Congressional leaders focus on innovation in fighting climate change

Appearing in the Charleston Gazette-Mail:

 Friday, September 20, 2019 NEWS by Kate Miskin Staff writer

While West Virginia’s state leaders are broaching the issue of climate change by talking about renewable energy and answering students’ questions, the state’s congressional lawmakers aren’t making parallel strides.

Next week, two state delegates will hold a video conference with science teachers and students across the state who can ask questions about climate change. Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, an environmental scientist, and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, will lead the talks.

But in Washington, D.C., neither the state’s U.S. Senators, nor its three U.S. Representatives were available for interviews about climate change.

At this rate, global warming will likely reach 1.5 degrees Celsius between 2030 and 2052, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in a report published last October. That 1.5 degree jump above pre-industrial levels poses a threat to ecosystems, water and food supply and human health, the report says. Just to contain warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius, carbon dioxide emissions will have to be net zero by 2050.

“Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming of 1.5°C and increase further with 2°C,” the report says.

Next week, top leaders will meet in New York for the 2019 Climate Action Summit to discuss “concrete, realistic plans to enhance their nationally determined contributions by 2020, in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent over the next decade, and to net zero emissions by 2050,” according to the United Nations.

“What I want is to have the whole of society putting pressure on governments to make governments understand they need to run faster. Because we’re losing the race,” UN Secretary General António Guterres said this week.

Leading up to the summit, more than 250 news organizations around the world are part of Covering Climate Now, an initiative to focus news coverage on climate change. The goal, organizers said, is to shine a light on a pressing issue that hasn’t received the attention it deserves. This story is part of the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s contribution to Covering Climate Now.

Even as Washington, D.C., has recently shifted attention toward the climate crisis — CNN held a climate town hall with Democratic presidential candidates and climate activist Greta Thurnberg spoke in front of Congress this week about the urgency of listening to scientists — West Virginia’s national leaders are falling short.

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., all said they were in favor of carbon capture technology and an “all-of-the-above” energy policy — which refers to the idea of using both renewable and nonrenewable energy, and is criticized as not environmentally protective enough.

Both senators had sponsored the “FUTURE [furthering carbon capture, utilization, technology, underground storage, and reduced emissions]” Act, which incentivized technology to carbon capture, utilization and storage.

“[Capito] has a record of doing so in a commonsense, bipartisan way that improves our environment without jeopardizing our economy,” a spokeswoman for Capito said in an email.

These bills are good, said Jeremy Richardson, Senior Energy Analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“Technological solutions are great, but they’re not enough. There’s a lot we can do right now in terms of deploying existing affordable technology that can get us on the pathway to where we’re trying to go — affordable existing renewable energy,” he said.

Manchin, the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement that he’s been “resolute” that climate change is real.

“Many leading the climate change debate will suggest we need to eliminate certain fuel sources, but the truth is fossil fuels will continue to play a role in the global economy and West Virginia still has an important role to play. The U.S. must lead the world in pursuing cost-effective solutions that will allow us to use fossil fuels in a cleaner manner,” he said.

As ranking member, his committee has passed 22 bills, some of which focused on carbon capture and energy efficiency, he added.

“As Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I am committed to ensuring West Virginians are not left behind in the process but instead leading the charge on innovative climate solutions,” he said.

In March, Manchin and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post, saying they’ve seen the impacts of climate change in their home states, where they’re both “avid outdoorsmen.”

“The United States is at the forefront of clean-energy efforts, including energy storage, advanced nuclear energy, and carbon capture, utilization and sequestration. We are committed to adopting reasonable policies that maintain that edge, build on and accelerate current efforts, and ensure a robust innovation ecosystem,” they wrote.

“It’s not just about innovation, it’s about policies that can get on that pathway,” Richardson said. “Energy efficiency is a big thing. We should be investing heavily in energy efficiency, electricity and industrial sector, making processes more efficient.”

Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., sits on the House select committee on climate crisis.

Asked about her efforts to address climate change, a spokesman said she’d supported the Affordable Clean Energy Rule — the Trump administration’s counter to the Clean Power Plan that would weaken environmental regulations — “to give power back to states, restore the rule of law, and support America’s energy diversity and affordability.”

“The clean power plan itself was pretty weak and most were actually on track to get those reductions it would’ve required anyway because of economics. The ACE rule takes us in the opposite direction,” Richardson said.

Representatives Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., and David McKinley, R-W.Va., did not respond at all.