House of (Human-Caused) Horrors

It could never happen now, but could it happen again two years from now?

It was ten years ago today that then-NASA scientist James Hansen testified in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform regarding the George W. Bush administration’s assault on climate science. In his written testimony, Hansen observed:

There is little doubt that the [Bush] Administration’s downplaying of evidence about global warming has had some effect on public perception of the climate change issue. The impact is to confuse the public about the reality of global warming, and about whether that warming can be reliably attributed to human-made greenhouse gases.

However, I believe that the gap between scientific understanding of climate change and public knowledge about the status of that understanding probably is due more to the impact of special interests on public discourse, especially fossil fuel special interests, rather than political interference with climate change science…

The effect of leaving the public confused about the reality of human-caused climate
change is to delay actions needed to put the nation and the world on an energy pathway that would preserve creation, the planet that civilization developed on. If these actions are taken early, changes can be phased in gradually with great economic benefit to the nation.

Ten years ago, then-Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) chaired the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Today, it’s run by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who has made clear his scorn of climate science. Were control of Congress to change hands after the 2018 midterm elections, it’s quite likely that the Trump Administration’s attacks on climate science will receive strict scrutiny from Congress–which is why the fossil fuel industry will pull out all the stops to ensure that the House and Senate remain under GOP control.

We have noted before the hypocrisy of ExxonMobil claiming to support a revenue-neutral carbon tax as the best option to address climate change while lobbying to block the implementation of such a tax in Massachusetts. Were Congress to change hands in 2018, ExxonMobil’s hypocrisy would become even more politically prominent. A Congress not controlled by climate-change deniers would likely face intense pressure from climate activists to pass strong legislation enacting a price on carbon, the unfinished legislative business of the Obama era–and if ExxonMobil opposes such legislation, the company will merit international scorn.

The nervousness of the Trumpublican Party regarding the 2018 midterms cannot be overstated, especially when it comes to climate and energy. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s recent broadside against climate science was not an accident: Pruitt and his allies have to sow as much public confusion as possible now about the risks of carbon, because if they don’t, and the GOP loses control of the House and Senate next year, it will be too late to undermine the case for pricing carbon–a case even some of Pruitt’s fellow Republicans have made.

To paraphrase Senator Marco Rubio, let us dispel with the fiction that Pruitt doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. If things don’t go the GOP’s way in 2018, his actions as EPA Administrator will be under a harsh Congressional spotlight–and his efforts to protect the fossil fuel industry will be undermined if a new Congress forces the industry to finally pay for its pollution. Pruitt’s job is to delay the inevitable–but of course, one can only do that for so long.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.