What does Rep. Broun of Georgia have against a National Climate Service?

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Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) is on a mission to de-fund climate change programs and defeat cap-and-trade legislation.  This week he offered a House floor amendment to kill funding for a National Climate Service.  Broun’s website includes this:  “Broun Bashes Wacky-Marxist Cap and Tax Bill.”  He’s among a small contingent in Congress who deny the science and a much larger group who act as if a sober response to global climate disruption were a partisan issue.  The climate science and policy community must step up its efforts to emphasize that climate change affects everyone, has no political party affiliation, and is too urgent a matter to be used for political grandstanding. 

This week the US House of Representatives considered and voted on a bill to provide Fiscal Year 2010 funding for the Department of Commerce (which includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and other agencies.  The bill, H.R. 2847, provides for budget increases for NOAA over last year’s level, and above the President’s request, to reach $4.6 billion.  It directs NOAA to spend $200 million “to enhance climate change research and regional assessments,” $90 million “to enhance climate data records and data access and archiving requirements,” and $29.3 million for climate change educational programs (citing the latter as a specific recommendation by the National Academy of Sciences). 

Rep. Broun (elected in 2007) is the Ranking Minority Member of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the Science and Technology Committee and also sits on the Homeland Security and Natural Resources committees.  His appropriations bill amendment would have inserted “a provision that prohibits funds under the bill from being used to establish or implement a National Climate Service.”  One has to wonder if he is representing the interests of his constituents in his district, which is vulnerable to harmful climate change impacts and may need expert assistance of the sort the NCS would be intended to offer. 

Georgia, along with adjacent southeastern states, has been in an extended drought since 2006:

Much of the Southeast U.S., including Florida, Georgia, Alabama, North, and South Carolina have been in the midst of an historic drought since the winter of 2006. This has been an intense, extensive, and persistent drought that ranks as one of the worst in recorded history. While the magnitude and extent of the drought have shown some improvement in 2008, persistent areas of dryness are still noticeable.

Meanwhile, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida are in a dispute over water for drinking, recreation, farming, environmental purposes, and hydropower in the Apalachicola–Chattahoochee–Flint River system.  The report released this week on U.S. climate impacts says:  “In Atlanta and Athens, Georgia, 2007 was the second driest year on record. Among the numerous effects of the rainfall shortage were restrictions on water use in some cities and low water levels in area lakes.”

But, when it does rain, it does so more intensely: this week a major storm hit Athens and knocked out power for more than 6,000 people, started fires from lightning strikes, felled trees, and caused wind damage. 

This is consistent with an honest appraisal of what the entire southeastern region can expect; the same Impacts report warns:

The region has already and will continue to experience changes in the frequency, distribution, and intensity of precipitation.  Average autumn precipitation has increased by 30 percent for the region since 1901; heavy downpours have increased in many parts of the region, and the percentage of the region experiencing moderate to severe drought has risen over the past three decades.  Since the 1970s, “the area of moderate to severe spring and summer drought has increased by 12 percent and 14 percent, respectively.  Even in the fall months, when precipitation tended to increase in most of the region, the extent of drought increased by 9 percent.”  Climate models indicate that Gulf Coast states will tend to have less rainfall in winter and spring, compared with the more northern states in the region, and that droughts are likely to continue to increase in frequency, intensity, and duration. 

Are Broun’s constituents concerned about these climate change consequences, and will they find themselves seeking out the sort of assistance the National Climate Service will be providing? 

The amendment was soundly defeated by a 262-161 vote, according to the Republican Cloak Room.  It was one of 27 amendments offered by Republicans, most of which were aimed at cutting funding for all kinds of science and social programs.  This is a high number, but it could have been much worse.  On the eve of the bill’s consideration,  E&E News (subsc.) reported:

Slew of House spending amendments seek to shift agency funds

Democrats pushed through a measure late last night that will limit debate on the Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill to about 30 amendments—a move made after House lawmakers filed 127 different proposals to amend the bill, including dozens of bids to cut or shift funding for oceans and fisheries programs.

Even before debate on the proposals began yesterday, Democrats expressed concern yesterday that the slew of amendments—102 of which they attribute to Republicans—could hold up passage of the bill and stymie the goal to work through each of the fiscal 2010 spending measures before the end of next month.

More than 100 amendments is getting a bit out of control; one has to wonder what the true motivation behind most of them was:  did they have merit on the substance, or was this just an opposition party campaign to gum up the works and try and make the controlling party look bad.  It doesn’t appear to be about good stewardship, and it falls short of the level of bipartisanship in governance that we at CSW saw when we worked on Capitol Hill in the late 1980s and early 1990s.   

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) noted that to consider hundreds of amendments would take three days, and if allowed, the House might have to consider an omnibus (multi-committee) appropriations bill to get the work done in time for FY 2010.  “You can’t have it both ways,” he said.  “You can’t filibuster by amendment and want to pursue regular order at the same time.  You have to do one or the other. And hopefully we will do the other, meaning regular order.”  (E&E News).  Regular order.  Sanity.  Reason.  Respectful debate in the interest of the nation.  What happened to these notions?  Has Congress become so hostage to ideologues and demagogues that we’ve lost our ability to steer a nation anywhere but off a cliff?

As if to add insult to injury, Broun recently misinterpreted and misused a study by MIT on the costs of a cap-and-trade bill, falsely asserting in a June 4 press release,  “Broun Bashes Wacky-Marxist Cap and Tax Bill,” that the bill “will increase energy costs for each family by $3,100.”  The real number, from the EPA and Congressional Budget Office, is more like $150.  He was called on this by two media watchdogs, TPM Muckraker, and Media Matters.

Broun assures his constituents:  You’ll never have to question my commitment to the Constitution of the United States. In fact, I carry a pocket-sized copy with me at all times. God’s Word and the Constitution are my maps for navigating Congress and directing my votes.

I guess that leaves Science out in the cold.  That’s a shame given his role on three committees that depend heavily on science and technology to guide policymaking.

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