Committee on Science, Space, & Technology Full Committee Hearing – Paris Climate Promise: A Bad Deal for America

Chairman & Ranking Member opening statements

In his opening statement, Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) said President Obama’s costly new electricity regulations—a cornerstone of the United Nations climate conference agreement in Paris in December—lack constitutional legitimacy because the agreement has not been ratified by the Senate.  In addition, these measures will adversely affect the U.S. economy and have no significant impact on global temperatures.

Rep. Smith’s other points were:

  • The EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) is a “power grab,” given that the majority in the Congress disapproved the CPP through the Congressional Review Act.
  • The administration promotes its climate agenda through NOAA, where its employees altered historical climate data to get politically correct results in an attempt to disprove the 18 year lack of global temperature increases.
  • NOAA has refused to explain its findings and provide documents to the House Science Committee and the American people. Over 300 scientists and experts sent the committee a letter last week expressing concern over NOAA’s efforts to alter historical data.
  • Overall, the President’s Paris pledge will increase electricity costs, ration energy, and slow economic growth. The President should submit his Paris climate change agreement to the Congress, but, he won’t because he knows neither the Senate nor the House would approve it.

 

Ranking Member Eddie Johnson (D-TX), in her opening statement, said the Paris agreement establishes a base commitment that all countries agree to.  It consists of three components:

  1. Private sector recognition of threats of climate change – 154 American companies have committed to invest in clean energy technologies. She cited the support of the Energy Future Coalition and Americans for a Clean Energy Grid, which is a coalition of state, regional, and national environmental and other public interest organizations that are working to expand the deployment of clean energy resources in America’s electricity transmission grid.
  2. The private sector response to stable markets was an incentive to continue to invest in innovative technologies that will propel national progress.
  3. The momentum from the Paris agreement is to not just react to changes as they occur, but to plan for changes that could happen in the future.

Rep. Johnson concluded that the Paris climate agreement was overall a positive development.

Witnesses

  • Stephen Eule, VP for Climate & Technology, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
  • John Christy, Professor of Atmospheric Science and Director of the Earth system Science Center, University of Alabama in Huntsville
  • Andrew Steer, President & CEO, World Resources Institute
  • Steven Groves, Bernard & Barbra Lomas Senior Research Fellow, Heritage Foundation

Summaries of their testimony are presented below.

Eule’s testimony

  • The Paris agreement’s binding aspects would require implementing legislation and regulation potentially affecting every sector of the U.S. economy. If such an agreement is to be considered binding, it should be approved by the Congress.
  • The President’s commitments do not add up. A recent State Department report demonstrates that the U.S. Paris pledge of a 26-28 percent net GHG reduction by 2025 from 2005 levels is completely unrealistic, assuming the CPP survives current scrutiny.
  • The Paris emission pledges are uneven. A handful of developed countries are responsible for nearly all of the actual emissions reductions, whereas developing countries have promised not much more than “business as usual.”
  • Even if the pledges can be achieved, greater emphasis will be placed on the growth of transitional, emerging and developing economics, and coal is the primary power choice for these economies. Coal-based energy production will continue to increase in these countries.
  • Developing countries will not be able to make any meaningful commitments without large financial contributions from the developed world.
  • Although the parties have a non-binding agreement on limiting global temperature increases, same as past decisions, they’ve refused to identify a global emissions pathway to meet the goal. A temperature target is simply a “potent political symbol of little practical consequence.”

 

Dr. Christy’s testimony

 

  • Christy said his research can best be described as building datasets from scratch to advance the understanding of what climate is doing and why. His tools are traditional surface observations and measurements from balloons and satellites.
  • The claims about increases in frequency and intensity of extreme events are generally not supported by actual observations, and official information about climate science is largely controlled by agency funding choices for research, and by the carefully selected (i.e. biased) authorship of reports such as the EPA Endangerment Finding and the National Climate Assessment.
  • Those who view the climate system as undergoing rapid, human-caused transformation believe that people would have great difficulty adapting to the new climate. They use an average projection model that poorly measures the fundamental temperature metric, allegedly the one that is most responsive to additional greenhouse gases.  This layer—from the earth’s surface to 50,000 feet—is referred to as the mid-troposphere and overlaps the region that has the largest anticipated bulk mass greenhouse response signature, between 20,000 and 50,000 feet.  These models clearly “over-cook” the atmosphere.

