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Markey's Big Chance | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Markey's Big Chance

Two weeks ago, Representative Ed Markey was appointed chair of the new Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. The committee has no legislative role but it does have subpoena power, a $3.7 million budget, a team of investigators, and a two-year term. So there should be ample opportunity to powerfully illustrate the crisis and arrive at some smart policy recommendations. There are already strong legislative proposals out there and Markey's committee could use these as a starting point for potential Congressional action. "Our job," Markey says, "will be to take these issues and translate them into a language that has political potency and is accessible to the public." Here then are some areas the Select Committee could explore in response to the global warming crisis.

1.Job Creation

There are many good groups doing work on the relationship between job creation and clean energy. The Apollo Alliance – a coalition of labor, environmental, civil rights, urban, farm, faith and business groups – has a plan that has won wide respect. It includes: promoting renewables; upgrading existing energy infrastructure; improving efficiency in transportation, industry, and buildings; research in new clean technology; and Smart Growth for cities and suburbs. Joel Rogers, a member of Apollo's National Steering Committee and Director of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, says, "We estimate that $300 billion spent on our plan would generate about 3 million new jobs…. It would generate a little over $1 trillion in additional GDP over its ten-year development. And, most important, it would reduce our energy costs by better than $300 billion annually. That would effectively… eliminate our dependence on the Middle East… [and] it should reestablish the American position in what is clearly going to be a gigantic world market for clean-energy technology…. Our plan has been out there for about two years now and nobody has seriously questioned any of these numbers." Van Jones, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, has discussed a Clean Energy Jobs Bill with Speaker Nancy Pelosi that would help "create green pathways out of poverty." Jones says, "The bill would get hundreds of millions of dollars in green-collar job training down to community colleges, vocational colleges and public high schools across the country. It would establish Clean Tech Training Centers in at least one public high school in every US city. And it would create a National Energy Corps, which would give America's youth the opportunity to help retrofit buildings and put up solar and wind farms." The Apollo Alliance and Campus Climate Action are working with the Ella Baker Center to advance these ideas. Elizabeth Martin Perera, Climate Policy Specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), also notes that a cap on greenhouse gasses will open new markets for low-carbon fuels, low-carbon electricity, and renewables. Experts from the Economic Policy Institute have also done very good research in this area.

2. The Exorbitant Costs Myth

Republicans repeatedly responded to Al Gore's testimony on global warming this past week with predictions of exorbitant costs and massive job loss. The fact is clean energy done right can be a stimulus for jobs and economic growth. That is why the US Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) – a coalition of US-based businesses (including Alcoa, BP America, Caterpillar, Duke Energy, DuPont, FPL Group, General Electric, Lehman Brothers, PG&E, and PNM Resources) and environmental organizations – has called for quick legislative action to slow, stop and reverse greenhouse gas emissions. The group said any delay in mandatory, economy-wide climate protection "increases the risk of unavoidable consequences that could necessitate even steeper reductions in the future." This is the kind of private sector action that is needed – along with a concerted government effort – to address what Al Gore calls "the most dangerous crisis in American history." Markey would do well to bring in these business and environmental leaders to skewer the myth of catastrophic job loss and exorbitant costs.

3. The Economic Harm of Global Warming

The Apollo Alliance and other leading experts recommend that the Markey Committee work to establish a clear, definitive and scientifically defensible quantification of economic harm to the US economy within 20 years, 50 years, and 100 years if a strong response to global warming isn't adopted. The Stern Report – which looks at the impact of global warming on the world economy, written by former chief economist at the World Bank, Sir Nicholas Stern – is useful in illustrating the consequences of doing nothing to curb global warming but an official federal analysis would provide new credibility for Congressional policymakers.

4. ‘The Experts of the Land'

