For most of the hearing this morning, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson has been doing his bureaucratic best to descend into minute discussions of the law (“Section 209” of the Clean Air Act is a favorite hobby horse), extended discussions of process, and the like. But Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) didn’t have time for that.
Every time Sanders asked a question and Johnson made his monotone parry, Sanders struck back to the heart of the issue.
Is global warming a major crisis facing the planet? he wanted to know.
“I don’t know what you mean by major crisis,” Johnson responded.
“The usual definition of the term “major crisis” would be fine.” The reason Sanders wanted to know, he said, is that Johnson’s decision to deny the waiver would make sense if the Bush administration didn’t think global warming was something worth getting worked up about.
Johnson chose “serious issue” as his preferred term, and then returned to discuss Section 209 again.
Sanders wanted to know if Johnson thought that global warming was due to human activity. It took Johnson a paragraph and another exchange to say yes.
Then do you believe that “bold action” is needed to reverse it? Sanders wanted to know.Johnson agreed to the need for action but pointedly dropped the “bold” part. And he at length took exception to Sanders’ contention that the Bush administration has ignored and downplayed the threat of global warming throughout its terms (Sanders didn’t mention the organized effort to censor government publications and scientists). Bush said that global climate change was a “problem” way back in 2001, Johnson said. Case closed, apparently.
But what about the serious health problems that are predicted to stem from global warming — flooding, diseases, drought, etc.? Do you agree that those are real threats?
Johnson returned to a discussion of “specific definitions” and the law….
But Sanders broke in. “Just as a human being.” What do you think?
Well, “I consider myself a human being,” Johnson answered and attested again to the “serious issues” here.
Update: Here’s the transcript:
SEN. SANDERS: Administrator Johnson, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has told us, as you know, that global warming is a huge crisis facing our planet and that very bold action is needed in the United States and throughout the world if in fact we’re going to cut greenhouse gas emissions and reverse global warming.
As I mentioned earlier, however, a new international ranking of environmental performance puts the United States at the bottom of the Group of Eight industrialized nations and way behind many other countries in moving forward in environmental issues.
Now, if I am correct — and I believe I am — it was only last year that the Bush administration actually admitted that global warming was a reality.
So my questions to you are, number one — yes and no would be fine — do you believe that global warming is a major crisis facing our planet?
MR. JOHNSON: Well, Senator, one, as I said, I believe that it is a serious problem —
SEN. SANDERS: Is it a major crisis?
MR. JOHNSON: I don’t know what you mean by “major crisis.”
SEN. SANDERS: Well, the usual definition of the term “major crisis” would be fine. (Laughter.)
MR. JOHNSON: (Chuckles.) Well, I understand —
SEN. SANDERS: In other words, I ask these questions not just to put you on the spot but to provide some background as to how you reached your decision. If in fact, as I believe is the case, the Bush administration does not see this as a very serious problem, it is quite understandable why you would reject California’s waiver.
I am not hearing you acknowledge that you believe that global warming is in fact a major —
MR. JOHNSON: No, I said that global warming is a serious issue facing our nation and facing our globe.
SEN. SANDERS: Okay.
MR. JOHNSON: And I also said that under the law, under Section 209, it says I am to judge.
SEN. SANDERS: That’s not what I’m asking. All right, let me ask you another question.
MR. JOHNSON: That’s what I am to judge —
SEN. SANDERS: Do you happen to agree — do you agree with almost all of the scientific community that global warming is created by human activity? Is it man-made?
MR. JOHNSON: It is my understanding what the scientific community says is that there are both human activity as well as naturally occurring, but that the current levels and projected levels are due largely to human activity. That’s my understanding.
SEN. SANDERS: If I understand it, the IPCC has said that the current situation is 90 percent likely caused by human activity. Do you agree with them?
MR. JOHNSON: I agree with the IPCC, yes.
SEN. SANDERS: — statement on that? Okay. Do you agree that bold action is needed to reverse global warming?
MR. JOHNSON: I believe that action needs to be taken to reverse global warming, both here in the United States and around the world.
SEN. SANDERS: Bold action is the word I used.
MR. JOHNSON: As I said, action.
SEN. SANDERS: Action. Okay. If in fact bold or if in fact action is taken, why do you think it took six years before the Bush administration acknowledged the reality of global warming?
MR. JOHNSON: I’d like to correct to the best of my recollection what I recall the president acknowledging as far back as 2001 that it was a problem, and certainly be happy to, for the record, to make sure that that is clarified.
SEN. SANDERS: But you will agree that the Bush administration was far behind virtually every other industrialized country in acknowledging the problem and moving to deal with the problem?
MR. JOHNSON: No, I would not —
SEN. SANDERS: You would not?
MR. JOHNSON: I would not agree with that and I would not agree with that because as a nation, we have since 2001 been investing now over $37 billion in addressing this issue.
SEN. SANDERS: I hear that you do not agree with that and that’s fine. Now, in terms of serious health problems, what we hear from the leading scientists of the world, that if we do not address global warming, we’re going to see an increase in dangerous flooding, we’re going to see draught, we’re going to see an increased danger, which we are already seeing, of forest fires, we’re going to see hunger because of the loss of farmland, we’re going to see wars being fought over limited resources, and we’re going to see an increase in such insect- caused diseases as malaria. That sounds to me like we may be facing some serious health problems. Do you disagree with that assertion?
MR. JOHNSON: Well, again, as I was trying to say to Senator Cardin, that under the Clean Air Act, there are specific definitions and certainly interpretations of the definitions and of the law focused on endangerment —
SEN. SANDERS: No, I’m not asking that. Just — excuse me, we don’t have much time — just as a human being, just as a human being, do you happen to think that flooding — the impact of flooding, the impact of drought, the impact of forest fires, hunger, wars, malaria and other insect-borne diseases — do you think that that constitutes serious health problems?
MR. JOHNSON: Well, as administrator, I consider myself to be a human being, but I also agree that those are serious issues that require — and that’s why I believe that there is a compelling need to address them.
SEN. SANDERS: Well, I think, frankly, your response tells us why the entire world is wondering what is happening in the United States on this issue. Thank you very much, mister.