 

Dr. Steer’s testimony

 

  • The Paris agreement transformed the climate change landscape in ways that reflect U.S. leadership and longstanding objectives. Both developed and developing countries are taking climate action as part of the agreement, with 187 countries submitting nationally-determined climate plans.  The universal, binding requirements inherent are a modern form of the agreement.
  • The private sector and subnational governments played a major role during the Paris conference, making new climate commitments and calling for strong market signals. Furthermore, the Paris agreement itself sends clear long-term signals that can set the course for investment in a prosperous low-carbon and climate resilient economy.
  • The U.S. has much to gain from positioning itself as a climate leader. Swift action on climate change will continue to enable the U.S. to benefit from economic opportunities, stimulate further global action on climate, and build resilience to climate impacts and their associated costs at home.

 

Groves’ testimony

 

  • From a lawyer’s perspective, the Paris Agreement is a bad deal for the U.S. Constitution. The President decided to treat the agreement as an executive action rather than a treaty because he knew it would not pass the Senate.
  • President Obama broke a commitment made by President George Bush’s administration during UNFCCC ratification in 1992. By ratifying the UNFCCC convention, the U.S. agreed to be legally bound by its provisions, though UNFCC did not require the U.S. to commit to specific emissions targets or timetables.
  • All future agreements negotiated that adopted emissions targets and timetables under convention auspices were supposed to be submitted to the Senate. By refusing to submit the Paris agreement—with its targets and timetables—to the Senate, the Obama administration has breached the commitment the U.S. made during the UNFCCC ratification process.
  • Unless the White House submits the agreement to the Senate, the Congress should block funding to implement it and withhold funding for UNFCCC.
  • The Congress should also enact prophylactic legislative measures such as including language in all legislation regarding the EPA and related executive agencies and programs that say no funds may be expended to implement any commitment made in the Paris agreement.

 

Chairman Smith’s questions to panelists

 

Rep. Smith asked Eule about the costs of implementing the agreement, especially the effect on jobs. Eule replied that the cost to the U.S. would depend on what happens in future negotiations.  Energy companies would likely flee the U.S.

 

Rep. Smith asked Dr. Christy about the accuracy of NOAA’s claim that 2015 is the warmest year on record, adding that NOAA’s footnote states that it is only 38 percent certain about that statement.

 

Dr. Christy answered that his research facility tried to reproduce parts of the claim, but was not able to.  Dr. Christy said NOAA’s study was strangely conducted.  His team uses bulk atmosphere—the real mass of the atmosphere—to measure the temperature.  It was either the second to fourth warmest in 2015 depending on which dataset you use.  The fact that the dataset was not provided to the public or government agencies is disturbing because the evidence shows that 2015 was not the warmest year.

 

Rep. Smith asked to what extent the Paris promises are actually legally-binding upon the U.S.

 

Groves responded that the Paris agreement is a legally-binding agreement.  Just because a treaty it is not a treaty, doesn’t mean it is not legally-binding.  The important point to note is that the other 195 countries certainly believe that the U.S. will be legally be bound by its commitments to reduce emissions and transfer billions of dollars annually to the Green Climate Fund and other climate mechanisms for use by developing countries.

 

The rest of the world would certainly believe that the next President is required to honor the U.S. commitment, Groves said.  Any incoming President, however, has the authority to withdraw executive agreements.  While there would be political consequences with allies, an executive agreement is much simpler to unwind than a treaty.

 

Ranking Member Johnson’s questions to panelists

 

Rep. Johnson said the launching of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition is a prime example of the private sector’s commitment to take action against climate change.  She asked Dr. Steer to assess the importance of this.

