July 24, 2002
I'm glad to be here with my distinguished co-chair from the Foreign Relations Committee for this joint hearing. I appreciate his willingness to explore today's topic, and the fact that he has joined me as a sponsor of S.556, the Clean Power Act. I would also like to applaud him for his work to bring some truth and sanity to America's accounting nightmare.
The United States is an economic and military superpower, perhaps the lone superpower. But, as the old adage goes, with great power comes great responsibility. We are able to project great might far beyond our borders. We are also capable of contributing to environmental and natural resource damage far beyond our borders and far in excess of other countries. The question is, are we acting responsibly to curb negative impacts abroad and at home?
Are we being good global neighbors and, at a minimum, keeping our word? It seems that we may be keeping our literal word, given the very broad language in many of the agreements. But in practical terms, it seems that we're not trying very hard to keep up with the spirit of some of our commitments.
The time is ripe for Congress to review how the Administration is implementing our environmental agreements and commitments. Leaders of many countries will be meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, in late August at the World Summit on Sustainable Development. The occasion is the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio.
I'm pleased to note that the Secretary General of that Conference, Mr. Maurice Strong, is here today to give us some historical perspective on that event and its lasting effect.
The conferees will be met by a very different U.S. delegation in South Africa. The previous Bush Administration provided extensive support for the Rio Earth Summit and brought many new initiatives to the negotiating table.
But this Administration is likely to send a smaller and lower-level delegation and has sought to narrow the scope of the discussions. This has apparently included an effort to keep global climate change off of the agenda.
I am troubled by the Administration's approach to global warming, especially in light of the Sense of Congress approved by the Foreign Relations Committee and made part of the Senate approved energy bill in April. That Resolution says the United States should take responsible action to ensure significant and meaningful reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases from all sectors.
But it doesn't appear that responsible action is taking place and emissions continue growing. As my friend Senator Chafee pointed out during our Committee's markup of the Clean Power Act, the Administration's Climate Action Report says, "A few ecosystems, such as alpine meadows in the Rocky Mountains and some barrier islands, are likely to disappear entirely in some areas. Other ecosystems...are likely to experience major species shifts..."
Our treaty commitment says, "The ultimate objective of the Framework Convention on Climate Change is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change...."
Since these ecosystems are likely to disappear entirely because of manmade global warming and will not be able to adapt naturally, it appears that we have entered the zone of "dangerous interference." Since these are real threats of serious or irreversible damage, the lack of full scientific certainty about cause and effect shouldn't be used as an excuse for not reducing emissions now. That is also our commitment.
Instead of acting to reduce emissions, the Administration's approach guarantees that greenhouse gas emissions will rise. According to Mr. Connaughton's recent testimony, there is "...no question about that."
This kind of inaction doesn't comport with our commitments under the Framework Convention, the Sense of Congress, common sense or the National Environmental Policy Act (or NEPA). In 1969, NEPA became law. It was probably the first adoption of a sustainable development philosophy by a government in the world. To paraphrase, it says: "...it is the continuing policy of the Federal Government...to use all practicable means and measures...to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans."
Unfortunately, the Administration seems to have lost sight of those future generations of Americans. Economic development that does not factor in the environment or quality of life of those future generations is not sustainable.
The Administration and other opponents of the Kyoto Protocol claim that actions to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions cost too much now. They need to look at the long term. They also need to look at the many studies that have been done that show a net positive impact of reducing emissions.
I ask unanimous consent that two such studies by the Tellus Institute and a list of other studies be placed in the record.
There is no question that we must be concerned with the threats of today, like the thousands of people dying prematurely every year from power plant pollution. But, we can't let the press of quarterly reports or the hunt for short term profits prevent us from acting to reduce the threats of tomorrow. That's especially true in the case of terrorism or global warming, where we have been presented with credible information about the threat.
As some of my colleagues know, I have a special interest in the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and pressed hard for its ratification. Senator Helms was instrumental in moving that treaty and I want to thank him for his and his staff's efforts in helping me and others get that agreement approved. This treaty addresses land degradation in some of the very impoverished parts of the world. It is designed to encourage participatory democracy and stakeholder involvement. I look forward to seeing how implementation is going.
I also have an interest in ratifying and implementing the Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. I have introduced legislation maintaining the spirit of that treaty. I hope we'll be able to get that moving soon so the U.S. can participate in the Conference of Parties and the Review Committee.
There seems to be generally good news regarding chemicals that harm the ozone layer. From all indications, the Montreal Protocol has been a success, though I gather there are some additional amendments coming soon. I'll be interested to learn how our efforts have reduced the ozone hole.
There is less clear news on the status of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which was signed in 1993 but has not been sent to the Senate for ratification. I would also appreciate hearing an update from our witnesses on the progress toward implementation of the Basel Convention regarding the international transportation of hazardous waste.
Finally, I would note something that is a little different between international agreements and our more conventional environmental laws. They often seem to be missing performance criteria or include very weak commitments.
Unfortunately, in the case of climate change, even when commitments are minimal, such as reporting on the policies and measures we have adopted to achieve 1990 levels, we have failed.
So, I would urge our negotiators to push for more specific environmental goals, using targets and timetables. That will make it easier for the Senate to know whether the treaties we have ratified are succeeding. Also, I believe the result will be better for the environment and sustainable development.