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Extensive R&D Needed to Defeat Global Warming

March 15, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
The sun rises amid city smog. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

WASHINGTON — Weeks after Congress approved legislation that dedicates $35 billion to promote energy efficiency, lawmakers forged ahead Friday to determine how they will spend it.

They hope to push the U.S. economy toward more renewable energy while moving away from fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions.

Some Democrats said an ambitious environmental policy could help in the recovery from the recession created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Addressing the climate crisis is a unique opportunity to get America back to work,” said Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, who chairs the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

The Energy Act of 2020 Congress approved in late December integrates more than 60 bills to authorize research and development of emissions-reducing technologies. It creates dozens of opportunities for the Biden administration to invest in these technologies. 

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee is one of the lead committees to decide how the technologies are funded.

Some of the proposals are similar to goals of the Green New Deal, which seeks to transition the United States to 100% renewable, zero-emission energy sources.

It would use government regulations and investment to create incentives for electric cars and high-speed rail systems. It would impose a “social cost of carbon” through fees or fines on industries that emit greenhouse gases.

Authors of the Green New Deal say the costs to the economy would be offset by new environmental jobs.

Republicans say the plan would increase the national debt to the point it could overwhelm the rest of the U.S. economy.

Witnesses at the House hearing Friday spent most of their time talking about the dangers of global warming rather than specific funding proposals.

Michael Oppenheimer, a geosciences professor at Princeton University, told the committee that in 2020, the earth maintained a record temperature averaging 2-degrees Fahrenheit higher than the early industrial era.

“Associated with this warming, pervasive changes have been detected in many features of Earth’s climate system, including more frequent hot days and nights and fewer extremely cold ones, increases in the frequency, intensity and amount of heavy precipitation events, greater intensity and duration of drought in some regions, increase in the intensity of North Atlantic hurricanes and sea levels rising nearly worldwide,” Oppenheimer said in his testimony.

Zeke Hausfather, a policy analyst for the Oakland, Calif.-based environmental research group the Breakthrough Institute, suggested a multi-faceted approach to reducing greenhouse gases.

“We shouldn’t put all our hopes into a single future technology,” Hausfather said.

He advocated for electric vehicles, solar energy, a new generation of efficient nuclear reactors and carbon capture technology that traps carbon dioxide from industrial emissions.

“But as long as emissions remain above net-zero, the world will continue to warm,” Hausfather said.

Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., cautioned that any congressional approach to climate change should be based on incentives and technology development rather than regulation.

“America’s clean energy future is driven by innovation, not by mandates,” Lucas said.

Strict government regulation to clamp down on greenhouse gas emissions could hurt U.S. international competitiveness, especially against China, he said.

“We can do this without raising energy prices and hurting American consumers,” Lucas said.

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