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Forward on Climate: The Climate Cliff

By Ed Markey

For two years, the nightly news and the morning papers have been filled with scenes that look like they’re straight out of a blockbuster movie. Waves crashing over sea walls as stronger storms lash our coasts. Trees ablaze as wildfires scar our forests. Crops withering as unrelenting drought and heat parch our farms.

Climate disruption is costing American lives and livelihoods. In 2011 and 2012, America endured 25 weather disasters that totaled $1 billion or more in damages 2012 was the warmest year on record in the continental United States. We suffered the most widespread drought since the Dust Bowl, record wildfires that engulfed neighborhoods, and superstorm Sandy, which killed more than 100 people and could cost taxpayers $60 billion.

Sandy has has supercharged the discussion of climate change again. Recently, I held two emergency meetings calling for climate action, because the threat to Faneuil Hall, Boston’s Back Bay and Cape Cod National Sea Shore are no longer theoretical. This past weekend we saw the devastation a strong storm coupled with high tide can bring to our shores. As increasing temperatures raise sea levels and strengthen storms, our coastal communities will increasingly be ground zero for climate disruption.

In my two recent reports, you can see the connection between climate and extreme weather, and the local impacts on New England.

If our planet goes over the climate cliff, we will plunge into an abyss of impacts that we cannot reverse. Large parts of the Greenland ice sheet will await an inevitable, inexorable thaw. Methane buried under the Arctic tundra will seep ceaselessly into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change.

Last year, an international team of scientists found that global carbon dioxide emissions hit a record high in 2011. China’s carbon is up 10 percent; India, up 7 percent.

If emissions continue to grow as rapidly as they have been recently, we will not be able to prevent the planet from warming 3.6 degrees F, the goal the international community adopted in Copenhagen in 2009.

But while carbon emissions have continued to climb, the United States is proof that even the largest emitters can take steps to reduce emissions. The same year that China’s carbon emissions increased 10 percent, ours declined by 2 percent. We all know that it’s not enough to avert the worst effects, but it shows emission reductions are possible.

State and federal policies that support the use of renewable energy and increase efficiency have helped to achieve these reductions.

I championed fuel economy standards, passed by Democrats in Congress in 2007 and accelerated by President Obama, which have encouraged automakers to deploy more fuel-efficient vehicles. This is not only saving families money at the pump, it is backing out oil from the Middle East and will eventually drive down carbon pollution by 6 billion metric tons. That’s basically like eliminating all of the emissions from the United States in 2011.

And the move towards wind, solar, geothermal and other renewables, along with natural gas, has meant more coal plants have retired. We’ve gone from about half of our electricity just five years ago coming from coal to just 36 percent now. And it’s still dropping.

Last night, in the State of the Union, President Obama said that we must act to address climate change, before it is too late.As the co-author of the only climate change bill to pass a chamber of Congress,I believe this challenge depends on a triumph of technological optimism over fossil fueled pessimism. We must unleash a clean energy revolution that will create jobs and assert our energy independence. I stand ready with President Obama to aggressively address climate change and create American clean energy jobs that can’t be sent overseas.

The choice for polluters is the same that it has been for years. We can either pass market-based legislation in Congress or the Obama administration will continue to directly reduce heat-trapping pollution.

In the coming months, the White House and Congress can take actions that will set the tone of his administration and this Congress on this issue.

President Obama should direct EPA to use its authority under the Clean Air Act to reduce global warming pollution from existing and new utility power plants and large industrial sources.

We must end 100-year-old tax breaks for big oil companies, and get serious about investing in a plan for clean energy. I have been fighting to pass a Renewable Electricity Standard and efficiency measures that will cut carbon and create jobs.

I have also been fighting the GOP effort to build the Keystone Pipeline. Tar sands oil is some of the dirtiest crude oil on the planet, and the pipeline ends in a tax-free export zone in Port Arthur, Texas. Keystone XL would make American the middleman between the dirtiest oil on the plant and the thirstiest markets willing to burn it. Our country and our climate will assume all of the risk, and what we will get back is higher gas prices in the Midwest and more pollution in our atmosphere.

We also need to get smart about smart grid. It wasn’t Beyonce’s amazing performance that blew out the power during the Super Bowl, it was an aging energy infrastructure. If Thomas Edison was alive today he would recognize our current grid. No one should be in the dark about the necessity and the opportunity of building a new energy backbone.

Republicans don’t want to talk about climate change, but Mother Nature keeps interrupting their other conversations. It’s time to not just talk about the challenges that we face from climate change, but to do something about them.

Right now, we’re hanging off the climate cliff by our fingernails, with the weight of the fossil fuel lobby pulling us down.

It’s time we all find that reserve of strength and pull ourselves back up again. I know we can do it. I know we must do it.

Share your thoughts on The Climate Cliff by following me on Twitter and Facebook.

Like and follow the Natural Resources Committee Democrats or visit our website.

Discuss

Climate Change SOS : Drought, Water & Energy

By Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)

Next week, Mitt Romney will accept the Republican nomination in Tampa from a party increasingly dominated by global warming deniers. He will do so from a convention center in Florida that will likely be flooded by rising sea levels and extreme storms by 2030.

