Review of Two Recent Senate Energy/Climate Hearings

By Jason K. Chen, Climate Intern

Hearing: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, , 11/17/09

After listening to the Senate hearing about the global impacts of climate change, I felt that the general message of all the speakers, including the senators, was that environmental policy has to be realistic. In other words, environmental policy has to both fight climate change and maintain economic growth.

Senator Murkowski was of the opinion that we should go back to the drawing board and work out a policy that the rest of the world would want to follow. Furthermore, she does not believe that other countries will automatically mimic the actions taken by the United States when it comes to mitigating climate change, strengthening the reason why she believes environmental legislation has to be realistic.

The witnesses testified to the current state of international efforts to battle global warming. From these testimonies we learn that other large economies are not waiting for the United States to pass legislation. Europe will use a wide range of tools to reach its emission goals and China is in the process of replacing its old coal power plants with cleaner, more efficient ones.

The issue of carbon tax was also mentioned and the point was made that it should not be taken off of the table, but the international community is leaning towards a cap and trade system. Also, which ever system the government decides to implement, the issue of offsets will be an important one.

Hearing: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, , 11/19/09

Contrary to my expectations, the senate hearing on environmental stewardship policies related to offshore energy production only had to do with drilling; wind energy was completely left out of the discussion.

The witness panel was quite balanced by the presence of two representatives of oil companies and two representatives of environmental groups, the fifth witness being the Deputy Director of the Mineral Management Service. However, as far as I could tell, the witnesses as well as the senators were convinced of the fact that America still needs to drill. This is understandable because switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy will take time, but the length of time is the question that needs to be asked.

The representatives from the oil companies spent considerable time explaining how oil drilling is high tech and how the United States has the strictest standards when it comes to oil production. The representatives from the environmental groups reminded the senators that drilling is still dangerous and that our knowledge of the effects of drilling on the ocean is very limited. Everyone made their point, but I believe the oil companies came out on top; this was due not to their persuasion power, but to the existing opinions of the senators themselves.

Senator Landrieu of Louisiana was very critical of the environmental groups exaggerating the dangers of oil drilling. John Amos, the president of SkyTruth, tried to show that drilling is still dangerous by pointing out that an oil rig off the coast of Australia just recently had an accident. Senator Landrieu defended oil production by saying that the Australian oil rig’s design did not meet American standards implying that this accident would not have happened off the American coast. I don’t believe this is true. It was stated in the hearing that the cause of the accident was unknown, therefore, what actually did cause it might not necessarily have to do with whatever disqualified it from American standards.

A point that was not discussed was the negative effects of burning oil. Oil as a source of CO2 emissions might have been beyond the scope of that particular hearing, but it is definitely not beyond the scope of the general problem of drilling. In conclusion, I say that just because drilling is safer than ever, does not mean it’s ok.