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And the country that positions itself with the right technology and focus and marketing and international trust on the issue is going to be the country that capitalizes on cleaning up the global environment. And I applaud you for your efforts.
Mr. WIRTH. If I might, Mr. Chairman, one footnote to your statement related to New England Electric-one of the really progressive and leading companies in the United States, under the leadership of the late Sam Huntington and Mr. Rowe. Mr. Rowe called the other day concerned about what we can do about environmental technology and how we might be able to take advantage of it. It was terrific.
He recognizes that cutting edge that is out there and recognizes the partnership that we must forge between the public and the private sector and said we are here and we would like to help. It is a perfect illustration of what you are talking about happening in your own backyard.
Mr. GEJDENSON. And I think we all have to go through the change. I was in the State House and utilities talked about getting into the business of weatherization and making homes and industries more energy efficient. It seemed like one more opportunity to build into the rate base. But in many ways, these corporate structures are best suited to take an overall best return to investment for new energy. And in the real world, often conservation is the most inexpensive way to add new power rather than building new facilities.
Mr. WIRTH. I hope you voted yes on all of those measures in the Connecticut State Legislature.
Mr. GEJDENSON. I think I did.
Mr. ROTH. Senator, I had five questions for you, but I want to dovetail into the question that was just asked.
I don't mean to be alarmist or go off on the deep end, and maybe this is showing how far I have come—a conservative asking you to keep me from going off on the deep end—but scientists have been talking about a new black plague that is going to be coming. It is not a disease but a worldwide outbreak of health problems because of the environment.
I was interested, in Newsweek this week, “How Safe Is Our Food” and so on. And I am interested—I am curious, what is your position of our Government? Are
you focusing in on these problems, to keep Congress apprised of what is going on?
Mr. WIRTH. I have a portfolio that is broad and deep, but food problems are not listed among them. However, we are, you know, very concerned about the impact which various environmental considerations certainly can have as Congressman Gejdenson was mentioning in his opening remarks.
We also have some very significant questions related to food supply. You remember that Mr. Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, when he received a Nobel prize in 1971 or 1972, he said what the Green Revolution has done is to give us a 30-year window to catch up and really work on population stabilization and the related environmental problems.
I think it is probably fair to say that 20 of those 30 years have gone by. And we have not made nearly the kind of progress that we are going to have to make.
If you project this down the line, not to be Malthusian in that fashion, but if we look at what we learned about the science of food supplies and the integrity of our reserves and the need for reserves at a time when we are going to have weather crises, we have ahead of us very, very, very significant problems.
Mr. ROTH. Do you think these futurists who are talking about this black plague, do you think that they are too alarmist?
Mr. WIRTH. I haven't read that Newsweek article, so I can't speak to that article, but a lot of people_talking about global climate change, as you know Congressman Roth, were accusing scientists of being alarmist when they were first discussing these issues 15 years ago.
And now I think the preponderance of the evidence clearly indicates that the amount of greenhouse forcing gases going to the atmosphere has sharply increased. And knowing everything that we know now, that it, therefore, follows that the chances are very good that the atmosphere is going to warm significantly. And, therefore, what we ought to be doing now is intervening at a time when it is still cost effective and maybe no cost for us to intervene.
Let's not wait until we get to the crisis. When we get to the crisis and crash measures-it is more difficult to deal with somebody after they get sick than protecting them and keeping them well.
Mr. ROTH. I am interested in food safety in our country, and I do feel that we need international standards and we need diplomatic effort in this area on safety standards.
The chairman is also interested in dairy products coming into this country. And I was amazed when we did our study to see the contamination of dairy products coming into this country. I do feel that we have got to have some initiative in this area, because it is not going to be enough for just us to do a good job; other countries have to do likewise.
Mr. WIRTH. I think we would all agree that there is a major international cooperative agenda that must be taken. And the United States, as the remaining superpower in the post-cold war era, has a responsibility to lead. And the world is asking us to lead on so many of these issues.
Mr. ROTH. Most of the attention on the greenhouse gas emissions has focused on carbon emissions and from cars and power plants and the like.
But methane, however, is another greenhouse gas that is generated by landfills. I see so many of these landfills around the country, and I experience what people have been telling me about them.
What types of steps can the United States take to reduce the emissions of these types of gases? What is your thinking on that?
Mr. WIRTH. We may not want to reduce the emissions. We may want to figure out how to use the emissions.
In southern Colorado, I visited last summer a landfill that is being mined by the public service company of Colorado capturing the methane that is coming out of the landfill and pumping that into the system of the public service company. Now, this is a nocost source for them. The cost is not in the methane itself. The cost is in the capturing and the distribution system. And it was worth it to the public service company to do so.
This was an experiment. It was working out for them, and now they plan to approach a lot of other landfills at the same time. We now have the technology to take this kind of a step. Methane is a very real problem. But as we view that as a problem, we can also view it as an opportunity.
Mr. GEJDENSON. Will the gentleman yield?
In Connecticut we manufacture fuel cells that are used at least in several test sites. Also, the government has begun, in sites where you don't have access to a distribution system, to collect the methane, run it through the fuel cell and distribute the energy through the electrical grid.
So there are a number of ways to capture and use this energy, and it is something that can have some economic benefit both in the manufacturing end of new systems as well as in the gas.
First of all, Mr. Wirth, as a new Member of this committee, it is my first chance to tell you how much I have admired from afar, your work in the Senate on public-private initiatives and environmental policy. And I think you have helped us get into a new age of environmental policymaking in this country which is something that we desperately need.
Mr. WIRTH. Thank you, sir. I think we share a similar educational institution as well.
Mr. FINGERHUT. That is, I hope, to your credit. I hope that I am not going to ask you something that we have already covered. The first subject in your prepared testimony was on the issue of the scientific basis for this evidence-for these conclusions.
