Hearings - Testimony
FULL COMMITTEE: "Senators' Perspectives on Global Warming."
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Senator Carl Levin

Madam Chairman, you are doing a great service by hearing different colleagues and various positions on the subject at hand.

Global warming is a fact. There is a consensus, or a near consensus, among scientists that action is required. The risks of inaction far outweigh the costs of action. The dislocations that would result from an increase of even a few degrees in global average temperatures are enormous. If we are to rise to this challenge, we need to take dramatic action and to do so without delay.

Climate change is a global problem, and it requires a global solution. I believe we need an effective and enforceable international agreement that binds all nations to reductions in greenhouse gasses, including developing nations such as China and India. Although the U.S. is currently the top emitter of greenhouse gases, China and India are producing more and more CO2 each year. China is opening up a new coal-fired power plant every 7 to 10 days, and in seven years China is expected to produce more greenhouse gases than we do.

We can argue here about what we should do to reduce the U.S. contribution to this major problem. But unless China and India and other countries are on board, it’s almost irrelevant. Whatever we are hoping to do in this country would be almost fruitless unless these other countries join in these efforts.

Not only is it necessary that the countries that are producing more and more CO2 come on board with a new international agreement, there must be teeth in that treaty. One of the things we must contemplate would be to allow countries to reject products from other countries that do not join an international agreement on CO2 reductions. Additionally, we should insist that international development agencies the U.S. helps fund, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and USAID not support countries that violate international agreements on global warming.

Where does the United States fit into an international global warming agreement? World CO2 production is 28 billion metric tons. The U.S. contribution is 6 billion metric tons, or 21.8% of world production. U.S. transportation contributes 6.8% of the world production, and U.S. passenger vehicles and light trucks contribute 4.2% of world CO2 production. The U.S. passenger vehicle contribution to world emissions is therefore less than one-fifth of the U.S. contribution. (It’s about 1.2 billion metric tons of the 6 billion metric tons.)

Although vehicles are not the major part of the U.S. contribution, we want to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles, and, if we do it right, I believe we can unleash great technological advances in vehicles. We can make leaps in hydrogen use, in hybrid use, including plug-in hybrids, and biofuels. We need to focus on these leap-ahead technologies and give the incentives to manufacturers to develop and move to those technologies.

If we focus on corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) as the mechanism for CO2 reductions, we will miss an opportunity to do real good and perhaps do real harm. If we pass a bill that would increase fuel efficiency by 4% per year, the reduction in CO2 emissions by 2012 would be almost unnoticeable. It would lead to a reduction in CO2 of less than one-tenth of one percent of world CO2 emissions.

There is an alternative which makes more sense because it could have a far greater impact on CO2. We can spend huge amounts of money trying to reach increased CAFE numbers which produce only a tiny reduction of CO2. Or we can give incentives, develop research and development programs, and work with industry to promote leap-ahead technologies and alternative fuels that will really do something significant to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

If we make the wrong choice, not only are we not going to do much to reduce CO2, we will also be hurting our economy. Under the current CAFE rules, because of the way their fleets were structured and the credits which have been built up, the Japanese auto companies sell more and more large, fuel inefficient vehicles. If we use the current CAFE structure, we will be simply pushing consumers into imported large SUVs instead of domestic SUVs of the same size and efficiency.

There is a myth that Japanese vehicles are more fuel efficient than American vehicles. They are not. The same sized American vehicles have the same or in some cases better fuel efficiency than their Japanese counterparts. Take the examples of a large SUV, a medium-sized SUV, and a large pick-up truck. A Chevrolet Suburban gets 17 mpg, while a comparably-sized Toyota Sequoia gets 16 mpg. For the Medium-sized SUV, the Dodge Nitro and Toyota 4Runner have the same fuel economy, 20 mpg. Finally, the large pickup truck, the Chevrolet Silverado gets 18 mpg, while the Toyota Tundra gets 16 mpg.

It doesn’t do anything for the air or the environment for Toyota to be able to sell all the Tundras they want at 16 mpg, but GM cannot sell all the Chevrolet Silverados they would be able to sell, even though they are actually more efficient. It doesn’t do anything for the environment, and it hurts the American economy and costs American jobs.

So, I would urge you to do a number of things. Number one, look at this issue of global warming globally, to reduce carbon use in the world through a comprehensive agreement which includes all countries. Second, when we focus on the American contribution to the problem, that we give incentives to industry to develop the leap-ahead technologies and alternative fuels which will really make a difference, rather than debate endlessly whether or not the highly discriminatory against the U.S. CAFE structure should be raised 2% per year, 3%, or 4%. We have lost three million manufacturing jobs in the last six years, and if we continue to focus on CAFE we will be making two mistakes. One, we focus on the wrong place and wrong way to help the environment. And two, we take a shot at American workers instead of solving our CO2 problem.

Again, I thank the Chair.

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