Two Area Members Of Congress Weigh Decisions On “Climate Change

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The federal Environmental Protection Agency says emissions of carbon dioxide and a handful of other gases now threaten human health. The finding is expected to give impetus to efforts in congress this year to pass “climate change” legislation and two Central Ohio democratic representatives are in the crosshairs of carbon politics. WOSU’s Tom Borgerding reports.

Representatives Mary Jo Kilroy and Zack Space are relative newcomers to Capitol Hill. Space was elected in 2006. Voters gave Kilroy a ticket to Washington just last November. Both replaced longtime republican house members. In making decisions on climate change, Kilroy and Space will have to weigh district economic interests against stricter environmental regulation. The proposed legislation …known on capitol hill as the Waxman-Markey Bill….aims to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases” by 20 percent during the next decade. If passed, the legislation would deeply impact Ohio utilities and its coal industry. Two major industries in Space and Kilroy’s congressional districts. Kilroy represents much of Columbus…home to American Electric Power. Last year, AEP burned coal to to generate 88 percent of the electric it sold in Ohio and ten other states. Diane Fitzgerald is head of A-E-P’s government and environmental affairs unit.

“Your listeners may not know this but A-E-P is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the western hemisphere.” Says Fitzgerald.

As proposed, the federal bill would cap the total allowable greenhouse emissions in the U-S and then allow A-E-P and other companies to trade credits until they collectively reduce total emissions. The thrust of theWaxman-Markey bill is to reduce dependence on coal and other fossil fuels and increase generation and use of renewable forms of energy, especially sun and wind. But, timetables for reduced greenhouse gas emissions will be subject to debate. Fitzgerald frames the coming debate in stark terms.

“Its really all about how much damage do you want to do to the U-S economy. If we have a draconian piece of legislation that drives businesses outside the United States because of greenhouse gas regs then that’s not good for the U-S economy. ” Says Fitzgerald.

While the region’s economy is significantly coal-dependent. Ohio State University Climatoligist Jason Box says climate change is already occurring and he says what’s coming down the piepline is …in his words “pretty frightening,” especially its potential effects on the agricultural economy.

“Actually, recent National Academy of Sciences report documents an increasing frequency of droughts and severe weather in the continental United States. So, this climate change appears to be happening now. Its not actually something off in the future.” Says Box.

Box has made 16 expeditions to Greenland to study climate change. He’s renown for his research.

The science tells us that even if we stopped emissions today or held them constant today into the future the climate would warm already substantially.” Box says.

Against the backdrop of climate change and a heavily coal-dependent economy, Representatives Kilroy and Space both say they have yet to take a position on the “climate change” bill.

Well, I want to see what the final bill looks like but I have been working with the sustainable energy and environment caucus to make sure that we have a strong bill that helps protect our environment, helps protect us as consumers and make sure that we also to help us transition, transform our economy into the new green energy economy.” Says Kilroy.

Congressman Zack Space says his support for climate change legislation will hinge on how it affects the eastern Ohio economy and manufacturing base.

“Well, look I’m trying not to approach this from a political perspective. I’m trying to approach it from the perspective of doing the right thing. This is obviously a significant piece of legislation addressing a profoundly important issue, energy independence being a big part of it.” Says Space.

Hearings on the climate change bill are already underway in congress. Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated she wants legislation passed by the end of summer.

Tom Borgerding WOSU News.

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