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Friday, February 1, 2013

Secretary Chu warns we must confront climate change

Departing Energy secretary offers climate warning

by Ben Geman, E2 Wire, The Hill's Energy and Environment blog, February 1, 2013

Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who announced Friday that he’s stepping down, is leaving with a warning that the U.S. must confront climate change.

“Ultimately we have a moral responsibility to the most innocent victims of adverse climate change. Those who will suffer the most are the people who are the most innocent: the world’s poorest citizens and those yet to be born,” Chu writes in a lengthy letter Friday to Energy Department (DOE) employees.

“There is an ancient Native American saying: 'We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.' A few short decades later, we don’t want our children to ask, 'What were our parents thinking? Didn’t they care about us?,' ” the letter adds.

Chu plans to remain at DOE at least through the end of February, and the letter notes, “I may stay beyond that time so that I can leave the Department in the hands of the new Secretary.”

But while he’s sticking around for a while, the outgoing secretary used the letter to reflect on his time at DOE and address what he sees as challenges ahead — including climate change.

“While we cannot accurately predict the course of climate change in the coming decades, the risks we run if we don’t change our course are enormous. Prudent risk management does not equate uncertainty with inaction,” he writes.

The White House global warming agenda suffered a huge setback when emissions-capping legislation collapsed in Congress in 2010. 

The administration was able to move ahead with other items, including tougher auto mileage rules, expanded DOE support for green energy and efficiency projects in the 2009 stimulus law, and draft Environmental Protection Agency carbon-emissions standards for new power plants.

But Chu has long argued that policies that would create a cost on carbon emissions, such as cap-and-trade, are needed. 

He used the letter to highlight increases in extreme weather events like violent storms and heatwaves in recent decades.

“The overwhelming scientific consensus is that human activity has had a significant and likely dominant role in climate change. There is also increasingly compelling evidence that the weather changes we have witnessed during this thirty year time period are due to climate change,” Chu writes.

President Obama has vowed to focus on climate change in his second term, but his agenda remains unclear. Climate legislation remains frozen on Capitol Hill, so advocates are pressing for executive actions such as creating carbon standards for existing power plants.

Elsewhere, Chu's letter — which runs nearly 4,000 words — touts other DOE initiatives. 

He’s especially proud of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which funds so-called high-risk, high-reward research into breakthrough technologies. The agency was created in 2007 legislation but did not receive funding until 2009.

A major 2005 National Academies report that Chu helped author included a recommendation to create ARPA-E.

“I was a member of that committee, but never dreamed that I would be asked to take the concept to reality,” he writes. “The program has earned the respect of industry and academia for its outstanding funding choices, and active, thoughtful program management.”

The lengthy letter plugs a series of other DOE programs around solar power, electric cars, efficient buildings and other technologies. It reiterates his view that development of green-energy technologies represents a major economic opportunity.

The letter also touches on the department’s green-energy collaboration with China, progress securing nuclear materials and work during emergencies such as the BP oil spill, Hurricane Sandy and the 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan, among many other topics. 

His entire letter is available here.

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