 

Dr. Steer answered that the understanding of the link between economic growth and climate change has shifted radically.  Business leadership now has an overwhelming sense that we that we must do something about climate change, and doing it smartly will make the U.S. more competitive.

 

A lot of empirical evidence suggests that if we take smart action on climate change, Dr. Steer said, efficiency will be promoted, new technology created, and business will gain long term confidence.  The financial sector is participating as well, he added.  In Paris, 400 investors representing $20 trillion in assets have signed the global investment statement on climate change and pledged to seek out and scale out low carbon resilient investments.  The U.S. and 20 other countries have agreed to double their investments in research at the public level.  With the commitment by Bill Gates and 25 other billionaires to move things forward, all of this is an incredibly exciting development.

 

The Breakthrough Energy Coalition is a great example of the private sector acknowledging that climate change needs to be addressed for businesses to succeed in the long term, Dr. Steer said.  Too much future uncertainty could create too much potential harm.

 

Addressing Eule’s earlier comment that “developing countries have little interest in addressing the impacts of climate change, and most will continue to operate in a business as usual manner under this agreement,” Rep. Johnson asked Dr. Steer why he believes that developing countries will deliver on their Paris conference commitments.

 

Dr. Steer replied that to answer this, one simply needs to look at the facts.  China shrank its coal consumption in 2014 and appears to be on a downward trajectory.  Last year, it invested trillions of dollars in renewable energy.  Countries like Brazil have committed to reduce emissions in an absolute sense.

 

Rep. Johnson asked why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce claims that the majority of U.S. businesses oppose the Paris commitment.

 

Dr. Steer responded that the U.S. is still on a journey.  In addition, in the history of change, those with vested interests in the status quo are traditionally much more vocal than those who would benefit from the change.  However, more and more people come on board each year.

 

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s (R-CA) questions
Rohrabacher asked Eule for his perspective on the efficiency of switching to a non-carbon energy base.  His understanding was that oil, gas, and coal are still fundamentally much more efficient at producing energy.

 

Eule said alternative technologies at this stage of their development are still more expensive than traditional energy technologies.  They have intermittency issues, and questions exist about whether they could be scaled up enough to lift people out of poverty worldwide.  Climate change is a technology challenge.  People will use traditional technologies as long as alternative technologies are more expensive and less reliable.

 

Rep. Rohrabacher asked Dr. Christy about the hottest days recorded and what that means for the amount of CO2 emissions.

Dr. Christy said the number of days of extreme temperatures in a year is actually on a downward trend.  He just submitted a research paper where Alabama’s climate was measured under standard climate models and not one of those models came close to producing Alabama’s actual temperatures over the past 20 years.  He said his bottom line is that he doesn’t trust the climate models because they don’t match current facts.

 

Rep. Rohrabacher said that if CO2 emissions are increasing while temperatures are not increasing, this suggests that the CO2 theory of climate change is inaccurate.

 

Dr. Christy agreed, and that when a theory contradicts the facts, you try to change the theory.  His research shows that the key metric—bulk atmospheric temperature—is not obeying the climate models.

 

Rep. Ami Bera’s (D-CA) questions

 

Looking at the facts, Rep. Bera believes there is no disagreement that climate fluctuates and changes.  However, climate extremes are now more common.  Glaciers are melting and melt rates are increasing.  Those are facts that should be accepted, he said.  The international community needs to participate in setting targets because countries like India have really stepped up to the plate, and 300 million Indians still have no reliable electricity sources.  An opportunity exists to come up with innovative electrical sources.  Corporate America sees the opportunity.  He asked Dr. Steer about the next solid steps.

 

Dr. Steer said no individual country can address this problem.  Instead, a new multilateralism led by the U.S. has emerged.  The U.S. won’t put itself under a global treaty, but will pledge action and transparency.  Something dynamic will happen because costs are falling, and the private sector is receiving the signals.  This is precisely what the U.S. has with the Paris deal.

