Saturday, April 25, 2015

Injecting vagueness and political gridlock into MN climate goals

The MN House Energy Omnibus Bill passed on Earth Day and will force climate-conscious legislators to play defense as it goes into conference committee with the companion senate bill detracting energy from pro-active efforts at solving the crisis.

The MN House Energy Omnibus bill replaces all quantitative language on Minnesota’s clear, science-based, 
30 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050 greenhouse gas reduction goals with the impulsive and vague phrase “in an affordable manner”. This creates confusion on what metrics we are trying to achieve as a state. The term “affordable manner” is a respectable principle but not when it is interpreted by people who are opportunist with a restrictive, tunnel-vision view of economics. People who seek to use a shortsighted definition of “affordable” will take advantage of this revision to justify further delay in coordinated action to mitigate climate disruption. And further delay will only serve to raise the eventual costs to the United States (and global) economy because paying the costs of climate disasters after the fact is anything but an “affordable manner.” 

A related part of the House Omnibus Energy bill injects political gridlock by requiring state legislative approval of Minnesota’s version of the Clean Power Plan in order for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to implement it. Minnesota’s contribution for our one moonshot chance for mitigating a coming climate disaster will be held at the tender mercy of 71 members of the Republican majority in the Minnesota House who voted against a Melissa Hortman’s amendment stating that climate change is real and that human activity is a significant contributor to it.

During the April 22nd session, the bill author Pat Garofalo commented that it is dangerous to have only one person (Governor Mark Dayton) setting energy policy unilaterally. More specifically, he stated fear Dayton will have the ability to impose a regional cap and trade plan. To his credit Pat Garofalo was one Republican who actually voted yes affirming anthropogenic climate change to be real and initially suggested his colleagues do so as well during the session. During a Star Tribune interview on January 11th, Garofalo answered “So Yes” to a question on whether carbon dioxide emissions cause climate change. 
So how could Garofalo reconcile diluting the state’s resolve to address an issue that he admits is a problem?  
In that same Star Tribune interview Garofalo state he has “high hopes for technology and innovation, such as capturing carbon dioxide from smokestacks, to address climate change.” Is carbon capture and storage more feasible and attainable than say a nuclear fusion power plant or is that a justification to keep coal plants chugging along?)

Here are some highlights of the lengthy discussion on Melissa Hortman’s “admit climate is real” amendment.

First Melissa Hortman attributed the recent drought and flood historical weather extremes to climate change which has had a $400 million price tag for the State.

Paul Thissen asked a couple of GOP State Reps direct questions on whether they will admit humans are responsible for climate change and if they do why they would vote to weaken Minnesota’s climate goals. Both found ways to dodge the question and the most meaningful answer was one from Gruenhagen that “I believe there are eminently qualified scientists who would disagree with that comment and I tend to agree with those scientists.” In his statement answering basically the same question Rep. Jim Newberger, referred to these 2% or 3% of "scientists" who refute the consensus on climate change, saying: “I’m going to trust they are a lot smarter than I. These are men and women who accomplished many things.”

Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, clearly uncomfortable with the discussing the topic, remarked that climate should be “debate for another time.”

Rep. Joyce Peppin then retorted by asking a number of DFL legislators whether they were qualified scientists implying that their standing to have opinions on global warming was suspect. That would be like saying “You have no standing to be for preventing higher minimum wage unless you have a PHD in economics.” The DFL legislators had an opportunity here to make a powerful morality based argument and could have said it is much more likely that the 3% of scientists are paid off by the big carbon (as shown by the movie Merchants of Doubt) than it is for the 97% of scientists to be involved in some grand conspiracy. The clearest message I heard repeated from the DFL legislators was that 97% of scientists do in fact adhere to the consensus. 

Peppin then asked a question whether any legislator present was in fact a qualified scientist.

 Barb Yarusso, one Representative who did have a scientific background a Ph. D. in chemical engineering, went on a lengthy, patient and well-laid out lecture on the basics of climate disruption. So on one hand the Republicans demanded rigorous criteria of scientific facts and analysis. But then I observed with my own eyes the legislators moving about and talking, clearly not paying attention to what she had to say. I got the impression that Representatives on both sides of the isle already had their minds made up on the issue, displaying no interest in learning more about the issue that so many demanded more qualified facts about.

Representative Lucero asked a series of questions about how the Ice Age could have possibly ended if human activity was not responsible for it. Again, this was a missed opportunity at a real knock-out punch argument. Someone could have simply stated that warming today is much more abrupt, and the CO2 levels far higher than at the warming that ended the ice age. Even according to that much more gradual natural cycle (which Lucero implied debunked anthropogenic global warming) we technically should be cooling now. Just because the our earth’s climate has had longer and more gradual warming and cooling epochs in the distant past does not rule out CO2 emissions as the cause of the current warming.

Representative Newberger, hot off the heels of making a controversial comment the previous day, warned that voting no would make oneself subject to being insulted as a denier. He then said “I am not here to insult anyone for their beliefs on this issue so please don’t insult mine.”

He was among the 71 who voted no.

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