A resolution asking Congress to oppose President Obama’s climate action plan was under consideration in a Kansas House committee today where oil and gas lobbyists squared off against environmentalists and the human role in climate change was questioned by conservative GOP lawmakers unimpressed by the overwhelming consensus among scientists on that point.
Supporters of House Resolution 6043 said that the information used to draft the White House's Climate Action Plan was unscientific and that some doubt still surrounds the human involvement in climate change and increased carbon dioxide emissions.
The leading scientific bodies in the U.S. and the world have issued reports showing broad consensus that climate change is real and influenced by human activities such as the burning of carbon-based fuels. Debate over the human role is now largely being played out in political forums rather than in academia or laboratories.
Rep. Dennis Hedke, the Wichita Republican who heads the House Energy and Environment Committee, said one of the reasons to consider the resolution was because the science of climate change wasn't being debated enough.
“This is a long-term discussion over many decades and we’ve already enacted policies in the country that are trying to relate to emissions and so forth,” said Rep. Dennis Hedke, a Wichita Republican who chairs the House Energy and Environment Committee and supports the resolution. “I would say the debate has been substantially muted. I think that needs to change and that’s why we’re doing this.”
The Obama administration has said its plan would cut carbon pollution in the U.S., prepare the nation for the impact of climate change and add to international efforts to mitigate the problems related to it.
Wichita-based Koch Industries has been at the forefront of the efforts to stop federal action on climate change. Americans for Prosperity, a lobbying group launched by the Kochs, has strong influence at the Kansas Statehouse, especially among conservative GOP lawmakers. The president's plan does not rely on action by Congress because climate change policies have been effectively blocked there by conservative Republicans.
'Spinning our wheels'
The resolution heard today met resistance from some committee members who said it would create undue work while resulting in no real action.
“I can’t help but feel like we’re just spinning our wheels here,” said Rep. Julie Menghini, a Pittsburg Democrat. “When I spend as much time and effort as you have spent on your presentations, I expect a positive outcome and I just can’t wrap my arms around what positive outcome you think is going to come from passing this legislation.”
But supporters said the resolution would promote discussion of the climate issue and the federal government’s role in regulating emissions and the energy industry.
They said the process used in drafting the White House climate plan was unscientific and left out key data that would lead to a better picture of climate change.
“The concept of the “social cost of carbon” is not objective or scientific,” said Ed Cross, president of Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association. “It is based on subjective human decisions on what to include in the model, the discount rate to apply to future costs and benefits and how to deal with uncertainty.”
Cross said the plan would hurt innovation in the energy industry.
“President Obama wants to exercise control over the energy sources Americans use every day,” Cross said. “Energy innovation drives American progress, but innovation is not happening because of President Obama’s policies, it’s happening despite them.”
Light bulbs and toilet bowls
Cross' criticisms seemed to resonate with Rep. Ken Corbet, a Topeka Republican, who said federal regulations could increase energy prices.
"Will my people be able to afford to flip the light switch or heat their homes?" he asked. "It seems like a power grab. They (federal officials) want to control your light bulbs and your toilet bowls."
The resolution's opponents cited a list of weather-related events and circumstances as obvious evidence that climate change is underway, including nationwide drought in the U.S., warmer than average temperatures in Alaska and the warm weather on display this week at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“Putting your fingers in your ears and humming is not an option,” Rabbi Moti Rieber, director of Kansas Interfaith Power and Light, told committee members. “I’d encourage you to stop doing it.”
Zack Pistora, legislative director for the Kansas Sierra Club, cited a recent Stanford University survey that showed 78 percent of Kansans believe in global warming and 84 percent believe it is a serious world issue.
Lynne Hunter, a high school health teacher from Winfield, took a day off from work to travel to Topeka to deliver her testimony. Hunter said she came to the Capitol on her own time out of concern for the future of her students.
“It is embarrassing that Kansas is apparently still fighting the climate change battle instead of progressing to sustainable solutions and I’m tired of my tax money being thus wasted,” she said.
Hunter said she wasn't a climate expert but was speaking as an average Kansan on behalf of her family and students.
Hunter's sentiments were echoed by Donn Teske, president of the Kansas Farmers Union.
"I can't believe we're standing here doing this," said Teske, who farms near Wheaton in Pottawatomie County. "I suspect you'll probably pass this and give the great state of Kansas another black eye. But if you want to keep your heads in the sand and keep denying this, you're going to do it and I'm not going to change your mind."
Also today, a resolution urging approval of the Keystone XL pipeline was debated in the Senate Utilities Committee.
House Concurrent Resolution 5014 would ask President Obama to support further imports of Canadian crude oil and for Secretary of State John Kerry to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
The resolution states that pipelines are the safest method for moving crude oil and that the Keystone project could create 9,000 jobs nationally during its construction. The pipeline would run from Hardisty, Alberta to Steele City, Neb. and tie in to previously built Keystone system pipelines, including one that crosses Kansas on its way to the Texas gulf coast.
Ron Gaches, lobbyist for TransCanada Corp., which owns the Keystone pipeline system, said approval of the project would not mean construction of a new pipeline in Kansas, but it would bring the construction of two new pumping stations to the state.
Opponents said the added jobs wouldn’t outweigh the environmental costs.
“We should not risk environmental harm when we have cleaner sources of energy already available in our country that do not pose a serious threat to our aquifers and farmland,” said Zack Pistora, lobbyist for the Sierra Club. “We can creat better jobs than what Keystone XL gives us.”
Trevor Graff is a reporter with KHI News Service, an editorially independent reporting program of the Kansas Health Institute. Jim McLean also contributed to this report.