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May 15, 2019

Ways and Means holds climate change hearing

House Ways and Means Committee members and witnesses May 15 debated whether climate change should be addressed through a price on carbon or another way to curb emissions, which is an approach generally backed by Democrats, or by advancing US energy technology, as advocated by Republicans. The Committee Majority, backed by witnesses, emphasized that climate change is real, urgent, and has tangible economic and health consequences for average Americans.

In an opening statement, Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) said it is the first Ways and Means climate change hearing in 12 years, and while some continue to doubt the relationship between natural disasters and climate change, the scientific community agrees that the increasing temperatures of oceans and the planet exacerbate the intensity of disasters. "We can grow our economy, reduce carbon emissions, and promote growth that will ensure that our farmlands, our shorelines, our forests, and our cities are preserved for future generations," Neal said. "This committee has the tools at our disposal to drive innovation, spur technological advancement, and usher in an era of economic and environmental security and prosperity for years to come."

Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-TX) tied Democrats to the "Green New Deal" backed by progressive House members, saying "many Democrats on this Committee have enthusiastically embraced" the plan that would "just export American manufacturing jobs to other countries where manufacturing is dirtier and emissions are growing while at the same time killing American jobs."

Witnesses at the hearing were:

  • Dr. Katherine Marvel, Associate Research Scientist at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia Engineering's Department of Applied Physics and Mathematics
  • Roy Wright, President and CEO of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety
  • Dr. Ashish Jha, M.D., MPH, Dean for Global Strategy at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Director of the Harvard Global Health Initiative
  • Ted Halstead, Chairman and CEO of the Climate Leadership Council
  • Rich Powell, Executive Director at ClearPath Action

Marvel asserted that humans are entirely responsible for climate change, with the recent ?US National Climate Assessment finding that between 93% and 123% of the observed temperature increase between 1951 and 2010 was due to human activities. Climate changes "will be at best economically devastating for many, and at worst catastrophic for all. Or we can choose to take charge, which means taking urgent action to rapidly reduce emissions," she said.

Wright discussed the Disaster Savings and Resilient Construction Act to provide a tax credit to home or commercial building owners to help offset effective resiliency upgrades in federally declared disaster areas. Homeowners could receive up to $3,000 and building owners can receive up to $25,000. The bill, which has not yet been introduced in the current Congress, is inspired by the current residential energy efficient tax credit. "While both of these credits are relevant to a hearing focused on climate change, a new homeowner disaster resilience credit has added potential to reduce federal post-disaster payments. It also can provide an important incentive to building owners who persist in the belief that adaptation investments are unnecessary because 'it can't happen to me,'" he said.

Jha discussed the health effects of climate change, including that the increasing temperatures and carbon dioxide levels associated with climate change can exacerbate allergies and asthma, with warmer temperatures leading to an earlier start to pollen season, a longer duration, and heightened pollen production and allergen content in some plant species, all of which contribute to asthma and hay fever.

Halstead, whose group launched two years ago with the release of the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan, co-authored by former Secretaries of State James A. Baker, III, and George P. Shultz, said economists agree the most cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions is to put a direct price on the carbon content of fossil fuels, referred to in the plan as a carbon fee. The plan is premised on a carbon fee that should begin at $40 a ton and increase steadily over time, which would pay a carbon fee directly to all Americans in the form of equal, quarterly payments, and a border carbon adjustment system to protect American competitiveness and push other nations to adopt carbon pricing.

According to Powell, "policies that simply accelerate American fuel switching, or merely subsidize already commercialized technologies here, will do little to affect global emissions," and a more effective strategy is American clean energy abundance, innovation and exports. He said tax incentives have been an effective tool in financing the early commercial deployment of cutting-edge clean technologies, and highlighted Reps. Tom Reed's (R-NY) and Darin LaHood's (R-IL) proposed Energy Sector Innovation Credit, to allow energy markets to direct tax incentives toward the most promising emerging clean technologies, and Rep. Tom Rice's (R-SC) Advanced Nuclear Production Tax Credit reform bill.


Chairman Neal asked about forecasts of climate change due to human activity. Marvel said rapid decarbonization is required to prevent outcomes such as more severe droughts, heavy downpours, and increased hurricanes as temperature increases. "We need to act as soon as possible," she said. Wright said the biggest barrier to changed behavior is the feeling among consumers that "it won't happen to me," regarding those outcomes. Halstead said businesses want regulatory uncertainty, which is the reason many are pushing for a price solution over regulation.

In response to questioning from Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Halstead said his group's plan would address climate change without harming the economy, with no increase in the size of government, families getting ahead economically through a dividend payment, and higher emissions reductions than previous plans. However, Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-TX) expressed skepticism that the Social Security Administration would be charged with issuing such a high volume of dividend checks or direct payments under the plan.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) lamented that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) provided tax benefits for fossil fuel companies, including preferential rates on offshore profits.

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) made clear that his district has been devastated by wildfires and focused on health care effects, which include psychological effects in addition to increased allergies and asthma, with some children and other constituents experiencing severe distress with every new wildfire. He suggested addressing climate change in incremental steps.

Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) said innovation is the key to addressing climate change and, as a car dealer, cited the technological innovations in the automobile business in recent decades.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) suggested that climate change skeptics would not ignore the advice of a doctor who suggests a disease is getting worse in the way that scientists warning about climate issues are disregarded. Marvel said it is strange that such skepticism still exists given the volume of accumulated evidence.

Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO) said it is unfortunate that former Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), who was in attendance, was not able to deliver testimony. Smith highlighted Democratic support for the Green New Deal, which he said would allow the wealthy to purchase subsidized electric vehicles and is not a specific agenda but a "$93 trillion wish list of big government solutions that 13 Democrats of this Committee [have] co-sponsored" and that includes eliminating the US beef industry.

Rep. Rice highlighted greenhouse gas emissions in China resulting from energy production and asked whether making energy production more expensive in the United States would make it cheaper elsewhere.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) suggested that climate change is affecting the food supply. Marvel repeated that climate change causes more droughts and downpours, the Great Plains "breadbox of America" is predicted to suffer from unprecedented drought, and there will be more pests, all with implications for the food supply. Jha suggested food quality and safety could be compromised by climate change, with a higher incidence of food-borne illness.

Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) described climate change policy successes in her state and asked Halstead about the need to bring many points of view together on the issue to have a national policy and state versus federal policy. Halstead said it is imperative to have a solution that brings all sides together.

Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) asked about steps to increase clean energy technology, and Powell cited action in the previous Congress on the 45Q carbon oxide sequestration credit and 45J advanced nuclear production credit.

Opening statements are attached. Testimony is here.


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Brady Opening Statement

Neal Opening Statement




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