Transcript of press conference conducted by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) for Alaska reporters.
Date: January 21, 2005.
Source: Melanie Alvord, Senate Commerce Committee.

Transcript -- Chairman Stevens with Members of the Alaska Press Corps -- January 21, 2005

Chairman Stevens: We are busy trying to complete the reorganization of the Commerce Committee and I have had meetings now with all members, except one on our side, and I hope to finish that today or Monday. And, we hope to have a meeting sometime early next week to organize the Committee and ask members to choose their Subcommittees. We will, at Senator Inouye’s request, have a tenth Subcommittee. As part of the Subcommittee process, we will do two things. One, we will make a Subcommittee out of the High Technology Task Force we’ve had in the past and also have a Subcommittee that deals with the National Ocean Policy Study as we did until about three Congresses ago. That was something that was ongoing through the 70s, 80s, 90s and was abandoned for a while. But, I believe that the reports that have been issued by the Watkins Commission, the presidentially-appointed Oceans Commission, and by the Pew Foundation, with its report, warrant a separate body to look at the whole long-term question of oceans policy. That is not something to be working on short-term legislation. We still have the fisheries and Coast Guard, and matters related to the oceans, which require immediate attention for legislation other than the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which, because of my interest in that, I want to hold that at the Full Committee. We will announce the names and the subject matter of the Subcommittees as soon as I finish my consultation with all members, and I known that Senator Inouye has completed his consultation with the members on his side. But, because we do have a bipartisan approach, we are trying to do the best we can of bringing together our staff work so we can have joint review on the staff level of issues and not end up by having competing papers, which really cause issues between the members of the Committee before we really have a chance to try to work them out on the staff level. Senator Inouye will be known as the Co-Chairman of our Committee and we intend to follow the same process we have in the Appropriations area to try and assure, to the maximum extent possible, that the work product of our Committee will be bipartisan. Now, other than that, I’d be pleased to take your questions. I want to remind you of the decision we made earlier was that any question pertaining to Commerce Committee jurisdiction, including the statement I just made, would be released on Monday and that’s so we don’t have demand for extra press conferences. When questions for been asked about Commerce’s jurisdiction we will release it, except for press availabilities we may notify the press on in the Commerce Committee room.

Question: Just to clarify what you said there, will the short-term fisheries issues and the Coast Guard issues, will they also be handled by the National Ocean Policy Subcommittee?

Chairman Stevens: No, no that is the Subcommittee that exists right now. Basically, it’s fisheries and Coast Guard and it did have the Magnuson-Stevens Act, but, because I cannot chair a Subcommittee under our rules, I have decided to keep that at Full Committee and keep Communications there also. Nominations have also been, by tradition, at the Full Committee level. And, we’ll make those announcements. We also will keep the Transportation Security Administration at the Full Committee level and that’s because it is a jurisdiction primarily related to another Committee’s activity and we don’t want to end up by having conflict between a Subcommittee of our Committee and the Full Committee of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Question: And, the one Member you need to consult with, is that Senator McCain?

Chairman Stevens: Yes, Senator McCain is the last one. We have not been able to get together. We have been seeking to get together. His travel schedule and mine just haven’t matched so far.

Question: Once your reorganization is completed, what do you see as the first big issue that you want to tackle. Because, as you describe it, you’re going to have a whole slew of them, what do you see as what has to be addressed first?

Chairman Stevens: Well, the first issue I hope we can get the Committee to agree to address is the bills that were on the Calendar at the close of the last Congress that were delayed because of objections of one sort or another. They are bills that were reported out of the Full Committee almost unanimously and died because of the end of the Congress. Senator Inouye and I want to do our best to get those bills back to the floor and on the Calendar and see if we can satisfy those who had holds and move them forward. If we can’t get them satisfied, I will ask the Leader to allow me to make a motion to take them up so that we can have a debate on the motion to proceed and we’ll find out why people are holding up our legislation.

Question: What bills are those that were left behind that you might bring up?

