House Committee Hearing Pits Climate Change Skeptics/Deniers Against Most Of The Scientific Community, Major Companies On Climate Change Impacts, Solutions
On October 28, the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee held a hearing on “Pennsylvania CO2 and climate” which pit climate change skeptics and deniers against most of the scientific community and major companies who believe action needs to be taken to deal with climate change and its impacts.
The Committee heard from 11 witnesses, including DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell, who talked about Gov. Wolf’s recent proposal to join the interstate Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
Five witnesses were climate skeptics or deniers and five other witnesses were in favor of RGGI or related actions to reduce the impact of climate change.
Patrick McDonnell, Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, noted he was also before the Committee on the same subject on September 19 when he said the time for action on climate change is now-- and the people of Pennsylvania know it.
He reviewed his previous comments saying in Pennsylvania “climate change has led to more flooding, more heat and respiratory illnesses, more vector-borne diseases and pests, and more disruptions to agricultural systems right here in Pennsylvania. Since 1900, Pennsylvania has warmed by 1.8 degrees F. Annual precipitation has increased 10 percent on average, with some areas seeing a 20 percent increase over the same time period. From 1958 through 2010, the Northeast U.S. saw more than a 70 percent increase in the amount of precipitation falling during very heavy events.”
McDonnell noted Pennsylvania is expected to see a 5.4 degree F increase in temperatures by 2050 if nothing is done.
He noted government agencies and private companies like Exxon and Shell going back to the 1960s have shown climate change is real and caused by burning fossil fuels resulting in sea level rise, human migration and ocean acidification and dramatic changes in the patterns of energy use.
“In science, when overwhelming evidence points toward one theory versus the alternatives, the theory becomes valid. Smoking cigarettes causes cancer. The Earth isn’t flat. Vaccines don’t cause autism,” said McDonnell in his written testimony. “And climate change is caused by human activity and is an existential threat to life on Earth. We have arrived at these conclusions because the scientific evidence supporting these hypotheses far outweighs the evidence to the contrary.”
He noted Pennsylvania’s greenhouse gas emissions from the power generation sector have decreased by 26 percent, but modeling also shows those emissions will start increasing again.
McDonnell pointed out Pennsylvania is not alone in taking action on climate change. Nearly every country in the world has signed on to Paris Climate Agreement and 25 states have also committed to take actions consistent with the Paris Agreement.
He said Gov. Wolf’s executive order would include Pennsylvania in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that allows states to design their own greenhouse gas emissions reduction program for power generation. Adding, RGGI is a well established program with a track record.
1 out of every 3 of Pennsylvania’s energy sector jobs comes from clean energy and energy efficiency-- 90,772 jobs-- employs twice the number of workers as the fossil fuel industry.
McDonnell said there already is a price on carbon because of the impacts of climate change on people’s pocket books and state impacts, including over $100 million of unreimbursed property damage costs just last year.
Click Here for a copy of Secretary McDonnell’s written testimony.
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), Majority Chair of the Committee, expressed concern about Gov. Wolf going it alone, without legislative action, to adopt a “cap-and-tax” plan.
McDonnell said existing state law provides authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions as a pollutant and Pennsylvania has adopted cap-and-trade programs for other air pollutants like nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.
In response to questions about the impact of a carbon tax on families and Pennsylvania’s existing energy industries.
McDonnell said one of the concerns driving the RGGI decision was a concern about communities already impacted by closing coal-fired power plants. He said joining RGGI will create a market-based approach to promoting innovation and clean energy opportunities and for supporting communities affected already by plant closures.
In Favor Of Action
Dr. Irina Marinov, Climate Scientist, University of Pennsylvania, said she is an expert on climate and climate modeling and is representing the consensus of 97 percent of scientists on climate science. And, she said, she is concerned for the future of the planet as a mother of young children.
In her testimony, she outlined the expected impacts of climate change from the 4th National Climate Assessment produced by the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
These impacts include changes in growing seasons toward milder winters and earlier springs which puts at risk industries related to forests, wildlife, snowpack and streamflows; an increase in extreme and recurring precipitation events; exacerbation of problems with aging infrastructure; and increasing, negative health impacts.
One policy question the General Assembly will have to be considered, Marinov said, is the potential impacts of locking Pennsylvania into power plants now that will be around for the next few decades.
The only way forward to avoid climate impacts is to decarbonize our economy, said Marinov. She said she believes Pennsylvania is uniquely position to be a leader in greenhouse gas emissions.
Pennsylvania has already had significant greenhouse gas emissions, but she said she believes Pennsylvania can achieve even more reductions.
