Energy & Environment

Making the Right Decision for our Oceans

President Obama recently established an interagency task force to develop a comprehensive and integrated approach to sustainably manage our oceans’ many competing uses. For too long, we have managed our oceans in a piecemeal fashion; this bold initiative could put an end to that short-sighted approach.  The president has also repeatedly emphasized his commitment to the role of science-based decision making in government policy. From issues of climate change to ocean management, his administration has made a series of smart decisions to steer our nation toward a more thoughtful and scientifically accurate approach to national environmental policy.

But a fish farm proposal currently pending approval by his top officials at the U.S. Department of Commerce is not consistent with sound science and could undermine the president's ocean initiative before the ink even dries on the paper. This proposal in the Gulf of Mexico would - for the first time - authorize industrial-scale fish farming in U.S. federal waters, contributing to the federal government's tradition of fragmented and ineffective ocean management. 

Offshore fish farming poses serious risks to the health of the ocean. Rapid expansion of offshore aquaculture around the globe has resulted in a range of serious environmental impacts that have been well-documented in the scientific literature.  With large numbers of fish packed closely together in open ocean cages, disease is common.  Past experience shows that fish will inevitably escape and transfer these diseases to wild fish, often with devastating effects.  The Gulf of Mexico proposal fails to protect against these risks and a host of others.

These concerns explain why over 75 organizations, 10 noted academic scientists, and well over 16,000 private citizens have registered their opposition to the proposal with NOAA.  Indeed, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the president’s choice to lead NOAA, published two groundbreaking scientific papers in the late 1990’s that illustrated the potential dangers involved with this kind of industrial aquaculture.

Given these risks, Dr. Lubchenco has long recommended the development of a coordinated, national framework to oversee this emerging industry before significant expansion occurs here.  Most recently, in her confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate, she stated that more research is needed before open-ocean aquaculture could be considered environmentally sustainable.

The current aquaculture plan for the Gulf represents precisely what Dr. Lubchenco has long sought to change -- a fragmented, short-sighted management approach to an issue of national significance.  Moreover, the measure falls far short of the standards for responsible environmental stewardship she has long advocated for in either her previous scientific writings or other public statements. Given her scientific perspective and stated commitment to a truly national approach to ocean stewardship, Dr. Lubchenco and the Secretary of Commerce should reject the regional Gulf aquaculture plan in favor of a national, science based, precautionary approach to ocean fish farming that is closely integrated with other ocean uses.

In a December address, then President-elect Obama stressed: "Today, more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation."

In light of the millions of U.S. jobs that depend on healthy marine ecosystems and the importance of the Gulf to our nation's economy, now is not the time to advance a policy that promotes a fragmented approach to industrial fish farming at the expense of the overall health of our oceans.


We can't ignore the security threat from climate change (Sen. John Kerry)

On August 6, 2001, President George W. Bush famously received an intelligence briefing entitled, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." Thirty-six days later, al Qaeda terrorists did just that.

Scientists tell us we have a 10-year window -- if even that -- before catastrophic climate change becomes inevitable and irreversible. The threat is real, and time is not on our side.

Facts, as John Adams said, are stubborn things. Here are a few you need to know: Atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels have risen 38% in the industrial era, from 280 to 385 parts per million (ppm). Scientists have warned that anything above 450 ppm -- a warming of 2 degrees Celsius -- will result in an unacceptable risk of catastrophic climate change.

The truth is that the threat we face is not an abstract concern for the future. It is already upon us and its effects are being felt worldwide, right now. Scientists project that the Arctic will be ice-free in the summer of 2013. Not in 2050, but four years from now.

Make no mistake: catastrophic climate change represents a threat to human security, global stability, and -- yes -- even to American national security.

Climate change injects a major new source of chaos, tension, and human insecurity into an already volatile world. It threatens to bring more famine and drought, worse pandemics, more natural disasters, more resource scarcity, and human displacement on a staggering scale. We risk fanning the flames of failed-statism, and offering glaring opportunities to the worst actors in our international system. In an interconnected world, that endangers all of us.

The individual data points may sometimes be murky. But the pattern they create is irrefutably clear: We don't know if Hurricane Katrina was caused by climate change, but we do know that we are rapidly heading for a world where climate change causes worse Katrinas. We don't know with certainty whether climate change pushed Darfur over the edge, but we do know that it will cause more tension just like we've seen in Darfur.

