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Originally published Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Senate committee tackles hot topic: global warming

Several lawmakers voiced a new sense of urgency in a meeting in which the chairwoman stated that it appears time to take a stand.

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — As 600 scientists meet this week in Paris to finalize the first worldwide assessment of the evidence on global warming in six years, lawmakers on Capitol Hill Tuesday searched for a political consensus on how to address climate change.

In a prolonged Senate hearing that one senator compared to "open-mic night," several lawmakers spoke in passionate terms about the need to put a cap on U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions before global warming's effects become irreversible, while others sketched out possible policy compromises on the contentious issue.

In a separate House hearing, a bipartisan group of lawmakers questioned whether the Bush administration has been suppressing climate science.

Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said he did not want his children and grandchildren chastising him for inaction in decades to come.

"I don't want them to say, 'What did you do about it? What did you do about it when you had an opportunity? Weren't you in the Senate?' " Carper said.

The panel's chairwoman, Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said several hours into the hearing that lawmakers would heed the warnings of Carper and others. "I think this is the moment we will take a stand," she said.

Several lawmakers said they felt a new sense of urgency in light of the mounting scientific evidence indicating the globe cannot sustain an additional temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit.

Report to be released

On Friday the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body, will release its first report since 2001 on the current state of science on global warming. According to scientists who have read the latest draft, it will conclude there is at least a 90 percent chance that human activity accounts for much of Earth's warming over the past half-century.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who testified before the Environment and Public Works Committee on her proposal to "cap and trade" carbon-emission credits, said that the U.S. political debate on global warming has "shifted considerably because people know it's real. The science has coalesced."

Advocates of action on global warming said the IPCC will further strengthen the public perception that the United States must move more aggressively to curb carbon-dioxide emissions.

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The report will outline how climate change will transform the planet — with summer sea ice virtually disappearing from the Arctic by the end of the century — as well as assess the spike in global temperatures in the past 15 years, in which Earth has experienced a dozen of the hottest years on record.

"The timing of this report is critical for the debate that's taking place in Congress, in the business community and in the evangelical community," said Robert Watson, who chaired the IPCC during its last round and now serves as the World Bank's chief scientist.

In the House hearing, lawmakers questioned whether the White House had altered reports by government scientists over the past several years to mask the problems.

They highlighted a survey published Tuesday by two advocacy groups, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Government Accountability Project (GAP), which found that 46 percent of the federal scientists they polled reported they had experienced or perceived pressure to eliminate the words "global warming" or "climate change" from their writings, and roughly the same percentage had experienced edits that changed the meaning of their findings.

Science "manipulated"

The survey "has brought to light numerous ways in which U.S. federal climate science has been filtered, suppressed and manipulated in the last five years," Francesca Grifo, a senior scientist at the UCS, told lawmakers.

"It appears there may have been an orchestrated campaign to mislead the public about climate change," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and the panel's top Republican, Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, sent a letter to the White House on Tuesday demanding the administration hand over documents that could shed light on whether political appointees had altered federal climate reports.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

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