How Climate Change is Jolting Our Electric Grid: Live Blogging Today’s Senate Hearing

Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee (NWF photo)
And we’re live from Dirksen 366! This is the National Wildlife Federation’s Miles Grant bringing you constantly updated coverage of today’s Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee hearing, Weather-Related Electrical Outages.

I’m joined at the hearing by Joe Mendelson, the National Wildlife Federation’s global warming policy director. This hearing is one of the only ones related to climate change that Congress has held this year, so in that sense, it’s an important chance to talk about global warming, a major threat to America but one that Congress refuses to address. “The climate-related threats to our nation’s energy systems compound the vulnerability associated with our aging & crumbling energy infrastructure, which is already causing environmental damage,says NWF Climate Scientist Dr. Amanda Staudt.

Keep refreshing for updates throughout the morning & add your thoughts in the comments section!

11:28am – The hearing winds down with some wonky questions about grid mechanics. Disappointing how little attention climate change received at the hearing, and disappointing how few senators were here to learn about the threats to America’s electrical grid.

11:21am – Getz asks Congress not to leave small states on their own to deal with such huge challenges.

10:58am – Thomas Getz details the December 2008 ice storm that knocked out power to two-thirds of New Hampshire electrical customers and outages lasted up to two weeks. At the time, the storm knocked out four times more customers than any storm in New Hampshire’s history – but just since then, three more storms have approached that high-water mark. Learn more about how climate change is increasing oddball winter weather.

10:48am – Sen. Cantwell points out Washington state has had back-to-back incidents of what used to be considered “100-year” extreme weather events.

10:43am – As with last week’s hearing on sea level rise and energy infrastructure, attendance at this hearing is extremely poor both from senators and from members of the media. Only Senators Bingaman, Murkowski, Blumenthal, Jeanne Shaheen and Maria Cantwell have spoken at the hearing, and just six people are sitting at the press tables.

10:35am – Sen. Murkowski repeatedly questions the impact of the Environmental Protection Agency’s new limits on carbon, mercury and other pollution on electric reliability. Even though these rules have been years in the making, she hasn’t cited a single study to back up her concerns.

10:25am – Sen. Murkowski again attributes extreme weather to “random weather patterns.” Polls show Sen. Murkowski is out of step with Americans on this one, with a large majority of Americans connecting the dots between global warming and extreme weather.

10:21am – Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) shows Patricia Hoffman a chart from NWF’s report on how global warming-fueled extreme weather is impacting our energy infrastructure. Bingaman points out electric power disruptions are up sharply in recent years. Hoffman says we’re seeing stronger thunderstorms, tornadoes & snowstorms.

10:10am – Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) points out that Congress is working to address cyber-terrorism threats to our electric grid, but isn’t doing nearly as much to prepare our grid for increasing extreme weather events.

9:58am – Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) talks about “act of god” storms that we have “no way of knowing about until it hits us.” But we know a lot more about how man-made carbon pollution is fueling extreme weather than many members of Congress from oil and coal states would like to admit.

9:44am – The hearing was due to begin at 9:30am, but there’s a short delay while the committee considers some administration nominations. Here’s the meeting schedule:

Member Statements

  • The Honorable Richard Blumenthal, United States Senate

Witness Panel 1

  • The Honorable Patricia Hoffman, Assistant Secretary, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, U.S. Department of Energy

Witness Panel 2

  • Mr. Norman Bay, Director, Office of Enforcement, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
  • Mr. Thomas Getz, Former Chair, Public Utilities Commission, Concord, NH
  • Mr. John Bilda, General Manager, Norwich Public Utilities, Norwich, CT