A rising tide of Republicans took over the House of Representatives and strengthened the party’s position in the Senate last night, sweeping in a fresh round of climate deniers and contrarians. Americans have turned over the House leadership and committee chairmanships to a group of Republicans who seem intent on passing a litmus test of questioning the fundamentals of human-caused climate change. Climate denialism has become a proxy for touting fiscal conservatism and opposition to government regulation, signaling an end to the last hopes for passing a strong climate and energy bill.Environmentalists and “climate hawks” now expect a revival of prosecutorial attacks on climate science in the House, with committee chairmen gearing up to hold oversight hearings aimed at questioning the scientific basis of EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases and harassing climate scientists.
In his recent Washington Post op-ed, climate scientist Michael Mann noted that “Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has threatened that, if he becomes chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, he will launch what would be a hostile investigation of climate science…Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) may do the same if he takes over a committee on climate change and energy security.”
The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming is currently chaired by the climate champion Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), a co-sponsor of the comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation passed in the House last year. Markey has consistently held hard-hitting hearings giving voice to climate scientists and raising awareness of emerging issues.
Most recently, the committee heard from the Pakistani ambassador and three prominent climate scientists in a discussion of the connection between climate change and extreme weather events. Under Sensenbrenner’s leadership, we can expect repeat investigations into what he deems a “massive international scientific fraud” intended to harass and intimidate climate scientists.
Rep. Issa, the presumptive new Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has also pledged to lead an investigation on ‘Climategate’ and the EPA endangerment finding for greenhouse gases.
Climate denialism also made gains in the Senate, but notably, Environment Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) were spared. Grist has an excellent run-down of the results.
As Andy Revkin notes, the greatest threat to climate science posed by a Republican takeover may be cuts to science budgets and an almost guaranteed “end to the brief stimulus-driven period of increased investment in advancing energy technologies that could supplant finite fossil fuels.”
However, the most significant challenge may be the attempt to block EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases, now the last line of defense for emissions reduction policy on the national level. E&E Daily reports (by subscription): “Supporters of measures to block EPA’s climate regulations say it is a foregone conclusion that the Republican-controlled House will pass such a bill during the next session. And in the Senate, where Democrats have spent the past two years bemoaning the rule requiring 60 votes to defeat a filibuster, that threshold appears to be the only thing that could stop such a measure from passing.”
Overall, the influx of denialists is a major loss for the country, as the new House leadership and committee chairmen gear up to make a mockery of the preeminent problem facing our society, and the Senate drifts ever further from taking long-overdue action on climate and energy reform. And it’s a loss for the countries around the world that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, as the U.S., which has been the largest historical emitter, turns power over to politicians who seem determined to deny the existence of the problem, let alone act to deal with it.