WASHINGTON — Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) clashed with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Tuesday on the subject of climate change, calling out the Trump Cabinet member for downplaying melting glaciers in Glacier National Park.
Zinke said during a June 8 budget hearing that the park’s namesake features started melting “right after the end of the Ice Age.”
“It’s been a consistent melt,” he told the House Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee, adding that he’s watched glaciers thaw while “eating lunch.”
At a Tuesday budget hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Franken pointed to data released last month by the U.S. Geological Survey — a bureau Zinke oversees — and Portland State University showing that the park’s glaciers have shrunk an average of 39 percent since 1966. (Dan Fagre, a USGS research ecologist, told HuffPost at the time that the glaciers “are already at the point of no return,” and will all but disappear “within 20 years.”)
“We are not seeing a consistent melt. The melting is dramatically increasing,” Franken told Zinke. “I’m concerned about whether you are clear about the magnitude of warming that is occurring.”
With limited time, Franken moved on to the larger climate crisis, asking Zinke if he knows how much warming government scientists are predicting by 2100 under a business-as-usual scenario.
“I don’t think the government scientists can predict with certainty,” Zinke said. “There isn’t a model that exists today that can predict today’s weather, given all the data —”
“They predict the range,” Franked interrupted, pointing out that Zinke has stressed the importance of relying on science.
Asked again about the range of warming government scientists are predicting by 2100, Zinke referenced a study by scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That study, he said, showed that if all countries met the goals agreed to under the Paris Agreement on climate change, it would result in an “insignificant” 0.2-degree Celsius reduction in global temperature by 2100 — a claim President Donald Trump rolled out to announce plans to withdraw the U.S. from the historic Paris accord.
In fact, the MIT study concluded that if the Paris targets were met, global warming would slow by between 0.6 degree and 1.1 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. MIT researchers have said the Trump administration’s statements about the study are “misleading.”
“The whole statement seemed to suggest a complete misunderstanding of the climate problem,” John Reilly, the co-director of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, told CNN.
Franken said Zinke was “mixing apples and oranges,” and posed the question for a third time. Again, Zinke dodged, instead directing a question at Franken.
“Can you tell me, Sir, whether or not China increased its CO2 between now and  under the agreement? And by what?” Zinke asked, appearing agitated. “But I will be glad to give you that answer.”
“And that answer is?” Franken prodded.
″I will be glad to give you that answer,” Zinke said again.
“So you will give it in writing then,” Franken responded, as his time for questions expired.
Zinke, a Montana congressman before Trump tapped him to lead the Interior Department, didn’t speak Tuesday about his previous statements about melting glaciers in his home state.
Portland State University geologist Andrew G. Fountain, who partnered with USGS on the Glacier National Park project, described Zinke’s statement on glacier melt as “vague.” He told HuffPost that while glaciers have generally retreated since about 1850, the end of the Little Ice Age, the rate of retreat has increased in recent decades — a result of warming global air temperatures.
“During the 1960s, the 1970s, [the retreat] was very slow, and since that time, particularly in the ’90s, it has accelerated,” Fountain said.