Thursday, September 25, 2014

Cotton on climate change: Yes, it's probably real, but let the market handle it

Posted By on Thu, Sep 25, 2014 at 4:24 PM

Congressman Tom Cotton was the keynote speaker at a lunchtime energy policy panel at the Clinton Library today. It's one of a series of energy-related discussions in battleground Senate states hosted by the news and polling aggregator site RealClearPolitics. They're also holding events in North Carolina and Colorado.

The RCP moderator, Carl Cannon, said that Cotton's opponent in the Senate race, Sen. Mark Pryor, had been invited to today's panel.

Cotton devoted most of his time to criticizing Obama's energy and climate policy, especially the proposed EPA carbon rule for power generation. But he also acknowledged that there just might possibly be a relationship between a warming planet and the activities of mankind, albeit in the most qualified and circumspect way:

The simple fact is that for the last 16 years the earth's temperature has not warmed. That's the facts...Now, there's no doubt that the the temperature has risen over the past 150, 200 years. It's most likely that human activity has contributed to some of that.

click to enlarge REAL CLEAR POSITION: On Obama, if not on how to address climate change. - BENJI HARDY
  • REAL CLEAR POSITION: On Obama, if not on how to address climate change.
Cotton said the same computer models that predict a catastrophic rise in global temperatures can't explain why temperatures haven't risen more in the past couple of decades. Thus, he asked, "why would we change the way we live our life on a fundamental, civilizational level based on computer models?"

(Editorial aside: One argument is that because if the climate models are remotely correct over the long term, we'll be forced to change the way we live our life on a fundamental, civilizational level due to rising sea levels, increasing droughts and floods and wildfires, unpredictable disease vectors, water shortages, refugee migrations, and on and on. That's even according to the Department of Defense. It's true that planetary warming has slowed in recent years, but no one who acknowledges the human role in climate change thinks that it's simply disappeared for no reason. Acknowledging the predictive limitations of a model is different from throwing it in the garbage.)

The congressman's solution to climate change: look to the Turk coal plant in southern Arkansas, which emits less CO2 per unit of energy produced than older coal power plants — although far more than natural gas-fueled plants, or wind and solar.  

"We should be building more [coal plants] like that. We should be building more nuclear facilities. We should be expanding exploration for oil and gas," said Cotton. Market forces will make technology more efficient and reduce carbon emissions, he said, not "bureaucrats." Cotton said he supports a "diverse energy mix"...although if he mentioned a significant role for renewables in there, I missed it.

RealClearPolitics calls itself a nonpartisan outlet, but its news curation tends to place a thumb on the scale in favor of conservative op-eds (consider this list of endorsements). However, one should give credit where it's due to Carl Cannon for posing some fairly tough questions to Cotton. Considering the American conservation movement began with Republican Teddy Roosevelt, Cannon asked, why is it that today's Republicans are often so harshly opposed to any environmental regulation?

"In Arkansas that is not a partisan matter," said Cotton. "People who grew up on the land, using the water, whether they're farming, hunting, fishing, they have the deepest commitment to our environment, not someone sitting in a building in Washington DC." OK, said Cannon, but isn't it sometimes necessary for government to protect the commons by stopping pollution?

"Of course," said Cotton, "and we've been doing that for 50 years in this country." He said he advocated a "common sense" approach, not "radical dictates" from Washington. But many of the common sense environmental regulations of today — think the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act — were once thought of as "radical" as well.

Mark Pryor, by the way, is no outspoken advocate when it comes to cleaner energy policy. He's rushed to criticize the EPA carbon regulations as well, and he's also praised the Turk coal power plant as a model of efficiency. 

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