Chairman Stevens: We’re looking at a series of bills that would cover laws that were allowed to expire in the last Congress. I understand that there are several bills that are under the jurisdiction of the Committee that had a sunset, and, actually, were not extended. This was called to my attention by the Inspector General of the Commerce Department. I can’t give out the list because this is a list that was given to us by others. And, we have to have some indication of whether it’s true or not. The result was, despite the lack of authorization, we did appropriate funds for these programs. One was Earthquake Hazards Reduction Activities. Another was the Geological Survey Earthquake Hazard and Seismic Research Monitoring. These were called to my attention – the Yukon River Stock Restoration Enhancement Program – we, to the maximum extent possible, appropriated monies for these activities not withstanding the failure of Congress to extend the law. They became unauthorized, but the activities were ongoing, so we determined to fund them last year. There are a series of bills. I hesitate to give them out because when I asked what he was talking about this is what our staff came back with and we haven’t checked it yet with the Inspector General to make sure that’s his understanding also. These are bills that had a sunset in them. Normally, we would have had a reauthorization and we have not passed them. Some of the bills that I am talking about, that were left on the Calendar, we’re in fact reauthorizations – the Surface Transportation Board reauthorization, the FCC reauthorization, the Coastal and Estuarine Land Protection Act, the Technology Administration reauthorization, the Maritime reauthorization, the NOAA reauthorization – a whole series of reauthorizations that were reported out of Committee and never passed. As a consequence, these are some of the ones we want to put back on the Calendar as quickly as possible and to try to get the Congress to move forward and have reauthorization in place before the appropriations process this year because there may be some objections to the appropriations to continue these programs if we don’t get the authorizations done.

Question: So they were appropriated last year, but you need to go ahead and take care of the authorization portion, correct?

Chairman Stevens: We already appropriated the money, so I don’t think that’s subject to any kind of point-of-order now. But, in considering the appropriations bills for 2006, it may well be that a Member could object to appropriations in those bills as not being authorized if we do not get the authorization bills completed. So, we are inventorying those bills, which would have reauthorized existing programs. Some of them are very extensive programs – NOAA and I think the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Coastal Zone Enhancement – our Committee did report them out, but they were held up for one reason or another, because of holds and because of the jam up of the legislation at the end of the last Congress, they just died.

Question: And, just a follow-up to my earlier question, after that is done – you’ve taken care of last year’s business essentially – what is the first big item you want to take care of that is new for you?

Chairman Stevens: A lot of that is going to be determined by Subcommittees and the Chairmen and Ranking Members of Subcommittees because we intend that the Subcommittees will be proactive and they will hold hearings, they will bring to us – the Full Committee – legislation for mark-up based upon Subcommittee approval. We’re trying to get bipartisan support for these bills that have been help up for one reason or another on the floor and we’re going to do that by trying to engender bipartisan support from the Subcommittee and then the Full Committee and take it to the floor on a bipartisan basis.

Question: I was just going to ask you about this Committee stuff again, you still plan to have a Climate Subcommittee, right?

Chairman Stevens: We will announce as soon as we’ve finished the conversations with Senator McCain, and Senator Inouye’s finished his, we will announce what the Subcommittee structure will be and we will then go through the process that we’ve had every Congress of determining what Subcommittees each member wishes to take by virtue of their seniority. For a long time I’ve been the senior member of the Committee, but I have not been unable to have a Subcommittee because I was Chairman of Appropriations. Now, that I am Chairman of Commerce, I can have a Subcommittee of Appropriations, but I can’t have any Subcommittee on the Commerce Committee under our rules, the Republican rules, so I will not have a Subcommittee. But, there will be ten Subcommittees. There are twelve members in the majority, so one member will join me in not having a Subcommittee. I intend to see to it that that member has a lot to do, however, by virtue of how we handle some of the matters that are at the Full Committee level.

Question: And, when you get to the point, presumably you want to start acting on some of the ocean policy recommendations as soon as you can, but when you actually get to the point of doing that, who will handle that first. Will that be the Ocean Policy Subcommittee? Will that be a legislative Subcommittee?

Chairman Stevens: Well, it has the potential to report legislation, but its primary process is overseeing the initiative announced by the Administration, headed up by the Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, which we welcome. And it is an indication that the President is putting high priority on taking some action pursuant to the Watkins Commission Report and in view of the statements that were made in the Pew Commission Report. But, this is long-range. We don’t anticipate anything being on the front burner in terms of that. As some of the oversight produces legislation, we’ll have to determine which Subcommittee considers that legislation.

