Sunday, July 5, 2009

Considered Forthwith: House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming

Welcome to the 15th installment of "Considered Forthwith."

This weekly series looks at the various committees in the House and the Senate. Committees are the workshops of our democracy. This is where bills are considered, revised, and occasionally advance for consideration by the House and Senate. Most committees also have the authority to exercise oversight of related executive branch agencies.

This series usually runs on Sunday evening, but this is a special edition in honor of the DK Greenroots project. This evening, I will look at the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. This select committee was formed in March, 2007 after the Democrats took control of Congress to study policies intended to reduce America's dependence on fossil fuels, especially oil from overseas, and reduce greenhouse gasses.

If you are interested in environmental issues, please join DK GreenRoots, a new environmental advocacy group created by Meteor Blades and Patriot Daily. DK GreenRoots comprises bloggers at Daily Kos and eco-advocates from other sites. We focus on a broad range of issues and are always open to new ones.

Over the coming weeks and months, DK Greenroots will initiate a variety of environmental projects, some political and some having nothing directly to do with politics at all.

Some projects may involve the creation of eco working groups that can be used for a variety of actions, including implementing political action or drafting proposed legislation. We are in exciting times now because for the first time in decades, significant environmental legislation will be passed by Congress. It is far easier to achieve real change if our proposal is on the table rather than fighting rearguard actions.

We alert each other to important eco-stories in the mainstream media and on the Internet, promote bloggers at one site to readers at other sites, connect bloggers of similar interests to each other and discuss crucial eco-issues.

Come help us put these projects together. Bring ideas of your own. There is no limit on what we can accomplish together.

Here are the committee members:

Democrats: Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Chairman; Earl Blumenauer of Oregon; Jay Inslee of Washington; John Larson of Connecticut; Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota; Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri; John Hall of New York; John Salazar of Colorado; Jackie Speier of California

Republicans: James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, Ranking Member; John Shadegg of Arizona; Candice Miller of Michigan; John Sullivan of Oklahoma; Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee; Shelley Capito of West Virginia

My humble take on Global Warming

I sincerely believe that human activity is a direct cause of the observed warming of the Earth in the last century. No, I don't think it has anything to do with the decline in the number of pirates in the world. If it did, I would be sailing the Seven Seas in search of booty and plunder right now.

If I am wrong, no matter. Even if spewing pollutants into the air is not actively altering earth's climate, it is still doing no favors for the environment, particularly in terms of air quality. Furthermore, I was raised to clean up my own mess, so we have a collective responsibility to minimize air pollution, even if global warming is a natural phenomenon unrelated to greenhouse gasses.

Select vs. Standing Committee

On Sunday, I wrote a brief overview of how Congressional Committees operate. However, this is a good time to note the difference between a standing and select committee. Select committees are temporary panels that are created by the chamber leadership to investigate certain issues. Select committees may hold hearings, but not mark up legislation. Standing committees are the permanent panels that do mark up bills and advance them to the full Chamber.


For those unfamiliar with the process, a committee's jurisdiction is the formal statement specifying the areas that a committee may address. This committee's jurisdiction is:

Jurisdiction: The select committee shall not have legislative jurisdiction and shall have no authority to take legislative action on any bill or resolution. Its sole authority shall be to investigate, study, make findings, and develop recommendations on policies, strategies, technologies and other innovations, intended to reduce the dependence of the United States on foreign sources of energy and achieve substantial and permanent reductions in emissions and other activities that contribute to climate change and global warming.

Admittedly, most citizens don't think to check with the House of Representatives' committee system system to get information about global warming and energy independence. This is more a resource for members and the reporters who cover them. For example, the committee recently promoted this story: National Climate Science Report Makes Strong Case for Immediate Action on Global Warming that should have turned some heads in Congress.

Furthermore, this is the official position of the majority party on global warming and energy independence, so we can rest assured that the House Democrats are generally on board with combating global warming, even if some voted against the American Clean Energy and Security Act also known as the Cap and Trade bill for their own reasons. If we can convert from fossil fuels -- particularly from overseas -- to non-polluting sources, then we can both protect the earth and unshackle ourselves from whims and politics of the members of OPEC.

In any event, this would be a good panel for Green Kossacks to track.

The importance of the committee

Energy and the environment are two problems that are inseparably linked. In the absence of efficient power sources (solar, wind, and geothermal) the production of energy pollutes since much of our electricity in generated through burning coal. Nuclear power does not directly pollute, but the toxic waste is a huge problem. Furthermore, the use of energy for transportation pollutes the air. Therefore, it is only reasonable to consider both issues together and the fact that this panel is addressing the two issues holistically rather than piecemeal is almost an innovation in governing.

Another important note is that this select committee was formed when the Democrats took office. We can all agree that the Republican record on the environment in general and global warming in particular is non-existent at best and a tragedy of epic proportions at worst. Just the establishment of the committee showed that the Democrats intend to take Global Warming seriously.

One indirect power of the committee is its members. Each one sits on at least one other committee that deals with climate change and energy independence issues. While this select committee has no direct power to alter legislation, members can take the ideas offered in hearings of the select committee and offer them as amendments to bills considered in standing committees.

In addition, the select committee is actively tracking legislation on topics they have investigated. Obviously, the major legislation right now is Cap and Trade, but there are plenty of other resources posted on the website. This committee's website is like a one stop shop for the latest on climate change legislation.

Debunking the deniers

The most frustrating part about addressing global warming is the fact that the deniers (sorry, they prefer to be called "doubters") are not only vocal, but very well funded.

