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Minnesota: Audience takes sides on climate change at Bachmann forum

Source:  Copyright 2009, St. Cloud Times
Date:  April 9, 2009
Byline:  Lawrence Schumacher
Original URL: Status DEAD


U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann brought her opposition to President Obama’s plan to reduce carbon emissions to St. Cloud State University on Thursday, repeating a discredited claim about how much the plan would cost Minnesotans.

In front of a crowd of more than 400 people gathered at Atwood Memorial Center to hear her talk about climate change, Bachmann said she would oppose a carbon cap-and-trade proposal. Among other reasons, she said it was because she believed it would cost each Minnesota family $2,500.

“This energy tax, I am very concerned will hike up taxes by as much as $2,500 for a family of four in Minnesota, by at least one study,” she told the crowd during prepared comments introducing Chris Horner. Horner is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C., free-market think tank that opposes cap-and-trade.

Cap-and-trade is a plan in which total emissions are capped by the government. Industries that release less than allowed get credits they can sell to industries that release more. Over time, the total allowable emissions are reduced.

Bachmann’s estimate of the cost to Minnesotans, made in a Twin Cities newspaper opinion piece this week and in her newsletter to constituents, is derived from a House Republican take on a recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology study.

One of the scientists involved has called the Republican estimate “nearly 10 times the correct estimate of $340” per year on average.

John M. Reilly, associate director for research at the Joint Program on Global Change, sent a letter April 1 to House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, to “clear up any misunderstanding and avoid further confusion” about the cost estimate.

Bachmann, who has said she wants Minnesotans “armed and dangerous” on the issue of climate change policy, has advocated for drilling for more oil and natural gas in parts of the country that are now protected. She has argued that global climate change is not due to human activity.

Bachmann took no questions from the audience Thursday and left the room without addressing requests to substantiate her claim.

Bachmann spokesman Dave Dziok later said she had to leave for a similar forum in Woodbury, and that her claim was based on the House Republican estimate.

She left most of the day’s talking to Horner, a lawyer and author of two books skeptical of global climate change. Horner repeated the claim about the estimated costs of the cap-and-trade proposal, citing the conservative Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation as one of the sources.

Taxing issue

Horner delivered a lecture and slide show to the crowd that appeared evenly divided between climate change skeptics and those who believe climate change is caused by human activity.

He argued that global climate change is not man-made, and that efforts to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide will do nothing besides cost Americans money and jobs.

“Cap-and-trade is an energy tax. It’s the best kind of tax, a hidden tax,” he said. “I can’t tell you who it will hit, except, ultimately, it will be you.”

Associate St. Cloud State geology professor Al Pekarek, a climate change skeptic, emceed the event and read questions submitted from the audience.

Pekarek called Obama’s proposed cap-and-trade plan “a potentially economy-crippling tax” and said that there had been no significant national debate on the issue of climate change “because believers in global warming do not accept the challenge.”

Distortions

All Thursday’s forum served to do was illustrate how politics distorts science on both sides of the climate change issue, said Bob Weisman, professor of meteorology at St. Cloud State and a member of the audience.

“For the most part, it was a political statement. There wasn’t a lot of science there,” said Weisman. “We’d say the same thing about (former Vice President Al Gore’s climate change documentary) ‘An Inconvenient Truth,’ by the way.”

Derek Larson, environmental studies program director at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University, said he and his department saw Horner’s presentation once before at St. John’s and felt no need to attend Thursday’s event.

“He’s not a scientist and he’s misrepresenting everything. He’s coming from the CFI, which is funded by Exxon,” Larson said of Horner. “And Rep. Bachmann is not interested in any dialogue, or she would have invited both perspectives on the issue.”

Ciru Mugo, a first-year graduate student at St. Cloud State University and a native of Kenya, said she was disappointed that Bachmann didn’t give students a chance to present their point of view on the issue.

“I thought she was going to listen to us,” Mugo said. She said she supports the idea of a cap-and-trade policy because “it lets people know the true cost of production,” including impacts on the environment.

Some agreement

Despite disagreeing with him “100 percent, politically,” Weisman said he agreed with Horner that the Obama administration’s cap-and-trade program likely won’t do anything to effect climate change.

“Like the Kyoto treaty, it won’t bring down global warming,” Weisman said. “You’d need something more like a 40 percent cut in emissions (to do that).”

Horner argued that the cap-and-trade plan would result in “Soviet-style manufacturing quotas” and that it would contain accounting gimmicks “that would make Enron blush.”

Anthony Akubue, a professor of environmental and technological studies at St. Cloud State, said he believes man-made climate change must be addressed, but he also dislikes cap-and-trade proposals.

“As far as I’m concerned, industry has always found a way to circumvent whatever limits are placed on it when Congress puts in credits and other breaks,” he said.

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