WASHINGTON -- A trillion trees is a lot, but would be woefully inadequate to address the global warming crisis, according to Democrats and climate scientists who said Republican backers of a tree-planting plan are using it to distract attention from the need to phase out fossil fuel use.
The tree-planting bill -- which calls for the U.S. to support a global effort to plant 1 trillion trees -- got a hearing at the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday, where sponsor Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., said it offers the most "pragmatic, proactive and logical" approach to reducing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.
The legislation mirrors President Donald Trump's decision to join a global initiative driven by the United Nations.
"There's nothing that can store carbon better and longer than wood," Westerman said.
But panel Democrats and some witnesses said that while they support growing more trees, they were concerned that the legislation would encourage logging under the guise of forest management in areas such as the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, and that it dodges more effective solutions.
On Tuesday, more than 95 environmental organizations wrote a letter to the committee urging it to reject the bill, which they consider a "gift" to the logging industry.
At the Wednesday hearing, Carla Staver, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale, said planting new trees alone isn't a viable solution and would only remove a small amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
"Our primary focus must be reducing our dependence on fossil fuels," Staver said. "The illusion that tree-planting is a silver-bullet solution to the climate crisis is a distraction from real action." Scientists continue to warn that countries need to drastically and quickly cut their greenhouse gas emissions if they are to stave off the worst impacts of a hotter Earth.
Republicans have long rejected that scientific consensus. Even as polling shows greater demand for climate action among young Republican voters and others, GOP lawmakers and the Trump administration continue to oppose government interventions to require or encourage the reduction and elimination of carbon emissions, the primary culprit in global warming.
The GOP has offered the tree-planting bill as an alternative to federal regulations.