Marinov encouraged Pennsylvania to join the RGGI program.
After the hearing, Marinov told Pennsylvania Capital-Star reporter Stephen Caruso her experience in front of the Committee differed from what she was used to in academic settings.
“What kind of political process do we have here, where any body is allowed to come and say anything crazy about the world?” Marinov said.
She added, “politicians in Harrisburg need to adjust the disproportionate attention given to contrarians. The stakes are too high to waste the limited, precious time we are given to do good for our planet and for [Pennsylvania].”
Click Here for a copy of Marinov’s written testimony.
John Walliser, PA Environmental Council, pointed to recent reports by Royal Dutch Shell, the Federal Reserve Bank and Goldman Sachs that identify practical pathways to achieve greenhouse gas emission reduction targets in the Paris Climate Agreement or detail the drastic economic and societal costs of climate change in the future.
Walliser noted PEC issued a report in January-- Energy and Climate: A Policy Pathway Forward for Pennsylvania-- which makes recommendations to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative carbon emissions reduction program and for Pennsylvania to adopt an “all-in” clean energy policy, restructuring the existing Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards to set carbon emission reduction goals regardless of energy source.
Walliser said, “Beyond the primary recommendations described above, our Energy Pathways report identifies additional opportunities with respect to the transportation sector, carbon capture, distributed renewables and energy storage, community solar, grid modernization, and other options that will further drive emission reductions and energy cost savings. We hope all these options receive due consideration by the General Assembly.”
Click Here for a copy of Walliser’s written testimony.
Rob Altenburg, Director Of PennFuture Energy Center, said, “Our families and small businesses understand that when they need to dispose of garbage or sewage, they don’t just open the window and toss it outside and they don’t go down to the river and dump it.
“Instead, they pay someone to ensure their waste is recycled or disposed of safely.”
“Currently, electric generation is creating more carbon pollution than any other source in the region, but Pennsylvania’s polluting generators get to dump their waste into our air for free.
“In a report from last April, the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) estimated this social cost of carbon pollution would be as high as $95 per ton of emissions by 2050.
“Who pays for that damage if not the polluters? We all do as a hidden tax in our medical bills, higher insurance costs, lower productivity, and lost wages.sewage, they don’t just open the window and toss it outside and they don’t go down to the river and dump it.
“This is not only unfair, this represents a market failure.
“In testimony before our State Senate last April, Kathleen Barrón, a Senior Vice President of Exelon Corporation explained that because “fossil generators have the luxury of having the costs of their pollution borne by society...” and not having to factor that in to their price “...means that a market offer from a fossil generator appears artificially lower than it should be [and offers from] non-emitting generators appear more expensive even though they aren’t.” In other words, coal and natural gas plants are implicitly subsidized by Pennsylvanians because they don’t have to pay for their environmental damage from carbon pollution.”
Altenburg said the state Air Pollution Control Act gives the Environmental Quality Board authority to control air pollution, including carbon dioxide emissions through joining a program like RGGI.
He said a lot can be gained by cooperating in the development of a program to control carbon emissions.
“Several members of the Legislature and industry have voiced opposition to the Governor’s plan. These members haven’t presented any alternative plan to stop the increase of carbon pollution, so these challenges are not a matter of differences in preferred approach—rather their goal is inaction,” said Altenburg.
He said each lawmaker has sworn to uphold the state constitution, including the Environmental Rights Amendment to the constitution.
“It [the Amendment] is saying that clean air and a healthy environment are not just our rights, they are literally our property. By naming the Commonwealth as the trustee, it gives you each an individual fiduciary duty to act solely and impartially in the interests of the beneficiaries, that is we the people and future generations,” said Altenburg.
Click Here for a copy of Altenburg’s written testimony.
Tom Schuster, Beyond Coal Campaign, Sierra Club, said Pennsylvania is a significant source of carbon emissions, emitting more carbon dioxide than 172 of the 194 countries that signed the international Paris Climate Agreement.
A 10 year evaluation of the RGGI program found--
-- Carbon dioxide emissions from RGGl-covered power plants have fallen by 47 percent. outpacing the rest of the country by 90 percent;
-- Electricity prices in RGGI states have fallen by 5.7 percent, while prices have increased in the rest of the country by 8.6 percent;
-- GDP of the RGGI states has grown by 47 percent, outpacing growth in the rest of the country by 31 percent;
-- RGGI states have generated $3.2 billion in allowance auction proceeds, the majority of which have been invested in energy efficiency and renewable energy programs; and
-- RGGl-driven reductions in co-pollutant emissions have resulted in over $5.7 billion in health and productivity benefits.