Chairman Stevens: I’d like to mention the tsunami. We are going to have a hearing soon on the tsunami. Senator Inouye and I both visited the (Pacific Tsunami Warning Center) in Hawaii just before we returned to Washington. I was out there with Admiral Lautenberg. And, the two of us (Stevens and Inouye), when Senator Hatfield was Chairman, initiated the anti-tsunami activities, the tsunami warning system that’s in the Pacific through the appropriations process. We intend to hold hearings in the Commerce Committee and see if we should authorize the extension of that – it’s been suggested by the White House. I am told that for every 100 tsunamis that take place in the Pacific, there’s one in the Atlantic or other oceans of the world. So, we’ve been driven to try and protect the area of the greatest threat. The Administration now says it wants to extend that throughout all the waters off the United States and wherever there might be tsunamis that would interfere with our global trade in the world and I think that’s a valid suggestion. It will take more money and we’re going to pursue that money. But, first we’re going to pursue an authorization to determine the scope of that program that’s been suggested by the President. And, I hope to proceed on that. That’s one of the issues to decide, is where tsunamis go in our jurisdiction. We haven’t decided that yet – it’s really not fisheries and it’s not really oceans per se because it also involves earthquakes, that was an earthquake really under the sea that triggered this last tsunami and I think we have to decide where those types of hazards go – earthquakes, and tsunamis, and related hazards in our jurisdiction. It’s not global climate change, although it might be affected by that in one way or the other. So, that’s a puzzle we have to unravel here before we organize our Committee. But, we are going to proceed, Senator Inouye and I and our staffs are working on the bill along with the Administration. We hope to introduce that soon.

Question: There’s been a couple of global warming items in the news lately, One of them is a story in the Washington Post about a NASA scientist who has been sounding the call about greenhouse gases and global warming and the other one was a story just in Science Magazine about looking backward in time about the great die-off 250 million years ago and how that might have – and it’s also sponsored by NASA, a NASA study – how this may have been caused not by some normal rhythm as some people thought, but, actually by the greenhouse gases from volcanoes.

Chairman Stevens: Yes, I’ve read those. I have them right here, as a matter of fact. When I was home I asked Dr. Syun Akasofu, who is our person in charge of the International Arctic Research Center and he gave me a paper, which I will now release, thank you for your question – Answers to Some Common Questions on Climate Change. (See end of transcript for Dr. Akasofu's paper.) I believe, and have worked with Dr. Akasofu for years – I believe you’ll find he’s very temperate in his answers to the questions that are commonly asked – and the answer as to where I stand is basically that, based on this information that there’s a real disagreement within the scientific community over whether these climate changes are cyclical or permanent, or whether they really pertain to manmade problems such as greenhouse gases, gas emissions, I think that we should proceed as we are – investing in new technologies to augment our existing energy infrastructure and to do our best to reduce the emissions. And, I have, as you know, been a proponent of climate change legislation and joined Senator Byrd in the 107th Congress to attempt to authorize $4 billion to develop these new technologies. We welcome the President’s global climate change policy that’s been announced. It is focused on reducing greenhouse gas intensity, which some people don’t understand. That is really a measurement of the ratio of greenhouse gas emissions to economic output and the goal is to reduce the rate of emissions from an estimated 183 metric tons per million dollars of GDP to 151 metric tons per million dollars of GDP by 2012. Now, that is the goal we are trying to work with, I’m trying to work with. I call your attention to the answers that Dr. Akasofu has given me to common questions. And, rather than reading them all to you, I will just tell you that the summary is this and I will give you his statement and we will now put it in the release we make for those people on Monday. The summary is this and this comes from our Arctic Research Institute: “The Arctic is the best place to witness before our eyes the changing climate in terms of melting ice. However, it is incorrect to associate these phenomena with melting caused by greenhouse warming effects. Natural changes are very large. Climate scientists are trying to differentiate between natural changes and the greenhouse effects in the observed changes.”

And he has an attached paper of our present understanding of the greenhouse issue and he closes by saying the IARC, which he is the head of, “is in a strategic position to lead the advance in understanding of the arctic climate change manifestations by bringing together the observations, and the modeling, and also the arctic research community and Global Climate Modeling (GCM) groups.”

And, if you’ll recall, this is one of the reasons, that I insisted on putting at the University of Alaska, years ago, the Supercomputer that is there, it has been updated and is now, I think, one of the best in the world involved in this, and that is one of the things that Dr. Akusofu is using in his process.

Question: But the idea of tying greenhouse gases, emissions to Gross Domestic Product.

Chairman Stevens: It’s just a measurement of progress.

Question: But if you, as the GDP increases then you allow more gases.

