INSIGHT: US climate change legislation looms

21 February 2008 17:57  [Source: ICIS news]

May be no escape from climate change waveBy Joe Kamalick


WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--A seeming tsunami of climate change legislation in Congress and state legislatures may sweep all before it despite opposition from business and industry and in spite of serious scientific doubt.


The US Congress is expected to soon renew consideration of Senate bill 2191, the “America’s Climate Security Act,” which would impose mandatory limits and then reductions of emissions of six greenhouse gases (GHG) by four main economic or energy sectors - manufacturing, transportation, electric power generation and natural gas processing.


Also known as the Lieberman-Warner cap and trade bill - named for its sponsors, Senator Joseph Lieberman (Independent-Connecticut) and Senator John Warner (Republican-Virginia) - the measure would cap emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and five other GHGs and auction allowance permits to individual companies.


Those companies whose plants emit less greenhouse gases than their purchased permits allow could trade their excess emission credits to firms whose facilities exceed allotted maximums.


After first capping the amount of greenhouse gases allowed to industry, the bill would also mandate a schedule of reductions to cut overall US emissions by 63% by 2050.


Similar legislation is being contemplated in at least seven states, including Maryland, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan and Kansas.


In part, climate change legislation has appeal to federal legislators and is popular among states because such mandatory cap and trade systems would add billions of dollars to government treasuries through the emission permits auctions.


The apparent inevitability of climate change legislation - and the prospect of having multiple state-level emissions mandates in addition to a federal plan - has even convinced some industry leaders to argue in favour of immediate passage of a federal programme.


“Many of us expect that there will be more Democrats in the US Senate next year than there are now, so it might be better for us to work with this Congress this year in hopes of getting a climate control bill we can live with,” said David Parker, president of the American Gas Association (AGA).


Although Democrats control both the US House of Representatives and the Senate, their majority margin in the Senate is only one vote. Consequently it is easier for Republicans in the Senate - who are seen by some groups as more friendly to commercial interests - to block business-hostile legislation or force compromises that limit legislative impact on business.


Parker and many others expect that in the US national elections in November this year Democrats perhaps will win several more seats in the Senate, retain or expand their majority margin in the House and perhaps win the White House as well.


That scenario would leave Republicans proportionately weaker in Congress and less able to block or amend legislation deemed hostile to business.


There is a growing sense of panic.


“If we work with Congress now and perhaps get the president [George Bush] involved in the interest of his legacy, there is a real possibility we could get a reasonable climate bill out of Congress this year,” Parker told a recent energy conference.


The apparent stampede to climate control legislation is happening despite growing scepticism among an increasing number of scientists about the human role in global warming - including some scientists who previously supported human causation.


Senator James Inhofe (Republican-Oklahoma), a long-time critic of global warming theories based on human causation, said recently that nearly 500 scientists from more than two dozen countries have voiced opposition to what Inhofe calls the “so-called consensus on man-made global warming”.


Inhofe, ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, even argues that the theory of human causation in global warming is losing ground among the global scientific community.


“These scientists, many of whom are current and former participants in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), criticised the climate claims made by the IPCC and former Vice President Al Gore,” Inhofe said.


Gore and the IPCC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for what the Nobel committee termed “their efforts to build up and disseminate knowledge about man-made climate change”.


In a committee minority staff report, Inhofe lists the names, academic credentials and contrary climate change views of some 400 of the challenging scientists.


A new analysis by the George Marshall Institute, a Washington, DC-based think tank, also raises doubts about the scientific validity of the IPCC climate change projections and human causation claims, especially the UN claim that there is a consensus among scientists that human activity is the cause of global warming.


For most climate change issues, said the institute, “the IPCC depends on the expert judgement of small teams of authors, often only a handful”.


“Other experts can and do disagree with the judgment of these teams,” the institute said, even though the IPCC claims a consensus of scientific backing.


“However, there is a more fundamental problem with the IPCC approach,” said the institute’s report. “Science is not a consensus activity.  The accuracy of a scientific statement does not depend on the agreement of experts; it depends on verification, either through experimentation or observation.”


The institute argues that climate science is simply too new and reliable data too scarce to be able to verify human causation for global warming, and that legislation or policy making based on such an assumption could pose great risks.


Even so, the legislative momentum for climate change mandates continues to build.  As is so often the case in matters political, what matters is perception and popularity rather than fact and reality.


By: Joe Kamalick
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