New Republican Leadership Promises Inaction, Obstruction on Climate Change

November 16, 2010


The 2010 midterm elections may mark a new low in government’s attempt to grapple with climate change.  


My blog entry last week addressed the candidacy of John Shimkus (R-IL) for the chairmanship of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.  Shimkus famously believes that climate change can do the world no harm, because God promised to keep Earth safe for humanity after Noah’s flood.  As he put it, “I believe that’s the infallible word of God, and that’s the way it’s going to be for His creation.” 


In a commentary in the latest issue of The New Yorker , Elizabeth Kolbert discusses House Republicans’ plans to forestall action on climate change and use Congress’s authority to subpoena and investigate climate scientists. 


Last year climate change deniers leveled unfounded accusations of data manipulation against researchers from Britain’s University of East Anglia after the researchers’ e-mails were illegally hacked.  Despite the scientists’ exoneration by three independent inquiries, a conservative media firestorm ensued.  Now Darrell Issa (R-CA), who is poised to become chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, seeks to use the government’s resources to investigate the scientists a fourth time. As he put it, “We’re going to want to have a do-over.” 


Other members of the Republican leadership also have little patience for the scientific community’s evidence-grounded consensus that human-induced greenhouse gas emissions is driving potentially disastrous climate change.  John Boehner (R-OH), the incoming Speaker of the House, commented that “The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen [sic], that it is harmful to our environment, is almost comical.”   Joe Barton (R-TX), another contender for the Energy and Commerce Committee chair, believes that humanity can deal successfully with climate change by “get[ting] shade” from the sun.  Incredibly, Barton also speculates that expanding wind power will cause global warming, because harnessing the wind interferes with “God’s way of balancing heat.” Some may recognize Barton, the House’s top recipient of oil and gas industry contributions, as the committee member who famously apologized to BP’s Tony Hayward for the Obama Administration’s “shakedown” of the company in the months following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.


To be sure, the prospects for passing major energy and climate legislation were dim before the midterm elections.  The American Clean Energy and Security Act went nowhere in the Senate, due to inaction on the part of the president and the Democratic leadership and the likelihood of a Republican filibuster. But a majority leadership that dismisses science on the basis of scripture, or eagerly seeks to hassle scientists with Congressional investigations, is rather new. 


Increasingly, it appears that the United States will cede leadership on climate change and the development of green technology to foreign governments.  For our sake, let’s hope they are more willing than the new House leadership to take up that mantle.