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Global warming debate cooking in Georgia

Georgia Democrats and environmental activists took one look at the press release put out in advance of last week's hearing on global warming at the Capitol and figured the fix was in.

"Climate Change: Fact or Fiction?" was the topic for the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee.

For legislative Republican leaders even to pose such a question shows they're "burying their heads in the sand" rather than addressing a serious threat, said House Minority Leader DuBose Porter.

"There's no question about 'fact or fiction.'" said Porter, D-Dublin. "This is the reality for Georgia, even if ... Republicans on this committee refuse to admit it."

Both before and after the three-hour hearing, which took place during a record-setting heat wave, environmentalists railed about the panel of climate scientists invited to testify.

The witnesses were described as part of a global warming "denial machine," a group of scientists whose research, according to a recent article in Newsweek magazine, has been funded for years by the coal and oil industries.

"The presentations were far from being fair and balanced," said Jill Johnson, program director for Georgia Conservation Voters. "Most were skeptical about climate change and even more skeptical and cynical about the solutions that exist."

But Rep. Jeff Lewis, R-White, the House committee's chairman, said he was simply extending equal time to an under-publicized side of the debate over global warming.

"Through the media, we pretty much hear one side of it, the gloom and doom," he said. "We need to be exposed to as much of this information as we can, from both sides."

Lewis said he's been to several conferences this year where climate change came up, and, every time, the discussion was dominated by the "gloom and doom" faction of scientists.

At one of those conferences, held this month by the National Conference of State Legislatures, Georgia was one of eight states to oppose a resolution endorsing California's legal right to place stricter standards on emissions from greenhouse gases than the federal government imposes.

"It's virtually impossible to build a new power plant in California, and they need it," Lewis said.

Lewis also defended the panel he invited to last week's hearing as less one-sided than its critics contended.

Of the four who testified, only John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, outright claimed that the data he has gathered doesn't show that global warming is happening.

Two others said that while climate change certainly is real, they don't expect global warming in the coming decades to be nearly as dramatic as the warnings being sounded by "alarmists," and that even if it does become severe, fixing the problem would require a huge investment for a minimal result.

"Even if every nation does what it says under the Kyoto Treaty, the difference in year 50 is too small an amount to measure," said Patrick Michaels, a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a think tank with Libertarian leanings.

In essence, Michaels threw up his hands and left it to future generations to invent their way out of the problem.

"The energy technology 100 years from now will be much different from today, probably less emissive," he said.

Johnson said that sort of "can't-do attitude" is not what Georgia voters want to see from their elected representatives.

"People want a state with less smog, more water in their rivers and less traffic congestion," she said. "The solutions to those problems also can be used to address climate change."

Georgia environmental groups are urging the state's political leaders to get more aggressive on global warming, citing both California and Florida as examples.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, signed an executive order last month setting targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, requiring greater use of energy efficiency in building construction and requiring utilities to increase their investments in renewable sources of energy.

But Lewis said states that are acting now appear to be doing so based on one side of the climate change debate.

"There's experts who have opposing points of view on this," he said. "Who are we, as non-experts, to believe until we hear all of the evidence?"

E-mail Dave Williams at dave.williams@gwinnettdailypost.com.