GOP leaders are not worried about knee-deep water. That’s because they are too busy trying to knee-cap clean energy. The Romney-Ryan agenda calls for a 90 percent cut to clean energy, like wind and solar, yet keeps in place $40 billion in tax subsidies for big oil companies.

It doesn’t take a mathlete to realize more money for carbon polluters increases our climate change challenges. These handouts to carbon polluters will give Americans triple trouble when it comes to water: no water, hot water, and rising water.

Let’s start with no water. The height of the 2012 drought is on par with the multi-year droughts of the 1930’s Dust Bowl and the mid-1950’s. Consistent with climate change, July record temperatures and dry conditions turned 65 percent of the United States into drought zones. The USDA declared over 1500 counties in 32 states primary disaster areas this growing season.

This drought is punishing farmers and our agriculture economy. 88 percent of domestic corn crops are being impacted, driving up the prices all families pay for food at the grocery store. It’s like a climate change food tax on every single American.

But the drought has another target: energy. The energy sector is dealing with the double whammy of drought and increasing water temperatures.

Even though water resources are scarce, traditional domestic energy production like nuclear, coal, and natural gas fracking have an unquenchable thirst.

The energy sector is the fastest-growing water consumer in the U.S., with studies predicting it will be responsible for 85 percent of the growth in water consumption between 2005 and 2030. Water scarcity, less snow in the winter, lower summer river flows, and higher river water temperatures due to global warming could lead to a 4-16 percent decrease in power plant capacity by 2060.

Just a few days ago, one nuclear power plant in Connecticut had to shut down a reactor  because the water used from Long Island Sound to cool the system was just too warm. When the water to cool a nuclear reactor becomes too warm from global warming, that’s a clear sign we’re all in hot water.

A new poll from the Civil Society Institute, released last week, indicates that 81 percent of Americans are concerned about “increased drought” and extreme weather events. Respondents in ten drought-stricken states indicated that safe drinking water and “the diversion of water for energy production” is their number one worry.

Examining the relationship between water and our nation’s energy production, I released a report, “Energy and Water: Connection and Conflict”, highlighting solutions to address water resources as the population grows and the climate continues to warm. Solutions like wind and solar not only provide clean energy, they are able to do so without using massive amounts of water.

Understanding water’s relationship to energy in a warming world is critical to protecting consumers and ensuring our national security.  I have requested that the GAO complete a study of our freshwater resources as well as look into technologies that lessen water use for energy production.  We must find more efficient ways to utilize our water resources for domestic and agricultural use.  

Debates over water rights are raging between farmers and frackers.  Nuclear power plants are shutting down over water concerns. This season’s drought is only a harbinger of water wars to come if the United States fails to address climate change.

Please follow me on twitter and facebook.To learn how Democrats are fighting the GOP/Big Oil agenda in Congress follow the Democrats of the Natural Resources Committee on twitter, like us on facebook or visit our website.

Discuss

On Tuesday, Japan raised the severity level of its nuclear crisis to a seven, placing the meltdown at Fukushima on par with the disaster at Chernobyl.

This tragedy holds both lessons and warnings for the United States. America currently runs 104 nuclear reactors, which generate approximately 20 percent of our electricity. But not a single new domestic reactor has been ordered or permitted in more than 30 years.

There is a reason nuclear has stalled, and it hasn’t been anti-nuclear protesters — it has been Wall Street investors.

Financial markets have determined that the costs and risks associated with building nuclear plants exceed their value. The permitting and construction of a nuclear reactor can take a decade or more, and can exceed $8 billion. By comparison, natural-gas and wind projects can move from the drawing board to full operation in just two to three years, and cost far less. In the last four years America has added 28,209 megawatts of wind, 36,535 megawatts of natural gas, 1,166 megawatts of solar and zero new megawatts of nuclear to the electrical grid. Competition is meeting our energy needs.

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The Internet is proving to be the modern day musket in the revolutions heralding democracy across Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Libya.

An Internet with no slow lane, no fast lane, no pay-to-play and one where service providers can’t charge consumers 25 cents per download?.  

Overseas the power and imagination of an open, American-made, Internet is proving once again to be a vehicle for expression and freedom.

Yet on our own shores, that freedom is under attack from congressional Republicans.  Today in the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, Republicans will continue their misguided legislative attack on net neutrality –the underlining principle which has kept the Internet open and accessible to all.    

Watch the Energy and Commerce hearing LIVE NOW: http://bit.ly/...

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I wanted to share a few video clips from the wildfire hearing. I asked the question raised in Wednesday’s discussion about global warming expanding the areas at risk of wildfires, and what is being done to educate the public in those states.

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Following the devastating fires in Southern California, the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming will hold a hearing on Thursday Nov 1st at 10 AM to examine the scientific link between a changing climate and the frequency and intensity of wildfires.

In an effort to expand the dialogue around this issue, I am seeking ideas, thoughts and questions prior to the hearing. Please have a look at the hearing information below and then post your thoughts in the comment section of this blog. Time for Q&A is limited during Congressional hearings, but I will read all posts beforehand in an effort to inject your ideas into this important debate.

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