Once you accept the science, it's clear that such massive environmental change will create dislocation, destruction, chaos, and conflict. And history teaches us that we are deluding ourselves if we think that we are insulated from world events.

The people of the tiny coastal village of Newtok, Alaska offer a harbinger of the challenges ahead. Citizens there recently voted to move their village nine miles inland because melting ice shelves made their old home too dangerous.

But don't take my word for it. Anyone who doubts the reality of climate change should go to Alaska and see the melting permafrost for themselves, or listen to the state's two U.S. senators tell worrisome stories about climate change's current -- not future -- impact on their state.

Anyone who doubts the threat should talk to the 11 retired American admirals and generals who warned in 2007 that "Climate change can act as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world, and it presents significant national-security challenges for the United States."

You can even ask the security planners in the Bush Administration, whose final national-defense strategy document recognized climate change among key trends that will shape U.S. defense policy in the coming years.

Or ask the National Intelligence Council -- the U.S. intelligence community's think-tank -- has concluded "global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national-security interests over the next 20 years."

Former CENTCOM Commander Anthony Zinni, no radical tree-hugger, put it simply: "We will pay for this one way or another. We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today, and we'll have to take an economic hit of some kind. Or, we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives. There will be a human toll."

Nowhere is the connection between climate and security more direct than in South Asia -- home to al Qaeda. Scientists now warn that the Himalayan glaciers which supply fresh water to a billion people in the region could disappear completely by 2035. Think about what this means: Water from the Himalayans flows through India and Pakistan. India's rivers are not only vital to its agriculture but are also critical to its religious practice. Pakistan, for its part, is heavily dependent on irrigated farming to avoid famine.

At a moment when the U.S. government is scrambling to ratchet down tensions and preparing to invest billions of dollars to strengthen Pakistan's capacity to deliver for its people -- climate change could work so powerfully in the opposite direction.

Worldwide, climate change risks making the most volatile places even more combustible.
The bottom line is that failure to tackle climate change risks much more than a ravaged environment: It risks a much more dangerous world, and a gravely threatened America.

Unfortunately, not everyone in Washington appreciates the stakes. It's tragic that we live at a time when if one were to dismiss the threat of terrorism, you'd be sent home in the next election. But there are no similar political consequences if you dismiss the science or the threat of climate change.

This winter, delegates from 192 nations will gather in Copenhagen to create a new global climate treaty. Between now and then, the United States Congress is expected to act on climate legislation.

The decisions we make in coming months will determine whether we meet this challenge head-on and prevail or if we are to suffer the worst consequences of a warming planet.

This time we have to connect the dots before we face catastrophe.

Cross-posted from the Huffington Post.


Nuclear energy is key to America's future (Rep. Jason Altmire)

When skyrocketing energy prices took hold of America last summer, it became clear that developing alternative sources of energy was important to our nation’s economic and national security. Although talk of solar, wind, and biofuels have often dominated alternative energy discussions in the past, today more and more people are recognizing that clean coal and nuclear energy are both key to our nation’s energy future.

As the representative of Pennsylvania’s Fourth Congressional District, I represent an area that has long been a national leader in America’s nuclear industry. Westinghouse Electric Corporation has its world headquarters in my district. This has given me a unique understanding of both the importance and the needs of the nuclear industry.

Stop stalling offshore oil and natural gas production (Rep. Doc Hastings)

In August 2008, candidate Obama declared “we can and should increase our domestic production of oil and natural gas.”

Unfortunately, after inauguration, his administration took immediate action in February to prevent offshore drilling by delaying the Mineral Management Service’s Draft Proposed Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2010 to 2015.

Despite standing in the way of new oil and gas development, President Obama continued to tell Americans that “we still need more oil, we still need more gas. If we've got some here in the United States that we can use, we should find it and do so in an environmentally sustainable way.” However, his rhetoric has not been matched by action.


We need an energy revolution (Sen. Bernie Sanders)

The United States today spends some $400 billion a year importing oil from countries like Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Mexico, Russia, and Venezuela. Think for a moment what an incredible impact that same $400 billion a year could have on our country if that money were invested here and not abroad, in such areas as weatherization, energy efficiency, sustainable energies like wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, public transportation and automobiles that are energy efficient or don't use fossil fuels at all.