Schuster said a Resources for the Future estimate of the worst case cost of the RGGI program in Pennsylvania would be about 32 cents a month-- or $3.80/year-- for residential customers.
He said that is one-tenth of the cost of the proposed nuclear power plant subsidy in House Bill 11 debated earlier in the year by the House and Senate.
He added, if the RGGI proceeds are invested in a combination of energy efficiency projects and customer bill rebates, the average residential bill is projected to decrease by about $f.45 per month, or over $1 7 per year.
Click Here for a copy of Schuster’s written testimony.
David Masur, Executive Director, PennEnvironment, said private companies like Tyson Foods, Kraft Heinz Foods, Coca-Cola, Erie Insurance Group and PNC Financial Services with a presence in Pennsylvania have all warned investors that climate change will have an impact on their companies requiring additional investments to maintain their operations.
He said most registered voters believe that climate change is currently causing problems (67 percent) and most (68 percent) think the state should do more to address those problems. Only 4 percent of Pennsylvanians polled don’t believe in climate change.
Masur said there is no serious debate about whether climate is changing rapidly and the cause is human made, yet repeatedly Committees of the General Assembly “have trotted out a handful of Phds that have a contrary view.”
“[If] the criteria for proving that “the science is still out” on a topic is one or a handful of dissenters who have the letters PhD behind their name or “Doctor of” in front it, we would still be questioning if smoking is good for us, if African Americans are inferior to Caucasians, if the Holocaust happened, if homosexuality is a choice, and if the world is flat,” said Mausur.
“This is not how science works in the United States. The time for these types of debates has long passed,” said Mauser. “The scientific consensus regarding climate change is overwhelming. 97 percent of scientists are in agreement that climate change is happening, it’s caused by humans, and the risks of not taking action are accelerating.”
Masur urged the General Assembly to consider Republican-sponsored clean energy proposals, including expansion of the Act 129 energy efficiency program by Sen. Killon (R-Delaware)-- Senate Bill 232, wind energy legislation by Rep. Curt Sonney (R-Erie)-- House Bill 685, a community solar energy bill by Rep. Kaufer (R-Luzerne)-- House Bill 531, and electric vehicle legislation introduced by Senators Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery) and Tom Tomlinson (R-Bucks)-- Senate Bill 596.
Click Here for a copy of Masur’s written testimony.
In response to questions about recycling solar panels and windmill blades, Altenburg said, with respect to solar panel recycling Community Energy, a Pennsylvania company, does include recycling costs in its commercial scale solar energy installation. In addition, not many solar panels are being recycled because they have not reached the end of their 20-25 years of useful life.
Schuster said he would provide the Committee with additional information on recycling.
Not In Favor Of Action
Kevin Dayaratna, The Heritage Foundation, said he was presenting his personal opinions to the Committee. He led off by saying models calculating the social cost of carbon do not include the benefits of increased greenhouse gas emissions, including studies showing parts of the planet are turning greener, particularly in tropical areas, and longer growing seasons.
Dayaratna was critical of the Green New Deal promoted by Congressional Democrats which he said will result in a drop in family income, an increase in electricity costs and an average annual shortfall of 1.2 million jobs through 2040.
He said adopting policies like the Green New Deal in Pennsylvania would result in relatively insignificant impacts on sea level rise and temperature rise-- 0.0041 degree C by 2050.
There is no doubt the climate is changing, Dayaratna said, it is “luke warming,” but the idea that another half degree of temperature increase would have devastating economic impacts is “ludacris”
Click Here for a copy of Dayaratna’s PPT presentation.
Dr. David Legates, Professor of Climatology, University of Delaware, said climate is always changing and temperature increases have happened as a result of human causes, but half that warming occurred before 1940.
He said a 97 percent consensus of scientists exists for basic climate issues, but the real discussion focuses on the extent of human responsibility for change, what the future consequences are and what should our strategies be.
Carbon dioxide emissions are not a “control knob” for climate and they do not determine the degree of changes in climate. Water vapor has a much bigger impact and accounts for nearly 90 percent of warming of the planet, he said.
Legates said through history colder temperatures have killed more people than warmer temperatures and trying to control climate changes is like trying to stop the sun from shining.
Legates also argued the total numbers of significant hurricanes and tornadoes has not changed and he attributes increasing temperatures more to changes in land use patterns..
Half of the rise in ocean levels at the Chesapeake Bay, he said, is not the result in climate change, but coastal subsidence due to the “unloading glacial ice” since the last ice age.
