Congress Holds Global Warming Hearings

Global warming is the topic of hearings in both houses of Congress on Wednesday. Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a former skeptic of the global warming trend, describes his stance now.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

And I'm John Ydstie.

Former vice president and Academy Award winner Al Gore back at his old stomping grounds today. He is testifying before the House and Senate on his favorite topic: global climate change.

Mr. AL GORE (Former vice president): America is the natural leader of the world. And our world faces a true planetary emergency. I know the phrase sounds shrill, and I know it's a challenge to the moral imagination to see and feel and understand that the entire relationship between humanity and our planet has been radically altered.

BRAND: Listening intently to what Gore had to say was Michigan Democrat John Dingell. John Dingell is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and has long been a skeptic of the science behind climate change. Until now. I spoke with John Dingell earlier about why he changed his mind.

Congressman Dingell, you once said global warming was a theory. Have you changed your mind?

Representative JOHN DINGELL (Democrat, Michigan): I think that there is strong scientific support for the thesis that there are problems with regard to climate change created by human beings. Not the least of which is the global warming gases.

BRAND: Have you seen Al Gore's movie?

Rep. DINGELL: I've seen parts of it and I've talked to Al. And I've also had the opportunity of hearing him make the presentation upon which the movie is based.

BRAND: And did it impress you? Did it change your mind? What did you think of it?

Rep. DINGELL: Well, it is impressive, but let me remind you it is my job to find the facts. It is my job to lead the committee in the crafting of legislation which needs to be addressed. I intend to do both of these.

And that has entailed hearing from the automobile companies, electric utilities, the coal producers, coal consumers. And we will be hearing from a large number of other people who are participating in the industrial and business circumstances which are alleged to contribute to global warming and to the production of the global warming gases.

The Congress must proceed very carefully, because this is a very, very important question.

BRAND: Well, you know, a lot of people are saying that the Congress is proceeding too slowly. That the consensus has been out here for a while. Kyoto was ratified by every country but the United States. And, yet, nothing's been done.

Rep. DINGELL: I always tell people when they say, well, you've got to hurry up - and say well, now do you have a cure that the Congress must enact to resolve the problem. And everybody says, no, we don't know. I say, well, what would you do about all the different components? Remember, there's the fuel that we're using. There's the electricity we're using. There's the fact that greenhouse gases are produced by almost every single human activity.

And so what we're trying to do is to come forward with legislation, as speedily as we can, which will see to it that the concerns and the needs of every part of this country are dealt with.

BRAND: Of course, one big component to climate change and global warming - the increase in greenhouse gases - is auto emissions. Let me quote to you what the CEO of Chrysler said last week, Tom LaSorda.

He basically challenged lawmakers to tell consumers that if they want to have improved CAFE standards along the lines of Europeans, that they would have to live a little bit more like Europeans. And that would mean higher fuel taxes, tax policies that would discriminate against big cars, like a Hummer or an SUV.

Rep. DINGELL: Well, let me tell you something that will probably come as a surprise to you. First of all, the Europeans have no standards on automotive fuel efficiency. But they have something different.

First of all, the Europeans have chosen to have a very stiff tax on gasoline. You go to Europe, and you will find that gasoline is six or seven dollars per gallon. You will find that there are tax preferences that encourage the use of diesels.

I happen to think that taxes are a much more efficient way of addressing the problem of assuring fuel efficiency. But the American people do not agree with this. So the Congress has chosen to take the regulatory route. I am still going to see to it that we explore not only the regulatory questions associated with this, but look to see whether, in fact, we don't need to go to using the tax mechanism or some combination of the two - regulation plus taxes.

BRAND: Democrat Congressman Rick Boucher says that you and he are writing legislation together that would impose mandatory emissions controls across the entire U.S. economy.

Rep. DINGELL: Well, the legislation is not written, so I'm not going to tell you that. And I don't think you ought to draw that conclusion either from what Mr. Boucher has said or from what Mr. Dingell has said.

BRAND: All right. The final word from Mr. Dingell, himself. Congressman Dingell, thank you very much for joining us.

Rep. DINGELL: Pleasure to talk to you.

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