Chairman Stevens: No, no, that’s the wrong side of the equation. As the economy expands, you have to increase the amount of reduction in order to stay at the same level. The President is urging us to have, even with the expansion of our GDP, a lower average level. So this measurement does place a burden, a greater burden, on developing countries than any other countries, but it is a burden we’re willing to accept as long as it’s measured in economic terms. Because if we have only the goal of trying to reduce greenhouse gases per se, we would stop all development and then try to reduce where we’re at right now, you can keep static your economic development level and attack greenhouse gases, they’re going to go down. But, if you allow development to go up and you still want to go down, you’re going to have to work twice as hard to get down. So, he’s really given us a great challenge in terms of his goal for 2012 and that takes money and we’re awaiting the budget to see how much money is going to be involved.

Question: By the way, the Administration indicated last week when it made its Tsunami Warning announcement that it already had the $70 or so million ready to go to make the system 100 percent ready. Is that incorrect?

Chairman Stevens: We had money in the bill this year on tsunamis. It was for just the Pacific, but now it’s going to be expanded. The question is whether they’re going to put priorities outside of the Pacific. If there are will take this up in terms of our review of this legislation, but we want to authorize what the scope is of where we’re going. Currently, the program, as Senator Inouye and I put into effect in 1994 only covers the Pacific. They are going to ask for more money. They’re going to take the money we already made available and say it covers the whole plan and not just the Pacific. Since there was no legislation defining how to use that money, each appropriations bill defined it. We defined it last year. We didn’t restrict it, however. We didn’t say: only that. We are going to work together now on the tsunami bill to try and achieve what the President wants to do at the same time ensuring we will complete what we want to do. One of the things we are looking at, its how much money do we need. We’ll get a request in the supplemental. It’s going to be very difficult. We don’t want to slow down the Pacific, because, obviously the Pacific is still the area of greatest danger. But, at the same time, we want to get additional money to try, the Caribbean is one place, the Indian Ocean is another and we’re trying to get there as quickly as we can.

Question: The bulk of the buoys that they have proposed are on the Ring of Fire, just all around the Pacific, a few in the other places.

Chairman Stevens: Well, there’s this recent thing that came out that said that some of these old damages we’re caused by volcanoes is very interesting in that regard because it’s obvious that the most active volcanoes that we know in the world today are around the Pacific. I don’t think there was a volcano involved in this last tsunami. That was a plain old every day earthquake, but it was under the ocean floor and was caused by a slippage in those plates. And we should take notice of that because we have three plates active in Alaska and ’64 was related to the slippage of one of them. And, there’s another one that goes down the fault, the Madrid fault in the Continental U.S., and there’s another one in California. So, there are still some plates that would be of great interest to us and we’re trying to measure even more.

End of Transcript

(Dr. Akasofu’s paper follows)


Paper prepared by Dr. Syun Akasofu of the International Arctic Research Center:

Answers to some common questions on climate change

#1  Receding sea ice and coastline erosion: is the receding sea ice near the Alaskan and Eastern Siberian coastline caused by “melting”    due to the greenhouse effect?

#2 Shrinking sea ice: is the shrinking area and thinning sea-ice in the Arctic Ocean caused by “melting” due to the greenhouse effect?

#3 Receding glaciers

#4  Permafrost Thinning      

Summary: the Arctic is the best place to witness before our eyes the changing climate in terms of melting ice. However, it is incorrect to associate these phenomena with “melting” caused by the greenhouse warming effects. Natural changes are very large. Climate scientists are trying to differentiate between natural changes and the greenhouse effects in the observed changes.



Our present understanding of the greenhouse issue is as follows:

1. The present amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is the highest during the last 400,000 years.

2. It is very likely that at least part of the warming of 0.6oC/100 years in the global average can be attributed to the greenhouse effect.

3. In the Arctic, the warming is a few times larger than the global average.

4. Further, we can witness changes of the climate in terms of shrinking sea ice, receding glaciers, and a thawing trend in permafrost, etc.

 5. It is very likely that these manifestations have both natural (including the multi-decadal oscillations) and greenhouse components.

6. We have not found methods to isolate the effects of either component.

7. Climate models are not developed enough to remove the greenhouse effect from the observed changes. Likewise, analysis of the observations cannot unambiguously assign the recent changes into natural or anthropogenic causes.

 8. Therefore, it is not possible at present to state even an approximate ratio of the two, resulting in a wide range of attribution in arctic climate change assessments.

9. IARC is in a strategic position to lead the advance in understanding of the arctic climate change manifestations by bringing together the observations, and the modeling, and also the arctic research community and Global Climate Modeling (GCM) groups.