You all know James Inhofe, the Republican Senator from
Exxon Mobil Oklahoma who famously declared the Global warming is the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" on more than one occasion. Yet this fierce opponent of Al Gore and anyone who would curb carbon emissions from the burning of gasoline in your car or coal by your local electrical utility, has suddenly decided to join two of the greenest members of the Senate, Democrats Barbara Boxer of California and John Kerry of Massachusetts in a bill to (sort of) fight global warming.
Not by curbing all the CO2 that comes out of someone's Hummer. That would be heresy. Instead, he will sponsor with Kerry and Boxer a bill seeking to study "black carbon" deemed to be one of the principle accelerants of global warming in the Arctic. What is "Black Carbon?" you ask. Well ...
The target of the bill is black carbon, commonly known as soot.
Black carbon warms the atmosphere by absorbing sunlight. When it falls in the Arctic it causes ice and snow to melt faster. In the United States and Europe, soot comes from diesel engines and agricultural crop burning; in the developing world the major sources are home heating and cooking fires. In just the last two years, scientists have found that soot may be responsible for up to half of the rapid melting of Arctic ice and snow. (For a two-minute black carbon primer, visit www.stopsoot.org.
Why is he sponsoring this bill? Why did he and his Republican colleagues agree to pass this out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee by unanimous consent? Well obviously, this bill attacks a carbon emissions that will have less effect of his major
clients campaign contributors, Big Oil, than on other sources of carbon in the atmosphere. And I'm sure it will make his Republican colleagues look a little bit better when they come up for re-election in 2 or 4 years to tout their support for this bill.
However, perhaps because the real reason why is that there is a better bill being promoted in the House of Representatives to fight the production of soot or black carbon.
A House bill, by Jay Inslee of Washington, Mike Honda of California and Peter Welch of Vermont, calls on the EPA to take "immediate action" to control black carbon emissions. In a speech last month, Nobel Prize laureate and former vice president Al Gore called on the world to curb black carbon by burning less diesel and wood. And the eight nations of the Arctic Council, including the United States, have just adopted a declaration urging "early action" on black carbon and other "short-lived climate forcers" such as methane.
See, all Inhofe and his colleagues really hope to do is weaken the House bill. A bill to study "black carbon" is next to meaningless. A bill to actually do something about it by requiring the EPA to write and enforce new regulations on black carbon might cost his "friends" in the oil business a few bucks. In other words its a delaying tactic. And there is little reason for delay:
Carbon dioxide, from automobile exhaust and other sources, stays in the atmosphere for decades, so cuts in carbon-dioxide emissions could take a relatively long time to reverse warming trends. Black carbon, on the other hand, stays in the atmosphere for only days or weeks, so reducing emissions will have an immediate cooling effect. Deep and immediate cuts in carbon dioxide are still urgently necessary, but quick action on black carbon will buy valuable time for the Arctic, forestalling global warming tipping points like the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.
There are plenty of technologies around today that could limit black carbon emissions immediately, such as retrofitting older diesel burning trucks to burn cleaner diesel fuels, requiring ships to use cleaner fuels that produce less soot, cleaner burning stoves that burn wood, etc. It is much needed:
For the developing world, cleaner-burning stoves that cut black-carbon emissions are also key. Charitable projects to supply stoves are under way, but the United States and Europe can speed progress by increasing aid. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should direct the State Department and Agency for International Development to ramp up financing and technology transfer to reduce black carbon emissions in the developing world. Even in the current recession, there can be no greater priority for sustainable development, the Arctic and the global community.
And cutting black carbon will not only buy time for the Arctic, but will also improve health dramatically at home and abroad. From the smoggy suburbs of Los Angeles to rural villages in India and China, soot is a major cause of respiratory and heart disease, estimated to be responsible for 1.6 million deaths a year worldwide.
But that would require government action worldwide, including a major effort by the US government to provide domestic and foreign aid to subsidize the use of cleaner burning technologies. And that, you can rest assured, the Republicans in Congress would oppose.
So why are Kerry and Boxer getting into bed with Inhofe? Do they think that when these two competing bills come up for reconciliation in the joint House and Senate committee that they can still get the tougher regulation from the EPA through in the final bill? Maybe they don't want to have a fight over regulation of balck carbon now, but later in the year. Who knows. But Inhofe is a snake. He may appear to be shedding his skin on this issue, but the underlying venomous reptile is still there even if he looks all new and shiny and harmless. I assume that he's betting he can defeat any final bill regarding black carbon if it calls for anything more than "studying" the problem, or at the very least weaken EPA's mandate to take action. I don't trust him and his fellow Republicans sudden cooperation on this particular bit of "green legislation" and neither should you.
Update [2009-6-4 15:16:13 by Steven D]: The article quoted from above was written by Erika Rosenthal of Earthjustice. Their two-minute primer on black carbon can be found at