With Republicans taking control of the Senate this month, two climate-change skeptics became heads of the subcommittees that oversee the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) chairs the Senate subcommittee on oceans, atmosphere, fisheries, and Coast Guard, is responsible for NOAA. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) leads the subcommittee on space, science and competitiveness, which covers NASA.
Why does that matter? Because both agencies manage the nation’s weather satellites, which provide much of the data for studying climate change.
In 2013, the Obama administration spent more than twice as much money on climate-change research as it did on weather forecasting, according to this 2013 PolitiFact article.
NASA’s role in examining the climate is significant, with the agency spending more than $1 billion annually on Earth science, which includes programs to gather and convert data from Defense Department and NOAA satellites.
NOAA’s role is no less significant, with the agency spending about $2 billion on its National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service last year.
Last year, the Republican-controlled House passed a bill that would have required NOAA to dedicate more money on weather-forecasting than climate-change studies. Such measures stand a better chance of winning Senate approval with the new Cruz and Rubio chairmanships.
Both Republicans have expressed doubts about climate change, or at least what can Congress can do about it. Cruz has outright denied climate change, while Rubio acknowledges the phenomenon but questions many of the proposals for dealing with it.
Rubio said during an ABC News interview in May that he does not believe human activity is to blame for the issue in “the way these scientists are portraying it.” In a subsequent National Press Club event, he said climate change is real but that cap and trade legislation wouldn’t prevent it from happening.
Rubio’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
As for Cruz, his recent comments place him squarely in the climate-change denier’s camp.
“The last 15 years, there has been no recorded warming,” he said during a CNN interview last year. “Contrary to all the theories that they are expounding, there should have been warming over the last 15 years. It hasn’t happened.”
President Obama criticized that kind of thinking during his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
“I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA and at our major universities,” Obama said. “The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate.”
Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for Cruz’s office, said Cruz has not threatened to cut NASA funding, adding that he “looks forward to holding hearings to help determine the best paths forward for the agency.”
In a recent interview with the Houston Chronicle, Cruz said he plans to refocus NASA on its “core priority of exploring space.” He added that “we should not be allowing NASA to have its resources diverted to extraneous political agendas.”
It remains to be seen whether that will translate to a Republican bill to cut funding for NASA’s climate-change work, but Obama said Tuesday that he would “not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts.”
For what it’s worth, Rubio’s stance on climate change appears to have evolved since 2007, when he was speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. During a speech that year, he said that “this nation and ultimately the world is headed toward emission caps and energy diversification,” and that the United States should develop technologies to make those changes cost-effective.
He added that “global warming, dependence on foreign sources of fuel and capitalism have come together to create opportunities for us that were unimaginable just a few short years ago.”