Click here for audio of this hearing.
Opening Statement of Subcommittee Chairman Vitter
I am very excited to hold this first hearing of the Subcommittee on Global Climate Change and Impacts.
I’m not sure whose idea it was to give a freshman a gavel, but I like it. This is the first time I have actually been able to sit up here -- when other people are in the room.
Seriously though, this is a very important topic that I expect this committee to spend a lot of time on this Congress. This is only the first in a series of hearings that I plan to pursue on this issue.
The Commerce Committee has a very broad jurisdiction. In regard to climate change, we intend to exert our full authority over climate change -- the science program, the technology program, the agencies that will be responding to the changes caused by climatic variability and anything else we can get our hands on.
Therefore, all of you should get very comfortable here.
As the President recently confirmed at the G8 summit in Scotland, the United States has spent over $20 billion in climate-related science and technology programs – clearly more than any other nation.
In addition to half a billion dollars in tax incentives, the President has requested an additional $5 billion for these programs in fiscal year 2006. This is a tremendous amount of money, and I am very interested to learn more of our witnesses’ plans for 2006, how this relates to our larger policies on climate change and our role in the international community.
My top priority here is ensuring that our taxpayers are getting their money’s worth. There are a lot of things I could do with $5 billion dollars, and I hope you are and will continue to provide tangible results for our country and the world.
In addition, the Senate recently passed comprehensive energy legislation – it is now in conference. This critical and overdue update to our national energy policy includes a number of important policy changes that reflect the advances in our science and technological base, and I think it is a good step forward for our country.
Finally, many people view some of the temperature trends and climate change and their potential effects as something that our children and grandchildren will have to deal with; however, some of the changes we are experiencing in Alaskan villages today cannot wait that long.
I am certain that Chairman Stevens will pay particular attention to this as the committee conducts it work this Congress. And, if I know what is good for me, this subcommittee will be having field hearings up there to review these changes as well.
In Louisiana, we lose up to 35 square miles a year due to coastal erosion – our state is literally washing away. Recent reports by NOAA and USGS show that these same areas are also sinking – subsidence – faster than anywhere else in the world.
Some areas of coastal Louisiana have dropped over 20 inches in the past decade – 20 inches. So, we are experiencing the practical effects of sea-level rise in Louisiana and we are going to need to address these problems as well.
Before we move on to other statements, I would like to quickly acknowledge that Dr. Mahoney announced his retirement yesterday. Dr. Mahoney is the Assistant Secretary of Commerce and director of our climate science program.
I know that you are not leaving right away, but I want to thank you for your service. Standing up a science program involving 13 different agencies is an extraordinary task, and I know you and your family have been through a lot lately.
Dr. Mahoney, I wish you and your family the best in your future endeavors.
Chairman Stevens Q&A at Global Climate Change hearing:
Chairman Stevens: I want to thank you very much for what you have done and I hope that your departure is not too quick, but we understand that it will come. I do want to thank all of you for responding to my request for additional funds to be released to carry out the continued observation of the temperature changes in the Arctic Ocean. There are three to four icebreakers out there this summer around the circumference of the Arctic Ocean on an international basis and I think the continued use of those to find out what's really happening in the Arctic will be very important in this overall question. Some years ago, as Chairman of Appropriations Committee, I took the Committee down to Antarctica because at the time I noticed the disparity between funding for the Antarctica and the Arctic. And after I visited there, I came back and told you all that the work going on down there should not be disturbed, but we had to find some additional money for the Arctic. I'm still trying to find that money. I have here that, I think, your documents really, the October 19th 2004 Nome storm, which was classified as a 949 millibar cyclone was totally unpredicted, as was the Barrow storm, that took place on September 9th of '03. I do hope we'll find some way to deal with prediction of storms in the Arctic. We have very little capability of doing that right now, and I think the basic global climate change is being more evident in the Arctic. So, I would hope we would find some way to implement the general forecasting. If that cyclone would have happened in California, Mr. Cicerone, we would have known it by the minute. On this one, we knew by two hours after it happened. I really think that we need better predication and better information for our people with regard to those storms. Now, one of my basic problems, however, is the question of what to do about the situation in our State. I think as far as the United States is concerned, the evidence of global climate change is more apparent in Alaska than anywhere else. I will take a National Guard plane to go up the west coast to Shishmaref and Kivalina, and probably Point Hope, and places in between in August to take a look at the damage that took place from the storms last year. But very clearly, I think, we now have to address those, as both Senators have said, what's happened and to help protect the people who were involved in the past storms. We need some predictions as to what we should do for the future. Of the nine villages that suffered the most, I'm sure you've seen the GAO report at my request, it indicates that at least three of them are in eminent need of some attention. One of them, a small village, an estimated cost of 200 million dollars to move it. I think we’ve got to figure out a way to start moving some of these villages before they are destroyed. It's easier to move them piece by piece than it is to move them after the disaster has occurred.
One of the basic problems still facing us is whether we have a way to distinguish between natural causes and the impacts of manmade causes of global climate change or warming. How far are we from being able to do that?
