5 quotable moments from 4 hours of climate bickering

Source: Mark K. Matthews, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, April 11, 2019

The House Oversight and Reform Committee made little headway when it met yesterday for four hours to discuss climate change and the problems it poses for national security.

But, as is often the case for one of the most partisan committees in Congress, the hearing did offer a few explosive moments — as well as some insight into how the debate on global warming could be shifting on Capitol Hill.

Here are five notable quotes from the hearing, which featured former Secretary of State John Kerry and former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel as witnesses.

‘We must not use a single dollar of the Department of Defense budget to address the climate change issue.’

The admonition from Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) followed a long list of concerns he raised about the readiness of U.S. troops and equipment.

“How many fighter pilots are we short in the United States military? It’s not classified. It’s well over a thousand,” Green said.

He argued the Defense Department had but one purpose — “and this is to kill our enemies” — and that any effort to distract from that focus would lead to the future loss of American lives.

Hagel, though, said DOD already was paying the price for climate change and that senior Pentagon officials have long recognized its potential to destabilize the world.

In his opening statement, Hagel drew the connection between climate change and more powerful storms. He said Hurricane Michael last year devastated Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida and damaged 17 F-22 stealth fighters.

More recently, he said, Midwestern flooding last month wrecked Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, including its runway. The cost of those two disasters is expected to cost the Air Force at least $5 billion, he said.

“Planning for climate change is not some frivolous waste of time or waste of money,” Hagel added later. “It is essential to our troops and their well-being and the national security of this country.”

‘I don’t believe mankind is responsible for climate change on Mars.’

The point Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) was trying to make is that Mars — a planet with no people — has experienced its own climate fluctuations over the years and that Congress should be skeptical of how much humanity should be blamed for global warming on Earth.

“The geological record is clear,” he said. “The Earth’s climate changes.”

Higgins’ suggestion, however, runs counter to the broad consensus of climate scientists and studies, including the Fourth National Climate Assessment published last fall.

“Global average temperature has increased by about 1.8°F from 1901 to 2016, and observational evidence does not support any credible natural explanations for this amount of warming; instead, the evidence consistently points to human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse or heat-trapping gases, as the dominant cause,” according to the report.

Higgins wasn’t the only Republican lawmaker to stray into this territory.

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) also brought his own theories — and a prop. At one point, he held up a desert fossil from an area that was once an ocean.

“Climate change has been changing all through the life of this planet,” Gosar said.

‘Are you serious?’

The testiest exchange of the day was a back-and-forth between Kerry and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.).

Massie had taken issue with Kerry’s earlier criticism of plans by the White House to create a task force that would question whether climate change is a national security threat. Said Kerry in prepared remarks: “We already know what the outcome will be: it’s a council of doubters and deniers convened to undo a 26-year-old factual consensus that climate change is a national-security threat multiplier.”

One of the officials tied to the effort is William Happer, a Princeton University physicist who once wrote in The Wall Street Journal that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is good because it would increase farming production (E&E News PM, March 5).

Massie, in defending the White House effort, questioned Kerry’s own credentials on climate — including Kerry’s college degree in political science.

“I think it’s somewhat appropriate that somebody with a pseudoscience degree is here pushing pseudoscience in front of our committee today,” Massie said.

After taking a moment to absorb the comment, an incredulous Kerry responded with a simple: “Are you serious?”

‘Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez has, in fact, offered more leadership in one day or one week than President Trump has in his lifetime on this subject.’

When faced with talk of climate change, congressional Republicans over the last few months have frequently pivoted the conversation to criticism of the Green New Deal — and yesterday’s hearing was no exception.

Though the Green New Deal wasn’t on the agenda, GOP lawmakers often brought it up as a reason to be hesitant of either climate science or climate action.

At one point, Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) claimed that the Green New Deal, which looks to fight global warming with a government-led jobs program, would lead to land seizures by the government to make space for wind turbines, solar panels and high-speed rail lines.

“The proposal calls for government to seize this land, this farmland,” Comer said.

(It doesn’t — though a resolution in support of the Green New Deal makes mention of “investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health.”)

Kerry didn’t endorse the Green New Deal but countered Comer’s criticism by repeating a common refrain among congressional Democrats as of late: What is the Republican plan to combat climate change?

And he gave credit to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) for spearheading the fight for the Green New Deal.

“Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez has, in fact, offered more leadership in one day or in one week than President Trump has in his lifetime on this subject,” Kerry said.

‘I have people on my staff that are looking at carbon tax and a number of issues.’

Amid the partisan bickering, one comment from Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) raised a few eyebrows.

The Trump ally and staunch conservative hinted he could be open to at least one solution to climate change: the imposition of a carbon tax.

“I have people on my staff that are looking at carbon tax and a number of issues,” Meadows said.

Alex Flint — executive director of the conservative Alliance for Market Solutions, which supports carbon taxes — picked up on the remark.

He said Meadows’ comment was indicative of a subtle transformation among some congressional Republicans on global warming.

“Responsible conservatives understand we have to respect climate science, and we are looking for serious, effective policies that can reduce the risks from climate change,” Flint said. “This is another example of the important shift underway among Republicans.”