Testimony:Former Vice President Al Gore
At a House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing last Friday, Mr. Gore testified to the urgent nature and prime importance of the clean energy and security bill being debated in Congress. Mr. Gore focused on three main areas in calling on representatives to pass “one of the most important pieces of legislation ever introduced in Congress.” Security concerns stemming from dependence on foreign oil, a push to restart the economic growth by laying infrastructure for a modern energy economy, and the real threat of major implications of climate change are all coming together to make addressing energy policy a priority. There are three main provisions in the bill that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and position the U.S. to lead in the next energy revolution.
1) Promoting the rapid introduction of clean technology
2) Efficient use of energy through a revamped and modernized digital smart grid
3) Significant investment into continued research and development into technologies such as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).
During the question and answer session, Mr. Gore was asked by Texas Representative Joe Barton (R) about the costs of implementing the bill, specifically with regards to a cap and trade system. Even if Congress gave away half of the allowances and the tax on emissions were the $20 per ton that the EPA estimates (considered conservative), the 7 billion metric tons of man made CO2 emissions the U.S. produces annually would amount to a $70 billion fee for the American economy. Mr. Barton explained this and then asked Mr. Gore what the U.S. can do to avoid or minimize the impact of this expense on businesses and families. Mr. Gore did not provide a response to the congressman’s question or to his more direct follow-up. Mr. Barton, on the other hand, didn’t acknowledge several of Mr. Gore’s points. This little vignette speaks to the contentiousness of the issue. Mr. Gore has done much to bring attention to climate change. As he mentioned himself, he has been working for 30 years on this issue. It’s hard for politicians to stray from the politics they’ve been used to for so long. But in order to not spend another 30 years working on the issue; to instead achieve real change quickly, honesty about the costs in revolutionizing our energy policy and energy infrastructure is essential. Any change as transformational as redefining our interaction with energy and the pollution it causes will have its costs and short-term disadvantages. Even given those costs, however, the argument for taking concrete action in moving toward a new energy economy is powerful. National security, international leadership, and long-term business competitiveness are bound to benefit. Mentioning the downside while extolling the benefits and framing the issue in a positive light instead of focusing on alarmist rhetoric will be a fresh and respected approach. Such an approach has the best chance of avoiding partisan bickering and will help get legislation passed.
Though there is fairly broad support for the bill, getting it approved without major changes will be a fight. There is understandable opposition to the bill. But as former Senator John Warner (R-VA) said, it is time for America to renew itself and take on this challenge. “We did it [after the Depression and World War II]. We’ll do it again. We have to do it.” Now, with the economic crisis, a very competitive global society, and two wars, it is time for America to show its mettle. Acting on legislation will address problems it faces in each of those areas while strengthening the country and leading the world toward the new economy.
- Justin Manger