- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2009

Congress must pass funding for a new unified national electricity grid and set a price on carbon emissions, former Vice President Al Gore told lawmakers Wednesday morning, adding that the Earth is in “grave danger” unless the U.S. breaks its dependence on oil.

“We have arrived at a moment of decision,” Mr. Gore said. “Our home, Earth, is in danger. What is at risk of being destroyed is not the planet itself, of course, but the conditions that have made it hospitable for human beings.”

Despite the icy weather when he testified Wednesday, Mr. Gore’s concerns have received a considerably warmer reception in Washington since his fellow Democrats took control of both Congress and the White House.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers have said they expect a bill curbing carbon emissions to pass this year, and President Obama’s economic stimulus plan calls for doubling the amount of renewable energy produced.

Lawmakers Wednesday looked forward to the upcoming U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen, where many environmentalists and government representatives are hoping to establish more worldwide limits on carbon emissions.

“Climate change will be increasingly central to our foreign policy and national security, and it will be a focal point of this committee’s efforts as well,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat.

Mr. Kerry got a few laughs from the packed room by saying he and Mr. Gore had more in common than losing presidential elections to George W. Bush: They served together on the Foreign Relations Committee in 1988.

In prepared remarks, Mr. Gore urged quick passage of Mr. Obama’s stimulus package. He also pushed senators to support a carbon tax, while acknowledging that a cap-and-trade measure is most likely to pass Congress.

Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, suggested the U.S. learn from Europe’s troubles with allowing free emissions waivers that were “distorting the markets.”

“We’re now firing real bullets here,” Mr. Corker said, in reference to pending “cap-and-trade” legislation, which would set emission limits for businesses and then make the right to emit that carbon dioxide a tradable commodity.

Since losing the 2000 presidential race, Mr. Gore has spoken extensively about global climate change and won the Nobel Peace Prize. As he has often done, Mr. Gore turned to a slideshow to make his point that global warming is increasingly damaging the Earth. Before testifying, he asked supporters in an e-mail and online video to lobby their congressmen and senators for passage of strict environmental legislation.

“You and I know that continuing with the status quo will not revitalize the U.S. economy. Please make sure your elected officials know, too,” he wrote in the e-mail sent Wednesday morning.

While a strong consensus in Washington has developed that global warming poses a serious threat around the globe, skeptics have opposed new limits on carbon emissions, saying global warming has been hyped. During the hearing, Republican staffers distributed highlights from a 2007 report disputing the existence of global warming.

The icy weather that greeted Mr. Gore on Wednesday brought memories and a handful of laughs from some who remembered a big snowstorm that hit Washington days before Mr. Gore testified about global warming in 2007.

“And to the naysayers and deniers still out there, let me add: A little snow in Washington does nothing to diminish the reality of this crisis,” Mr. Kerry said.

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