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House Energy and Commerce Committee Votes for Science Denial

Republican-Controlled Committee Legislates That Climate Change Does Not Exist

Waxman looking confused SOURCE: AP Photo/Susan Walsh Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) looking a bit confused. House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee voted unanimously to reject his, and two other, amendments simply stating well-established scientific facts about climate change.

House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee demonstrated their commitment to science denial yesterday by unanimously voting down three separate amendments offered by Democrats to reaffirm basic facts about climate science. They then unanimously voted to pass the Upton-Inhofe bill to repeal the Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific endangerment finding on greenhouse pollution.

Let’s be clear. Congress should not attempt to make scientific decisions. The role of Congress is to take the best science and use it to make the best possible policy. The three amendments rejected unanimously by committee Republicans each lays out a fairly basic statement about generally accepted climate science.

  • Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado offered an amendment that simply reaffirmed what EPA scientists stated, that “‘the scientific evidence is compelling’ that elevated concentrations of greenhouse gases resulting from anthropogenic emissions ‘are the root cause of recently observed climate change.’” That amendment was rejected in a party-line vote with all Republicans voting no.
  • Rep. Jay Inslee of Washington state offered an amendment, again quoting the EPA, which stated “the public health of current generations is endangered and the threat to public health for both current and future generations will likely mount over time as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere and result in ever greater rates of climate change.’” This, too, was rejected in a party-line vote with all Republicans voting no.
  • The last amendment, offered by Rep. Henry Waxman of southern California, asserted even more unassailable scientific findings. His amendment stated simply that “Congress accepts the scientific finding of the Environmental Protection Agency that warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.” It was also unanimously rejected in a party-line vote with all Republicans voting no.

This is really getting ridiculous. In countries around the world, political parties on the left and right are debating how to deal with climate change. But by continuing to debate whether the world is even warming—an objective, empirical, verifiable, scientific fact—our great nation is demonstrating to the rest of the world that we are still in the Stone Age on this issue.

Let’s keep in mind that virtually every credible climate scientist and science organization, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, has declared climate change a “settled fact.” Here is another quote from the academy which reaffirms all three of the rejected amendments:

Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities … and in many cases is already affecting a broad range of human and natural systems.

The National Academy of Sciences might be thought of like the Supreme Court for science, so what they say matters a lot. But then again, even the U.S. Supreme Court itself has decided that the EPA should have the authority to regulate carbon pollution in the 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA decision.

Notwithstanding the advice of every U.S. science agency and the opinions of virtually every credibly international science organization, the committee voted 34-19 to pass the Upton-Inhofe dirty air bill, H.R. 910, which eliminates the ability of the federal government to regulate planet-warming carbon pollution. The Project on Climate Science summed it up nicely:

Through this antiscience legislation, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is substituting ideology for the intensive, comprehensive, peer-reviewed analysis of thousands of scientists, including the scientists at the EPA.

Comically, as Joe Romm noted yesterday, one of the committee members voting against the amendments John Shimkus (R-IL), cites the Bible as his reason for rejecting climate science. “God said the earth would not be destroyed in a flood.” Another, Michael Burgess (R-TX), cited an online public opinion poll (in and of itself an unscientific way of sampling opinion data) as reason for rejecting the science of global warming. Making matters worse, it turns out the particular poll was targeted by well-known climate science denial website Watt’s Up With That in a campaign to skew the results.

Meanwhile, a recent Gallup poll (the scientific kind with random sampling, rather than self-selecting Internet sampling) indicates more than 50 percent of the public believe global warming is happening and is mostly due to human activities. But again, opinions–even scientifically polled public opinions–don’t determine science. Just because 99.99 percent of the world public believed the sun revolved around the earth in the time of Galileo does not mean his theory of heliocentrism was wrong.

So, on the one hand we have virtually every credible government and nongovernmental science organization in the developed world reaffirming the fundamental science behind global warming is sound. On the other hand, you have an online poll that was co-opted by a well-known science denial blog. Who would you believe? Apparently the opinion poll, if you are a Republican member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“The denial of science has taken deep root on the Committee,” said Rep. Waxman (D-CA) in a recent talk he gave at the Center for American Progress. Even more troubling is the amount of money taken by Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans from major polluters with a stake in undermining the scientific consensus about climate change.

Certainly it is the duty of a congressional representative to represent constituents’ opinions. But perhaps the representative needs to draw the line where those views directly contrast with reality. We need our leaders to understand the difference between opinion and science. More importantly, we need them to look past childish debates on scientific subjects about which they have no expertise. Instead they should concentrate on how our government can work to address great challenges science gives us the power to identify.

Sean Pool is Assistant Editor for Science Progress.

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