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Rating the Virginia Congressional Delegation on Climate Change


Thanks to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, we now have every member of the Virginia congressional delegation on record with regard to climate change.  Here's a synopsis of their responses, with commentary regarding each of their positions on this crucial issue as it comes up for debate in the U.S. Congress.

Sen. Mark Warner (D) hasn't had to vote on a Senate climate and clean energy bill, but he clearly “gets it” when it comes to this issue.  Warner's statement for the Times-Dispatch is generally excellent, talking about the “overwhelming science” of climate change; the “real threat” from both climate change and our addiction to oil “from countries that are anti-American;” the tremendous opportunity afforded by the clean energy sector; and Warner's openness to “a price on carbon” and to “cap and trade.”  The main item that's potentially of concern from an environmentalist perspective is Warner's comment that “coal's got to be part, is a huge part of the mix.”  Given that coal has the highest carbon content of all fossil fuels, the key here is going to be whether economical, technologically feasible “carbon capture and sequestration” technology is developed, and when. On that issue, there's a great deal of debate and a wide range of estimates. NRDC's position is that “pay-for-performance CCS subsidies are an appropriate hedging strategy or that it's just the price to pay to get the US off the dime on cutting carbon pollution.” Anyway, the bottom line is that Mark Warner understands this issue and appears willing to do what it takes to address it. I look forward to Mark Warner voting “yea” on a comprehensive, clean energy and climate bill, sometime in the near future!

Sen. Jim Webb (D) is absolutely correct that “[r]esponsible energy policies have the potential to reduce carbon emissions, provide energy security and create alternative energy jobs for our local communities.” Webb's also right that “the temperature increase since the late 1970s has been mostly due to the increase in greenhouse concentration resulting from such activities as fossil fuel burning and deforestation.”  In addition, it's great that Webb voted against the heinous Murkowski, “Dirty Air” amendment to gut the EPA's authority over regulating carbon pollution. The question now is, will Webb vote for comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation? It's hard to tell from his answers to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Another question for Webb is whether he will oppose a “Murkowski lite” approach to pare back the EPA's ability to regulate carbon emissions.  On both of these questions, we'll find out the answers in the next few weeks. In the meantime, please contact Sen. Webb and send the message that you want him to support comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation.

Clearly, four Virginia Representatives — Bobby Scott (D-3rd), Tom Perriello (5th), Jim Moran (D-8th) and Gerry Connolly (D-11th) — are superb when it comes to clean energy and climate legislation.   For starters, all four clearly understand that human activity is dramatically, and dangerously, heating up our planet.  In addition, these Congressmen have put their votes where their rhetoric is, supporting the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) that passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 219-212 on June 26, 2009. Thank you to all four Congressmen for showing leadership where it really matters – on protecting our planet for future generations, as well as for our own!

The position of Rep. Rick Boucher (D-9th) on clean energy and climate legislation is probably best described as “complicated.”   To begin with, it's important to recognize that Boucher represents a district that is heavily based in “coal country.”  Thus, it is not surprising that Boucher's believes “Congress must act by adopting its own regulatory program that ensures a strong future for coal, allows utilities to continue burning coal and preempts EPA regulation in any manner inconsistent with the Congressional direction.” On the other hand, Boucher not only voted for ACES, but was a leader in crafting the legislation (some would argue, in watering it down and in adding provisions highly favorable to the coal industry).  In addition, Boucher supports “the same kind of market-based trading mechanism which was successfully used in controlling sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants in 1990.” In other words, Boucher supports a market-based “cap and trade” system, which worked extremely well in slashing sulfur emissions and acid rain back in the 1980s and 1990s. Overall, Boucher represents a mixed bag from an environmental perspective, but perhaps the best we can expect given the politics of his district.

Freshman “Blue Dog” Rep. Glenn Nye (D-1st) acknowledges that global warming “is a real and serious problem, and [that] we must work to correct our current energy practice.”  Unfortunately, having acknowledged the problem, Nye does not appear to support any serious measures to address it.  For instance, Nye voted against ACES, despite the fact that his district is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, has no significant fossil fuel interests, and has an economy that's heavily dependent on the tourism industry and the U.S. Navy, both of which are concerned about the potential harm caused by climate change.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10th) acknowledges that human-caused global warming is “real” and urges “a comprehensive, bipartisan response to address climate change.”  The problem is that Wolf opposes any serious measures to solve the problem.  For instance, Wolf voted against ACES last summer when it passed the House of Representatives by just 7 votes.  Instead, Wolf supports Randy Forbes' gimmicky, “New Manhattan Project for Energy Independence,” which relies on a series of prizes “to a private entity” in a number of areas.  That's fine in and of itself, but it doesn't seriously address the massive, complex, intertwined problems of climate change and our “oil addiction.”  In the end, the “New Manhattan Project” constitutes nothing more than an unhelpful distraction from the main challenges at hand.

Rep.  Eric Cantor (R-7th) writes that “One of the realities of the 21st century is a changing climate and environment.”  He adds the (true) statement that “Our economic and environmental security demands that we diversify energy sources.”  Cantor believes “the effort to deal with climate change must achieve meaningful environmental benefits and should rely on technological advancements and consumer choices rather than mandates and bureaucracy.”  The problem is, Cantor then rejects ACES and other strong measures to deal with this issue.  He also calls “cap and trade” a “massive bureaucratic” response, even though Cantor must know that it's very similar to the conservative Republican-inspired, market-oriented, and highly successful response this country took to acid rain back in the 1980s.   As for cap-and-trade constituting a “massive energy tax,” that claim has been debunked time and again. In addition, if Cantor is so concerned that putting a price on carbon would be burdensome to consumers, then you'd think he would support a revenue-neutral carbon tax that returns all the money to taxpayers.  But he doesn't.   Instead, he supports the “American Energy Act,” which relies heavily on increased oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf, expedited construction of more oil refineries, more nuclear power plants, increased production of dirty oil shale, even opening up the Arctic for drilling.  This is, quite frankly, the exact opposite of a solution to climate change. It is also the opposite of any serious effort to break our “oil addiction.”

About the only positive things you can say about Rep. Rob Wittman (R-1st), Rep. Randy Forbes (R-4th), and Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-6th) is that they don't appear to be outright climate change deniers.  On the other hand, several seem to flirt with the climate change “skeptics.” For instance, Rob Wittman talks about how “these climactic cycles of heating and cooling have been going on well before man appeared on earth.”  Randy Forbes – author of the gimmicky, “New Manhattan Project for Energy Independence” (see above) – says “there is evidence among scientists and researchers pointing in both directions.”  Robert Goodlatte says only that “some experts concur that the earth is once again warming,” when in fact it's nearly unanimous.  Other than that, though, they have basically nothing to offer on this issue, voting against ACES and everything else that might actually address the problem.  

Those are the positions of the Virginia Congressional delegation on climate change issues, plus the NRDC Action Fund's analysis.  It would be great if newspapers in other states published similar statements on this issue from their Congressional delegations so we could analyze them as well.


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