From Newsweek:

But (Senator Barbara) Boxer figured that with "the overwhelming science out there, the deniers' days were numbered." As she left a meeting with the head of the international climate panel, however, a staffer had some news for her. A conservative think tank long funded by ExxonMobil, she told Boxer, had offered scientists $10,000 to write articles undercutting the new report and the computer-based climate models it is based on. "I realized," says Boxer, "there was a movement behind this that just wasn't giving up."

And the deniers may be winning on the public opinion front. From the same article:

Just last year, polls found that 64 percent of Americans thought there was "a lot" of scientific disagreement on climate change; only one third thought planetary warming was "mainly caused by things people do." In contrast, majorities in Europe and Japan recognize a broad consensus among climate experts that greenhouse gases—mostly from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas to power the world's economies—are altering climate.

On this page, the committee thoroughly debunks a denial piece that the Washington Post felt compelled to run in 2007. Sadly, while we are wasting time and paper arguing a point that is not really up for debate, we are also wasting time that could be better spent developing solutions.

In keeping with the theme of pushing back, let's check out the minority website. All of the committees have a minority website. Regardless of which party is in power, the official site is controlled by the majority, but the minority does get their own little corner of that slice of cyberspace. Here's what the Republicans have to say:

In the United States and around the globe, there's a debate about what affect emissions from cars, factories and power plants are having on the temperature of the Earth. This debate has inspired passion in some, fear in others, and a host of solutions, both good and bad.


While searching for solutions, Republicans will urge Congress to be guided by these principles:

* First, any solution must produce real improvement to the environment. Some proposals would damage the economy without making any significant reductions in greenhouse gases.
* Second, any solution must focus on technologies from across the energy spectrum, from nuclear to clean coal to renewable energy to improved energy efficiencies.
* Third, any climate change policy must protect U.S. jobs and the economy.
* Finally, it must require global participation, including China and India, whose industrial growth is resulting in a tremendous rise in greenhouse gas emissions from these nations. This year, it is expected that China will surpass the U.S. in greenhouse gas emissions.

So far, so good. Nice platitudes. Now take a look at their latest press release and tell me if the GOP are concerned about playing the fear card:

Cap-and-Tax Bill Will Raise Energy Prices, Ship Jobs and Funds Overseas

So much for that.

And for what it's worth, Nate Silver figured out that a majority of Americans support Cap and Trade until their monthly energy bill increases by $18.75 per month. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the increase to be an average $14.58 per month.

Remember, too, that these global warming doubters deniers have managed to get themselves elected to congress. To name names, two of them are Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California. Even Select Committee Ranking Member James Sensenbrenner groused about the costs of halting global warming.

Some other committee studies

Beyond the ever present and ever unpleasant task of mythbusting global warming denials, the select committee has been busy with other studies. Some are positive ideas like tips for living more green at home, school and work. Others are dedicated to debunking other right wing myths.

Remember Drill, baby, drill? Here's what the committee has to say about that: "The facts are clear. America can not drill our way to energy independence."

They even included this pretty graphic:

Drill baby drill

Maybe they should have included this projection reported on Alternet which warns of up to 90 minor oil spills per day from increased offshore drilling.

Most recently, the select committee held a hearing on the impact of global warming on agriculture and forestry. Chairman Markey had this to say:

The findings of the report that rising temperatures, precipitation changes and increasing weeds, disease and pests will impact the productivity of farms and forests should make us all apprehensive.

source (.pdf link)

I have not read through all of the testimony. The important point to keep in mind, though, is that Congressional hearings typically get noticed by the traditional media and other members. Often, they will generate stories for the 24 hour news cycle. I could not find a specific story about this hearing, therefore I encourage the Progressive bloggers to take notice, too, and generate our own stories. To make it easier, many committees do live webcasts of hearings, so there is no reason why someone in California cannot watch hearings and write up a blog post on a story that the rest of the media ignore.

Here's a story that did grow legs, so to speak. Remember the debate about global warming's impact on the polar bear -- namely that Joe Scarborough doesn't care about polar bears. In January 2008 the committee held a hearing to ask Bush administration officials why they had not listed the species as endangered due to ice melts in the Arctic.

Markey even introduced a bill, that never got out of committee, to:

To prohibit the Secretary of the Interior from selling any oil and gas lease for any tract in the Lease Sale 193 Area of the Alaska Outer Continental Shelf Region until the Secretary determines whether to list the polar bear as a threatened species or an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and for other purposes.

Source (.pdf link)

The polar bear has since been listed as "threatened," which does not have quite the same policy impact as "endangered," but it is a start.

If nothing else, this hearing generated interest in the media and the public. It also inspired this LOL:

Global Warming Bear Pictures, Images and Photos

Finally, the committee even has links to various carbon footprint calculators so that you can see exactly how much your lifestyle contributes to global warming and environmental degradation.

The whole point in writing this diary was to let everyone know that this committee exists and that they are doing something. Just the existence of the committee demonstrates the commitment of the House leadership to studying the causes of global warming, the effects of proposed policy, and ways to wean the country off of energy sources that pollute the environment and place us in strategically untenable political associations.

For more about other committees, check out my previous work:
The Committee Primer
House Education and Labor Committee
Senate Finance Committee
Senate HELP Committee
Senate Judiciary Committee
House Energy and Commerce Committee
House Ways and Means Committee
House and Senate Appropriations Committees
House Intelligence Committee
House Judiciary Committee
House and Senate Ethics Committees
House Science and Technology Committee
House Financial Services Committee
House Rules Committee
The Role of Committees

Crossposted at Congress Matters and Daily Kos.

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