Parker: We need tough decisions on climate

WASHINGTON — Local, state and federal governments must make tough decisions to help blunt the effects of climate change, Houston Mayor Annise Parker said Tuesday.

For instance, Parker acknowledged that physical barriers may be necessary to insulate the refining facilities in low-lying southeast Texas from storm surge and flooding that may become more common as the planet warms. But while fielding questions following a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, Parker acknowledged the tradeoffs.

“That water has to go someplace and will impact communities,” Parker said.

“What’s critical is not getting lost in the rhetoric or the sound bites, but actually having real science to start from and then make the hard decisions,” Parker said.

Parker’s comments came during a one-day swing through the nation’s capital that began with the first meeting of the White House’s new Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. President Barack Obama launched the 26-member panel in November to guide the federal government in strengthening infrastructure and preparing communities to deal with the impacts of climate change.

The group is expected to meet four times in preparing a series of recommendations for the Obama administration.

Although she is one of 16 local government officials on the panel, Parker has a unique perspective the capital of the U.S. oil and gas industry. Major oil and gas company’s have their headquarters in and around Houston, and the bulk of U.S. refining capacity is along the Gulf Coast.

President Barack Obama launched the 26-member panel in November to guide the federal government in strengthening infrastructure and preparing communities to deal with the effects of climate change.

Although she is one of 16 local government officials on the panel, Parker has a unique perspective from the capital of the U.S. energy industry.

Parker embodies the political challenge for Democrats representing the oil and gas stronghold.

On the one hand, she supports the Keystone XL pipeline that would transport oil sands crude from Canada and is a flashpoint of environmentalist opposition. She also backs boosting exports of liquefied natural gas, weighing in on a debate that has pitted producers that want to send the fuel overseas against manufacturers and utilities that benefit from low prices when domestic supply is high.

But she also pushes for alternative energy, believes the industry needs to pare its water use and touts Houston’s position is the largest municipal purchaser of renewable energy nationwide.

“Fossil fuels are going to fuel America for a very long time in the future,” Parker said, “but we as Americans have to recognize that how we use those fuels and what our consumption patterns are makes a difference not just to the United States, but to the world.”

Parker said it is critical that the U.S. focus on efficiencies and seek to hold down energy use.

“We do not believe it is incompatible to focus on renewables at the same time we strongly support America’s oil and gas industry,” Parker said.