In Texas Field Hearing, House Subcommittee To Attack EPA as State Faces Another Year of Devastating Drought

The Energy and Power Subcommittee of the House of Representative's Committee on Energy and Commerce will be in Texas on Thursday (24 March 2011) holding a hearing on “EPA’s Greenhouse Gas and Clean Air Act Regulations:  A Focus on Texas’ Economy, Energy Prices and Jobs.”  The hearing will focus on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Air Act enforcement, including its steps to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.  The hearing will take place against a backdrop of long-term -- and devastating -- drought in the state.  As atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations increase, such drought conditions are likely to become more frequent and severe.

The lead witness for the hearing is Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott who recently said "It is almost the height of insanity of bureaucracy to have the EPA regulating something that is emitted by all living things.”  See Greg Abbott's Hot Air, by Forrest Wilder, in the Texas Observer (17 Jan 2011).

The same subcommittee on 10 March approved a bill -- the "Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011" -- that would strip away the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.  The bill then went on to the full Energy and Commerce Committee where it was approved on 16 March.  During committee consideration of the bill, Democrats repeatedly proposed amendments acknowledging the scientific basis for action on climate change. All were rejected by Republicans on the committee.

The scientific journal Nature responded in an editorial, "Into Ignorance" (published online 16 March):

"...the legislation is fundamentally anti-science, just as the rhetoric that supports it is grounded in wilful ignorance...It is hard to escape the conclusion that the US Congress has entered the intellectual wilderness, a sad state of affairs in a country that has led the world in many scientific arenas for so long....[T]o deny that there is reason to be concerned, given the decades of work by countless scientists, is irresponsible."

See Joe Romm's posting at Climate ProgressNature editorial, “Into ignorance,” slams GOP for “vote to overturn an aspect of climate science” (16 March 2011).

Backdrop for Hearing: Disastrous Drought

The Texas hearing will take place against a backdrop of long-term -- and devastating -- drought in the state.   Consider the following:

  • The drought conditions have caused billions of dollars of damage in Texas over the last 15 years (see Global Boiling: Population Flight From Growing Desert Of Central Texas, by The Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson).
  • Both of the Texas Republicans on the subcommittee -- Pete Olson and Joe Barton -- joined other Republican members of the Texas Congressional delegation in a 29 September 2010 letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack saying: “In 2009, Texas suffered from record triple-digit temperatures and experienced a lack of rainfall that devastated crops and rangeland throughout much of Texas. The drought resulted in agricultural losses of $3.6 billion for Texas farmers and ranchers.”  They complained in the letter that Vilsack did not declare most Texas counties as eligible for federal disaster assistance.
  • After wildfires in late February burned over 88,000 acres and destroyed 58 homes in Western Texas, Texas Forest Service spokesman Lewis Kearney said: "With the drought pattern Texas has had, fire season now is almost running 12 months out of the year. I mean that's not normal." (see TX Forest Service: More than 86,000 Acres Burned Sunday, KTXS News, 28 Feb 2011)
  • Nearly 37% of Texas presently is in severe drought and another 17% of the state is in extreme drought (see U.S. Drought Monitor: Texas).  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook released on 17 March, drought in Texas is forecast to persist or intensify during April-June 2011.
  • Many of the state's counties currently are covered by Federal disaster declarations because of drought (see the Federal Emergency Management Agency Web page on Texas Declarations)

Ominously, the Texas State Climatologist, John W. Nielsen-Gammon, says it is likely that drought frequency and severity will increase in Texas” (from Chapter 2. The Changing Climate of Texas in (The Impact of Global Warming on Texas, 2nd edition, Edited by Jurgen Schmandt, Judith Clarkson and Gerald R. North).

Under the circumstances, the subcommittee should broaden its hearing to discuss the consequences for the Texas economy-- and the welfare of its inhabitants – of doing nothing to curb greenhouse gas emissions or to prepare for an era of climate disruption.  A good place to start would be the document that underlies EPA greenhouse gas regulation under the Clean Air Act, Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases under the Clean Air Act (PDF).  Among the EPA’s conclusions:

  • “Water resources across large areas of the country are at serious risk from climate change, with effects on water supplies, water quality, and adverse effects from extreme events such as floods and droughts. … The severity of risks and impacts is likely to increase over time with accumulating greenhouse gas concentrations and associated temperature increases and precipitation changes.”
  • “The evidence concerning adverse impacts in the areas of water resources and sea level rise and coastal areas provide the clearest and strongest support for an endangerment finding, both for current and future generations... Across the sectors, the potential serious adverse impacts of extreme events, such as wildfires, flooding, drought, and extreme weather conditions provide strong support for such a finding.”
  • “The Administrator also notes that scientific literature clearly supports the finding that drought frequency and severity are projected to increase in the future over much of the United States, which will likely reduce crop yields because of excesses or deficits of water.”
  • “The Administrator notes the scientific literature and assessment reports provide several lines of evidence that suggest wildfires will likely increase in frequency over the next several decades because of climate warming.”

As Forrest Wilder said on 24 Feb 2011 in the Texas Observer (Rising Seas Could Swamp Some Texas Cities By 2100):

"While Republicans in Congress, led by members of the Texas GOP delegation, work to defund and defang the EPA, climate change – and the science of climate – marches on. The GOP's wilful suspension of trust in what ever-mounting evidence –and dare I say, common sense? –tells us is happening to the planet is not just short-sighted. It's reckless.”

Online Resources:

House Energy and Commerce Committee:

Texas Climate Initiative

Texas Climate News:

The Strange Case of Ralph Hall, by Chris Mooney at desmogblog.com.

Global Boiling: Population Flight From Growing Desert Of Central Texas, by The Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson.

WWF Climate Change Blog:

The Project on Climate Science:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

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