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Storms Drown Out Markey Committee's Swan Song

A funereal feeling permeated the hearing room on a stormy day that kept people away from the global warming's committee's final act

By Elizabeth McGowan

Dec 2, 2010

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.”

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