Ex-EPA chiefs push for climate change action

By Aarian Marshall

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 19, 2014 - Four former EPA administrators - who all served during Republican administrations - encouraged the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee yesterday to take firm action on climate change and applauded President Obama's recently-released regulations on carbon emissions. 

“We like to speak of American exceptionalism,” William Ruckelshaus, administrator during the Nixon and Reagan administrations and the first person to head the agency, told the Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety on Wednesday. “If we want to be truly exceptional, we should begin the difficult task of leading the world away from the unacceptable effects of our increasing appetites for fossil fuels before it's too late.”

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“We all know that Earth's climate is changing,” said Christine Todd Whitman, former Republican governor of New Jersey and EPA administrator during the George W. Bush administration. While Whitman noted that the U.S. is not “solely responsible” for climate change, “when one is contributing to that problem, [we must] be part of the solution,” she said. 

Given current scientific models, said Lee Thomas, administrator under Ronald Reagan, “EPA has the responsibility given to it by Congress and affirmed by the courts to address the risk-management challenge” of climate change. 

William Reilly, chairman emeritus of the ClimateWorks Foundation and EPA chief in the George H.W. Bush administration, also testified at the hearing. 

Republican subcommittee members, however, took issue with the former administrators' arguments, particularly the assertion that 97 percent of climate scientists believe human activity contributes to climate change. 

That statistic includes scientists who are skeptical that domestic or even global policy can affect climate change, said Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark. “The 97 percent statement therefore is innocuous since it probably includes all of the global warming skeptics that are currently working in the field. It's a misleading tactic used to marginalize people who are concerned about hardworking Americans.” 

A focus on “human-induced global warming” has distracted from other, more important environmental issues, argued Daniel Botkin, a professor emeritus of ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The scientist said he doubted whether EPA's recent actions on climate change would have a “significant effect on global average temperature or sea level rise.” 

Coal miners wearing white hard hats filled the committee room to protest the administration's efforts to curb carbon emissions.

In June, the Obama administration released a proposed plan aimed at cutting carbon emissions from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels by 2030. That's equal to the emissions released by powering more than half of U.S. homes for one year. 

Power plants account for about a third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to EPA. 

EPA will take public comment on the plan for four more months before releasing a final carbon emissions rule in June 2015.

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