Chu Testifies on Climate Bill

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Publication date: 
29 April 2009

The week of April 20 was a busy one for Chairman Henry Waxman’s (D-CA) House Energy and Commerce Committee. Waxman and Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Edward Markey’s (D-MA) 648-page American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 was praised, questioned and condemned by 67 witnesses across four days of hearings. The comments of Secretary of Energy Steven Chu were of particular interest.

Waxman opened the April 22 hearing saying, “Since the beginning of last Congress… we held 41 days of hearings. Since January, we received testimony from 61 witnesses.” Waxman also noted that, “Nearly 40 years ago, this committee passed the original Clean Air Act. Since then, we have reduced dangerous air pollutants by 60 percent or more. During the same period, our population has grown by 50 percent and our economy by over 200 percent.”

Ranking member Joe Barton (R-TX) offered a more pessimistic view of the Committee’s undertaking saying, “…we’re trying to go ahead and move a bill that will reduce CO2 in the United States to below 83 percent of their [sic] baseline at 2005. If you want an idea of what that’s like in terms of carbon footprint, you might try living in Nigeria today…. If you have a time machine, you might dial your time machine to 1875 and feel what it’s like to live in America back in 1875….” Barton continued, “The people that [sic] global warming is a religion believe that carbon dioxide, CO2, which is naturally occurring in nature, is the devil’s brew, and they apparently think that we can only achieve salvation by putting our faith in the United States federal government.” Barton later said, “It’s no secret that I’m a skeptic. I don’t believe that mankind is the primary cause of climate change. I do accept that CO2 levels are rising. I think it’s a debatable proposition whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.” Ultimately, Barton asked that Waxman put him down as “undecided” on the bill, to much laughter.

Markey’s acknowledged in his opening statement that parts of the draft legislation are incomplete, but rejected the argument that a cap and trade regime would be an undue burden on the economy, “… we will continue to fund clean energy solutions… creating clean energy jobs… and we will continue to provide opportunities and incentives for energy efficiency to save families money.” Markey also promised cost protections for consumers and industry.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), ranking member of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee, questioned how successful any legislation would be if major carbon emitters like China and India did not enforce similar restrictions. Upton also took umbrage at the bill’s lack of support for nuclear power, saying, “… how can we address such a critical issue without nuclear even being addressed in this measure even though nuclear power accounts for 70 percent of our nation’s emission-free electricity?”

Chu began his statement declaring, “For decades, our energy strategy has been little or no strategy at all.”

Chu went on to say that, “The key question is who will lead the world in making energy efficient vehicles, wind turbines, solar panels and other products and technology that will power tomorrow’s economy?” Chu offered two cautions, first that the world would “fail to take action on climate change in time to prevent the worst potential effects,” and second that “the United States will fail to seize the opportunity to lead….” He concluded that the U.S. “must get off the sidelines of the clean energy race and play to win.”

While the Department of Energy is “still reviewing the details,” Chu counseled, “it is clear that Chairman Waxman’s legislation could advance the president’s goals of launching a new sector of clean energy jobs, making our economy more competitive and weaning the nation from its dependence on oil.” Chu added that President Obama’s administration supports a renewable electricity standard, and research and development of “…technologies to give the American people advanced clean vehicles, to capture and store carbon…, to accelerate energy efficiency improvements, and to develop a smart grid….”

Chu was peppered by members of the committee with questions ranging from the bill’s efficacy to geophysics.

When asked by Waxman if the proposed language would reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and slow the progression of climate change, Chu affirmed that it would.

Markey asked Chu about U.S. leadership in new energy technologies. Chu replied that the U.S. is not the leading manufacturer of technologies previously developed in the U.S. like photo voltaics and wind turbines. Chu also agreed with Markey that a 25 percent renewable energy target by 2025 was achievable.

Upton asked for clarification on the status of proposed revisions to the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee policies for nuclear building projects. Chu said that he believes nuclear power must be a part of the “energy mix,” and that DOE is working with the Office of Management and Budget on the loan issue, and with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on licensing issues for the Westinghouse Electric Company’s AP1000 nuclear reactor. Chu also said that he intends to “use the resources of the Department of Energy to further develop nuclear technology.”

Upton also asked if the Obama administration would support the addition of a nuclear title to the draft legislation. Chu answered that DOE plans to appoint a blue ribbon panel to develop a comprehensive plan to deal with nuclear waste, and that DOE will begin a “vigorous research and development program” to determine how to reduce the proliferation risk associated with the recycling of nuclear waste. Chu went as far as to say that, “We are trying to, as said, restart the American nuclear industry again.”