Sen. Franken chides GOP no-shows at hearing on impact of climate change

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) chided Republicans Thursday over their absence from a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the effects of rising sea levels on energy facilities and other infrastructure.

“But ironically there’s an elephant in the room,” Franken said after noting the lack of GOP members. “Climate change is the elephant, and climate change-induced sea level rise is clearly impacting the health and security of our nation. But this is a fact of life that is going unnoticed by too many Americans because science is taking a back seat to politics.”

Franken then criticized Republicans for seeking to overturn EPA’s formal 2009 finding that greenhouse gases are a threat to humans, an effort that failed in a 2010 vote.

The so-called endangerment finding provides the legal underpinning for climate change regulations.

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“This scientific question turned into a mostly party-line vote here in the Senate,” Franken said, adding that this “underscores the difficulty to address this challenge when we are so divided on the issue of climate change.” He was among the roughly half-dozen Democrats that attended the hearing.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the committee’s top Republican, was the only GOP member to show up at the Thursday session.

Murkowski, breaking with many Republicans, has called for curbing greenhouse gas emissions and has noted her home state is “ground zero” for climate change.

But Murkowski was also the sponsor of the failed 2010 Senate resolution to overturn EPA’s finding, although she cast it as a way to block regulations she calls economically harmful rather than an attack on climate science.

At the hearing Thursday, the chief scientist for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) noted sea-level rises in past decades, and projections for the end of this century ranging from 0.2 meters to 2 meters.

Waleed Abdalati, the scientist, said the lower range is less likely while “the highest values are based on warmest of the temperature scenarios commonly considered for the remainder of the 21st century.” He also noted that some areas will see little-to-no rise, while others will see increases well above the average.

Even an average rise at the mid-range of the estimates, he said, would be a big deal. 

“The consequences of a 1 meter rise in sea level by the end of this century would be very significant in terms of human well-being and economics, and potentially global socio-political stability,” Abdalati said.

Abdalati noted that oceans, and to some extent ice, have a “lag” in response to temperature increases, hence “the rise in temperatures over the last century has already set an inevitable course for this century.”

“As a result, the effects of sea level rise in the coming decades should inform coastal, economic and political planning today,” he said.

But while some changes are locked in, under questioning from Franken, Abdalati also called green energy development important.

Emissions from energy production affect the level and pace of climate change, he said.

“It is clear there are changes coming. It is clear the way we use energy is contributing those changes, and I think it should be equally clear that our success in the face of those changes really depends on slowing them down, keeping them as small as we reasonably can . . . investments in alternate energy are, I think, essential for a successful future,” he said.