Witnesses at the PA House hearing

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That Pennsylvania The House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee held a controversial hearing Monday entitled “Fossil Fuels: Driving America’s Economy and Quality of Life.”

As the legislature draws to a close, it is common for committees to hold briefing hearings on important issues that can set the tone for the next session. No specific legislation accompanied the call, but committee chairman Daryl Metcalfe, a Republican, has vowed to take Pennsylvania out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a 12-state cap-and-trade program for energy producers .

No advantage for Net Zero

Much of the talk at the hearing focused on the United Nations initiative to achieve this net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 by reducing greenhouse gas emissions as close to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions being absorbed from the atmosphere by oceans and forests.

This “Race to Zero” requires global emissions to be halved by 2030.

This means, among other things, that consumers would have to switch to electric cars and avoid fossil fuels when heating their homes.

“What happens if you completely eliminate carbon emissions from the United States right now?” asked Kevin Dayaratna, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis. Analysis using federal data shows a temperature reduction of less than 0.2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, Dayaratna said of his research.

If only Pennsylvania eliminated fossil fuels by 2100, there would be a temperature reduction of 0.083 degrees Celsius, not enough movement to see on a thermometer, Dayaratna said.

“The conclusion is that legislators should avoid carbon taxes and measures related to carbon capture, as they will have significant economic costs and negligible environmental impacts,” Dayaratna said. “We encourage you to do a cost-benefit analysis like this.”

Democratic MP Greg Vitali asked each witness if they “climate deniers.”

“I’ve come to these hearings so many times over the years and the pattern is the same,” Vitali told Dayaratna. “People like you never acknowledge the seriousness of climate change and never propose a solution. What do you suggest? How do you propose to bring us to carbon neutrality? Are you a climate denier? Do you acknowledge the reality of climate change?”

Dayaratna said the climate has been changing for over 4.5 billion years and climate change could be beneficial as life expectancy and personal income have increased over the years.

“If you’re a realist, you would realize that these policies would have no climate impact at all,” Dayaratna said. “The bottom line is that China and India will do nothing but business as usual with their emissions. There is nothing the United States will do alone to mitigate the impact of carbon emissions. Let’s export things like natural gas overseas to China and India and see what impact that would have on carbon emissions.”

Fossil fuels are ‘valuable treasures’

Fossil fuels are good for the environment, said Greg Wrightstone, executive director of the CO2 Coalition, in his testimony.

Carbon dioxide emitted from burning fossil fuels has been a major contributor to the overall greening of the Earth, Wrightstone said. Coal-derived agricultural machinery, pesticides, and fertilizers have improved agricultural productivity and fuel from coal, and natural gas lowers demand for many metals and minerals.

Carbon dioxide stimulates plant growth, and there is an increase in tree cover in Pennsylvania, the United States and worldwide, Wrightstone said.

“We don’t see deforestation, we see reforestation,” he said.

Global tree cover has increased by 2.2 million square kilometers (1.4 million square miles), Wrightstone said. Greening is taking place in the Arctic areas and the Sahara is shrinking, with 200,000 square kilometers (124,000 sq mi) of former desert in southern Sahara now turning into lush grasslands with increased agricultural productivity, he said.

“Pennsylvania’s standing timber has increased fivefold since 1955,” Wrightstone said. “Fossil fuels are treasures to be cherished and used for the benefit of mankind. Their demonization is irrational and destructive to our society. Coal and oil fueled the industrial revolution that brought us unprecedented wealth and health. Natural gas promised to lift billions of people in developing countries out of poverty and hardship. In short, we love CO2 and you should too.”

The CO2 Coalition has billboards on the Pennsylvania Turnpike showing a woman sleeping in bed. The billboards read, “Sleep tight… There is no such thing as a climate crisis.”

“There is no climate emergency, there is no climate crisis. We see that modest warming and increased CO2 emissions lead to gargantuan benefits for our ecosystems and humanity. We should celebrate that,” Wrightstone said.

Vitali was referring to reports by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the National Academy of Science.

“We see more extremes,” said Vitali. “More extreme hurricanes with greater intensity, more precipitation, more frequent droughts and melting glaciers. … They say CO2 is good and nothing needs to be done. That has to be acknowledged as a departure from the majority of climate scientists.”

Consensus has nothing to do with the scientific method, Wrightstone said.

This was Metcalfe’s last hearing. He retires at the end of the session.

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Beth Brelje is a national investigative journalist who covers politics, wrongdoing and the stories of everyday people confronted with extraordinary circumstances. Send her your story ideas: [email protected]
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