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Skeptics of Global Warming Have Their Say on Capitol Hill

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The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold speaks with Emily Kotecki about skepticism among a handful of Republican lawmakers who question the prevailing scientific opinion about global warming, as well as the House debate on a climate-change bill. Video by Emily Kotecki/The Washington Post

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By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 19, 2009

After the decade they've had, Capitol Hill's climate-change skeptics might well feel like polar bears on a shrinking ice floe.

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Scientists around the globe have rejected their main arguments -- that the climate isn't clearly warming, that humans aren't responsible for it, or that the whole thing doesn't amount to a problem. Public opinion has also shifted and even Exxon Mobil talks about greenhouse gases.

But this spring, it's been obvious: Doubt is not dead.

In fact, as Congress considers placing a national limit on emissions, Washington's climate skeptics have been louder than usual -- and they've been reinforced by other voices in the Republican Party.

"We're cooling. We're not warming," Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele said on a radio show in March.

"The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical," said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) -- although nobody is on record as saying carbon dioxide causes cancer.

These arguments could play a small but key role in the House's deliberations this summer on climate-change legislation. The Democrats' "cap-and-trade" proposal will face ferocious opposition over its potential cost. It will be an even harder sell if skeptics can stir up a debate about whether there really is a problem.

"When we're faced with tough challenges, it's just our nature to hope that we really don't have to" face them, said Manik Roy, a vice president at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, which supports a cap on emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. "If you believe that there's still a debate here or -- stronger -- if you believe this is a hoax . . . then you will fight like hell."

The odd way that climate-change skepticism fits into Washington politics now -- at the margins, but trying to get back in the fight -- was underscored at a news conference Thursday at the Capitol, when a group of Republicans announced an alternative to the Democrats' bill.

Their leader, Rep. Joe L. Barton (Tex.), said he does not think humans are causing climate change. But, he said, the desire for a bill is so strong that he was proposing one anyway: a solution to a problem that, in his mind, doesn't exist.

"The Republican Party is the party of solutions," Barton said. "We are realistic to know to accept the fact that the American people want a solution to this issue."

Most scientists now say there is a consensus about climate change: It is "unequivocal," concluded a United Nations report in 2007. It found that recent temperatures were about 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit higher than a century ago -- and that most of this is "very likely" due to man-made greenhouse gases.


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