What we are talking about is an energy revolution that leads us toward energy independence, the cessation of support for foreign dictatorships and the ability to avoid Mideast wars fought over oil. What we are talking about is an energy revolution that will substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enable us to address the global warming crisis that threatens our planet with increases in floods, drought, extreme weather conditions, disease and wars fought over limited natural resources. What we are talking about is an energy revolution that will result in cleaner air, water and food and make us a healthier nation.


Clean energy action will jump start our economy (Sen. Barbara Boxer)

Sarah Palin's "cap and tax" opinion piece printed in the Washington Post this week reminds me of every naysayer who has spoken out against progress in cleaning up pollution.

Whether it was the debate over the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Superfund law or any of our other landmark environmental laws, one pattern has always been clear:

Time and time again, pessimists -- often affiliated with polluting industries -- predicted loss of jobs and great costs to taxpayers. And time and time again, our environmental laws have cleaned up the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the communities we live in at far lower cost than expected.
Take the acid rain program established in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.


Locking up our energy resources (Rep. Michele Bachmann)

As Americans hit the road for their family vacations this summer, they're undoubtedly noticing the money they leave at the gas pump.  AAA's Fuel Gauge Report has the national average at $2.58 for regular gas. That's a far cry from the $4.11 we were paying a year ago. But, the need for an all-of-the-above strategy for energy independence remains just as great now as it did then.

So, it's puzzling that the Obama Administration is trying to restrict our ability to tap into American oil and natural gas resources.


Close vote spells doom for cap-and-tax in the Senate (Sen. James Inhofe)

America's Clean Energy and Security Act" (Waxman-Markey bill) passed by a vote of 219 to 212. Even with a large Democratic majority, the Democratic leadership and President Obama were forced to do everything possible to get this bill passed. Arms were twisted and chits were traded.

Al Gore was called in, then waved off.  Despite the enormous pressure, 44 Democrats astoundingly voted against this bill. Those who supported the bill may experience repercussions come campaign season.  One thing is clear: this razor-thin vote in the House spells doom in the Senate.


Energy tax would move manufacturing overseas (Rep. Don Manzullo)

I opposed the “national energy tax” bill because it will only encourage the movement of more manufacturing overseas and increase global pollution to areas of the world that will not be encumbered by similar regulations.  There were numerous problems with the bill.  As a Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I wanted to have a specific debate on creating the International Climate Change Adaptation program in Title IV of H.R. 2454 because I  do not support the establishment of yet another redundant foreign assistance program that will harm American manufacturers.  Unfortunately, because the committee declined to act on H.R. 2454, I offered this amendment to the Rules Committee.  Regrettably, my amendment wasn’t even allowed to be debated on the House floor.

The International Climate Change Adaptation program calls upon the United States to transfer to developing nations a portion of America’s emission allowances so that these nations can continue to pollute.  By giving away additional allowances, H.R. 2454 will decrease America’s global competitiveness.


National Energy Tax Will Further Strain Families' Budgets (Rep. John Kline)

On Friday, the House of Representatives debated a job-killing cap-and-trade bill (H.R. 2454), legislation I strongly oppose, which, according to the Heritage Foundation, will cost Minnesota families in the 2nd Congressional District more than $460 million.

Minnesotans and all Americans should be bracing themselves for a crippling cost increase in the form of a national energy tax that threatens the budgets of families and small businesses. In an attempt to raise federal revenue and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the President has proposed this ‘cap and trade’ scheme that would be more accurately titled ‘cap and tax.’ I am opposing this irresponsible proposal because it will drive up the price of everyday goods, strain the economy, reduce jobs, and impose a significant cost increase on every American who dares to turn on a light.

Republicans and Democrats agree it is important to find clean, efficient energy sources that will break our dependence on foreign oil. Our nation needs a diversified ‘all of the above’ energy policy that increases domestic energy production, embraces renewable and alternative fuels, and supports conservation efforts to reduce energy consumption. The ‘American Energy Act,’ provides an ‘all of the above’ solution for offering more affordable energy, producing more well-paying jobs, increasing our energy independence, and creating a cleaner environment without raising costs for you and your family.