hugh mcdiarmid jr’s speech from yesterday’s global warming town hall meeting

A reader just forwarded me the text of the speech delivered by Hugh McDiarmid Jr., of the Michigan Environmental Council, before Dingell took the podium yesterday. His words stood out in stark contrast to those of the other two presenters, neither of whom, as I recall, implored Dingell to do more than he was already doing relative to global warming. And, judging from Dingell’s response, he was none too pleased. Once the Congressman stepped up to the podium, he was quick to lavish a great deal of praise on the other two men, calling them great, visionary leaders, etc. After doing so, he then turned to Hugh and said something to the effect of, “And, Hugh, I knew your father…” The meaning, at least to me, was clear… My guess is that Hugh probably wasn’t asked to accompany the Congressman to today’s town hall.

Good afternoon.

My name is Hugh McDiarmid Jr., Communications Director for the Michigan Environmental Council, a coalition of more than 70 Michigan environmental, public health and faith-based organizations.

Today I speak on behalf of the co-sponsors of this Town Hall meeting, a coalition of the state’s leading environmental groups including mine, Clean Water Action, The Ecology Center, Environment Michigan, and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

On behalf of this coalition, I would like to thank Congressman Dingell and his staff for hosting this important forum.

It is now clear that manmade greenhouse gas emissions have accelerated Global Warming exponentially. We can not escape some of the disturbing effects that already have been set in motion.

But we can avoid the most devastating scenarios if we, as a country, act now to lead the world toward a new, responsible model that includes limits on carbon emissions, cleaner energy choices, smarter less polluting transportation options and aggressive energy efficiencies.

We are fortunate to have Mr. Dingell playing a pivotal role in an issue fraught with political minefields. As the father of many of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws and dean of the U.S. House, Mr. Dingell is positioned to substantially determine whether we succeed or fail. Making global warming a key priority for the powerful energy and Commerce Committee which he chairs, has been critical to moving this issue forward.

Given his leadership role, however, we are disappointed in Congressman Dingell’s recent positions on some key components of this transition so far — most notably on inadequate automobile fuel economy standards and most recently on a key amendment on renewable energy standards.

On any other issue, voting to stall good legislation on procedural grounds, or engaging in the crafty political calculus of constituent groups might be justified.

But Congress has stalled far too long on urgent changes needed to contain Global Warming impacts. Words, good intentions, and political games no longer count. Immediate action is needed. Playing politics with our climate is not acceptable, given the very real threats we face.

We are hopeful, however, that Mr. Dingell will work toward achieving the critical goals he himself has set. As chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Mr. Dingell has committed himself to passing legislation that will cut global warming emissions by 60 to 80 percent by mid-century. This amounts to about two percent per year, the rate which scientists say is needed to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.

This attainable goal can only be achieved with commitment of every sector of the American economy. But it is one that needn’t cripple the economy or erode the nation’s quality of life. In fact, the innovations, technology and vision necessary to achieve significant reductions in Global Warming pollution are catalysts for a modern, new American economy flush with clean energy jobs, energy-efficient industries and visionary transportation solutions.

But the devil, as they say, is in the details.

Here’s what we’d like to see:

1. Carbon Cap: We need a national program freezing greenhouse gas emissions before they grow any more, and then cuts them by 2 percent every year. Time is of the essence. Time is of the essence. Further delay will force businesses to make far steeper and more costly reductions in the future.

America can best achieve rapid, cost-effective reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by implementing an economy-wide “cap and trade” system. The plan sets an overall national limit on carbon emissions by major emitters while allowing each to pick the most efficient way to reduce pollution. Emitters would buy and sell emissions permits, rewarding companies that innovate, and offering flexibility to everyone. It is no wonder that Ford and Chrysler recently joined General Motors in calling for a strong, mandatory national carbon reduction plan that includes cap-and-trade.

2. State Actions: Federal law should encourage, rather than prohibit state polices that are at least as ambitious as state mandates. States are both fertile laboratories for policy reform, and have varying capacities for alternative energy development.

In Michigan, we call on Gov. Jennifer Granholm to step up the fight against Global Warming emissions. Michigan needs an energy plan and renewable energy mandate to regain its competitive edge and attract new economy entrepreneurs.

3. Renewable Energy Standard: The nation needs an aggressive requirement to ensure a percentage of our energy comes from clean, homegrown renewable sources like wind, solar and biomass.

Congress just this weekend passed an energy standard, over Mr. Dingell’s significant procedural objections, calling for 15 percent renewable energy generation by the year 2020. That’s a good start. We support 20 percent by 2020. It’s hard to imagine reaching 60 to 80 percent reductions without this goal.

Michigan, with its vast, untapped wind energy potential and $20 billion in imported, dirty fuel expenditures annually, has much to gain from such a policy. Almost two-dozen other states have their own standards. Those are the states attracting clean-energy industries like wind turbine manufacturers and solar panel installers. Let’s create Michigan jobs in wind energy and other clean ventures, rather than sending that money to coal-mining states and Middle Eastern oil barons.

A Renewable standard must be coupled with new federal building and appliance standards for energy efficiency, which will create jobs, spark innovation and move the nation away from energy dependence and polluting fossil fuels.

4. Automobile mileage standards: Without dramatically increased vehicle mileage we can not hope to approach Mr. Dingell’s goal of a 60 to 80 percent carbon reduction by mid-century. The future of Detroit’s auto industry — and the jobs of the many union men and women in that industry — depends on innovation, new technology, and an efficient new generation of vehicles capable of competing in a new era of emissions caps.

Analyses by our colleagues at Environmental Defense, and others, indicate that we will need increases in vehicle fuel efficiency of closer to 5% per year in the near-term, along with similarly aggressive increases in the use of low-carbon fuels, in order to meet our desired mid-century carbon reduction targets. Of course, we also need to ensure that our domestic industry has the tools and financial resources it needs to meet these tough targets. We also support job-protections such as UAW’s “anti-backsliding” proposal, which guards against the offshoring of small car production under new fuel economy rules.

In fact, a poll released days ago by the Pew Campaign for Fuel Efficiency showed overwhelming support for strong fuel efficiency standards, including 84 percent in your 15th District, Congressman.

A word about nuclear energy: As guardians of the Great Lakes, we are understandably wary of a premature commitment to new nuclear energy generation. The Great Lakes shorelines are increasingly littered with waste deemed too dangerous to store in the Nevada desert. Generating more, especially before the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency and renewable power are maximized, is reckless. It is also expensive. Without the massive subsidies of public money being proposed, nuclear does not compete financially with more responsible energy options. And, given the tremendous energy costs of building and maintaining nuclear plants, it is assuredly not deserving of the carbon-neutral happy face its proponents suggest.

The world is looking to America to set the standard for responsible, effective carbon reductions. We surely can not avert global catastrophe without the help of nations like China and other major carbon emitters. Nor can we expect them to reign in their own emissions unless we demonstrate that we are willing and able to lead by example. Only when the United States has in place sound and effective carbon control policies can we lobby, cajole and pressure other nations for their cooperation through diplomacy and trade agreements.

The threat is real. The time to act is now. We look to you, Mr. Dingell, to lead the way.

Thank you for the opportunity to express our views.

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One Comment

  1. ED
    Posted August 9, 2007 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    For those of you tempted not to click through to the second page, it’s worth a look. His 4 points are good, as is his bit on nuclear.

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