Fortunately the House hearing was not what it might have been.
The Republican committee chairman had subpoenaed agency documents. The Obama administration official at the witness table has not provided everything the chairman wants. In too many cases, that would have generated a highly partisan session where real governing was shortchanged.
Instead, the House Science, Space and Technology subcommittee on the environment turned out to be a mostly boring example of the way government should work when legislators question the agency’s boss about its budget.
Mostly is the key word here.
While the hearing did focus on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fiscal year 2017 budget request, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), chairman of the full committee, could not let the occasion pass without grilling NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan about climate change.
He has pestered Sullivan for months, following publication of a June article in Science by NOAA scientists that took issue with the notion of a pause in global warming. He raised the topic again at the NOAA budget hearing, the first time he and Sullivan publicly discussed the subject.
But he did so alone, except for a response from Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (Tex.), the top Democrat on the committee, to Smith’s climate change oration. Everyone else stuck to the budget.
Smith also complained about the widely reported finding by NOAA and NASA that 2015 was the hottest year on record. He said 2015 was the third or fourth warmest year depending on the dataset.
He accused NOAA of “hyping a climate change agenda.”
“Unfortunately, climate alarmism often takes priority at NOAA,” Smith said. “This was demonstrated by the agency’s decision to prematurely publish the 2015 study that attempted to make the two-decade halt in global warming disappear.”
He charged the study was really an attempt to advance the administration’s climate change agenda. Smith accused NOAA of “devoting time and resources to misinform the public.”
Sullivan, who has walked in space as a NASA astronaut, probably has faced bigger challenges than this. A PhD scientist, she was calm in the face of Smith’s harsh accusations that disparaged the heart of NOAA’s scientific method. She said she stands by “the quality and integrity of the scientific analysis” that was led by NOAA’s Thomas Karl.
Johnson responded to Smith by saying the ongoing probe of NOAA’s scientists “is unfounded” and “driven by ideology.”
Committee Republicans, she added, have “asserted without offering any credible evidence, that NOAA and the climate science community, at large, are part of some grand conspiracy to falsify data in support of the significant role humans play in climate change. However, the overwhelming body of scientific evidence, across many different fields, has shown that this is not the case.”
But it really wasn’t the Republicans. It’s notable that others on Smith’s side at the hearing didn’t follow the chairman’s line of inquiry.
It seemed to be an issue for him alone.