GOP climate skeptics to hold hearing on climate science

September 17, 2013

Did you know House Republicans are planning a hearing on climate science for tomorrow? It’s true — and it should provide a useful glimpse into whether Republicans are prepared to start caring publicly about the issue, and if so, how they’ll go about doing that given the climate science denialists in their ranks.

National Journal has the details:

After virtually ignoring the nation’s biggest environmental issue for years, Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee are planning a major hearing on climate change on Sept. 18 and are inviting leaders of 13 federal agencies to testify. It will be the first time since President Obama unveiled his climate action plan in June that administration officials will testify on Capitol Hill about the agenda. [...]

The hearing, entitled “The Obama Administration’s Climate Change Policies and Activities,” will touch on the science underpinning global climate change.

Gina McCarthy, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, will be testifying. She is already something of a lightning rod, so this is legitimately a big deal: House Republicans will probably be signaling how they will respond when the EPA rolls out its new rules governing carbon emissions on new power plans, a central item on Obama’s agenda that is going to provoke a huge fight. There may well also be fireworks about Keystone XL, the pipeline project that liberals have demanded Obama block to prove he’s serious about long term efforts to combat global warming.

What’s particularly interesting about this is that some of the House Republicans on the committee — the Energy and Power subcommittee — conducting the hearing are already on record casting doubt on climate science. GOP Rep. Joe Barton has said climate science is “not settled.” GOP Rep. David McKinley has claimed the same. And GOP Rep. John Shimkus has claimed global warming isn’t a worry because “God said the Earth would not be destroyed by a flood.”

So it seems possible we may see a display of climate skepticism, as the euphemism has it, at tomorrow’s hearing. At the same time, though, GOP leaders have plainly worried that displays of climate denialism aren’t good for the party.

Indeed, after Obama’s big speech on climate change, House GOP leaders conspicuously avoided getting into an argument over the science, instead sticking to an economic message, i.e., that Obama’s climate proposals threaten jobs. This surprised Democrats. I’m told Dems and White House aides were bracing for significant blowback from Republicans after that speech, and were surprised when Republicans were relatively mute in questioning the science.

This was an explicit political choice on the part of Republicans, one apparently tied to the larger debate over how to broaden the party’s appeal to demographics it has struggled among. At the time, Politico reported:

Just as top Republicans have called for their party to rebrand itself by avoiding rhetoric that alienates minorities, young voters and women, key GOP lawmakers are trying to stay out of the long-running debate about whether global warming is real.

As Politico noted, the persistence of climate denialism has created a divide in the party (remember the 2012 GOP presidential primary?). Dems have been all too happy to try to exacerbate that divide to cast the party as unwilling to evolve into the 21st Century. Obama has derided the GOP as the “flat Earth society.”

Now Republicans are set to preside over a hearing that, as National Journal puts it, will “touch on the science of climate change.” Will we see an outbreak of climate denialism, or will Republicans — in keeping with the apparent belief it’s bad politics — downplay such talk? Of course, if we begin to see more Republicans attesting to the science of global warming, that would be welcome. But that would give rise to the next question: what are Republicans prepared to do about it?

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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Greg Sargent | September 17, 2013