“Let me conclude by saying that no one should vote to make electricity less affordable and more expensive, especially for the poor. High-cost electricity does not "create jobs", and history has shown it destroys them as energy-intensive businesses will flee the state, And when all is said and done, Pennsylvania's climate will be virtually unaffected for all the pain these policies will cause.”
Click Here for a copy of Legates’ written testimony.
Gregory Wrightstone, Wrightstone Geologic Consulting, said the evidence of the benefits of the increase in greenhouse gases are “stark and overwhelming.” He said carbon dioxide is a “miracle molecule.”
He said, based on the last 140 million of geologic history, the earth is now at extremely low levels of carbon dioxide-- repeating testimony he gave the Committee on March 27.
Wrightstone said since the change in location of weather service temperature monitors to reduce the impact of urban heat islands, there has been no increase in temperatures for the last 16 years.
He said the justifications used by Gov. Wolf to take action on climate change-- increase in flooding, public health consequences and other factors are not supported by the facts.
In one of his concluding comments, Wrightstone said-- Gov. Wolf keeps saying this is a crisis, if it is, then he should be supporting the proposal to turn the Pine Creek Canyon in Lycoming County into a hydroelectric generating facility that is carbon free.
“Global warming will save lives,” Wrightstone said, adding, “All right-thinking citizens” should oppose Gov. Wolf’s proposed RGGI plan.
Click Here for a copy of Wrightstone’s written testimony.
Gordon Tomb, Commonwealth Foundation, said a peer-reviewed study of the 10-year evaluation of the RGGI program by the CATO Institute said RGGI has “resulted in higher energy costs, reduced industrial activity and no environmental benefits. In short, RGGI has hurt its region.”
Emission reductions in RGGI states, Tomb said, were driven by competitive electricity markets and the adoption of natural gas generation.
Tomb said all the RGGI states joined the programs with the express approval of their General Assemblies, not unilateral actions by the Governors.
He urged the General Assembly to “save Pennsylvanians from the ill-considered action of Gov. Wolf, whose plan promises much harm and no benefits.”
Click Here for a copy of Tomb’s written testimony.
Marc Morano, Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, Founder Climate Depot, gave a presentation focused on the contradictions of climate change advocates who over time claimed both temperature increases and temperature decreases and dangerous winters and warmer winters.
Marano said climate advocates bet on both sides so they can always claim a win.
He also accused the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of being a lobbying organization, and not a scientific group.
Marano said all of the solutions proposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will not have an impact on climate change.
Click Here for a copy of Morano’s written testimony.
Click Here to watch a video of the hearing [when posted].
Commenting at the end of the hearing, Rep. Metcalfe said, “A lot folks don’t see government mandates [like RGGI] as a market-based solution. This is just another way for the Governor to extra more money out of the pockets of Pennsylvania’s consumers.”
In response to Gov. Wolf’s recent announcement of an executive order directing DEP to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), Majority Chair of the Committee, said, “Gov. Wolf’s unilateral decision to take the first step toward joining the RGGI illegally and unacceptably exceeds the authority of the executive branch and bypasses the General Assembly’s constitutional mandated responsibilities.
“Gov. Wolf clearly does not have the authority to take this reckless action, which will cost average Pennsylvanians more of their hard-earned money through their energy bills, without legislative approval. His executive order will also cause our Commonwealth and the citizens to lose out on countless business and jobs opportunities to neighboring states that are not a part of RGGI.
“As Majority Chairman, I will continue my fight to hold the Wolf administration accountable by ensuring that state regulations encourage, not discourage, job-creating energy producers, while protecting the health, wealth and safety of all Pennsylvanians.”
At an informational meeting held by the Committee on September 19, Republican members expressed concerns about the Wolf Administration taking unilateral action to enact a carbon tax or join RGGI.
In March, the Committee held an informational meeting on debunking modern myths surrounding climate change where the only presenter at the meeting said 140 million years of data on carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere shows the “planet’s CO2 [carbon dioxide] levels have been in a significant and dangerous decline falling from 2,500 ppm” to about 412 ppm today, up from 280 ppm at the beginning of the industrial revolution.
On September 16, Rep. Pam Snyder (D-Fayette), a member of the Committee, joined Representatives James Struzzi (R-Indiana), Donna Oberland (R-Clarion) in announcing plans to introduce legislation to protect coal-fired power plants from any proposed carbon tax by requiring the approval of the General Assembly to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative or similar programs.
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) serves as Majority Chair of the House Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-783-1707 or sending email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7647 or sending email to: email@example.com.
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[Posted: October 28, 2019]
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