House Republicans schedule rare hearing on climate change

Activists in Washington protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
(Alex Wong / Getty Images)

WASHINGTON – House Republicans have summoned the leaders of 13 federal agencies to a hearing next month to examine their plans to implement a sweeping climate change agenda that President Obama outlined in a June speech.

Organized by the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, the Sept. 18 hearing seeks information “from relevant federal agencies about U.S. climate change policies and the administration’s second-term climate agenda, and to obtain fuller information regarding the federal government’s past, current and planned domestic and international activities, climate research programs, initiatives, and new regulatory requirements,” said subcommittee Chairman Edward Whitfield (R-Ky.).

Obama has called on Congress to develop market-based legislation to reduce emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But a great many congressional Republicans, including Whitfield, question the existence of man-made climate change, making legislative action a nonstarter.


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In response, Obama identified steps in his June speech that did not require congressional approval, including the controversial but potentially significant move to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, the single largest domestic source of greenhouse gases. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to introduce rules for new power plants in September and to propose standards for existing plants in June 2014.

“The president’s plan to regulate new and existing power plants is not surprising,” Whitfield said in June. “The president’s action plan seeks to limit our nation’s fuel choices and make coal-fired electricity generation in this country extinct.”

The Sept. 18 hearing is the latest step by members of Congress, led largely by Republicans, to wrest a measure of control over the administration’s climate change agenda.

Recently, the administration increased the “social cost of carbon,” or the estimate of potential economic damage from carbon dioxide pollution used in setting standards and making rules. The Energy Department issued an update to its microwave oven standards requiring less energy use in so-called standby mode based on the new social cost of carbon calculation. As a consequence, industry and members of Congress are pushing back with hearings and legislation.

The hearing represents an about-face for Whitfield, who ignored 27 requests since 2011 by Democrats on his committee to hold hearings on climate change.

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“We absolutely should hear from administration witnesses about the threat of climate change,” said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), the ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a coauthor of the requests, along with Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.). “We also should be hearing from the nation’s leading scientists. Ever since the Republicans took over, the committee has been AWOL on the biggest energy issue facing the nation.”

Whitfield has invited testimony from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Export-Import Bank of the U.S., the Office of Science and Technology, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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