Friday, February 3, 2012

Testimony of Pennsylvania Clean Air's David Henderson at the EPA/NHTSA Clean Car Hearing in Philly

My name is David Henderson, and I appreciate the opportunity to speak in favor of higher auto fuel efficiency standards today. I am not a climate expert, economist or politician. I come here today as a father, as a concerned citizen and as a chemical engineer that worked in the field of alternative energy for over 10 years.

We Must Act To Prevent Global Warming
I believe that climate change is no longer an issue of scientific inquiry, but one of political will. There are many corporate interests that benefit from “denial of climate change”. They continue to profit from “Business as Usual” while the true costs of the pollution these industries create is borne by society. By continuing to enter into the debate over climate change, we allow the groups that profit from the status quo to control the dialog. The overwhelming consensus from the scientific community is that global warming is occurring and that human activities are contributing to it. As a society, the conversation we need to be having is not whether or not global warming is occurring, but what we are going to do to prevent it.

Free Market Will Not Control Greenhouse Gases
Some may argue that it is not the government’s role to tell automakers how efficient to make their cars; the free market will “correct itself”. I strongly disagree with this argument for a number of reasons:
  1. The free market has failed to address the problem so far – even though many climate experts believe that significant climate change is now already inevitable
  2. When it comes to pollution (and specifically global warming), we can’t afford to be reactive. It is far easier and cheaper to prevent pollution before it occurs than to perform remediation. Usually, remediation is just expensive damage control (think BP Oil Spill, PCB dumping in Hudson river) that cannot return an environment to a pristine state.
  3. Perhaps the most compelling reason that the free market is ineffective at regulating pollution is that the true cost of pollution is almost always external to the market. For example, in Pennsylvania we currently get a little over 50% of our electricity from coal fired power plants. Free market economics would view paying your electric bill in Pennsylvania as a “win win” where both the consumer and the power plant owner benefit from the exchange. The free market does not consider Externalities such as the estimated 24,000 lives that are shortened each year due to the pollutants emitted by coal fired power plants. The free market does not include the costs of deforestation due to acid rain, the mercury that ends up in our fish and birds or the damage caused by mountain top removal.
A similar argument can be made when a consumer purchases an automobile and then fills up the tank. Though the impact of the CO2 emissions are hard to quantify, rising sea levels, malaria, drought, famine and more extreme weather are often cited as examples.

Government Action Needed
One of the important roles of government is to regulate the “negative” externalities of economic transactions. I believe that increasing the CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards is a step in the right direction, and I urge you to make it happen.

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