Coal Tattoo

Byrd wants to slow climate action — again

byrdstop.jpgWest Virginia’s senior U.S. Senator, Robert C. Byrd, is among eight Democrats to join 25 Republicans in a letter that opposes efforts by the Obama administration to slow down consideration of long overdue legislation to deal with the threat of climate change.

I’ve posted a copy of the letter here,  and there’s coverage of this from The Associated Press and The New York Times’ Climate Wire.  (The media reports list a different number of senators, apparently because some signatures were added after those reports were filed. See the different list posted by Climate Wire here).

Byrd and the others are upset about talk by some in the Democratic leadership about using the annual congressional budget debate to pass President Obama’s plan for a “cap-and-trade” plan to reduce greenhouse gas emisisons.

“Enactment of a cap-and-trade regime is likely to influence nearly every feature of the U.S. economy,” the letter said. “Legislation so far-reaching should be fully vetted and given appropriate time for debate, something the budget reconciliation process does not allow. Using this procedure would circumvent normal Senate practice and would be inconsistent with the Administration’s stated goals of bipartisanship, cooperation and openness.”

Obama has correctly said that some sort of limits and reductions in greenhouse emissions are necessary to “save our planet from the ravages of climate change.” And the president’s budget proposal assumes revenues from a cap-and-trade program will start to flow in by 2012.

Byrd had previously warned Obama to “proceed with caution” in developing a climate plan, and not to bypass Congress and try to reduce greenhouse emissions by administrative regulations. At the same time, Obama has sent mixed messages about how he plans to address the issue. Perhaps to emphasize that he plans to act one way or the other, the president has made moves both toward having EPA set greenhouse emission limits and toward seeking a legislative solution.

The Daily Mail managed to editorialize about this today without mentioning words like “climate change” or “global warming” or “greenhouse effect.”  (Though at least one Byrd staffer — thinking the editorial had appeared in the Gazette — sent me a message about how great it was).

A reader who pointed out the AP story about this letter to me suggested Byrd’s involvement was proof that he agrees with those who say climate change is a “hoax.” That’s just nonsense. While Byrd’s votes against some strong climate bills have frustrated environmental groups, Byrd has made it clear he believes climate change is real and is caused by burning coal and other fossil fuels.

Over the previous eight years, Byrd several times took shots at the Bush administration for the failure of the United States to lead the world in efforts to combat climate change.

But in 2003, Byrd voted to help block a bipartisan bill that would have for the first time capped U.S. greenhouse emissions. Byrd did that despite saying a floor speech that global warming was “the paramount energy and environmental challenge of our time”:

The primary contributor to global warming is the burning of fossil fuels that create carbon dioxide … These human-induced emissions are adding to a growing concentration in the global atmosphere that is expected to double by the end of the century. Therefore, we are bequeathing this problem — and its consequences — to our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren.

Last year, another major piece of climate legislation, the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, went down in the Senate.  Byrd had earlier voted with a small minority who opposed ending debate and moving forward with a vote on that bill. He was the only Democrat to do so.  Byrd was not present (he was hospitalized at the time) when the Senate voted 48-36 to essentially kill that same bill.

Many activist groups and Democrats have found it convenient to blame inaction by the U.S. government change on the President Bush, who reneged on a campaign pledge to cap emissions. But delays and inaction began long before that 2001 broken promise by Bush.

In July 1997, Byrd led the charge to block ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. The push against binding emissions cuts came nearly a decade after leading climatologist James Hansen warned Congress that something needed to be done.

During debate on the 2003 bill, Byrd made it clear that opponents of climate change action — especially those in the Bush administration — had misused his anti-Kyoto resolution. In the process, Byrd also emphasized that he believes the science on climate change — and its human causes, such as burning coal –  is long settled:

This administration has attempted to hide behind S. Res. 98 to defend its current do-nothing and know-nothing policies on climate change, and I strongly object to that. The difference between my view and that of this administration is simple. I believe the problem is real and demands action. The administration does not. The President also claimed early in his administration that his goal was to oppose Kyoto. If the President’s representatives had stayed at the table and negotiated in good faith on a treaty to comply with S. Res. 98, then the administration could have guided the world toward a new binding treaty with mandatory requirements to reduce emissions that would correct the deficiencies of Kyoto.

I want to express my own growing frustration for our seeming inability to deal with the problem at hand. I have been troubled by this for a long time. I do not believe I need any more scientific evidence to show that we have seen these changes. I have seen the changes in weather patterns, and those changes that I have personally seen during my nearly 86 years lead me to believe that there is something happening. We need to do something about it. What we do may be painful in some respects, but we owe it to our children and grandchildren to have the foresight to see that something is happening and to understand that we ought to do something about it soon. If not, we may be going beyond retrieval.