Dr. Mahoney: Senator, I'll take that on for a minute. First, I'll try to give a brief, direct answer as Senator Lautenburg advised. I will comment too, it is my plan to stay on board until my successor is confirmed. So I hope to be at it for many months still working with you. While my health has deteriorated some, and I can't go on over the years, I don't want to leave any of this open. So, I look forward to working with you for some time. On your question about this difference between natural variability and human cause -- first of all, it's important to sort out, sometimes there are what I call political arguments that want to go to one extreme or the other. The scientific argument is much more complicated in the middle. There’s no question there is natural variability, and I'll say very directly there is also no question that there is an important element of human-caused effects. So, the science challenge is to tease out those differences, and it's not especially easy to do at the outset because when you look at the record it's just a noisy record and it's a question of how you pull it apart. Even so, the last few years, even the last two of three years, have seen substantial progress at being able to better identify the human-caused elements. Some of the work on this deals with regional patterns of temperature change and salinity change in the ocean that tends to relate to factors associated with the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So, we are beginning to see from the oceanic record more help in what we call fingerprinting of these changes that can be related to human effects. The same way we see this generally when we look at the atmosphere overall, there is now enough information again on doing regional correlations as well as long term studies to give us a better picture that indicates that in the end both natural variability and human causes are playing a role. So, no one can make a statement that it is exactly 50-50 or 40-60 or something, but we have plenty enough information to say human effects are significant. And I'd say that's where we are. And we are all taking the time with long complicated questions or answers. There is substantially better information to help make this difference. But we will need to continue to sharpen that, because it's such an important point. I expect we will need to continue to sharpen that distinction through these field measurements and model studies in the years immediately ahead.
Chairman Stevens: I hope you will give me a couple of extra minutes here because I have to go and I can't come back again. Dr. Cicerone, if you look at the information available to us, we have a lot more information available from the area you just left in California than we do in the artic. But we do have some information coming in about the so-called Atlantic and Pacific oscillation and what it may mean in terms of dumping more heat into the Arctic Ocean. How far along is that before people start talking about it? I have not really heard about it except from some of the scientists associated with the International Artic Research Center there in Fairbanks. Are you all looking into that?
Dr. Cicerone: Yes, and I know some individual scientists who are. I wish I could tell you when people will be able to say whether they think the rapid and large warming in the Arctic is more attributable to humans or a natural variation. I started out thinking that whatever is going on in the Arctic must be some unknown natural variation. But others in the last few years are telling me no. They think they are working on ideas that link it more to global warming. I don't see the answer. I don't know if anybody has a definitive answer yet. But because of the dramatic warming, the loss of permafrost, the loss of sea ice, the raised temperatures, the increased growing season length in the Arctic, a lot more people are working on it. I'm reminded though of the ozone layer business that we went through 20-some years ago, where the appearance of the Antarctic ozone hole was totally unexpected, unpredicted, and perhaps a little bit fortunate that the first large damage to the ozone layer occurred over the Antarctica rather than over more populated regions. People in New Zealand, Australia, and Southern Chile might disagree because there dealing with the increased ultraviolet light now. But the reason we didn't predict it, and I remember taking a lot of heat in public lectures, people came up to me and said, "Why didn't you predict this? You never said it was going to be this bad," is that there were mechanisms and the chemistry of the atmosphere that we didn't understand. Well, all we can do is do the best we can with the available science and it gets to the question of Senator Vitter about these different models that are being used to do these computations. I think they’re absolutely essential to have different sources of funding, different competing scientists, and different approaches to these questions. The seriousness of the Arctic situation is a great example, where the approximations that some scientists are making in the way they solve these equations will be more accurate in the Arctic or less accurate in the tropics. And the only way to find out is to try different techniques. In the meantime, the Arctic situation is much more widespread than people realized. The temperature records are showing a warming over the Arctic, bigger east-west extent, and a longer period of time that any of us knew. It's just gotten more rapid recently.
Chairman Stevens: How much of this is related to the ocean, this oscillation? Has anyone really measured that yet?
Dr. Cicerone: That was the biggest, initial, and best hypothesis, that the so-called North Atlantic oscillation might have a mode that would lead to some kind of rapid warming every 40 years or so. But I don't think that is turning out to provide all the answers either. It's still one of the major hypotheses that we should better map out natural variation, but it doesn't seem to be explaining what we are seeing, completely at least.
Chairman Stevens: Am I wrong to say that the world seems to be looking to us to examine because of our scientific community and the way it is funded as opposed to other areas? The impact, for instance, of those ships that are out there in the Arctic...we're financing those, and I thank you for that. Somebody has to do it. Very clearly, we don't have very much observation in the Arctic. I don't think Canada has a lot, and we are not increasing the emphasis of research or observation in the Arctic, which I think should be taken. I don't want to see taken stuff anything away from Antarctica. As I said, I think that is very important to mankind in the long run. But the short run of trying to find out what's going on now for us is in the Arctic, yet I don't see enough... Everyone says, "There's Stevens again with another pork barrel." It has nothing to do with that. It has to do with getting the information we need about what has happened and get some prediction of what might happen in the Arctic, where we have ability to act, I don't think many nations do, because of our state located where it is.
Dr. Cicerone: At one time the former Soviet Union had very active presence there. I don't think it's as large, so I think your statement is very fair. However because of the dramatic changes in Alaska and the rest of the artic, the Norwegians and English are paying attention and trying to do their part of it. But I think your statement is fair: they are looking for us to do more.
Chairman Stevens: Thank you very much. I'm going to see if Congress will try. Thank you.
Dr. Cicerone: Thank you Mr. Chairman. I hope...
Chairman Stevens: I hope you have noticed that we have organized three subcommittees of this Committee, to get into this basic area, and I do want you to know we are going to continue that emphasis as long as I'm chairman. Thank you.
Witness Panel 1
Mr. David W. ConoverDirector, U.S. Climate Change Technology ProgramU.S. Department of Energy
Dr. Ralph J. CiceronePresidentNational Academy of Sciences
Dr. James Richard MahoneyEnvironmental Consultant
Mr. Daniel ReifsnyderDirector, Office of Global Climate ChangeU.S. Department of State