Senate Energy Panel to Hold Global Warming Talks

The Senate Energy Committee meets Tuesday with business leaders and activists to discuss global warming. Eileen Claussen of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change gives Scott Simon a preview.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, a controversial new medical breakthrough.

But first, most every activity in the civilized world today contributes in some part to greenhouse gases that collect in the atmosphere and attract enormous amounts of heat. Flipping on a light switch, turning on a computer, firing up a car, a toaster, a tabletop radio can all be traced to the burning of fossil fuel that thickens the air. Manufacturing and other industries contribute the most and the most dangerous gases into the atmosphere. As a result, the earth is showing signs of its first man-made climate change.

Now energy experts say it will take another industrial revolution to reverse the greenhouse in effect, and now Congress may be trying to start one. On Tuesday the Senate Energy Committee will ask business leaders and energy experts how the federal government can better regulate greenhouse gas emissions. What should be mandatory, what shouldn't and what changes big business can make without sacrificing service, innovation and competition.

Eileen Claussen is president for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. She will testify Tuesday and joins us in our studios. Thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. EILEEN CLAUSSEN (President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change and Strategies): My pleasure.

SIMON: Your Center says there's about 80 bills in Congress that now in some measure deal with climate change and curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Is this unprecedented?

Ms. CLAUSSEN: It is. I mean we've gone four years with just a bill here or a bill there and no real discussion about what's in them.

SIMON: And what about Tuesday's deliberations? What makes those unusual?

Ms. CLAUSSEN: Yeah, I actually think it's a watershed event. Senator Domenici is the chairman of the Energy Committee and is really interested, I think, in moving ahead on this issue. He sent out a paper and he got 160 responses and is having 30 people come in and talk about not whether we should do something, but how we should do it.

SIMON: Let me rattle off some of the companies that are going to be represented on Tuesday: General Electric, Shell Oil, Wal-Mart. Now Wal-Mart in particular has announced a series of unilateral actions to reduce emissions, particularly among the fleet of delivery trucks. From business's point of view, what impetus do they have to write and abide by regulations that could make a difference?

Ms. CLAUSSEN: Well, there are actually two different kinds of companies. I mean, one set is looking for certainty. They want to know what the future is going to look like so they can make appropriate investments. You've got companies there like Duke Energy or Wal-Mart or General Electric. Then you have another set who are sort of the industries of today who want to keep doing what they're doing and who are generally opposed to doing anything about this issue.

SIMON: What kind of opportunities does it create for a company in the future?

Ms. CLAUSSEN: Well, if you've got the technologies that would result in less emissions and you're going to have a cap on emissions, you're going to sell a lot of your product. So a technology company, for example, could do very well, and I think that's really where General Electric is.

SIMON: What are some of the most contentious issues that have to be resolved?

Ms. CLAUSSEN: Well, I mean I think it is still a question about whether this country moves to mandatory or not and how quickly they get there. There are lots of issues about where you actually regulate people. Is it the coal mine or the oil refiner or is it the electric utility? And that makes a difference, particularly to those people. It is not an easy task to do this regulation, but that's why it's really encouraging that Domenici has invited such a wide range of people to come in and talk about it, and hopefully by next year, we'll have a bill that actually has a chance of passage.

SIMON: What do you plan to say on Tuesday?

Ms. CLAUSSEN: I've been asked to talk about international issues, because one of the reasons that a lot of people have said we can't do anything in the United States is because China and India are not doing anything and they're big emitters. Seventy-five percent of their electricity comes from coal, and 50 percent of ours, and we have controls for smog and other pollutants on our power plants. They don't have that either, but in the end we have to do more than the smog issue, we have to do the greenhouse issue. That means more efficient plants capturing the carbon that comes out and storing it. And I think that if we were to take the lead on this and perfect the technology, because we have it, we would find that they would follow. Because they're very competitive too.

SIMON: What is the difference between smog issues and greenhouse gas issues? A lot of us have them all bollixed up together.

Ms. CLAUSSEN: Yeah, it's a question of which pollutants you're going after. I mean the smog pollutants are primarily from nitrogen and they cause low-level ozone. Carbon dioxide is another, people don't like to call it a pollutant, it's another emission, and that's what causes the greenhouse effect. It doesn't have any affect on smog at all.

SIMON: Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Thank you very much.

Ms. CLAUSSEN: Thank you.

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