The Coming Assault on Climate Science

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has made no bones about the fact that he plans to “investigate” climate science and climate scientists when he chairs the House Oversight Committee in the next Congress. Same goes for Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), who wants to keep the Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming alive only so he can make a mockery of the science.

So it was somewhat bizarre that Greg Sargent headlined a post yesterday, “GOP leadership cool to hearings into ‘scientific fraud’ underlying global warming.” The post says that Joe Barton (R-Tex.), who hopes to chair the Energy and Commerce Committee, doesn’t plan to hold hearings on the science of climate change—only on the Environmental Protection Agency’s planned regulations for greenhouse gases, the stuff that’s warming the planet.

Where to begin? Well, first, this ignores that Issa has stated very clearly that he intends to hold hearings on the subject, among the 280 hearings he has planned for 2011. We also have Sensenbrenner looking to rehash the science, though he, too, framed it as a regulatory oversight mission rather than an investigation of the science in an op-ed in Roll Call yesterday. “Now that Republicans have retaken the House, the Select Committee is more qualified than any other Congressional institution to ensure the administration doesn’t bend to unrealistic international demands—and that the EPA doesn’t attempt to do what Congress wouldn’t,” he wrote.

Here’s the deal though. The idea that hearings about EPA regulations are not going to be about the underlying science is patently absurd. Barton and Sensenbrenner want to paint this as all about jobs and whether greenhouse gas regs are worth any possible cost to the economy. But neither Sensenbrenner, nor Barton, nor the vast majority of their Republican colleagues think that the planet is warming due to human activity. Thus, they will never agree that the EPA is right in their finding that greenhouse gases are a threat that needs to be regulated, or that any action is “worth” it, whether from the EPA or Congress. Barton and friends reject the fact that, under the direction of the Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, the EPA determined that greenhouse gases do in fact pose a threat to human health and well-being and thus the agency is legally obligated to take action to reduce those emissions. Barton has been clear that he wants to go after the endangerment finding—which, by nature, is an assault on the scientific conclusion that these gases are warming the planet and putting humans in harm’s way.

Sargent’s post hints at the fact that the economic approach is just a different, more strategic way of coming at the issue, without recognizing that these same Republicans don’t think global warming is an issue in the first place:

Separately, the GOP leadership is apparently aware what a circus hearings into the allegedly fraudulent science underlying global warming would be — and how it would play into Dem efforts to paint Republicans as hostage to extremists.

“It’s just not the best strategy,” a senior GOP aide says. “The most effective way to fight the national energy tax is to talk about the economic effect and jobs.”

So GOP leaders realize that painting this as an assault on the science will only come across as loony to the American public, most of whom recognize that climate change is a threat. They’re shrewd enough to recast it as an economic issue, but all that doesn’t change the fact that we’re endangering ourselves by not taking action. Denying that is an assault on science, no matter how they frame it.

More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk


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  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.