Senators Struggle to Act on Global Warming
- Senators Struggle to Act on Global Warming
Washington Post, July 22, 2005
By Juliet Eilperin
After listening to some of the world's preeminent climate researchers
yesterday, a bipartisan group of senators said they saw the need to take
quick action on global warming but were struggling to reach consensus on
what policy to adopt.
Several Republicans on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee
said during the two-hour hearing that they would consider adopting
mandatory limits on emissions of heat-trapping gases but that they prefer
the approach of promoting new technologies that do not contribute to the
"I don't think the issue is whether we have a major international
the question is: How do we solve it?" said the panel's chairman, Pete V.
Domenici (R-N.M.). "I'm looking for a solution, but I'm not going to join
the crowd that thinks it's simple."
Last month, the Senate adopted a nonbinding resolution by a vote of 53 to
44 calling for a "national program of mandatory market-based limits and
incentives on greenhouse gases" that would not hurt the U.S. economy and
would encourage other polluting nations to follow suit. The Senate
defeated a bipartisan bill by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph I.
Lieberman (D-Conn.) that sought to establish a mandatory federal cap on
heat-trapping emissions, and Domenici said he hoped his committee's
climate change hearings would help lawmakers devise an alternative.
The scientists testifying yesterday, including National Academy of
Sciences President Ralph J. Cicerone and Nobel prize-winning chemist
Molina, all said the world is warming at a dangerous rate, and that human
activity accounts for much of the recent temperature rise.
"Climate change is perhaps the most worrisome global environmental
confronting human society today," said Molina, a professor at the
University of California at San Diego. Molina added that while experts
still uncertain about exactly how global warming will play out in future
decades, "not knowing with certainty how the climate system will respond
should not be an excuse for inaction."
Several committee Republicans, including some who had questioned climate
change predictions in the past, said they agree the world has reached a
scientific consensus on global warming.
"I have come to believe, along with many of my colleagues, that there is
substantial human effect on the environment," said Sen. Larry E. Craig
(R-Idaho), who has opposed mandatory curbs on greenhouse gas emissions
voted against last month's "sense of the Senate" resolution on climate
Some GOP senators, such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), went further. In
an interview, Murkowski said that "there's an emerging consensus we've
to deal" with climate change, adding it would be "tough" to cut
gases sufficiently through voluntary programs alone.
"I'd rather we don't have to [adopt mandatory limits], but we know what
happens when we leave it to our good judgment. Sometimes we don't see the
benefits," she said.
Some Republican panel members said they would be more open to the
witnesses' call to arms if the scientists would embrace nuclear power,
which does not release carbon dioxide as coal-fired power plants do. Sen.
Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) lectured the climatologists from the dais,
saying that installing solar panels "might be nice for a desert island,
but that's not going to work . . . in America."
Cicerone replied that nuclear power "has tremendous potential. People
want to see it done safely."
It remains unclear how quickly lawmakers would be willing to act on
climate change proposals. Domenici said in an interview that he plans to
bring in a group of global warming skeptics to testify, and he would
prefer requiring that American companies install cleaner technology,
rather than setting specific targets for reducing greenhouse gas
"They're not saying we have to do something tomorrow morning," Domenici
said of the scientists.