Sanders: Senate Energy hearing on costs of climate bill filled with “Old Think”

The Senate Energy & Natural Resources committee held a pointless if not counterproductive hearing today, “To receive testimony on Energy and Related Economic Effects of Global Climate Change Legislation.”

How painful a hearing was it? Before it started, the Senate’s leading global warming denier issued a release titled, “Inhofe Praises Energy Committee for Holding Hearing on Economic Impacts of Climate Bill.” Grist called it a “hearing to stoke fear about the costs of climate legislation.”

The hearing did not have any experts on the cost of inaction or on clean energy technologies, especially energy efficiency, which is the cornerstone of any strategy to minimize total costs. The witness were mostly filled with the same-old classical economists:

  • Mr. Brent Yacobucci, Congressional Research Service
  • Dr. Larry Parker, Congressional Research Service
  • Dr. Howard Gruenspecht — Deputy Administrator, Energy Information Administration
  • Dr. Brian McLean, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Dr. Peter Orszag, Congressional Budget Office

I actually worked with both Gruenspecht and Orszag during the Clinton administration. They are very smart guys, but they have never been people who believed in the serious ability of energy efficiency (or other low-carbon technologies) to keep energy bills from rising much even as fuel costs inevitably rise under a major cap-and-trade bill.


The opening statements were bland. Question after question trashing even the idea of US climate legislation was answered lamely if at all. Absent any relevant experts, conservative senators were able to raise doubts about impacts on the economy, on gas and oil prices, and on US competitiveness — and even potential allies were left calling for a Manhattan project to develop new technologies, blah, blah, blah, with little pushback from the witnessses.

The hearing only came to life when Bernie Sanders (I-VT) spoke. He dismissed everything he had heard [from the witnesses] as “old think.” He wondered how you could contemplate analyzing the economic impact of climate legislation if you don’t understand what’s going on with energy efficiency in California and other states, or electric vehicles, or the new concentrated solar thermal power (!) plants now being built. He also demanded to know what the cost of inaction would be, and why none of the witnesses spoke to that.

For those who stuck with it, there was the added pleasure of seeing Larry Craig (!) who cited a Heritage “study” saying Lieberman-Warner Bill would cost 3 million jobs. He colorfully said that L-W would hit he US economy with the negative economic impact of “200 to 900 hurricanes” by 2050. Talk about old think. And Craig trashed the idea of taking US ratepayer money to pay other countries to plant trees. Let’s just say some of us saw that coming a mile away (See “McCain speech, Part 2: Relying on offsets = Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic”).

[Note to Sen. McCain: Craig criticized the use of meeting the target with 10% international offsets, so I’m sure he’s going to love your “unlimited offsets” bill (see “Speech, Part 4: Will McCain bring conservatives with him on climate? As if!”).]

And we even got to hear a Senator bring up the gas tax holiday as evidence that people running for president believe we should have lower prices for fossil fuels not higher — as predicted (see “Gas tax holiday, Part 3: It is cynical and indefensible no matter who proposes it”).


BTW, I never knew so many conservatives loved carbon taxes, but it sounded like most of them were endorsing taxes over cap & trade. Far be it from me to accuse them of cynicism.

Shame on the Committee for holding this hearing. Kudos to Sanders.

[Yes — the Senate Energy Committee has few members who are very knowledgeable about what energy efficiency and renewable energy can really do, but lots of members who represent and understand the traditional energy technologies, whose revenues are in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Welcome to “representative” government.]

Related Posts: