A panel of state lawmakers this week questioned Iowa’s role in a multi-state lawsuit over global warming. Attorney General Tom Miller joined his counterparts from seven other states in suing the nation’s five largest utilities, charging that they produce a quarter of the carbon dioxide emissions from all power plants and therefore contribute to global warming. Miller says he considers it a matter of public safety. Miller says a number of attorneys general have filed a number of lawsuits on power-plant pollution, and he hasn’t joined any up till now. But on this carbon-dioxide and global-warming greenhouse-effect issue, Miller says “We’re all in it together,” and emissions affect the whole world. Questioned about the cost, Miller said Iowa’s not the lead state in the lawsuit so this will involve mostly conference calls, a small fraction of his budget. Miller says this isn’t a commitment of a lot of money or time. But some members of the legislature’s Government Oversight Committee question whether it’s a waste of tax money. Cochair Dwayne Alons says he fears it’ll become a political hot-potato. Alons says he hears “strong voices maybe from the liberal side on global warming,” but conservatives would tend to allow technology and business to reach changes on their own and use incentives instead of hitting them with more regulations, economic distress and hardships. Alons, a Sioux County republican, would rather see another direction for the A-G’s office. Alons says he thinks the state should back off and conserve money in offices including the attorney general’s, and suggests concentrating on problems within the state, like county attorneys having difficulty prosecuting felonies. If the states win the lawsuit there won’t be a big payout like the tobacco settlement. Instead the utilities would be asked to stabilize and then slowly reduce their carbon-dioxide emissions over time. Iowa State University professor Gene Takle studies atmospheric science and agricultural meteorology, and says global warming causes more extreme precipitation patterns in Iowa, heavier rains followed by droughts. As far as global warming lengthening the growing season, Takle says it could also let insects and other pests survive the winter and do more damage.There are winners and losers, he concludes. The science director for a Libertarian think-tank in Chicago says not all scientists agree global warming is occurring. Jay Lehr of the Heartland Institute has served on several environmental task forces. He says while measured temperatures have increased slightly, that can be attributed to the earth recovering from the last ice age. Lehr thinks suing the power companies is a waste of Iowa’s time and money. Lehr says he believes Attorney General Miller when he says it won’t cost much money, but maintains that the global warming charge “doesn’t have a strong scientific foundation.” As far as using litigation to solve the problem, Lehr says he thinks it’s the wrong way to go about it. Lehr calls it “legislating by litigation,” and says if the federal or state government wants to limit the carbon-dioxide output of a company or industry they have that right, and citizens have to support it. Lehr says trying to accomplish that by suing is the wrong tactic, and says the assumptions behind the emission-climate link are “absolutely unprovable at this time.” Representative Alons says he agrees and will ask the rest of the oversight committee to consider recommending the Attorney General drop the lawsuit. Some democrats on the committee spoke in favor of the lawsuit, so it’s unclear if lawmakers will take any formal action to stop the attorney general from pursuing the case.
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