Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., a former chairman of the House Science Committee, said a lot is at stake. He said Congress is being asked "to make major changes in American society in energy use and on how much the out of pocket cost is to every person in this country as a result of this debate. And we in Congress better get it right.
"The scientists may be able to change their story and do more research on it, but once Congress passes a law, it will be as difficult to repeal the consequences of that law as putting milk back into the cow," Sensenbrenner said.
Many scientists insist the e-mail scandal does nothing to the consensus that the world has a climate problem, and that solutions are overdue.
Ben Santer of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California -- who turns up in some of the e-mails -- posted an "open letter" defending his colleagues.
"We are now faced with powerful 'forces of unreason,'" he wrote, "forces that (at least to date) have been unsuccessful in challenging scientific findings of a warming Earth, and a 'discernible human influence' on global climate. These forces of unreason are now shifting the focus of their attention to the scientists themselves. They seek to discredit, to skew the truth, to misrepresent. They seek to destroy scientific careers rather than to improve our understanding of the nature and causes of climate change."
Meanwhile, temperatures in North America declined slightly in 2008, though they rose elsewhere. Today, in a newly-released study, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it was a one-time phenomenon that does not negate the warming problem -- but even they were on the defensive in the way they worded their explanation.
"Our work shows that there can be cold periods, but that does not mean the end of global warming," said NOAA's Judith Perlwitz, lead author of the study. "The recent coolness was caused by transitory natural factors that temporarily masked the human-caused signal."