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Global warming issue heats up on Capitol Hill

By Reuters (Reuters) - May 1, 2007

Three hearings in one day — from gas prices to military concerns

Global warming was impossible to avoid on Capitol Hill Wednesday, with a trio of hearings on the consequences or cures for climate change.

The topic has been a top-tier issue in Congress since Democratic leaders took over in January, including members of a new committee dedicated to energy independence and climate change.

That panel heard testimony about the trials of rising gasoline prices, and its chairman, Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, blamed dependence on foreign oil, warning of environmental consequences.

“Our oil dependence has too many costs — to our national security, to entrepreneurs, to our environment, and to American families — for us to delay taking action on this important problem any longer,” Markey said.

Across the Hill, a Senate panel that deals with climate change heard about possible technological ways to limit the emissions of climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

“I believe we must fight global warming to protect our economy as well as our planet,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat. “… If we do nothing, the cost can’t even be calculated.

But Sen. John Warner, a Virginia Republican, cautioned against rushing to action with the wrong plan: “If we make a false start … and it just proves to have been wrong, I don’t know when we’ll get an opportunity like the one before us now.”

Meantime, the Senate Foreign Relations committee heard from former military leaders who warned of potential national security risks from climate change.

Sen. Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican, said he has urged the Bush administration and others in Congress to return to an international leadership role on global warming.

“Many nations and businesses across the globe are moving to respond to climate change in innovative ways,” Lugar said. “How the United States participates in these efforts will profoundly affect our diplomatic standing, our economic potential, and our national security.”

But even as the climate change issue spurred debate among U.S. lawmakers, a demographer said that while Americans take this matter seriously, they are lukewarm about taking any tough action to control it.

“It’s real, it’s serious — impressions of that are certainly growing,” said Karlyn Bowman, who watches polling data at the pro-business American Enterprise Institute. “But in terms of what people are willing to do: They’re willing to do things that are easy … It just isn’t a top-tier issue.”

“They (Americans) don’t necessarily think it’s a problem for them now. But everybody says it’s going to be a threat to their grandchildren,” Bowman said.