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Senate Panel Considers Options For Confronting Climate Change

February 3, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
Wind turbines are seen on a dike near Urk, Netherlands, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. A group of scientists, including five Nobel laureates, called Friday for more action to adapt the world to the effects of climate change, drawing comparisons with the faltering response to the coronavirus crisis, ahead of a major online conference on climate adaptation starting Monday and hosted by the Netherlands. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

WASHINGTON — A Senate committee reviewed U.S. progress toward reducing climate change Wednesday to determine whether the nation is ready for President Joe Biden’s executive orders on environmental policy.

The witnesses and senators spent much of their time discussing emissions from burning oil and coal as fuels.

Some said few better alternatives are available while others said a global warming catastrophe is approaching without a switch to alternative fuels.

“We are in a very, very dangerous time,” said Sen. Angus S. King, Jr., a Maine Democrat and member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Biden signed an executive order last week that seeks a “whole of government approach” to global warming.

He said it would create jobs in the renewable energy industry, which contradicted his critics who warned of economic disaster for the oil and coal industries.

Biden’s orders suspend oil and gas leasing on federal land, eliminate subsidies for the oil industry and cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline project in the Upper Midwest. The pipeline would carry oil from Canada and the United States to refineries in Illinois and Texas and a distribution center in Oklahoma.

Biden also ordered that the United States rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change. It seeks to reduce greenhouse gases to close to zero by 2050.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement.

Even the most optimistic witnesses among environmental experts told the Senate committee net zero emissions by 2050 was a lofty goal, perhaps unrealistic with current policies and technologies.

“It would require efforts that would be the equivalent of the World War II mobilization, not for just a few years but for decades,” said Mark Mills, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative public policy foundation based in New York.

He also said reducing U.S. oil production would backfire as a strategy to reduce the CO2, or carbon dioxide, emissions that contribute to global warming.

The U.S. oil industry is the world’s most technologically advanced and operates with the cleanest equipment, he said. Reducing U.S. oil production would shift it to other countries that emit even more greenhouse gases for extracting and distributing fossil fuels, he said.

“If we don’t produce it … others will,” Mills said.

At the same time, the U.S. economy would lose oil industry jobs and might need to depend on imports.

The United States emits about 15% of the world’s greenhouse gases, according to a Union of Concerned Scientists report in 2020. China is the world’s biggest polluter with about 30% of the world’s emissions.

About one-third of greenhouse gas emissions come from coal-fired power plants, Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, told the Senate committee.

He recommended that the United States try to take a lead role in technology development “to make the most out of the existing clean energy technologies.”

Otherwise, existing technologies and environmental policies are ”not enough to make net zero emissions by 2050,” he said.

Examples he mentioned were hydrogen fuel, rechargeable batteries and nuclear power.

Angel Hsu, an assistant professor of public policy and the environment at the University of North Carolina, tried to downplay concerns about job losses and economic failure by reducing U.S. oil and coal production.

Instead, she said rejoining the Paris Agreement could position the United States to benefit from the international switch to alternative energy, such as solar power.

“There’s a huge market out there for all of these technologies,” especially among countries participating in the Paris Agreement, Hsu said.

Otherwise, markets to manufacture solar panels and other clean energy equipment will be dominated by China and other U.S. competitors, she said.

Nevertheless, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., cautioned that Biden’s environmental policy might be unrealistically aggressive.

“It will just make America less competitive and less energy secure,” Barrasso said.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., emphasized the danger posed by climate change.

“In this century, this is the problem we have to tackle,” she said.

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