E&E Legal Letters Issues VII: E&E Legal’s David Schnare Debates Sierra Club’s VA Executive Director on “Climate Change”

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by Chaim Mandlebaum
FME Law Counsel

On April 30th 2015, the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy and WCVE PBS Richmond hosted a debate on climate change and the future. The debate was titled “Living with Climate Change” and it featured the Glen Besa, Executive Director of the Virginia Sierra Club debating with Dr. David Schnare, General Counsel of the Energy and Environment Legal Institute. The debate was moderated by Bob Holsworth, the Founding Director of the Center for Public Policy and the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The debate proved to be a frank and spirited exchange, while still remaining civil and decorous. Dr. Schnare opened the debate by pointing out the vast uncertainty that exists with regard to the issue of climate change. He explained how difficult it is to predict what, if any, future global temperature changes may occur. He explained how, despite the many dire predictions, there has been little change in global temperatures over the last decade, and that sea levels have not risen at a rate beyond the historical levels of change. Dr. Schnare pointed out the necessity of taking steps now that make sense and are reasonable, regardless of whether the worst or best case scenarios unfold in the future. This was in contrast to Mr. Besa, who harped on the concerns that we would only see the worst case scenarios.

Dr. Schnare pointed out many common-sense solutions to problems, like those faced by Virginia in Hampton Roads. He suggested increased support for wetlands development along the coast, to absorb sea level fluctuations. He urged support for nuclear power to help deal with concerns about carbon dioxide, and he stressed the need to support projects that will have minimal impacts on Virginia’s environment, while still supporting its growth and development, such as pipelines to bring natural gas to market.

Dr. Schnare also raised concerns about the EPA’s proposals regarding new regulations for power plants. While Mr. Besa was strongly supportive of these new regulations, Dr. Schnare pointed out studies which showed the substantial negative economic effects of these regulations. This was also a major concern of the audience, which asked about how much the EPA regulations would costs the citizens of Virginia. Dr. Schnare pointed to work by the Virginia State Corporation Commission which found that it would cost citizens of the Commonwealth billions in increased electricity rates and more in lost economic growth and lost jobs if the EPA plans went into effect. He also pointed to studies done by the federal government which show that as electricity rates rise people will be forced to forgo being able to cool their homes in blisteringly hot summers or heat their homes during cold winters. Many may be forced to choose between that and paying for other necessities.

In many areas Dr. Schnare and Mr. Besa agreed, such as the need to make Virginia more energy efficient. However it was Dr. Schnare who came to the debate with proposals that would both help solve problems and also support the economic growth of Virginia. In the end both parties agreed that debates like this are necessary, as states and the federal government decide how to regulate, and how to spend billions on future power generation facilities, and future distributions grids.

The debate will air on May 14 at 9 pm on WCVE PBS Richmond / WHTJ PBS Charlottesville.