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The Climate 202

This Republican wants to make NOAA an independent agency

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Happy Friday. Today marks the two-year anniversary of President Biden’s executive order that established the Justice40 Initiative, which seeks to send at least 40 percent of the benefits of federal climate investments to disadvantaged communities. But first:

The new chair of the House Science Committee wants to enshrine NOAA in law

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, was created by an executive order in 1970 and has never been established in law, despite its critical role in federal research on climate change.

Rep. Frank D. Lucas (R-Okla.) is on a mission to change that.

Lucas, the new chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, has released draft legislation to enshrine NOAA in law as an independent agency, rather than as part of the Commerce Department.

Lucas has been discussing and workshopping the NOAA Organic Act with staff for the past year. Now, as chair of the Science Committee, he’s planning to formally unveil the bill this spring and pass it through the panel by August.

His push has taken on new urgency, however, after Republican leaders signaled plans to slash funding for agencies and programs that continue to receive annual appropriations but haven’t been reauthorized by Congress.

“It’s been made quite clear in the Republican conference that my friends don’t want to fund programs that are not properly authorized,” Lucas said in an interview with The Climate 202. “NOAA is very important, so we need to get it authorized.”

NOAA spokeswoman Kate Silverstein said in an email that the agency could not comment on pending legislation.

Scientific integrity and ‘Sharpiegate’

The bill also would direct the NOAA administrator to promote a culture of scientific integrity and would enshrine NOAA’s existing Science Advisory Board in law.

These directives come after a 2020 investigation found that agency leadership violated its scientific integrity policy by releasing a statement that backed President Donald Trump’s false claim about the path of Hurricane Dorian.

The scandal over the forecast for Hurricane Dorian came to be known as “Sharpiegate,” after Trump displayed a doctored NOAA map that depicted the storm threatening Alabama.

When asked about Sharpiegate, Lucas did not directly address the scandal but said the bill seeks to promote scientific integrity regardless of who’s in the White House.

“Every president has his or her appointees in every executive branch agency,” he said. “And every appointee is a reflection of the boss, no matter what the party is. I just believe as a free-standing agency, they would be better prepared to fulfill their mission.”

Climate change views

NOAA plays a central role in researching how climate change is affecting communities across the United States.

Last year, for instance, the agency launched the online portal, which provides information to help communities and businesses reduce the health risks of extreme heat. It also launched two new satellites to track and forecast extreme weather and climate hazards.

The NOAA Organic Act, Lucas said, would help the agency “address all of its responsibilities,” including its work on climate change.

Unlike some of his GOP colleagues, Lucas has been vocal about the threats posed by more intense droughts, heat waves and other disasters fueled by global warming. As a farmer, he sees these effects firsthand.

“I’ve been farming the same wheat fields in Oklahoma since 1977, and I’m watching weather patterns change,” he said. “We have more droughts; we have more intense temperatures.”

Shift from Smith

Such statements mark a shift from former congressman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), who questioned established climate science while leading the Science Committee from 2013 to 2019.

In fact, in 2015, Smith accused NOAA scientists of doctoring their data on Earth’s rapid warming to support Barack Obama’s climate agenda.

“It was inconvenient for this administration that climate data has clearly showed no warming for the past two decades,” Smith said at the time. “The American people have every right to be suspicious when NOAA alters data to get the politically correct results they want.”

Michael Mann, a climate scientist at the University of Pennsylvania who sparred with Smith at a 2017 hearing, said Lucas appears to accept the scientific consensus on global warming, even if he doesn’t support policies to phase out fossil fuels.

“At the very least, we can expect more respect for the world of science from Lucas,” Mann said in an email.

Pressure points

Biden protects vast wilderness area in Minnesota from mining

The Biden administration on Thursday moved to ban mining for two decades in a giant watershed near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the president’s latest effort to deliver on a pledge to conserve 30 percent of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030, The Washington Post’s Timothy Puko reports. 

The move will protect 225,000 acres of federal lands and waters in the Rainy River Watershed northwest of Lake Superior. It reverses the Trump administration’s decision to renew leases to extract copper, nickel and other valuable hard-rock minerals in the area. 

Officials said they determined the potential toxic leaching from mining would threaten nature and local Native American communities. But advocates for mining in the region have said it can be a key domestic source of the minerals needed for the nation’s transition to clean energy. 

The decision on Boundary Waters came a day after the Biden administration took action to protect Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. But in the coming weeks, the administration will need to make other decisions on hotly contested sites, including ConocoPhillips’s multibillion-dollar Willow oil project on Alaska’s North Slope.

On the Hill

GOP beats back Democratic climate amendments to oil bill

House Republicans on Thursday defeated dozens of Democratic amendments to the Strategic Production Response Act, which would bar the Biden administration from releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve until it opens up more public lands and waters to fossil fuel leasing.

The House operated yesterday under a “modified open rule” for the first time in nearly seven years, meaning any lawmaker could propose an amendment and advocate for it on the floor.

As a result, lawmakers of both parties filed a flurry of amendments. Among the many Democratic proposals that failed along party lines, several focused on fighting climate change and holding the fossil fuel industry accountable.

  • Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) proposed an amendment that would condition releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve on commitments to uphold the Paris agreement and the Justice40 Initiative.
  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) offered an amendment that would prohibit energy companies that have engaged in stock buybacks in the past decade from leasing land for oil production.

“We know that leasing more land to fossil fuel companies does not guarantee that gas prices will drop,” Ocasio-Cortez said on the House floor. “What it does do, however, is guarantee that we will accelerate the devastating impacts of climate change.”

The GOP oil bill, introduced by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash), is unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, and Biden has vowed to veto the measure if it does reach his desk.

Still, McMorris Rodgers argued that her legislation would prevent Biden from misusing the reserve for political gain.

The bill would “help ensure this vital American energy asset and American security interests will not be drained away for non-emergency political purposes,” she said.

The House will gavel in at 9 a.m. today to resume consideration of the bill.

Chair Whitehouse puts climate on Senate Budget Committee agenda

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) on Thursday took the gavel of the Senate Budget Committee, where he plans to probe how climate change threatens the broader financial system.

In a statement, Whitehouse said the panel would prioritize climate change “as economic experts warn of serious financial risks and as climate-related disaster spending continues to soar.” He added that “we’ve got a planet seriously in trouble because of the unbridled mischief of the fossil fuel industry.” 

Whitehouse has long been one of the most outspoken climate hawks in Congress, most notably through his “Time to Wake Up” speeches on the Senate floor. The Budget Committee was previously led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who now helms the Senate’s health panel.

In the atmosphere


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