A Climate-Policy Moment in an Energy Confirmation Hearing — in 2001

President George W. Bush and Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham (right), May, 2001 (White House photo)

While tracking statements on climate change and energy policy by Trump cabinet nominees, with former Texas Governor Rick Perry in the spotlight on Thursday, I found myself sifting back to January, 2001, when the first-term administration of George W. Bush was taking shape.

On January 18, a Senate committee heard from Spencer Abraham, Bush’s proposed Secretary of Energy. Here’s an interesting moment on renewable energy and global warming as Senator Byron Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, took his turn:

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Senator DORGAN: Some of us feel very strongly about renewable energy sources. Some say, well, gosh, it contributes almost nothing, less than 5 percent. Some of us feel very strongly that the potential in wind energy and biomass and others is very important. Will you be an advocate for those kinds of issues at the Department of Energy, and will you be supportive of, for example, production tax credit extensions for wind energy?

Senator ABRAHAM: I will continue to support the Department’s commitment in that area. I think I supported legislation in the last Congress, if I remember, that would have extended the tax credits, and I think we ought to look at other kinds of incentives that might be made available in one or more of the various areas of renewable energy, including biomass, solar, and geothermal energy as well, to see what other kinds of ingredients might be useful. I think the challenge we have is to overcome what is perceived by many and has been mentioned by many here today is our inability thus far to really move in this direction in terms of supplying a significant portion of the energy that this country uses, but I think we’ve got to really have a balanced approach, and I think renew- able energy is an important part of that kind of balanced approach.

Senator DORGAN: And do you feel the same way about clean coal technology?

Senator ABRAHAM: Absolutely, and I would mention that the President-elect during the campaign has made strong statements of support for a substantial increase in clean coal technology research.

Senator DORGAN: I would ask you about two other areas, Senator Abraham. One deals with fuel efficiency, but first let me ask about global warming. Some say clearly the evidence exists that there is some global warming. Others say, this is not settled science, and still others say, that’s nuts, we don’t have any idea what is happening to our Earth, or our world at this point.

What’s your impression? Some say no matter how you feel you ought to take a series of no-regrets policies in anticipation if there is settled science at some point. If there is global warming, you ought to have done something.

Senator ABRAHAM: I think regardless of the differing opinions of scientists and experts and so on on the broad issue, that we have a challenge as a Nation and an opportunity in the sense that the new technologies that are, you know, in so many ways affecting our lives, some of which I’ve had a minor role, in my previous career in the Senate, in helping to expand to try to make sure among the kinds of priorities we set for the research we’re doing and the technology development that’s going on is to try to address the issue that relate to CO2 production and ways to try to address that, as well as to see how we can conserve in a fashion that reduces rather than expands these kinds of emissions.

And I hope we can look for new solutions. I think during the campaign the President-elect stressed that as one of his priorities, to find ways to use technologies to find new solutions so that we’re not locked in to simply, you know, a single-minded debate about what the scientists think on the one hand or, on the other hand, a situation in which our debate is almost exclusively whether or not we can work with the less-developed countries to come up with a more balanced approach to dealing with this problem.

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Abraham made the cut.

Read my continuing coverage of the Trump transition in the context of climate change in ProPublica or follow me on Twitter @revkin.

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Andy Revkin

Pursuing progress on a finite planet at @columbia @earthinstitute. The rest? Family, friends, books j.mp/revkinbooks, songs j.mp/revkinmusic