Rep. Bera said that if we view this as a new industry, the U.S. should lead in solar and wind energy, and the creation of thousands of jobs.  It is smart business, smart investment, and it protects the planet for the next generation.

 

Rep. Weber’s (R-TX) questions

 

Rep. Weber said that if climate change theory is right, and all countries comply with the agreements, then all countries will stay “equal” in their respective global competitive positions.  But, if the climate change theory is wrong, or if other countries cheat on the agreement while the U.S. upholds its end, the U.S. will lose the most of its global competitive position.  He asked if those scenarios concern the witnesses.

 

Dr. Steer responded that the U.S. at this moment has a great cost advantage in electricity.  Under CPP, costs are estimated to rise by 5-10 percent and then fall, meaning U.S. competitiveness is not a concern.  He said U.S. competitiveness will most be at risk if the U.S. doesn’t act on the agreement.

 

Eule said U.S. competitiveness and other countries cheating are both big concerns, and one only needs to look at Europe, where energy-intensive industries are becoming “endangered species.”  The U.S. could be headed in this direction.

 

Although China is investing in renewable energy, Eule added, it also has about 460 billion watts of coal-fired power plants under construction.  While a lot of countries make baby steps towards renewables and alternative technologies, coal will still be the go-to fuel for providing electricity in those countries.

 

Groves said he is most concerned about compliance by the other countries.  The U.S. tends to regard its treaty commitments much more seriously than other countries.  He doubted that countries such as India and China would find compliance to be economically feasible.

 

Rep. Don Beyer’s (D-VA) questions

 

Rep. Beyer raised the scientific criticisms about the use of atmospheric data and asked if it makes sense to use all of the available data, if there’s much of a difference if 2015 is the first, second or fourth warmest year, and if we find the most value in looking at the zone where we live.

 

Dr. Christy replied that the bulk atmospheric temperature provides the strongest signals, and the measurements don’t match the models.  If you review historical records, you probably will find data variations such as the multi-year California droughts.  Dr. Christy suspects that the changes people see now are things that have always changed.

 

Dr. Christy added that the warmest year ranking does not matter; what is important is the long term trend and heat accumulation level.

 

Rep. Beyer asked Dr. Steer about the devastating impact the Paris agreements are alleged to have, given the U.S.’s major carbon footprint reduction and creation of 18 million jobs since 2009.

 

Dr. Steer said this is part of the U.S. learning process, when the country is in the forefront of something it didn’t understand before.  If the focus is on economic efficiency, less greenhouse gases should be emitted.  you actually focus on the efficiency of economy, you will want to emit less greenhouse gases.  Smart policies will want to lead to more efficiency, more technology, and more long term certainty.

 

Rep. Bill Posey’s (R-FL) questions

 

Rep. Posey said the costs of implementing the Paris agreement affect people further down the economic chain.  If the EPA’s rules go into effect in Florida, half of the state’s cement manufacturers will close immediately.  The other half will reestablish their businesses in Mexico, where there are no environmental regulations of significance for cement manufacturing.  In the end, pollution will still occur for a product that costs 400 percent more.

 

He asked if the Paris agreement was an attempt to transfer wealth.

 

Groves responded that the big issue in Paris was money.  If the Paris deal is enforced, a global wealth transfer will occur.  All of the developed countries will pay into the Green Climate Fund, which will send all of its dollars to the developing world.

 

Eule said the Paris talks had mixed incentives.  This is the first time in the history of mankind that a fundamental economic model in existence for 150 years must be intentionally changed within a finite period of time.  We need to be concerned about this because the current economic development system is responsible for the biggest boost in health and wealth in human history.

 

Rep. Posey said most of the rest of the world wants the U.S. to be less productive if it means that they can be more productive.  He asked about the probability of Green Climate Fund money being used improperly.

 

Eule answered that Congress should have a say on how the money is spent, and the rules for Green Climate Fund spending are now being determined.  However, a lot of the money was actually go through the World Bank to other development banks.  Because of the multiple sources, tracking the money will be more difficult.

