Pelosi should acknowledge realities with proposed climate change committee

Pelosi should acknowledge realities with proposed climate change committee
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The midterm election returns hardly had been tabulated when Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Democrats will 'certainly' beat Trump in 2020 Kavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Lewandowski, Democrats tangle at testy hearing MORE, the presumed Democratic leader in the House of Representatives come January, announced her intention to resurrect a special committee focused on climate change that was created on her earlier watch and then disbanded by Republicans who took control of the House in 2011.

In its previous incarnation, the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming could not advance bills but did conduct dozens of hearings to emphasize Democratic priorities such as renewable energy and a cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide emissions.

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At the same time, Texas Democrat Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonDemocrats ramp up calls to investigate NOAA Overnight Energy: House moves to block Trump drilling | House GOP rolls out proposal to counter offshore drilling ban | calls mount for NOAA probe The Hill's Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike MORE, who is expected to become chair of the House Science Committee, has vowed to “address the challenge of climate change, starting with acknowledging it is real.”

A renewed congressional focus on climate and energy offers an opportunity to engage in a candid and healthy debate on these issues. However, that can happen only if the discussion is “depoliticized.” In particular, we need to acknowledge that both the climate and energy landscapes have changed dramatically over the past several decades.

For example, since the earlier select committee was constituted, carbon emissions in the United States have declined even as the economy has grown more than 50 percent. These reductions have not occurred in response to laws or regulations but rather from the substitution of natural gas for coal in electric power generation. More than 250 coal plants have closed since 2010 and another 40 are likely to be retired by 2025.  As utilities continue to substitute natural gas and renewable energy for coal, CO2 emissions will fall even more, regardless of whether the United States remains a signatory to the Paris Climate Agreement.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the oil and gas sector is the largest single source of methane emissions, a dangerous gas that traps 50 to 75 times as much heat as carbon dioxide. The Obama administration proposed tough rules on methane leaks, but they have been put on hold by President TrumpDonald John TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border MORE. The fact is, U.S. methane emissions have dropped more than 15 percent since 1990 even as natural gas production, of which methane is the principal component, has more than doubled.

What is more, the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, an industry group that includes ExxonMobil, Shell and BP among its members, is committed to reducing methane emissions by another 35 percent by 2025. Do we really need EPA oversight when industry and the states already are taking steps to significantly reduce methane releases at well sites, compressor stations and pipelines?

When the old select committee was in business, America was an energy weakling, importing more than 50 percent of its oil needs and starting to build regasification facilities for imported liquefied natural gas (LNG).  Today, thanks to the “shale revolution,” we are an energy superpower exporting more than 2 million barrels of oil and billions of cubic feet of natural gas every day. In addition, according to the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry supports more than 10 million jobs nationwide, while all U.S. households and businesses benefit from abundant, reliable and inexpensive energy.

Finally, a dose of reality is required as we discuss the nation’s, and the planet’s, long-term energy outlook. After taxpayer subsidies totaling more than $150 billion, wind and solar account for less than 5 percent of America’s electric power generation. Meanwhile, the most recent forecast by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that, despite the growing use of renewables, oil and gas will account for the lion’s share of both domestic and global energy consumption in the year 2040.

In short, market forces and technological change have ameliorated climate concerns and reversed the decline of America’s oil and gas production. If the purpose of Minority Leader Pelosi’s proposed committee is simply to provide a platform for environmental alarmists, it will be doing a disservice to both the American public and our revived energy industry.

Bernard L. Weinstein is associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute and an adjunct professor of business economics in the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.