Gore Challenges Congress on Climate

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By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 22, 2007

Environmental activist (and former vice president) Al Gore descended on Capitol Hill yesterday, telling two congressional panels that global climate change represents the most dangerous crisis in American history and that the measures needed to fix the problem -- such as an immediate freeze on new emissions from cars and power plants -- are far more drastic than anything currently on the table.

Gore, whose documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" won an Academy Award last month, testified before both House and Senate committees in an appearance that drew international media attention and lines of would-be spectators trailing through congressional hallways.

In both hearings, he had testy exchanges with lawmakers who doubted his scientific evidence or the feasibility of his solutions. Much of his day, though, was spent basking in an odd spotlight: Gore and his cause have Washington's full attention. But his message, of a feverish planet and dwindling time in which to cure it, made for a grim homecoming.

"This is not a normal time. We are facing a planetary emergency," Gore said in the afternoon Senate hearing. "I'm fully aware that that phrase sounds shrill to many people's ears. But it is accurate."

Gore, who served a combined 16 years in the House and Senate before being elected vice president in 1992, had not made such a public appearance on Capitol Hill since he lost the 2000 presidential election.

In both hearings, Gore took criticism from Republican lawmakers. The toughest sparring was with Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), who has said he believes that climate change is a hoax.

Inhofe, during the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, criticized Gore for using too much energy in his Tennessee home, and he also listed a number of scientists who he said had broken with Gore about the reality -- or the danger -- of rising temperatures.

"Are they all wrong, and you're right?" he asked.

Inhofe also dismissed Gore's list of proposed solutions, which include taxation of polluters, by saying he thinks they would offer little environmental benefit.

"It's something that we just can't do to America," Inhofe said. "And we're not going to do it."

Outside of those exchanges, many legislators greeted Gore warmly, recalling committee assignments they had shared with him or sharing news of new grandchildren. Gore was hailed as the country's loudest voice on climate change, the instigator of a movement gaining momentum around the country and in Washington.

"You have acted for us," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the Senate committee chairman. "You have acted more than anyone else."

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