Boxer says U.S. should adopt ‘no regrets’ strategy

Published in E&E News

As partisan and contentious as yesterday’s Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on climate science was, it did include one moment of apparent comity — when Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) praised a Republican witness for saying that businesses are taking into account the possible effects of climate change.

Margo Thorning, senior vice president and chief economist for the conservative American Council for Capital Formation, said in her testimony that businesses are preparing for the possible effects of climate change the way they would for any eventuality.

She explained that they are investing in “no regrets” strategies that will pay dividends whether man-made emissions have a significant effect on their operations or not. She cited as an example the development of drought-resistant seeds that could be used if drought becomes more prevalent, regardless of whether climate change is the cause.

Boxer embraced the term “no regrets,” promising to quote Thorning on it often.

“I really appreciate you bringing that terminology into the debate,” she said.

Businesses have been “very prudent” to incorporate the effects of climate change into their planning, Boxer said, adding that the U.S. government should follow suit with a carbon dioxide policy. “That’s all I think we should do here as a nation,” she said. “Prepare.”

Boxer expressed surprise that the committee’s minority members had invited a witness who admits that forward-thinking businesses are preparing for possible climate change.

The other minority witness, John Christy, a climate scientist from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, testified that there had been less extreme weather in the past decade than in previous decades, and that a scientific consensus around climate change does not exist. Ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.), whose office invited Thorning and Christy, has famously called climate change a hoax.

Thorning’s views on the issue do not appear to line up with Boxer’s. Thorning declined to discuss the science behind the issue, but her written testimony included a presentation on the uncertainties of climate projections by a physicist at the University of Helsinki. Businesses, she said, will be unwilling to invest in more costly mitigation and adaptation steps until scientists are more in agreement. But even then, they will be hampered by their tendency to plan only a few years in advance, she said.

And Thorning aimed most of her testimony at recommending a tax and regulatory philosophy that would be deeply unpopular with most Democrats, Boxer included. Cost-benefit analyses should weigh the expense of a rule to industry more heavily than they currently do, she said. She added that many of the Obama administration’s rules would be unlikely to strike the right balance.

U.S. EPA’s greenhouse gas rules for power plants, for example, might not be justified, she said.

“If it’s true that what we do here [in the United States] isn’t going to matter much for CO2 concentrations globally, then is it worth it to proceed that rapidly in that direction?” Thorning asked in a follow-up interview. “What’s going to be the impact on prices that consumers have to pay and that industry has to pay, and how would that impact the overall economy and job growth?”

And she advocated for a consumed income tax, which would allow all saved and invested income to be deducted. Such a policy would boost investment, ensuring that there is enough capital available to allow businesses to meet any challenges that come up, she said, including those related to climate change.

Thorning’s proposal would seem likely to draw complaints from Democrats that it would disproportionally benefit wealthier Americans, but Boxer’s staff did not respond to a request for comment on Thorning’s testimony.

‘Political cement of our own mixing’

Boxer in 2009 collaborated with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to write a climate bill that cleared her committee late that year only to die before it reached the Senate floor.

Kerry does not serve on Boxer’s committee and was across the hall hearing testimony on the crisis in Syria during yesterday’s hearing. But he took to the Senate floor yesterday afternoon to denounce what he called “a remarkably effective” political campaign against the science of climate and to lament that action on the issue has been so long coming.

“Despite all of the experts and the advice that we get, Congress is fundamentally stuck in the political cement of our own mixing,” he said.

He compared the offensive against climate science to the Catholic Church putting Galileo on trial for saying the sun was the center of the solar system rather than the Earth.

Climate change, he said, is as dangerous a prospect as the Syrian regime’s battle to retain power or Iran’s effort to get nuclear weapons.

“It affects life itself on the planet,” he said, “because it affects ecosystems on which the oceans and land depend for the relationship of the warmth of our Earth and the amount of moisture that there is, and all of the interactions that occur as a consequence of our climate.”

Kerry was the latest of several Democrats to speak on climate change in the past month, leading more than one GOP aide to wonder aloud whether legislation might be in the works. But Kerry’s office said the senator’s floor speech was timed to follow an op-ed published this weekend in The New York Times by Berkeley physicist Richard Muller (ClimateWire, July 30).