“The speaker’s office made a decision early on not to talk about the science,” said a Republican operative who works closely with House leadership and asked to speak anonymously in order to be candid. “The leadership guys said, ‘We’re not going to talk about it; we’re not going to hold hearings on it; we think the science argument’s a loser.’ ”
No one exemplifies Republicans’ difficulties on climate better than Fred Upton, the Michigander who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the powerful panel charged with writing (and repealing) laws regulating the oil and coal industry’s fossil-fuel emissions. Like his friend Boehner, Upton used to talk about the need to tackle climate change. But the chairman, who in his last campaign received $20,000 from Koch Industries, has had to awkwardly reposition himself to accommodate the new GOP order.
Upton once called climate change a “serious problem” on his website (a phrase he deleted after the 2010 elections), endorsed reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions, and sponsored bipartisan legislation to promote the use of energy-efficient lightbulbs. All of that changed after the midterm elections, when he ran against Barton for the chairmanship of the powerful Energy panel. Barton, who likes to say he was “tea party before tea party was cool,” ran an aggressive campaign, challenging Upton’s conservative bona fides (the lightbulb legislation, in particular). Upton tacked hard to the right.
When pressed repeatedly on his views on climate change during an on-stage February interview with National Journal, Upton said he believes that the planet is warming—but not because of human actions. “If you look, the last year was the warmest year on record, the warmest decade on record. I accept that. I do not say that it’s man-made,” Upton said. He has since introduced legislation with Inhofe to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific finding that greenhouse pollution threatens public health—a move that surprised some of his constituents.
“I’ve heard Fred Upton say he accepts the science of climate change, at a constituent breakfast two years ago,” said Knute Nadelhoffer, director of the University of Michigan’s Biological Station. “Well, now he appears to be ignoring it or agreeing with the deniers. We want to know why. That’s not a responsible way to craft policy.… We have clear patterns of changing climate in the Great Lakes region—more big storms in spring, more floods that are compromising our coastal cities, and more heat waves and droughts in the summer.”
House Democrats, hoping to spotlight such inconsistencies, insisted that Upton’s committee hold a hearing on climate science. Eventually, in March, he did—but counseled by GOP leadership, almost no Republican members showed up.
More recently, a reporter caught up with Upton in the Speaker’s Lobby off the House floor and asked his views on how much human activity may contribute to climate change. The ever-friendly Upton smiled and said, “I’m not going to go there, thanks,” and headed toward the House floor, where reporters can’t follow.
ISSA AND HALL
Less cheerful than Upton was Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the brash chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He has helped spearhead House Republicans’ attacks on EPA’s new climate-change and coal regulations, bashing them with the “job-killing” stigma. Asked if he believed that climate change is causing the Earth to become warmer, Issa responded, “You mean, the global cooling that’s been going on for the last 10 years, according to scientists? The science has just said we’ve had we’ve had 10 years of no warming.”
In fact, last year NASA reported that January 2000 to December 2009 was the warmest decade on record since the 1880s. The reporter noted the number of such studies—and asked Issa to clarify his answer. “Are you saying, no, you don’t think climate change is causing the Earth to become warmer?”
Issa snapped back angrily, “Do you realize how silly your question is? Your question, if you were going to ask it, is, ‘Do you think increased CO2 is causing the Earth to become warmer?’ I think it may contribute—I have no question that it may be.” He glared at the reporter and said angrily, “Next time, learn to ask your questions,” turned on his heel, and headed back to the House floor.
One senior House Republican who appears comfortable with his positions on climate science is Texan Ralph Hall, chairman of the House Science Committee. Asked if climate change is causing the Earth to become warmer, the lawmaker charged with shaping national science policy responded, “I don’t think it’s the cause. I don’t think we can control what God controls.” Hall said that on the issue of climate science, he is “pretty close” to the stance of his fellow Texan, Rick Perry—believing that climate science may be a conspiracy theory put forth by scientists who are working in concert to receive funding for research. A reporter pointed out that last year, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a survey concluding that 97 percent of climate-science researchers are in consensus that human activities have led to global warming. “And they each get $5,000 for every report like that they give out,” Hall scoffed. He added, “I don’t have any proof of that. But I don’t believe ’em.”