Partisan battle lines emerged in the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee today as the new panel held the first in a series of hearings on sweeping energy and climate legislation slated for markup before Memorial Day.
Democratic committee leaders and the panel's rank-and-file majority warned of the economic, public health and national security threats from global warming if the United States fails to take an international leadership role by curbing its greenhouse gas emissions.
"Doing nothing is not an option that anybody should look at without feeling a sense of alarm," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the full Energy and Commerce Committee.
Republicans countered with their own concerns about an accelerated economic meltdown if Waxman and the Democrats move as expected on a climate bill that seeks to reduce midcentury emissions by roughly 80 percent.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the full committee's ranking member, cited economic studies from last year's Senate global warming debate showing that cap-and-trade legislation would slow the projected growth of U.S. gross domestic product.
"You want to talk about launching another Great Depression, let's do some of the things that will require that kind of contraction," said Barton, who also is a skeptic on the science linking man-made emissions to climate change.
"I find it ironic that while the big issue of today is a stimulus package to revive our economy, we're also getting ready to go down a legislative path that by all accounts would reduce GDP, send jobs overseas and make energy more expensive," added Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, the subcommittee's ranking Republican, who has been personally lobbied on the economic stimulus bill by President Obama. "Let's be honest: By design, that's how cap and trade works."
Waxman's committee will spend the next three months studying the potential costs of various climate policies, including analyzing electricity rates, gas prices and economic growth. But the chairman avoided specifics about what would go into his bill.
"We haven't decided that yet," Waxman said in response to reporters' questions about whether he plans to include a national renewable electricity standard in his measure.
Earlier this week, Waxman said he was open to folding a renewable electricity standard, or RES, into the global warming bill. But that strategy contrasts with that of Senate Democratic leaders and some members of the Obama administration, who want to slice up the energy and climate issues into separate proposals.
"The stimulus package is chapter one, I think the energy bill will be chapter two, and I think the climate change bill will be chapter three," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told the Denver Post earlier this month.
Waxman told reporters he has not yet discussed strategy for global warming and energy legislation with the administration. "I'd be interested in their recommendations, but we'll have to make our own decisions," he said.
During the hearing, scientific and military expert witnesses testified about the effects from climate change. They described shrinking Arctic sea ice, greater risks to U.S. national security and higher rates of infectious disease.
"I feel right now we're drifting, excuse the metaphor, in unchartered waters," said retired Army Gen. Gordon Sullivan, the president and chief operating officer of the Association of the U.S. Army. "Waiting for 100 percent certainty" is not an option, he said.
Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey, the subcommittee chairman, said the witnesses' testimony underscores recent economic studies showing that unchecked climate change by midcentury could cause $500 billion a year in damages -- a 1.5 percent cut in U.S. gross domestic product.
"These witnesses are here, in part, to purge whatever complacency remains after eight years of climate policy founded on denial, obfuscation and delay," Markey said.