GOP's Global Warming Skeptics to Take House Chairs on Energy, Science

Scientists anxious about incoming Republicans who deny global warming.

December 3, 2010, 7:02 PM

Dec. 6, 2010— -- All of the contenders in line to head the prestigious House committees responsible for setting America's energy and science policy are global warming skeptics, and that's causing scientists to worry that Republicans will use their new positions for political grandstanding at the expense of scientific advancement.

The Republicans, who will take over leadership of the House in January, have not yet announced who will chair the Energy and Commerce Committee or the Science and Technology Committee, but the short lists for both committees consist solely of congressmen who question the veracity of climate change.

Already, Republican Speaker-elect John Boehner of Ohio has fired an opening salvo against Democratic inroads on climate change policy, announcing last week that the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, a pet project of outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, would be dismantled.

"This is a very partisan world and most Republicans are already focused on the 2012 presidential election," said Marchant Wentworth, a spokesman for the Union of Concerned Scientists. "While they play politics, sound science is being trampled in the process."

"Clean air and clean water are at stake. Why use these for a political agenda to whip up a partisan situation?" he asked.

Boehner has said he wants to restore the independence and authority of the committee chairs.

The fight to chair the Energy and Commerce Committee is shaping up to be one of the most contentious.

GOP Duel for House Chairmanships

Rep. Joe Barton of Texas is currently the ranking Republican on the committee. Typically, the ranking minority member is given the chairmanship when his party takes control. But Barton has previously chaired the committee and under House rules, he's prohibited from holding the chair again. He has pushed hard to get Speaker-elect Boehner to make an exception.

Barton, who according to the Center for Responsive Politics has received more than $3 million in contributions from energy companies, famously apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward, during a hearing on last summer's Gulf oil spill.

"I think it's a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case a $20 billion shakedown. … So, I apologize," he said. Barton later apologized for the apology.

But beyond his remarks on BP, Barton has previously called carbon emissions a "net benefit to mankind" and in 2009 said regulating greenhouse gases would force a shutdown of the New York City Marathon.

"If you put 20,000 marathoners into a confined area you could consider that a single source of pollution, and you could regulate it," he said.

Barton's office did not return repeated calls for comment.

Barton's competition for the top spot on the committee is Fred Upton of Michigan, who after coming under fire from conservatives for his middle-of-the-road positions on the environment has taken a hard right turn on global warming.

"No matter what we did between now and 2050, it, it, there was no real science to verify that it would reduce the temperature rise that some predicted," Upton said earlier this year.Upton took flack from conservative pundits Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck when he supported a ban on incandescent light bulbs.

In November, he told Politico he would reconsider his position.

Questioning Current 'State of Science

"If I become chairman, we'll be reexamining the light bulb issue, no problem," Upton said.

Upton's office called the Obama administration's proposal to limit carbon emissions "the job-killing cap-and-tax scheme that would have decimated our economy."

"Fred is looking towards the future - working shoulder-to-shoulder with Speaker Boehner and the new Republican majority to deliver the changes that the American people expect and demand," Upton's spokesman said in a statement to

On Friday, Upton and Barton released a joint statement condemning the Obama administration's proposed regulations on hydraulic fracturing, a controversial method to mine natural gas.

The final vote on the Energy Committee chair is expected this week.

Scientists are also nervously watching to see who will chair the Science and Technology Committee.

Ralph Hall of Texas is the oldest member of Congress and the ranking Republican member of the committee.

Last month in an interview with Politico, he questioned the current "state of science."

"This administration argues that cutting greenhouse emissions as a policy directive is justified by science. I think (we) will demonstrate and should demonstrate that reasonable people have serious questions about our knowledge of the state of the science," he said.

One committee which won't be getting a new chairman is the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. It's being disbanded instead, at Boehner's direction.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, currently the ranking Republican, voted against creating the very committee he almost went on to chair.

"By dismantling the committee, Boehner hopes to convey that this is not an important issue and not worthy of House time," the Union of Concerned Scientists' Wentworth said.

In a valedictory address at the committee's last meeting, the chairman, Rep. Edward Markey (D.-MA), promised to keep making climate change an important issue.

"We are not going away," said Markey. "The problems that climate change presents are too dangerous, too urgent, for us to disappear into the abyss of cynicism and lost opportunity."