Ben Geman reported in The Hill Friday that only two of 13 federal agencies invited to testify on climate change plan to attend. While the two who are attending, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy and energy secretary Ernest Moniz, are crucial point-people on Obama’s plans to tackle climate change, the lack of a response from the other arms of the federal government is disappointing.

The initial list of invitees was impressively comprehensive. In addition to McCarthy and Moniz, Energy and Power Subcommittee chairman Ed Whitfield also invited representatives from State, Defense, USAID, and the Export-Import Bank, among others. The purpose of the hearings, according to Rep. Whitfield’s invitation, is to:

obtain fuller information regarding the Federal government’s past, current, and planned domestic and international activities, climate research programs, initiatives, and new regulatory requirements.  

Members of the committee are particularly interested in two related regulatory changes that have driven headlines.

  1. Obama’s announcement of stricter carbon controls on new power plants, which its critics say will deliver a serious blow to the coal industry.
  2. The so-called social cost of carbon, which refers to the cost to society incurred by the burning of fossil fuels.

Conservatives and business groups object to the Obama administration’s decision to raise their carbon cost estimate; they fear the new designation would be used as a cudgel to force through measures to rein in carbon pollution, such as a carbon tax or something akin to the cap-and-trade legislation that failed in 2009.

McCarthy and Moniz are certainly the correct people to address those particular topics.

But in failing to send a full range of panelists, the administration once again misses an opportunity to lay out an effective message about how regulatory measures such as these fit into the larger story about what climate change will inevitably do to American society. As I have written previously, climate change will present challenges to U.S. national security, as well as its diplomatic and development priorities. It is already impacting America’s coasts, its farmlands, and forests.

While there are economic costs to the policies and regulations designed to mitigate and adapt to those consequences, there are also economic costs to doing nothing. An all-hands presence by the Obama administration (and it would not necessarily need to be cabinet members themselves) would have underlined this point, even in testifying to a hostile committee.

Management of future risks is understandably difficult for senior civil servants whose overburdened agendas force them to prioritize the here-and-now. (For example, John Kerry began his tenure as secretary of state expressing his concerns about climate change, but the Syrian civil war has understandably pushed climate change far from his mind.)

Yet the scientific consensus on climate change demands that we act now. Specifics are hard to predict, but no one doubts a warming planet will affect U.S. security and prosperity. It is long past time to get serious about it.