 

Rep. Eric Swawell’s (D-CA) questions

 

Rep. Swawell asked what would happen with climate change without U.S. involvement.  Dr. Steer responded that the U.S. is the indispensable leader, a role it is uniquely qualified to hold.

 

Rep. Swawell asked about the U.S. military’s level of belief on climate change.  Dr. Steer said the military is a leader on climate change because it believes climate change is affecting it in significant ways, raising costs and making the world less secure.  For example, the U.S. Navy is exploring the cost of raising its ship moorings in response to the projected sea level rise.

 

Rep. Frank Lucas’ (R-OK) questions

 

Rep. Lucas entered a letter into the record in which he and other congressmen asked EPA to verify that it had plans to imbed EPA employees in foreign countries to help monitor their progress on climate goals.  He asked EPA is going beyond its legal authority.

 

Groves said this shows the mischief that federal agencies can get into once something like the climate change framework is in place, as it authorizes the agencies to engage in international cooperation.

 

Rep. Marc Veasey’s (D-TX) questions

 

Rep. Veasey asked Dr. Steer about the transfer of wealth from developed to developing countries, why a financial mechanism was included in the agreement, and if there are consequences from the U.S. not committing resources.

 

Dr. Steer said the $100 billion that people keep mentioning is not all public money.  It includes private money, and private sector money can actually be stimulated by public money.  Poor people obviously require help, and the help can be provided in a way that generates jobs and economic growth.    Every dollar that the U.S contributes for  developing country mitigation and adaptation will, because it will be leveraged with private investment, come back to the U.S. in more than a dollar of trade and investment.

 

Rep. Darin Lahood’s (R-IL) questions

 

Rep. Lahood asked about the consequences of the agreement not being a treaty.

Groves responded that the fact the agreement could not get through the U.S. Senate was the “biggest open secret of the Paris conference.”  The lack of congressional scrutiny speaks to the legitimacy of the agreement.

 

Responding to a second question, Groves said the agreement—because it is an international commitment that bypassed the Congress and will be enforced domestically by EPA—lacks democratic legitimacy on almost every level.

 

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici’s (D-OR) questions

 

Rep. Bonamici asked Dr. Steer about how climate changes effects the oceans and fisheries and the resulting population and food chain dynamics. Dr. Steer responded that there is a large amount of literature supporting the negative impacts that climate \change and ocean acidification is having on fisheries populations and ecosystems.  A report released in 2015—“Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change to the United States”—assessed the impact of climate change on a county-by-county basis.  Obviously, the science is not absolutely firm, but people have to look at the bulk of scientific opinion.

 

Rep. Brian Babin’s (R-TX) questions

 

Directing his questions at Eule, Rep. Babin asked how the increased energy costs will impact the macroeconomic health of the U.S., including both primary energy users and end-use consumers.

 

Eule said electricity rates will increase by up to 14 percent, and we need to ask ourselves if this is the road we want to go down when you think about the energy price advantage the U.S. has over other countries.

 

Rep. Babin asked if U.S. jobs would be lost.  Eule said yes.  The U.S. has an energy price advantage that can be attributed to domestic hydraulic fracturing.

 

Rep. Babin asked if green jobs could offset the lost manufacturing jobs.  Eule said that is difficult to answer.  But, looking back at the recession, the oil and gas sector has been the one shining star.

 

Rep. Elizabeth Esty’s (D-CA) questions

 

Rep. Esty asked Dr. Steer about the value of the bottom-up approach, the health impacts of not addressing climate change, and whether fracking technology innovations could be applied to renewable energy technologies.

Dr. Steer said that Connecticut not only did the right thing environmentally, but analyzed it.  He added that fracking is not impacted by the Paris agreement.  Related to the bottom-up approach, U.S. city mayors had a large presence at the Paris conference because they are taking action to monitor and be transparent about urban GHG emissions.  Also, CPP will pay for itself with associated gains in health conditions and reductions in health care costs.  This is why high-tech companies are lobbying for renewables.