House Science Committee Hearing on EPA’s Climate Action Plan

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Publication date: 
31 October 2014

A hearing last month of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee produced no surprises.  As expected, there was no evidence of any changes of opinion about the merits of the Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon emissions.

The hearing’s title “The Administration’s Climate Plan: Failure by Design” is a good indication of the position of committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and the other Republican members attending this hearing about the proposed EPA rule to reduce the carbon intensity of 2005 power generation emission levels by approximately 30% by 2030.  Testifying at this two-hour hearing were Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren and Janet McCabe, Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. 

Smith described the Climate Action Plan as “one of the most aggressive new government programs in our country’s history.”  Focusing on the proposed reduction in power plant carbon emissions, Smith charged “this rule will increase the cost of electricity and the cost of doing business.  It will make it harder for the American people to make ends meet.”   Citing what he said was EPA data, Smith said the proposed regulations would reduce global carbon emissions by less than one percent, and “would reduce sea level rise by the thickness of a mere three sheets of paper.”

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) expressed a different position in her written opening remarks.  Said Johnson “I also know that some still question whether climate change is real, but surely we are now beyond debating that question. Reports based on the work of the world’s top scientists such as the U.S. National Climate Assessment and those from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have sent a stark message to our nation’s leaders and the international community, namely: the adverse effects of climate change are evident today and require immediate action or these adverse effects will grow dramatically worse.”

Holdren’s 23-page written statement described the Administration’s Climate Action Plan that he said was based on “an immense amount of primary, peer-reviewed, published research.”  He told the committee that “the ‘fingerprint’ of human responsibility for most of the climate change observed over the past few decades is unmistakable.”  McCabe was emphatic:  “The science is clear.  The risks are clear.  And the high costs of climate inaction are clear.  We must act.”

Opposition to the proposed rule repeated familiar criticisms.  Some committee members expressed disbelief about global warming or the role that humans play in this warming.  Doubt was voiced about the validity of research conducted by climate scientists and the use of models to predict human health impacts.  Other members contended the effects of U.S. actions would be negligible.  Holdren and McCabe agreed that the impacts of the U.S. actions alone would be small, with McCabe countering that it will take many small collective actions to make a difference globally.   Other criticism focused on projected utility rate increases and the impacts they would have on elderly and low-income consumers, and American jobs.

Holdren and McCabe offered answers to all of these criticisms and objections.  But it was clear that no minds were changed during this hearing.  One of the committee members spoke of “a lot of venom flowing on both sides of this issue” and said there will be a need to do “a lot of digging” to reach a consensus about climate change and resultant policy.