It’s been some time since the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has held a hearing on climate change, so naturally its top two lawmakers felt compelled to get a couple of things out of the way during yesterday’s roughly two-hour meeting.
Global warming is “directly impacting our way of life,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who leads the panel.
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the top-ranking Democrat, added, “There’s no doubt that humans have made a tremendous impact on what we’re dealing with.”
It’s a baseline of understanding that, by now, seems obvious to most climate scientists.
But it was a milestone moment for the Senate panel.
Manchin said yesterday was the first time since 2012 the committee had held a hearing on climate change. (In response, a Republican aide pushed back with the argument that climate change is a frequent topic of discussion on the panel.)
Irrespective of the timeline, Manchin and Murkowski both represent states that lean heavily on the energy industry, and their simple acknowledgement of the climate crisis yesterday was enough to draw small applause from some corners.
“It is significant that we even had the hearing—particularly when you have two leaders on the committee, both of whom come from fossil fuel states,” Sen. Angus King (I-ME) said in an interview afterward. “There were some differences on the level of urgency, but I think the underlying premise is that this is something we have to deal with.”
Melinda Pierce, legislative director for the Sierra Club in Washington, D.C., had a similar takeaway. The “hearing was notable because it actually occurred,” she said. “It is a good day when a Republican-led committee actually listens to experts about real climate impacts, clean energy and innovation.”
But Pierce added this caveat: “This wasn’t revolutionary in terms of setting an agenda for bold action, but it was a start.”
Indeed, the committee mostly skimmed over potential solutions—touching on ideas such as microgrids, carbon capture technology and better energy efficiency for buildings. As the main thrust of the hearing was about climate change and the electricity sector, Murkowski made sure to note also that a reduction in carbon emissions is only part of her committee’s responsibility.
“As more renewables come online … our committee will focus on maintaining grid reliability and resiliency,” she said. “We’ll prioritize keeping energy affordable, [and] we’ll be working to advance cleaner energy technologies that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Manchin wanted to make clear, too, that he was skeptical of efforts to dramatically shrink the United States’ carbon footprint in the near future. “Solutions must be grounded in reality, which requires the recognition that fossil fuels aren’t going anywhere anytime soon,” he said.
At another point in the hearing, he noted the vast reserves of natural gas beneath his home state. “We have an ocean of gas under us in West Virginia—an ocean of gas,” he said.
Neither of these comments is likely to assuage the concerns of climate hawks, but they do suggest there could be a window for Congress to make small changes to energy policy in the short term.
“Responsible Republicans and Democrats are considering realistic, durable solutions to the issue,” said Alex Flint, executive director of the conservative Alliance for Market Solutions in Washington, D.C., which backs the idea of using a carbon tax to fight global warming. “They represent the evolving state of climate change politics.”
It’s unlikely, however, that any recommendation from the Senate committee will approach the scale of something like the Green New Deal, which supporters argue is the only way to head off the worst effects of climate change.
Murkowski said, “We do have a considerable role to play in developing reasonable policies that can draw bipartisan support that I think will be a pragmatic contribution to the overall discussion.”
She specifically cited topics such as new research and energy efficiency. “I think you’ll likely see these as subjects of further discussion,” she added.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. Copyright 2019. E&E provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at www.eenews.net.