Testimony on Climate ChangeMadame Chairman (woman), Ranking Member Inhofe, thank you so much
for the opportunity to appear before you. It is a pleasure to be back among you all
today; who says you can’t go home.
I appreciate the opportunity to offer my perspectives as Alaska –
America’s only Arctic state –will be uniquely affected by climate change if trends
continue like they have in the recent past. Alaska also will be uniquely impacted, since
Alaskans, to ward off the long winter’s cold, are among the highest consumers of
energy on a per capita basis, and also one of the largest producers of energy in the
Alaska theoretically leads the world in coal reserves, likely holds about
half of the nation’s undiscovered reserves of Outer Continental Shelf oil and natural gas,
likely holds the nation’s largest single reserve of onshore oil yet to be tapped, and holds
the nation’s largest unconventional source of energy, gas hydrates – probably enough
to power the country for a 1,000 years.
On climate, from an Alaska perspective, there is no question that
something has been going on.
Since 1979 – the start of satellite monitoring -- Arctic sea ice has shrunk
by an area twice the size of Texas. Sea ice covers less of the Arctic Ocean now than
ever before observed. The ice sheet in March 2006 was 300,000 square kilometers
smaller than it was just a year earlier.
NOAA in an updated report on Arctic conditions released last October
reported that average permafrost temperatures in the state continue to rise. While a few
Alaska glaciers are advancing, the majority are in retreat.
The melting of the Arctic Ocean ice pack has meant more stretches of
open water earlier and later, which has allowed waves to build during fall and spring
storms, causing more coastal erosion damage than previously seen. That has
endangered a number of villages.
The warmer temperatures have had impacts on marine mammals, birds
and sealife. You have heard about the study now underway to determine whether to list
polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, not because their
populations currently are down – they aren’t – but because they may decline if enough
sea ice melts that it reduces their hunting zones in summer and harms their nutritional
There is firmer data that Kittlitz’s murrelet, a bird that lives near glaciers,
are declining, their numbers down 83% since 1976 in the Kenai Fjords and 60 percent
in Glacier Bay. The black guillemot, an Arctic seabird, used to thrive on northern islands
in the Beaufort Sea. Melting sea ice has cut their foraging areas, nearly wiping out a
major colony on Cooper Island.
If I had more time we could discuss spruce bark beetle infestations that
have killed more than 5 million acres of Sitka spruce trees. We could talk about lakes
that appear to be drying up since melting permafrost is allowing their waters to drain.
We could talk about affects on fisheries and marine mammals: crab stocks falling, while
salmon stocks have been increasing.
But the question is whether we are simply in a natural cyclic warming
trend that will reverse itself or whether man-made greenhouse gas emissions are
permanently changing the climate, overwhelming nature’s ability to maintain a balance
in the atmosphere.
My staff has been collecting scientific reports on climate change as it
relates to Alaska for several years, (as you can see from the piles in front of me); yet the
jury still seems out on the issue.
Last fall’s NOAA report, State of the Arctic, actually reports that ocean
salinity and temperature profiles at the North Pole and in the Beaufort Sea, which
showed abrupt warming in the 1990s, have been moderating back toward normal since
2000. Permafrost layer thickness at some testing stations in Alaska actually have been
slightly increasing over the past few years – although that is not the case at the majority
of test sites. And NOAA’s report for the end of last winter (March 2006) showed a return
to more normal temperatures in parts of the Arctic Ocean that could drive both sea ice
and air temperatures back toward their previous norms.
Are these findings simply natural variability in the other direction or a sign
that an atmospheric cycle is ending? I don’t know.
What I would like to suggest, though, is that we shouldn’t focus too
excessively on the Stern Commission Report, or the lengthy critiques of it, or that we
don’t venture into the storms over whether 2005’s record number of Atlantic hurricanes
were furthered by global warming. Those are side shows.
And for this moment, I’m not even going to focus on all the ideas to
directly limit greenhouse gases, whether by mandatory regulations, cap-and-trade
mechanisms, or carbon taxes. In a multi-trillion dollar economy, analyzing what all of
those options will mean is a complex and time-consuming process that needs more
careful consideration than we have time for today.
