GOP Congressman Turns Science Committee Into Platform For His Own Anti-Science Views

Rep. Lamar Smith has invited three climate change skeptics to discuss the issue at a hearing this week.

WASHINGTON — Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) — one of Congress’ most outspoken climate change deniers — is using the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology to push his own agenda.

In addition to harassing federal climate scientists and issuing subpoenas to seemingly everyone looking into oil giant Exxon Mobil’s suppression of climate change research, the committee chairman is loading hearings with witnesses who largely agree with his personal views.

It’s normal for the majority party to pick the bulk of a hearing’s panelists. What many find shocking, however, is who Smith is choosing to invite.

The congressman tackled the subject of “Making EPA Great Again” last month by turning to a coal lawyer, a chemical industry lobbyist and a libertarian scholar who recently accused the Environmental Protection Agency of “regulatory terrorism.” The committee’s Democratic minority chose the fourth witness: Rush Holt Jr., chief executive of the nonprofit American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Wednesday is shaping up to be more of the same, with a panel of witnesses stacked 3-to-1 in Smith’s favor. This time around, the subject is climate change.

The hearing, titled “Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications, and the Scientific Method,” will “examine the scientific method and process as it relates to climate change” and “focus on the underlying science that helps inform policy decisions,” according to a hearing charter. To do that, Smith has invited a trio of prominent, like-minded climate change skeptics.

The ultimate goal, as the committee noted on Twitter, will be “making scientific debate great again.”

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, in 2013.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, in 2013.
Bill Clark via Getty Images

While speaking at a climate conference hosted by the conservative Heartland Institute last week, Smith blasted the Obama administration and the “liberal political agenda.” He also praised President Donald Trump’s efforts to undo Barack Obama’s climate legacy and promoted the upcoming committee hearing to discuss climate change and the scientific method ― something he said is “repeatedly ignored by the so-called, self-professed climate scientists.”

The audience applauded each time the congressman read off the name of a chosen witness.

The first person he named was Judith Curry, president of Climate Forecast Applications Network, who retired in January as a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. Curry defended EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt when he told CNBC that he does not believe carbon dioxide is to blame for global warming.

“If I am interpreting Pruitt’s statements correctly, I do not find anything to disagree with in what he said: we don’t know how much of recent warming can be attributed to humans,” Curry wrote in a blog post.

Second on Smith’s list of witnesses is Roger Pielke Jr., an environmental studies professor at the University of Colorado often cited by climate change skeptics.

I believe climate change is real and that human emissions of greenhouse gases risk justifying action, including a carbon tax,” Peilke wrote last year in the Wall Street Journal. “But my research led me to a conclusion that many climate campaigners find unacceptable: There is scant evidence to indicate that hurricanes, floods, tornadoes or drought have become more frequent or intense in the U.S. or globally.”

And finally, Smith named John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama. The “danger just isn’t there,” Christy has said in reference to global warming, arguing that there’s no smoking gun to prove human activity is the main culprit.

Smith paused before reading off the final witness, who had been chosen by the committee’s Democratic minority.

“Before you applaud, let me read the name,” he warned, as the audience laughed. “Last witness is Michael Mann.”

The crowd booed loudly.

“That’s why it’s going to be a good hearing,” Smith chuckled.

Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, tweeted that he found it an “honored to be booed” at the Koch Brothers-funded, anti-science, “climate denier” event.

Smith acknowledged at the Heartland conference that the House Science Committee is “now a tool to advance his political agenda rather than a forum to examine important issues facing the U.S. research community,” Science magazine’s Jeffrey Mervis reported.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), the ranking Democratic member of the committee, echoed that sentiment in an email to The Huffington Post.

“The Chairman unfortunately has ignored the overwhelming majority of scientists around the world who represent the scientific consensus on climate science, instead calling three witnesses friendly to his anti-science, pro-industry point of view — witnesses who have already collectively appeared in front of Congress at least 20 times over the past decade,” she said.

“I am saddened that the Chairman has taken this great Committee that was once at the forefront of our [research and development] policy-making and turned it into a vehicle to advance his political agenda at the cost of diminishing its standing in the eyes of the scientific community,” she added.

“I am saddened that the Chairman has taken this great Committee ... and turned it into a vehicle to advance his political agenda at the cost of diminishing its standing in the eyes of the scientific community.”

- Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas)

Mann told HuffPost via email that he’s attending Wednesday’s hearing to “attempt to inject some actual facts and some actual climate science in a Washington D.C. atmosphere where ‘alternative facts’ and industry-funded science denialism have run amok.”

Given his audience and fellow panelists, however, that may prove easier said than done.

During his speech last week, Smith argued the Obama administration spent years promoting its political agenda rather than relying on “good, sound science,” and that the “days of trust-me science are over.”

“They often regularly claimed that extreme weather, hurricanes and severe storms were getting worse due to human-caused climate change,” he said of members of Obama’s administration. “They never let science get in the way of their assertions.”

Ironically, a study Mann co-authored that links extreme weather events to climate change was published Monday in Nature Scientific Reports.

As Curry noted in a post to her blog, the event will be “high theater for climate geeks.”

“Get your popcorn ready,” she wrote.

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