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Climate Bill Hearing Day One: Top 5 EPW Champs


Climate Bill Hearing Day One: Top 5 EPW Champs

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Post written by Ben Wessel of the 1Sky Policy Team

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held their first hearings on the Kerry-Boxer climate bill this morning and it was a doozy! The Senate is proud of its reputation of being the world's greatest deliberative body and this morning's hearings were no exception to the rule. Two of the most important provisions in the Kerry-Boxer bill -- the 2020 pollution reduction targets and the EPA's ability to regulate dirty coal -- were called into question numerous times.

Luckily, climate advocates have a bunch of champs on the EPW committee who stood up for what they believed in and wouldn't be bullied by the obstructionist tactics or oppositional name-calling of clean energy opponents. Here's a Top 5 list of the most strong, hard-hitting, and all-around awesome moments from this morning's hearing:

1. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI):

I very very strongly believe that it is time that these power plants are held accountable! They have dodged around the law for too long, and their corporate lobbyists have won against our children's lungs, and I for one am fed up with it! So I hope you will stand firm on the Clean Air Act...and I hope many of my colleagues will support you on that.

Senator Whitehouse has long been a champion for public health and climate advocates, but he really went above and beyond today with this statement. After hearing Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) essentially bow down to coal lobbyists and offer to renegotiate existing law for no apparent reason, Sen. Whitehouse whipped up this gem. Maintaining a mechanism to crack down on the dirtiest, oldest coal plants should be a number one priority for clean energy and climate advocates and Sen. Whitehouse nailed it right here! Dirty energy has had its say in the halls of Congress since the 19th century. Their reign of pollution and greed is coming to an end – thanks to champs like Sen. Whitehouse.

2) Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR):

This is a choice between planetary stewardship, or a rise in the earth's temperature that is devastating to human civilizations... 20% by 2020 is not an overly aggressive goal... in fact, you could argue that this bill is not moving fast enough. The IPCC says that in order to have a reasonable probability of [averting dangerous climate change,] developed countries should decrease their emissions [by even more].

Senator Merkley, a freshman from Oregon, has quickly established himself as one of clean energy advocates biggest champs on the Hill. While many elected officials continue to whine about the short term emission reductions targets in the bill, Sen. Merkley was finally fed up with the complaining and reintroduced science into the debate. Like Sen. Merkley said, science has drawn its line in the sand and now we must reduce our emissions quickly enough to avert dangerous climate change. Strong 2020 targets will spur the development of clean energy technologies, create millions of clean energy jobs, and help us work towards a global climate deal. Sen. Merkley gets it.

3) Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR):

Are we underinvesting in energy efficiency?"
Energy Secretary Steven Chu: "Yes!"

I told you the Oregon freshman has been awesome! During the Q&A section of the hearing, Sen. Merkley picked up on a theme that had run throughout the hearing – everyone agrees that energy efficiency is the cheapest, easiest, and most effective way to make our economy more robust and sustainable at the same time. We need to direct more public investment into retrofitting buildings, performing energy audits, and enforcing efficiency standards. The Kerry-Boxer bill helps invest in an energy efficient economy and that's why Senator Merkley supports it. Secretary Chu was, as always, a complete champ and a pragmatic voice for clean energy and climate action. Oh, and beyond all the sweet things Senator Merkley said during the hearing today, he also wrote a near-perfect blog on Huffington Post called "Clean Energy is an Easy Choice", in which he tells the whole blogosphere, "To me, the choice is simple. We can no longer continue with a status quo energy policy. We must create sustainable clean energy jobs and leave the planet to our children and grandchildren in better shape than we found it." Straight up - this guy rocks.

Tie-4) Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT):

What we are dealing with is not a political compromise. We are dealing with science!

Tie-4) Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ):

Wake up America - your kids are in danger!

This was a close one, so I decided a tie was most appropriate for these two elder statesmen from the Northeast. Bernie has consistently been the most progressive voice on energy and has long understood the need to rise above the politics of the Washington and meet this incredible challenge head on. Senator Sanders understands that his role on the Hill as a progressive champ is to try and shift the debate to a place that's as sustainable as possible. He knows that a carefully crafted political compromise that can pass the Senate but won't do anything to cut emissions or create a clean energy economy is not an acceptable solution. Senator Lautenberg echoes this sentiment by showing the public how urgent this problem is. Bernie and Sen. Lautenberg have a responsibility to their constituents and to America to be the whistleblowers, the hard asses, the champions. They performed brilliantly this morning and climate advocates are indebted to them.

5) Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in absentia:

“The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act preserves Clean Air Act authority to regulate the nation’s oldest and dirtiest coal plants. These protections are critical to New Yorkers, as we are on the receiving end of air pollution from many of these plants - contributing to acid rain, harming natural resources such as the Adirondacks, increasing contamination in our waterways, limiting the number of fish we can eat, and increasingly growing asthma rates that raise our health care costs.

Senator Gillibrand wasn't able to come to the hearing this morning, but she was able to release a copy of her prepared remarks. In it, she too focuses on how crucial it is to preserve the EPA's ability to regulate the biggest, dirtiest, and costliest coal plants in America - not only because of climate change, but because of their impacts on public health, the environment, and food security. Senator Gillibrand is such a champ that she doesn't even need to show up and she's still a rock star in my book!

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