. "We invented solar technology, but we've fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea."

Obama then noted that his stimulus package has "made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history" (C&EN, Feb. 16, page 7).

"But to truly transform our economy, to protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy," he stated.

To spur that technological development, Obama called on Congress to move legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and "drives the production of more renewable energy in America."

Along with being a key part of the President's speech on Capitol Hill, climate change was the focus of several congressional hearings last week.

The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee heard from Rajendra K. Pachauri, chair of the Nobel Prize-winning United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In his first formal testimony before a U.S. congressional committee, Pachauri reiterated the findings of IPCC's 2007 assessment, which calls for global action to curb greenhouse gas emissions (C&EN, Nov. 26, 2007, page 7).

The Senate committee also heard from global warming skeptic William Happer, a Princeton University physics professor who said increased atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide would be good for people and the planet. Happer declared that IPCC was "mistaken," comparing its efforts to the temperance movement of the early 20th century that pushed for the prohibition of alcoholic beverages.

On the House side, the Science & Technology Subcommittee on Energy & Environment held a hearing on monitoring, reporting, and verification of greenhouse gas emissions.

"We need to know the emissions levels we are starting from," said Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), the subcommittee chair. "We need a good baseline estimate as a benchmark to determine whether control programs are effective or not in reducing emissions."

Additionally, the House Ways & Means Committee, which has authority over taxes, heard from scientists about what the environmental objectives should be for federal legislation to curb greenhouse gases. These objectives include the atmospheric level at which carbon dioxide levels should be stabilized.

Also last week, House and Senate leadership laid out plans for climate-change and energy legislation. In the House, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chair of the Energy & Commerce Committee, said he intends to move a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade bill through his committee by late June. In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D- Nev.) promised quick action on overall energy legislation and said he intended to get a climate-change bill to the Senate floor by the end of summer.

 
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