Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), a 30-year member of the House of Representatives with a long-standing interest in climate legislation, was formerly chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Science and Technology. He recently sat down for an interview with POLITICO’s Lisa Lerer. Here are edited excerpts.
On the problem with Copenhagen and putting blame where it belongs
The Copenhagen negotiations were already falling apart before the Senate delayed in taking the climate bill up, and the reason for that is the fact that China and India and the Third World have been very adamantly opposed to bringing themselves under any kind of a binding international commitment. Sen. [John] Kerry has repeatedly said that a Copenhagen, or post-Copenhagen, treaty is not ratifiable in the United States Senate unless it is a worldwide application. And he’s right on that. I don’t agree with him on much else, but he’s right on that.
The reason the Copenhagen negotiations, I think, sputtered out is that the Europeans thought that they could get a tweaked version of the Kyoto cap-and-tax system in a Copenhagen treaty; they were thinking that the change of administration here in the United States would have the Obama administration sign it. And the president has been clear that he will not sign it. I also think it’s clear that what they are looking for is a treaty that would end up obtaining the two-thirds vote to ratify it in the Senate, and getting a two-thirds vote in the Senate is difficult no matter on what subject.
On the curse of Kyoto
The Kyoto treaty has failed, and it’s failed even in Europe, which has had cap and tax since 2005. Emissions in Europe went up in 2005, 2006 and 2007 with cap and tax. They were slightly reduced in the U.S. without cap and tax, and I think that this shows, No. 1, that cap and tax fails in terms of reducing total emissions and, second, it results in a massive wealth transfer to the Third World. And the international market in carbon-offset credits — there have been estimates in the [European Union] that the next round of reductions will actually require the EU to spend more money buying credits from outside the EU (red China and India) than within the EU. This shows that [cap and tax] does not reduce emissions, and it exports wealth, money and jobs from the developed world to the developing world. And the last thing in the world we should do, particularly in a recession, is have the huge increases in energy costs that a “son of Kyoto” treaty coming out of Copenhagen will result in.
If we cut our emissions, and the growing economic and manufacturing tigers like China and India don’t, that’s unilateral economic disarmament. And I don’t think any country should be expected to significantly hurt their economy and the people who work in building that economy. That was what the Senate would not ratify: a treaty that was not international in nature, which significantly hurt the U.S. economy. Kyoto flunked in both of these respects.
On the importance of new technologies
I have advocated an entirely different approach than cap and tax, which would be worldwide in application and which emphasizes technology as a way of reducing total emissions. With cap and tax, what happens is that people who emit too much end up having to buy credits. The credits are sent to people who are not emitting enough, and what China and India have done is basically use the money to create more coal-fired power plants. So we’re not talking about reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere or methane or the other greenhouse gases; we’re simply talking about shifting where they are and paying to the Third World taxpayer money to build more factories that emit more greenhouse gases.
People are beginning to realize that this is about jobs and economics and wealth, rather than reducing the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. And that’s why I’ve talked extensively about solving this problem with better technology.
So there have got to be encouragements in developing new technologies, and there has to be an international treaty where countries that have very poor records of enforcing intellectual property rights, like China and India, agree to vigorously enforce the patent and copyright rights of the developers of that technology.
No free pass for China, India and the rest of the Third World
I think that the message that came out of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Singapore [last month] was one that was aimed largely at the Third World group that is headed by China and, to a lesser extent, India: that they can’t expect to have a significantly different accounting system in dealing with greenhouse gas emissions, which is what they’ve been advocating.
When I was in China with [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi’s delegation [last May], what the Chinese were saying is that we’re going to cut the growth rate of our emissions by 20 percent for the period between 2005 and 2010. Well, that amounts to an increase in total emissions of 30 percent because China’s gross domestic product is supposed to grow 50 percent during this five-year period. And that means they’re able to increase their emissions by 30 percent, while they are advocating steep reductions of emissions in Europe, in the United States and in Japan.
Small manufacturers — and most of us have a lot of those in our districts — end up with skyrocketing energy bills because they’re competing against products that are made in China and India. They’re basically going to throw up their hands and say, ‘We can’t compete anymore,’ and there are going to be a lot of people that are out of work.
On disputes about global warming
The science is clear that there is an increase in the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. What is not clear from the science is how much of that increase is caused by human activity; and what also is not clear is what impact those increases have on the climatic cycle. I’m here to say that I think there’s some impact of human activity on climatic change. It’s not 100 percent of the climatic change, it’s not zero percent, but there is no scientific consensus on what number between the two it is. And that’s why there’s considerable doubt. But the bottom line is that in order for something to be politically feasible, it’s got to be economically feasible. And the numbers that have come out in the economic surveys on the impact [of climate legislation] on consumer prices for electricity and natural gas and gas at the pump, and its impact on jobs in the manufacturing sector, are devastating. There’s no senator or representative who should be expected to vote on something that will have that type of a devastating impact on the people that live in their state or their district.