- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2007

Former Vice President Al Gore yesterday called on Congress to create a polluter tax and immediately freeze carbon emissions during a much-hyped appearance before House and Senate panels tasked with finding ways to halt climate change.

The Democrat, who starred in the Oscar-winning global-warming documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” outlined a 10-point plan to preserve the environment for future generations.

“We do not have time to play around with this,” Mr. Gore said. “Our world faces a true planetary emergency.”

He acknowledged that “the phrase sounds shrill,” but insisted that it is no exaggeration.

Democrats lauded the politician-turned-environmental activist, but some Republicans accused him of using faulty science to sell movie tickets and cautioned that his proposals could cripple the economy.

“You’re not just off a little, in fact, you’re totally wrong,” said Rep. Joe L. Barton of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The only scientist to testify at either hearing called Mr. Gore’s assertions “wildly exaggerated.”

Bjorn Lomborg, adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Consensus Center in Denmark, said Mr. Gore has “good will and great intentions,” but “he has got carried away and come to show only worst-case scenarios [that are] unlikely to form the basis for sound policy judgment.”

Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and critic of those defining global warming as a looming problem, demanded that Mr. Gore give “yes” or “no” answers to his questions, including on a pledge to “consume no more energy in your residence than the average person.”

This was a thinly veiled reference to Mr. Gore’s home, which uses more than 20 times the national average of electricity, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research detailed in a report recently.

“We purchase wind energy and other green energy that does not produce carbon dioxide. That does cost a little more now,” Mr. Gore said, explaining his more than $2,000-a-month bill for electricity and natural gas, prompting Mr. Inhofe to charge he was refusing to take a personal energy ethics pledge.

“We live a carbon-neutral life, Senator,” Mr. Gore said, but Mr. Inhofe was just getting started.

Senate environment panel Chairman Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, twice had to intervene to “get control” of the hearing.

Mr. Gore gave near identical testimony in his morning appearance before a joint hearing of House Energy and Commerce energy and air quality subcommittee and the House Science and Technology energy and environment subcommittee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in the afternoon.

He delivered 516,000 postcards to lawmakers that he collected on his Web site, urging action on climate change and told legislators at both hearings that he thinks Americans are hopeful that the new Democratic Congress would make changes that could drastically slow down the effects of warming.

“I’m not here by myself, there are lots of Americans who feel as strongly as I do,” he said.

Mr. Gore stretched the truth, saying the postcard effort “started just a short time ago,” but actually, he began collecting them at least as early as December.

The cards were, however, an example of his growing fan base in the six years since he won the national popular vote for president but lost the Electoral College vote to George W. Bush.

The Democrat dismisses calls for him to seek his party’s nomination in 2008, saying he’s on a “different kind of campaign.” Nevertheless, lawmakers treated him like a rock star on Capitol Hill yesterday.

Congressmen fawned over him, his critics praised his passion, and one Democrat called him a “prophet” for his work on global warming in the 1980s.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman John D. Dingell twice mistakenly called the Democrat “Mister President” during the hearing.

Even anti-war protesters who happened to converge on one of the hearing rooms yesterday said they have no quibble with Mr. Gore, who opposed the Iraq war from its inception.

But he insisted that he was just there to help guide Congress to the right decision and repeated his stump lines that climate-change efforts need not be political, and said instead he looks at action as a “moral” issue.

At one point, the former vice president likened the fight to curb carbon emissions to the ancient battle characterized in the new blockbuster movie “300,” in which warriors defended themselves “to save the prospects for democracy.”

Mr. Gore spent the lunch break schmoozing with new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who created a special global-warming panel as one of her first actions — and then the two sauntered onto the House floor as members voted.

The line of lawmakers hoping to shake Mr. Gore’s hand wound through the chamber, leaving a few Republicans irritated at the hubbub. One Republican inquired whether Mr. Gore was allowed on the floor. House staffers said the visit was within the rules because he is a former member of Congress.

Former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, praised Mr. Gore and even had a friendly back-and-forth with the Democrat about grandchildren.

“I agree with you, the debate over climate change is over,” Mr. Hastert said, later adding that he worried that freezing the emissions would cost “tens of thousands” of jobs when companies move to India or China.

Other elements of the Gore plan included banning incandescent light bulbs, creating an “Electranet” to allow people and small businesses that create solar and wind power to sell that back into the power grid, and requiring companies to disclose their carbon emissions to investors.

Mr. Gore also proposed the creation of a mortgage association in the spirit of Fannie Mae to help promote energy-efficient home sales.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat and former first lady who is running for president, heaped praise on Mr. Gore and said she hopes he returns with more details on his proposal.

She first called his plan “extremely intriguing” and then added about the mortgage portion, “That’s a terrific idea, Mr. Vice President.”

Mrs. Clinton also nodded when Mr. Gore said the next president must craft a new global treaty to reduce emissions, similar to the Kyoto Protocol rejected by the Bush administration.

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