In Debate With Bill Nye 'The Science Guy', Congresswoman Says Carbon Dioxide Pollution is Good for Plants

News & Politics

Attempting to host a productive debate on climate change policy can be hard when one of the people debating said policy does not believe climate change exists. But that is exactly what NBC’s “Meet the Press” attempted to do on Sunday, with host David Gregory moderating arguments between Bill Nye ‘The Science Guy’ and Tennessee Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, the vice chair of the notoriously anti-climate change House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Gregory did manage to get a few policy statements out of Blackburn, including one in which the Congresswoman stated that EPA regulations on carbon emissions must look at the social benefits of carbon dioxide pollution. From her comments:

BLACKBURN: David, one of the things we have to remember is cost/benefit analysis has to take place. … And it is unfortunate that some of the federal agencies are not conducting that cost/benefit analysis. They’re focused on the outcome. … Now, you know, when you look at the social cost of carbon, and there is a lot of ambiguity around that, what you also need to be doing is looking at the benefits of carbon and what that has on increased agricultural production. A lot of good studies out there about that, and scientists and biologists have done that study.

CO2 in small doses is most certainly good for plants. But the concentrated levels that are causing climate change do not seem to be boding well for the agricultural industry as of late. The debilitating drought in California — which many scientists, including Nye, link to climate change — has caused production problems for a slew of fruits and vegetables, and water scarcity that has left 500,000 acres unplanted.

In August, the Obama administration estimated that the social cost of carbon is $43 per ton of carbon emitted, a figure Republicans have tried to roadblock. The “social cost of carbon” (SCC) is the formula used by federal regulators to calculate how carbon pollution harms public health, the environment, property value, and other issues.

Government agencies use that cost to decide how to construct any regulation that touches on carbon emissions — from microwave efficiency standards to infrastructure construction to transportation.

The Obama administration does not currently use so-called “benefits of carbon” to construct regulations, however, which is what Blackburn has suggested. The most recent “good study” she is likely citing comes from the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity — an industry group of coal electricity producers — and says that energy production from fossil fuels over the last 200 years has doubled life expectancy and improved the quality of life for people around the world.

It is not terribly surprising, however, that Blackburn would recommend that regulations move away from solving the climate crisis. Members of Blackburn’s E&C committee last month voted 24-20 against an amendment that would have stated conclusively that climate change is occurring and is caused by greenhouse gas pollution. Those twenty-four E&C members — all Republicans — have accepted about $9.3 million in career contributions from the oil, gas and coal industries, according to analysis by the CAP Action War Room. Blackburn herself has accepted $287,393.

“The President should realize that Congress has taken action” on climate change policies, Blackburn said. “We have said no.”

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