WASHINGTON—It was his global warming committee leadership swan song, and Rep. Ed Markey had counted on going out with a bang.
Through no fault of his own, however, the event he called “Not Going Away: America’s Energy Security, Jobs and Climate Challenges” turned into somewhat of a whimper.
The Massachusetts Democrat was forced to do some last-minute recalibrating Wednesday when stormy weather and a cancellation diluted the planned one-two star-power punch of the final hearing of his Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
With so many countries being forced to adjust to the ravages of climate change, perhaps it’s fitting that the chairman of such a committee had to practice his own brand of adaptation.
First, former presidential candidate and U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark was a no-show. The other luminary on the witness list—environmental activist and Waterkeepers Alliance Chairman Robert Kennedy Jr.—ended up testifying alone later in the day because rainstorms delayed his flight from New York.
Despite low attendance and lackluster participation from the few Republican and Democratic committee members who appeared—most of them opted out of their opening statements—Markey still tried to persist with the theme of the day.
“Today, as the world’s climate community gathers in Mexico, those of us who accept that cutting carbon pollution is this generation’s responsibility are saying that we are not going away,” Markey said in opening comments about how global warming threatens the nation’s national, economic and environmental security. “We are not going away because the problems that climate change presents are too dangerous, too urgent, for us to disappear into the abyss of cynicism and lost opportunity.”
Still, a funereal feeling permeated the hearing room, partially because unlike global warming, Markey’s committee is going away.
With Republicans poised to rule the House, Democrats suspected the committee that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., created almost four years ago was short-lived. A spokesman for House Speaker-to-be John Boehner, R-Ohio, confirmed those suspicions Wednesday by announcing the demise of a panel “created to provide a political forum to promote Washington Democrats’ job-killing national energy tax.”
Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the committee’s top Republican, had lobbied for keeping the panel alive as a bully pulpit for investigating the Obama administration’s climate change policies.
However, in his opening statement at the hearing, he announced that the committee was meeting for the last time.
“And while I was initially skeptical of the select committee’s mission, it ultimately provided a forum for bipartisan debate,” said Sensenbrenner, a climate skeptic. He added that while he and Markey disagree on policy, they agree that the country needs to diversify its energy supply and increase energy efficiency. “The American people want action. It’s going to be a tough task ahead.”
Even though his committee didn’t have the power to write legislation, Markey said the panel provided fodder for congressional action on fuel economy standards, energy efficiency standards, investments in renewable energy and advanced battery technology, and the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, which he co-authored.
Kennedy the Last and Final Witness
In 75-plus hearings since April 2007, the select committee offered a forum for hundreds of experts to testify about ending America’s addiction to oil, maximizing efficiency measures and deploying green technologies.
Robert Kennedy was the last of those witnesses. He and Markey—the only representative who returned to the hearing room after a break of more than an hour —vented their frustrations with Congress’s inability to pass climate legislation while engaging in a freewheeling, 45-minute conversation about why it’s imperative for America to be the world’s clean energy trailblazer.
“Our country ought to be the leader of the world on these issues,” Kennedy said. “Instead we are looking at the future in the rearview mirror. That’s not good for our country.”
The energy industry, he said, is mired in the “corporate crony capitalism model.” It needs to evolve by following the revolutionary path of the personal computer and telecommunications industries. That requires constructing “a national marketplace for electrons” and creating a free market that turns every home into a power plant.
“The Baby Boomers have failed all subsequent generations,” by refusing to curb emissions of heat-trapping gases,” Markey said, adding that future generations are going to be asking why Congress didn’t act to protect the planet. “The United States cannot sit on the sidelines.”
Before closing out the hearing’s first segment, Markey reviewed a few figures with his dwindling audience.
One, this country has spent $1.3 trillion importing oil since his committee began meeting in April 2007. Two, China has committed to investing $738 billion into clean energy over the next decade. And, three, the $4-a-gallon gas from the summer of 2008 that spurred a serious national energy conversation will likely return soon.
“If Congress can supply regulatory certainty, we can unleash American ingenuity,” Markey reminded listeners. “The politics might change but the problem isn’t going away.”
Neither is Markey.
He vowed to continue being a bulldog for energy solutions as a member of the minority party.
Not only did he win his last election Nov. 2 with 66 percent of the vote but he’s in line to become the top Democrat on next year’s Republican-centric Natural Resources Committee.
In a post-hearing interview, he declined to tell reporters which subcommittee he is seeking, saying only that “we’ll see what the choices are.”
Then he turned and walked out of room 210 of the Cannon House Office Building.
(Photo of Robert Kennedy Jr. courtesy of the Select Committee)