And I am wondering what you think we need to be doing as the U.S. Government, now, in continuing to develop the scientific basis?
How much time and money ought we be spending on just determining whether there is a global climate change problem and the extent of it? Or how much should we be shifting our dollars and efforts into the resolution, the problem-solving phase?
Mr. WIRTH. Well, we still have a good deal to learn; although, it is not a frontier science anymore. It might have been a dozen years ago, as in the discussion I just had with Congressman Roth, at which point it was something new and people didn't understand it.
Now, with new satellite technologies and the very sharp progress in atmospheric science and a major research effort in the last decade, I think our understanding of greenhouse gas concentrations has gone up very, very sharply.
What we don't know in a lot of atmospheric science is the impact of a lot of this. We know that the gases are going up; and we can extrapolate to assume that if there are more greenhouse forcing gases in the atmosphere, therefore, everything that we know would suggest that the atmosphere is going to get warmer.
That suggests the second part: What public policy initiatives do we take?
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On the first side, we have a lot of research to do on how much, how fast, and where. We don't know that yet. It is an imperfect science in terms of trying to figure out the regional or local impacts of this. And that means that we ought to have a continuing research effort that becomes much more sophisticated and much more difficult at the same time.
Mr. FINGERHUT. What is your level of confidence in our current efforts? And are we doing the right thing? Are the right agencies involved? Are we directing the research in the appropriate way?
Or ought we be taking a new look at our research efforts, again on the front end of this problem as opposed to the policy implications side?
Mr. WIRTH. My own belief is that we are doing a pretty good job. And it might be a good idea to come back at some point to assess how well—there was a lot of money being put into this in the late 1980's
our research dollars are being spent. I remember there was a lot of competition in the Congress as to who was going to put what amendment in an appropriation bill and what research establishment was going to get the funding, and would this be done at the university level or in government laboratories.
The administration is conducting an investigation into our policies involving greenhouse gases, and we will be able to get a better sense as to how effective a lot of this research has been. And maybe some of it should be better coordinated.
There is always that possibility—and I am sure that a prod from you all doesn't hurt on that—to make sure that the taxpayers' dollars are being spent as well as possible.
Mr. FINGERHUT. One of the frustrations for me on the policy side of this in terms of helping other country and moving toward energy efficient manufacturing, I think you mentioned China as a rapidly growing economy, is that we have the question of: Is it going to be a completely, coal-based economy; and are they going to be contributing significantly to the climate change problem?
I come from a heavy industrial area, northeast Ohio; and we need to invest in updating our manufacturing base. And at the same time, we need to make sure that the rest of the world has an environmentally sound manufacturing base.
How are we going to balance the competing demands of wanting to update, unfortunately, the older manufacturing base in the United States and wanting to make sure that our developing, competitive, manufacturing bases are environmentally sound?
I am afraid that we are going to, frankly, kick start an environmentally sound and more efficient way for our competitors without assisting, at the same level, our domestic manufacturing base.
Mr. WIRTH. I don't think those are mutually exclusive by any means, and I think they are in some ways apples and oranges.
If we did, like in the 1970's and 1980's, sharply increase our investment domestically in more energy-efficient technologies, the manufacturing base in Ohio is probably 50 percent more energy efficient than it was in 1953. We have a long way to go. We are half as energy efficient as the Germans or the Japanese per unit of gross national product. We are enormously wasteful of energy.
What we have to do in the United States is to price energy appropriately and to make sure that we are understanding and taking into account as much of the full cost of energy as possible.
And this internalizing of costs, making sure that that is part of the process, is a constant quest by us all and certainly part of good accounting and good long-term strategies. That is going to help everybody.
And that is happening in this country. The market is driving a good deal of that. And I think your industries are finding, I will bet you, that almost every industry in our country, the person in charge of energy is probably a very senior person in the company. Twenty years ago, that was probably an assistant manager of the plant and they were not looking at energy because we weren't costing it.
We have become much more efficient and we want to continue to do so. Our efforts industrially and in the research that is done in the Federal Government ought to be linking with the private sector as much as possible to help us achieve greater efficiencies.
The energy bill of last year was another, albeit modest, step in the right direction. The situation related to the Chinese or a situation we know better, the Russians, is one in which, if we can point out to them where major savings can be made, they can, in large part, pay for themselves.
If the Chinese are installing more energy-efficient technologies that are going to dramatically increase the way in which they use their own energy, that means that there are dollars left over to reinvest in those very energy efficiencies.
We see that in Russia right now working with Russian industry on natural gas and natural gas pipelines, in the flaming of natural gas, enormous amounts of energy is wasted.
Oil is probably a more egregious example, an enormous waste of fuel that could, in turn, pay for the process of modernizing and setting it up. It is a very different kind of a situation there. We have wastes which are more sophisticated and difficult to get a handle on in the United States, unlike what it was 20 years ago when it was pretty easy to get a lot of savings rapidly.
Mr. FINGERHUT. I thank you for your comments. I again want to applaud you and encourage you in your efforts in the administration. I think we are heading in the right direction, but we need to be aware both, frankly, of the problems of perception and the problems of reality. Given the competing views of industrial policy we must make sure that we have a sufficient emphasis on our domestic industries as we are also trying to address this around the world.
Mr. WIRTH. Energy policy is such a big piece of this and remains so. And we in the United States, as awkward as it is and difficult as it is, we have to continue to think about energy policy and the implications of energy policy.
The startling figure that comes to me: We are half as energy efficient as our two major competitors. We are spending $400 billion a year on energy in the United States. If we were spending $200 billion instead of $400 billion, and the magnitudes are about in that area, think about what we, in turn, would have overall in our economy.