The pugnacious morning session of the Senate's energy and climate hearings broke in time for committee members to make it to Al Franken's swearing-in as Minnesota's junior senator.
Gov. Haley Barbour (R) of Mississippi, new head of the Republican Governors Association, held forth in a midday session between the committee's morning and afternoon segments. Gov. Barbour, an influential figure in the GOP with 2012 presidential aspirations, is a noted skeptic of clean energy and climate change legislation who has "long been at the intersection of special interest lobbying, elections, and campaign cash," per Wonk Room. His performance at this hearing was par for the course.
Compared to these sessions, the afternoon's proceedings were serene. The Environment and Public Works Committee PM guests were Rich Wells, Vice President of Energy at Dow Chemical; Braddock, Pa., Mayor John Fetterman; and David Hawkins, director of the Climate Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Rich Wells reported that since 1994, Dow Chemical has improved energy efficiency 38%, saving over $8 billion. Although he predictably urged the committee not to pass legislation that would penalize industries like his for their carbon emissions, Rich did articulate quite clearly that "the price of inaction will be far higher than being proactive" about controlling and cutting greenhouse gas pollution now.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) told Wells that he hoped Dow would step up to the plate as a "strong and responsible business voice" in support of clean energy and carbon capping legislation.
NRDC's Hawkins urged the Senate to to improve the near-term greenhouse gas reductions targets in the House energy bill, and under questioning stated that both the EPA (under the Clean Air Act) and the states should all have roles in regulating and cutting greenhouse pollution.
Sen. Whitehouse asked Wells and Hawkins if the emissions allowance give-aways to industry were "overabundant" in the House bill "I think we're kind of at a danger point..the whole enterprise starts to lose credibility" if the Senate deepens the give-aways even further, he said. The bill gives away so much that it effectively borrows from the future, said Whitehouse. "Not a promising start for a market and price signal."
Hawkins deflected the question. "An area to focus on in addition to the amount of allowances to a sector, is the conditions for use of those allowances," Hawkins said. If industries are directed by statute to use their allowances for purposes that benefit the public, such as investing in clean tech development, "our perspective is that there's nothing wrong with that. It's a benefit."
Dow's Wells saw no problems with the 15% of allowances allotted to his industry. "Our analysis says that's a good number." Any less could bring on sharp increases in natural gas prices, which are already four times higher than last summer, he said. Fewer allowances might cause industry to "move to geographies that are more "carbon intensive" than we are here," said Wells. "It's lose-lose."
Mayor John Fetterman, the tall, stocky, tattooed mayor of Braddock, Penn., said for struggling post-industrial cities like his, clean energy and other green measures are opportunities, not threats. Each wind turbine uses 250 tons of steel, he noted -- making clean energy a great option for keeping the city's one remaining steel mill in business.
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