What I am suggesting we do right now is turn our attention to seriously
funding through both grants and tax policy, the research and development of new
technologies to both produce alternative forms of energy, some renewable and some
continuing to come from fossil fuels -- but in ways that cause little or no greenhouse gas
emissions -- and then to produce that energy at prices that will not harm our economy or
lower our standard of living. And as a corollary we should focus on promoting energy
conservation and fuel efficiency; and also on more domestic production.
Even if we overnight perfect hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, we will still need
to find and use more oil, natural gas or coal to produce the feed stocks for
petrochemicals and building supplies and the thousands of products that come from
hydrocarbons: everything from aspirin to plastics.
Without technological breakthroughs and an economy that is healthy
enough to nourish scientific advancement, we can’t cut our emissions of greenhouse
gases by 60% to 80% without returning to the Stone Age. And we won’t be able to
afford to help the developing world to reduce emissions, something that will be vital
given that China is likely to surpass the U.S. as the leading emitter of carbon within just
What I am proposing is that while we debate the science and what to do
about it, that we launch a full-scale effort to fund a host of technologies to improve
energy production that will be needed regardless of the outcome of the climate change
In 2005 we passed legislation to aid wind, solar and biomass. We worked
to jumpstart the next generation of nuclear power and we took fledging steps toward
combined-cycle coal gasification and liquid fuel plants that can actually separate out the
carbon they emit and then, if we have the will, pump it and lock it back underground.
We need to do far more of that. We need to provide the same support for
geothermal, hydroelectric and all forms of budding ocean energy that we have provided
for wind, solar and biomass/landfill gas development. We need to increase our funding
for advanced coal technologies so that we make carbon sequestration affordable, not
We need to utilize the CO2 we will be generating to get more oil out of the
ground, so-called enhanced oil recovery, because the hybrid vehicles that are reducing
our fuel consumption run best on gasoline – at least until hydrogen fuel cells can be
perfected or battery life for plug-in hybrids can be improved significantly.
We need to get on with finding a storage solution for nuclear waste, since
nuclear power does not produce greenhouse gases, and because the world is
proceeding with building nuclear power plants whether we do or not. So we will be
facing the issue of their waste whether we follow suit or not.
We need to continue to support the development of bio-fuels as the
President proposed, and help them to maturity, but only to the extent that they ultimately
will prove economically and environmentally sound.
And I truly think we need to treat funding alternative energy sources and
advancing fuel conservation as a priority, not an afterthought. We in Congress two
years ago authorized considerable funding for a good bill to promote alternative energy
technologies, but we have actually funded very little of it. We and the Administration
have barely begun to implement the loan programs that we created.
Because of the fiscal impacts of aid to new technologies on our budget
process, we limited the tax breaks in 2005 to such short periods that most people
couldn’t actually design and build plants in time and thus couldn’t benefit. And frankly
the private sector would have been insane to proceed too far with too many projects
based on the tepid price signals and the shallow show of federal support that we
At this point I want to put in a plug for a bill I introduced that would improve
CAFE standards and performance, and authorize more funding for ocean, geothermal
and small hydro energy development. I’ll be happy to buttonhole you to explain the
merits of S. 298, the REFRESH Act, and I’ll be happy to discuss my support for the
many good ideas that others have already proposed.
We must expand the pace of moving new energy technologies out of
development and into practical use so that we propel our economy forward – producing
new industries and new jobs for Americans -- from the new technologies we advance.
In the meantime I believe we still need to both explore for and produce fossil-fuel energy
to help cover our needs and improve our national and economic security until this new
technology can change the current energy playing field. The idea that we aren’t
“weaning ourselves” off oil, simply because we continue to produce it is irrational, as
long as we seriously fund, encourage and send clear signals to the markets that we
want to move toward using environmentally cleaner forms of energy, as soon as they
can be safely advanced.
Thank you for your time and attention.