Fact Check from Climate Hearings – 4/24/09

The House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment is holding hearings this week on landmark climate and energy legislation.

We are launching a regular Fact Check series to correct the record on false and misleading statements from climate action opponents.

Here’s our third installment:

The policies to spur innovation and utilize the creativity of America’s scientists and engineers are not in this bill. — Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R)

The centerpiece of this bill will make clean energy profitable by capping carbon – and that’s exactly what will give scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs an economic incentive to create new technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We have empirical evidence that cap and trade works. When the formula was applied in the 1990s to lower acid rain pollution from power plants, it worked faster and more cheaply than anyone predicted.

The expected market price for SO2 allowances was in the range of $579-$1,935 per ton of SO2. The actual market price in January, 2003 was $150 per ton.

This bill is a big energy tax. — Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R)

The bill is not a tax. Under a cap on carbon, there will be a small increase in energy bills for the average American – and Congress has the tools it needs to protect U.S. consumers. The EPA estimates that the cap in the American Clean Energy and Security Act can be met for as little as $98 per household per year – about a dime a day per person. That’s roughly what it costs to brew one pot of coffee in the morning, and substantially less than a pack of chewing gum.

That’s nothing compared to what will happen to our economy and our pocketbooks if we fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — punishing heat waves, droughts, water shortages, rising sea levels, worldwide food shortages, intense hurricanes and more. Even the military is worried about the national security implications.

There is no smoking gun that people are responsible for global warming. — Mike Burgess, (R-TX)

The “smoking guns” are everywhere scientists look.

Fact: the decade of 1998-2007 was the warmest on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Fact: glaciers are in retreat on every continent.

Fact: the Arctic Sea ice extent has been diminishing over the past 20 years in agreement with model predictions.

Fact: levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are higher now than at any time in the last 600,000 years (and probably in the last 20 million), and getting higher every year.

Fact: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2,500 of the best climate scientists in the world, citing hundreds of the latest studies, has concluded that global warming is happening, and human activity is responsible. So has the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, which even President George W. Bush called “the gold standard.”

Cap and trade legislation will export millions of jobs out of our economy.  — Steve Scalise, (R-LA)

Ohio has lost more that 213,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000. For Michigan, the figure is almost 497,000 jobs lost.

One way to create new jobs in America, including manufacturing jobs, is with a cap and trade bill to address climate change, which could spark a manufacturing renaissance. A single wind turbine contains 250 tons of steel, along with 8,000 parts, from copper wire, gearboxes and ball bearings to electronic controls. Jobs making these components, and installing and maintaining turbines, can be created here in America.

EDF has created a map detailing where a carbon cap will create jobs in 12 states – go to www.lesscarbonmorejobs.org.

Global warming will help sea life. — Joe Barton, (R-TX)

The ocean is acidifying because of increased absorption of atmospheric CO2, produced by human activity, posing a threat for shell-forming species, which are an essential part of the marine food web.

Many forms of ocean life that use calcium carbonate to form their skeletons or shells, including familiar species such as corals and shellfish. Ocean acidification makes it harder for these “calcifying organisms” to maintain themselves.

You can see why yourself with a simple experiment. Calcium carbonate comes in many forms, and is the primary component in chalk, lime, and marble. Take a piece of chalk and put it in a glass of water. It will just sit there – a wet piece of chalk. Now slowly pour in some vinegar – an acid. The water will start to bubble, emitting CO2, and the chalk will dissolve.

This is an exaggerated example of what’s happening in the ocean. The ocean isn’t as acidic as a glass of water with vinegar, so calcifying organisms aren’t actually dissolving in front of our eyes. But the ocean’s increased acidity makes it harder for them to form healthy shells and skeletons.

Changing ocean circulation patterns would also affect the nutrient delivery system for marine life. As oceans absorb more heat, upwellings of cold, nutrient-rich waters can become less frequent. Without this nourishment, blooms of plant plankton, a critical link in the marine food chain, are disrupted. Food for sea life up the food chain, like krill, larger fish, and seabirds, is cut off.

Some signs already show that the marine food web is fraying. In 2005 on the U.S. West Coast and 2004 in Britain, hundreds of thousands of seabirds failed to breed. Dead seabirds like cormorants and Cassin’s auklets have washed up on West Coast beaches. The culprit for the collapse appears to be slackening upwellings, which decreased phytoplankton blooms in these coastal areas. Fewer phytoplankton mean fewer fish, leaving the birds to face mass starvation.

The delta smelt is “a worthless little worm” that deserves to go the way of the dinosaurs. — George Radanovich (R-CA)

Actually, it’s a fish, not a worm. The delta smelt, once one of the most common fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Estuary, is now listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The goal of the act is not just to protect single species but also the ecosystems on which they depend. Peter Moyle, a fisheries biologist at UC Davis, calls the delta smelt an indicator species: Its condition reflects the overall health of an ecosystem.

Unfortunately, no smelt were called before the Committee to testify that they deserve to live.

This Congress doesn’t know what will happen in a week, much less 30 years. — George Radanovich (R-CA)

If true, how can some members of Congress predict that global warming action will hurt the economy?

One thing we do know: In about one week some members of Congress will sieze this critical opportunity to take historic action to fight global warming while others will continue to blindly deny that human activity is causing global climate change, in the face of all scientific evidence.

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