Yesterday, the House Science Energy and Environment Subcommittees held a joint hearing on the “Science of Capture and Storage: Understanding EPA’s Carbon Rules.” EPA Air Office Acting Administrator Janet McCabe was the sole witness on the second panel. Her testimony begins about one hour and 54 minutes (1:54) into the archived Webcast. Although calm and non-ideological in tone, McCabe’s responses in the lengthy Q&A were terse, usually uninformative, and often evasive.
The hearing focused on carbon capture and storage (CCS), the technology new coal-fired power plants will have to install to meet the carbon dioxide (CO2) New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) in EPA’s proposed “Carbon Pollution Rule.” Under the Clean Air Act, NSPS are to “reflect the degree of emission limitation achievable through the application of the best system of emission reduction which . . . has been adequately demonstrated.”
Environment Subcommittee Chair David Schweikert (R.-Ariz.) kicked off the Q&A (1:59) by noting that the “Carbon Pollution Rule” assumes CCS technology is “robust and ready to go,” yet the “previous panel was pretty crisp, even from right to left, that there are still some real concerns on the technology itself.” He asked for “technical” information clarifying how EPA set the CO2 standards.
McCabe responded by explaining that the “Carbon Pollution Rule” does not actually mandate the use of CCS, it sets a performance standard based on CCS, and let’s covered facilities decide for themselves how to meet the standard. Okay, but that’s a distinction without a difference, since the only known technology that can reduce CO2 emissions from coal plants as much as CCS is CCS.
When it comes to the technology that we based those numbers on [i.e. 1,100 lbs. CO2 per MWh for new coal plants], we believe that if you look across all the information and data that’s available, that there is adequate and robust data showing that the various components that we based the standard on are in use, have been in use, and will be ready.
In other words, instead of providing technical information addressing the concerns raised during the previous panel, McCabe said, in effect, ‘Trust us, we’re the experts.’
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), noting GOP Members’ concerns about the cost of CCS, asked McCabe to discuss the “costs associated with the lack of action to address climate change and increasing emissions.” McCabe responded (2:10):
That’s a very good question. There are costs to our economy and to society from the impacts of climate change that is already happening. In 2013, there were seven extreme weather events. Which I think is a nice way of saying great, big, huge horrible storms that cost the economy over a billion dollars each. This is a real economic impact on our communities, our families across the country.
Prompted by Bonamici, McCabe went on to include “health care costs” and “disruption to families and whole communities” among the costs of inaction.
Whether deliberately or otherwise, McCabe blurs the distinction between climate risk and climate change risk. Hurricanes are not some new phenomenon unique to the Age of Global Warming. Huge, horrible storms have billion-dollar costs — that is the nature of the beast. Blaming hurricanes on CO2 emissions is unscientific. There has been no long-term trend in the strength or frequency of hurricanes, none in global accumulated cyclone energy, and none in hurricane damages once losses are adjusted to take into account increases in population, wealth, and the consumer price index. The U.S. is currently experiencing the longest period on record with no major (category 3-5) hurricane landfall strikes.
Blaming hurricane damages on congressional gridlock (“lack of action”) is loopy. Even complete elimination of U.S. CO2 emissions via immediate and total shutdown of the economy would avert only a hypothetical 0.19°C of warming by 2100 – too small a reduction to have any detectable effect on weather patterns. Ergo, no lesser emission reductions that might have been implemented during the past decade or two could provide any meaningful protection to people or property even if one assumes all seven billion-dollar storms in 2013 were ginned up by climate change. [click to continue…]