Kay Medley protests climate change legislation in front of the Federal Building in Huntington, W.Va. Opponents of the bill say it will impose taxes and cost millions of Americans their jobs.
Kay Medley protests climate change legislation in front of the Federal Building in Huntington, W.Va. Opponents of the bill say it will impose taxes and cost millions of Americans their jobs. Mark Webb/AP
The Senate's Environment and Public Works committee has begun hearings on climate legislation, and the heat in the hearing room is spiraling upward. Predictions of what will happen with, or without, the legislation, range from dire to apocalyptic.
Remaking The Energy Economy
The Senate's version of a climate bill — the House already passed its own months ago — tops 900 pages and would put an extra price on fuel that emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It would remake the energy economy, but whether for better or worse lies in the eye of the beholder.
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the bill's co-sponsor, testified first before the committee and set the tone for the Democrats by invoking the "J" word. "We will create millions of jobs, new jobs, jobs that cannot be exported, because we will create our energy here at home," Kerry predicted.
The idea is that making fossil fuels more expensive will create a gigantic green job market in solar power, wind, biomass and other forms of green energy, energy that does not emit significant greenhouse gases.
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In California the group "Mobilization For Climate Justice" demonstrates for tougher measures to stop climate change. The group says new jobs will be created in a new green energy industry.
In California the group "Mobilization For Climate Justice" demonstrates for tougher measures to stop climate change. The group says new jobs will be created in a new green energy industry. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
When Republicans on the committee describe the bill, however, they use the "T" word. Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, for example, put it this way: "The businesses that will be hit with this high carbon tax will pass along these higher prices, which are disguised taxes to every family, every small business and every farm in the United States."
And so it went for two days: the Democrats, insisting that green energy means new jobs; the Republicans, invoking the specter of a new form of tax, a carbon tax, that would deep-six the fossil fuel industry and kill millions of American jobs.
Battle Of Statistics
At one point, several members had their staff hold up placards with tables and charts in a visual battle of numbers. Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer of California couldn't resist herself. "Since you held up a chart," she told Republicans, "we're going to have our little chart wars today — you hold up one and we hold up one; it's kind of equal time."
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The competitive statistics got the better of one witness. Bill Klesse, chairman of the refining company Valero Energy Group and an opponent of the bill, said it would cost refiners, and eventually consumers, an astonishing $850 billion a year just in California. A few minutes later, he interrupted Boxer: "Madam Chair, if I can correct, I need to correct, my people tell me I said billions and it's $850 million a year."
"That's a big difference," Boxer replied, to which Klesse joked, "It's only a few zeroes."
All of which led one exasperated committee member, New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg, to try to shift the debate away from dollars and cents and to the subject of a warming climate. "America," he intoned, "wake up, wake up; your kids are in danger."
Money And Jobs
But whether Americans even care about climate change became a point of contention. Both sides dueled using opinion polls saying the public either does or does not care about climate change, or does a little, but not enough to actually spend money on it.
Some witnesses have testified about the danger climate change poses to America's national security and to things like forests, wildlife, agriculture and beachfront property. But it is money and jobs that have driven the debate so far. Which probably explains the name Democrats who wrote the legislation came up with: the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act.