Lorraine Peter of Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Old Crow, Yukon (a town of about 300 aboriginal people north of the Arctic Circle), spoke at Climate Crisis Action Day in Washington, DC this week. She has traveled to DC for 25 years to stand with her Canadian and Alaskan brothers and sisters impacted by decisions made in the US capital. "Listen to the experts of the land – they are the ones who can tell us," she said. According to Peter, the hunters and trappers who live subsistence lifestyles see the changes every day. They see a Porcupine Caribou Herd which has thrived for thousands of years with her ancestors – and which the community still depends on for food, clothing, and crafts – suddenly dwindling in the last 10 to 15 years. And Robert Thompson, an Inupiaq Eskimo wildlife guide (and Vietnam veteran) from the 300-person village of Kaktovik on the edge of the Arctic Ocean, spoke of unusual February rains, and the Yukon Flats burning in September. "We don't need more science," he said. And then there was Republican Mayor Rob Sisson of Sturgis, Michigan. He spoke eloquently of the impact of reduced ice cover, record low water levels, and warmer temperatures that are damaging the fishing and agriculture industries in his county. Mayor Stanley Tocktoo of Shishmaref – a Northwest Alaska village of 581 people threatened by coastal erosion – told of the need for relocation before his village is destroyed (last year, the US Army Corps of estimated the village could survive another 10 to 15 years). "We need to be safe from the dangers of being washed away and able to maintain our subsistence lifestyle," Tocktoo said. Representative Jay Inslee (author of a new book, Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Revolution) said that we must act now so that the people of Shishmaref are the first and last Americans who will need to relocate due to global warming. By speaking with – and giving voice to – the citizens and leaders who are experiencing the impact of global warming first-hand the Markey Committee can help personalize the fight against global warming.

5. A Bipartisan Approach

In order to make the kind of substantive changes that are needed, action will have to be taken on a bipartisan basis. This week, Al Gore noted that in Great Britain Labour and Tories are working together – they understand that the science is settled and that a strong response is urgently needed. Gore said that the parties are arguing about the most effective solutions – not whether to take aggressive action – based on a shared realization that the "cost to our economy of not solving the crisis is devastating." In contrast, the issue here is too often framed as a partisan one. (In fact, sources within Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP) say that Minority Leader John Boehner would only appoint Republicans who are hostile to the idea of global warming to Markey's committee. So when a legislator like Representative Wayne Gilchrest – who has a sincere interest in responding to the crisis – requested an appointment to the committee he was rejected.) But there is reason for hope. Just look at Representative Roscoe Bartlett's reaction to his global warming denialist colleagues at the Gore hearings, "It's possible to be a conservative without appearing to be an idiot." Bartlett is right, and true conservatives like President Theodore Roosevelt placed stewardship and preserving our environment and resources for future generations at the top of their agenda. Markey should make sure America hears from those Republicans who have reviewed the science and want action now – like those at REP, or Gore's allies at The Alliance for Climate Protection, former National Security Advisor to Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush, Brent Scowcroft; and former Director of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Reagan, Lee Thomas. The sooner our country puts partisan politics aside on this issue, the quicker and more resolute action will be.

6. Centralize Findings

Many advocates suggest that the Markey Committee serve as a clearinghouse for gathering, organizing and disseminating the findings of concurrent climate hearings taking place in both the House and Senate. These hearings include those conducted by Representative John Dingell; Senators Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici; Senator Barbara Boxer; Energy and Air Quality subcommittee hearings, and others. The findings of these different forums and investigations need to be consolidated and used as the basis for action.

7. Describe Domestic Investment

According to the Apollo Alliance and other experts, current legislative proposals are often too vague in describing the details of domestic investment in a low-carbon economy. Industries are more likely to support low-carbon legislation – and view it as a growth opportunity – if the benefits they will receive are clearly and specifically laid out.

8. Paint a Picture

Markey told The Washington Post he is interested in taking members of Congress to Greenland: "You can see in Greenland . . . that if the huge sheet of ice -- huge, massive sheet of ice melts, that the consequences are quite catastrophic." But there are also places in our own backyard which could be visited. Elizabeth Martin Perera of NRDC suggests that the Markey Committee visit the "Crown Jewels at risk" in our nation. Places like the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, where the the US Geological Survey (USGS) judged all 59 miles of beaches at high or very high risk for rising seas. Or melting glaciers in Glacier National Park and North Cascades National Park. High temperatures and drought threatening forests in the American Southwest, including in Bandelier National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park. Visit with the governors of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington state, who agreed to develop a regional target to lower greenhouse gases. They were motivated by recent droughts and suffering through perilous fire seasons. A tour of these sites could be informative for the American people and legislators.

9. Two Federal Bills

Advocates for bold leadership to fight global warming have hailed two bills in Congress: Representative Henry Waxman's Safe Climate Act, and Senators Barbara Boxer and Bernie Sanders' Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act . All aspects of these bills should be examined, and every opportunity for the public to learn about them should be pursued.

These are just some of the areas the Markey Committee could explore in order to generate the political will necessary for change. There is certainly no shortage of places, people, and organizations that can help illustrate the urgency and the benefits of responding to global warming now.

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