National Environmental Trust
Environment and Public Works Committee
United States Senate
May 2, 2001
The National Environmental Trust appreciates this opportunity to submit testimony for this hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. The National Environmental Trust (NET) is a non-profit public interest group working to protect public health and the environment. The impacts of global warming present one of the most challenging sets of environmental policy issues that we face. NET supports the development and implementation of appropriate, comprehensive domestic and international policies to mitigate global warming. We especially advocate the leadership of the United States, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, in the international arena. In order to fully address the threat of global warming, countries must negotiate a binding treaty that will achieve real, verifiable global reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the U.S. must implement strong domestic energy policy to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and transition our economy away from inefficient, polluting fuels toward clean energy technologies.
It is with great confidence that we state that the science of global warming is no longer disputed. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences determined just last year that global warming is “undoubtedly real,” and taking place “at a rate substantially larger than the average warming during the twentieth century.” The third and most recent study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – a panel comprised of over 1,200 of the world’s leading scientists, concluded this year that:
“In light of the new evidence and taking into account the remaining uncertainties, most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations . . . . Emissions of CO2 due to fossil-fuel burning are virtually certain to be the dominant influence on the trends in atmospheric CO 2 concentration during the 21st Century.”
The IPCC also found that unique natural ecosystems such as prairie wetlands, alpine tundra, and cold water ecosystems likely will not be able to adapt to warming, and that sea-level rise would erode coastlines, including along the U.S. Atlantic coast. The incidence of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and Lyme disease are predicted to occur into Northern latitudes where they were not previously experienced. We are particularly concerned with the projected impacts of global warming on U.S. agriculture.
It is against this backdrop that the environmental community reacted with alarm and grave concern at the abrupt and unilateral actions of the Bush administration, just months into taking office, on both domestic and international climate change policy. President Bush’s decision on March 13, 2001 to abandon his campaign pledge of requiring mandatory reductions of carbon dioxide emissions from power plants dealt a critical blow to a credible domestic policy on climate change. Power plants are responsible for 40% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (and 10% of international greenhouse gas emissions), and policies to address what is perhaps the greatest industrial source of greenhouse gases in this country are imperative to addressing the problem.
Recognizing both the science and the impacts of global warming, senior representatives of the utility industry, in concert with members of the environmental community, were engaged in a dialogue about cutting carbon dioxide from power plants, prior to the President’s devastating announcement. The utility sector recognizes, as does most of the country, that climate change is a real phenomenon with human causality and profound potential consequences – and that domestic policies must be enacted to begin to deal with climate change now. The utility industry, much of which faces significant capital investments in the near future, is cognizant that policies and directions are needed now to begin to address carbon dioxide emissions over the long term. Utilities were engaged in discussions on this issue because they are looking for the regulatory certainty that multi-pollutant power plant legislation would bring – that is, legislation that seeks reductions in multiple pollutants, at the same time, rather than via piecemeal approaches. This legislation would allow the utility sector to make long-term investment strategies with the knowledge that they would not face new, unexpected, and costly regulatory and investment hurdles down the road.
Because the Administration has chosen not to honor this campaign commitment, and because they are prepared to introduce energy legislation that would continue US dependence upon the dirtiest fossil fuels, we believe it is imperative that the Congress, and this committee specifically, move forward with legislation on a comprehensive, multi-pollutant bill to reduce emissions of the power plant pollutants of mercury, nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide.
On the international policy front, we are distressed at the Bush Administration’s unilateral decision to abandon the the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement that has been years in the making and that has engendered the cooperative participation of 165 countries in a complex negotiating process. We strongly urge the Administration to carefully consider the hard-fought wins in the Kyoto Protocol – especially the market-based flexible mechanisms in the Kyoto Framework – mechanisms that would keep the costs of compliance and implementation of the treaty as low as possible. These mechanisms are perhaps the most important part of the framework, aside from the binding targets and timetables.
The flexible mechanisms in the Kyoto Treaty include emissions trading, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and Joint Implementation (JI). The common feature of these mechanisms is that they would achieve real emissions reductions in the most cost-effective places and manners. In particular, these mechanisms offer the ability for countries such as the U.S. to export clean technologies that reduce global greenhouse gas emissions but allow share in the ‘credits’ or benefits.
Joint Implementation would allow industrialized countries to jointly agree to a project undertaken in one country, for which the other takes the initiative, and hence receives credits. This would allow for the sharing of benefits or activities that one country has either the resources or technologies for that another does not, but for which real emissions reductions are achieved. The CDM is similar to JI, but would allow an industrialized country to undertake a project or activity in a developing country, also to result in real emissions reductions, with prearranged agreement as to how the credits would be shared by the two countries. Emissions trading is a mechanism akin to the trading of sulfur dioxide credits under the domestic sulfur dioxide (“acid rain”) program. It operates based upon a cap-and-trade premise, whereby an upper level amount, or cap, is established for the amount of pollutants that can be emitted in a certain area (for instance, the entire United States), and entities within that area that emit those pollutants can share or trade pollutant credits. This enables the involved entities to seek the lowest-cost, ‘easiest’ reductions first, thus keeping the costs down while also ‘buying’ time for the harder reductions, which will conceivably occur later, but which will have the benefit of new technologies that can be developed in the interim.
In both the domestic and the international arenas, we would also like to point out that voluntary approaches, while they may be useful in some situations to deal with environmental issues, have failed to deal with the problem of climate change. The 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), unanimously passed by the U.S. Senate and ratified during the first Bush Administration, has failed to cut greenhouse gas emissions. That treaty obligated this country and others to voluntarily reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2000. Instead, United States emissions’ of greenhouse gases were 13% above 1990 levels in 2000, and they continue to rise. The Kyoto Protocol was negotiated by the world community in response to the failure of the voluntary approach of the UNFCCC. Binding targets and timetables are essential tools to help this country and other industrialized nations begin to grapple with the choices and policies that will reduce atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases to the point where they are stabilized and even reduced.
As evidenced by the testimony of witnesses today, and of many others in the energy sector, there are many tried and true policies that we can enact today to begin to address climate change on a domestic and international basis.
In particular, NET supports the following policies:
Completion of a binding international agreement to cut emissions of the six major greenhouse gases.
Advancement of domestic policies to use fossil fuel reserves more efficiently, particularly with regards to electricity generation, transportation, and buildings.
Passage of a national Renewable Portfolio Standard that would allow consumers to choose the source of their electricity.
Passage of a comprehensive bill to cut the four major pollutants emitted from coal-fired power plants (NOx, SOx, mercury and carbon dioxide).
In summary, we have watched with great interest and concern the evolution of this topic in the Congress over the past several years. We are gratified that the debate in this arena has moved from one of questioning the science and the collective wisdom of international, multidisciplinary scientists to one where we are seeking real, near- and longer-term solutions to what is probably the greatest environmental issue facing this country, and the world.