August 17, 2012
Opening Statement by Chairman Bingaman
“Good morning and welcome. The purpose of the hearing is to talk about the impacts of climate change on the Intermountain West.
“During the early part of this year, the fire season involved intense wildfires here New Mexico, Colorado and across the western United States. Many of those wildfires are continuing, of course, in the Northwest part of the country, in Washington and Oregon today. They are threatening population centers and destroying hundreds of homes. I think we lost 253 homes down in Ruidoso and Lincoln County. There are a great many of homes lost in Colorado Springs. Wildfires have always been a part of life in this region, but this year’s fires have been exceptional in their intensity.
“The work of the nation’s top scientists tells us that some of the conditions contributing to the severity of this year’s fire season, including drought accompanied by above-average temperatures, are now more common because of human-induced climate change. The National Research Council examined historical wildfire data as part of its America’s Climate Choices report, and found that ‘over the past 30 years, large and long-duration forest fires in the American West have increased fourfold, the length of the fire season has expanded by 2.5 months and the size of wildfires has increased several-fold.’ The study further attributed the increase in wildfire activity to climate change, stating that climate change has likely contributed to a significant increase in big forest fires in the West. In a separate report from 2011, the National Research Council projected an increase in median annual area burned for parts of New Mexico and in the Sierras of over three hundred percent for a global increase in temperature of just one degree Celsius. That level of warming is all but certain to be reached and exceeded in the coming years.
“The intent of this hearing is to receive testimony that puts the recent fires into a greater historical context, to unravel the factors that contributed to their severity and to understand how climate change has and is expected to continue to change the landscape and ecosystems of the Intermountain West. This hearing will focus primarily on the broad impacts of climate change, including increased wildfires, widespread damage to ecosystems and the potential for greater drought conditions. Forest management practices are also an important consideration – and as I indicated, we had a hearing two days earlier in Colorado Springs that focused on that chaired by Senator Mark Udall. The audio from that hearing and the written testimony from that hearing are available on the Senate Energy Committee website, energy.senate.gov. And for anyone anyone is interested in this, we are live-streaming the audio from this hearing and the testimony from today’s hearing will be on the website as well.
“Climate change is not just an issue that will affect future generations. The impacts are being felt today in different ways all around the country and around the world. Here in New Mexico we are dealing with increased temperatures, drought and more intense fires, but citizens in places like Louisiana and Florida are dealing with the impacts of rising sea levels. It’s clear that communities across the country are paying the very real costs of climate change right now.
“I hope that the discussion today will restart a national conversation about climate change. Though talk of climate change has become highly politicized, it is critical that we reduce greenhouse gas emissions here and abroad. There is a good article in today’s Santa Fe New Mexican, which many of I’m sure saw, talking about how CO2 emissions in the United States have fallen – energy use is still growing rapidly. In other countries, like China, CO2 emissions are rising, not falling.
“In the Senate, I have worked to advance policies to reduce greenhouse gases by promoting clean energy sources and greater efficiency. Most recently, I introduced the Clean Energy Standard Act of 2012. Kevin Rennert, who is sitting here beside me, worked on this hearing and is the main author of that legislation – he put it together and I very much appreciate his work on that. This Clean Energy Standard Act would transition the way that this country generates electricity to a variety of clean, low-carbon sources. While election-year politics will keep this legislation from being enacted in this Congress, I hope that the legislation will serve as the foundation for passing similar legislation in the next Congress. Climate change is a tremendously pressing issue that we can’t afford to ignore and we need to work to address it.”
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