What Does Fred Upton Actually Think About Climate?

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 3:45 PM EST

Fred Upton really, really does not want to talk about climate change. Last week the new chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce introduced draft legislation that would permanently bar the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. The measure has also been introduced in the Senate—Upton co-authored it with the Senate's biggest climate skeptic, James Inhofe (R-Okla.). But on Tuesday, Upton repeatedly dodged the question of whether he thinks the climate is warming and whether greenhouse gas emissions are causing it.

While the Michigan Republican has, in the past, stated that greenhouse gas emissions should be addressed, he's retreated from that position since taking over the helm of the powerful energy committee. (That shift came amidst criticism from some in Upton's party that he was too moderate.) On Tuesday, reporters at a National Journal forum repeatedly asked Upton what he actually thinks about climate change. After several attempts to avoid the question, the congressman finally settled on a response. "If you look at last year it was warmest year in last decade," Upton said. "I accept that. I do not say it is man made."

"Even if cap and trade had been enacted it would not change the temperature by even a tenth of a degree anywhere in the world," he continued.

Upton says his bill to block EPA regulations on the matter is just about giving the power back to elected officials, rather than a government agency. "Congress ought to have a role in looking at those regulations, not a bureaucracy," said Upton. He referred back to the climate and energy bill that the House passed in 2009, which the Senate never acted on, and accused EPA of ignoring the legislative process. "What EPA is now trying to do is act like it passed," said Upton.

Actually, EPA is acting because Congress didn't act. And in the absence of a new law, the agency is compelled to regulate carbon dioxide emissions because the Supreme Court directed it to do so. The Obama administration said repeatedly over the past two years that it preferred a new bill specifically dealing with climate change—and by all accounts the House bill was designed to be much, much more flexible and industry-friendly than regulations under the Clean Air Act. (In fact, cap and trade was a Republican idea created for that very reason). So no, the EPA isn't acting like the bill passed—quite the opposite, really.

So what's the point of Upton's bill then? "We want the Congress to do the job, not the EPA," he said. But asked whether a Republican-led House of Representatives would do anything on the subject, Upton admitted climate change legislation was "a non-starter."

On Wednesday, the Subcommittee on Energy and Power will hold its first hearing on Upton's "Energy Tax Prevention Act." EPA administrator Lisa Jackson is due to testify. It should make for quite a show.