Once Again, a Climate Policy Hearing Descends Into Absurdity

Blowing a load off

Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

By now it is clear that whenever the House Science Committee calls a hearing to discuss the Environmental Protection Agency, it is a euphemistic way of allowing congressmen from coal-producing districts to rake climate change over the coals. The title of a hearing Wednesday— “The Administration’s Climate Plan: Failure by Design”—gets that message across.  

This is a shame, for it is both legitimate and important to ask just how a shift from coal-powered plants (which produce 39 percent of the country’s electricity) to lower-emission sources would work. Currently, 74 percent of power plant CO2 emissions are from coal-powered plants. Last year, President Obama unveiled his Climate Action Plan, promising to invest millions in developing technologies and standards to reduce carbon pollution. This June, the EPA proposed a new set of rules that asks states to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent from their 2005 levels. Proposals for how to do so are due in 2016. The goal is to meet targets by 2030. John Holdren, the White House science advisor, and Janet McCabe, an EPA administrator, testified before the committee this morning to address questions on these respective initiatives.

As happens so often when it comes to science, politics gets in the way. Observers of Republicans in the House can attest that there are three kinds of climate-policy criticism: outright refusal to accept the evidence of anthropogenic climate change; disbelief that climate change is worth addressing because any policy will be too costly; or accepting scientific evidence but taking a skeptical stance that a policy being proposed is the right way to go. You can see all three on display in clips from today’s hearing, below. (A fourth kind of attack—resorting to ad hominem bashing—sadly also showed up.)

Rep. Dana Rohrbacher of California presents some flippant questions about how harmful CO2 emissions actually are to human health:

Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, who chairs the committee, argues that the impact of the proposed EPA carbon cutting regulation will be offset by pollution from China, and so is not worth implementing. He also has little faith in American leadership (an oddly unpatriotic-seeming stance from a Republican):

Holdren later points out other countries are making efforts to be greener, while in the United States, those efforts are stalled by a poisoned political atmosphere. (In fact, it is worth noting that China and India are both decreasing their “carbon intensity”—which measures emission rate against economic activity—more quickly than the United States.) The air is so thick with acrimony that Rep. Bill Posey of Florida is compelled to make some peacekeeping remarks:

Questions asked subsequent to Rep. Posey’s were thankfully of a more constructive nature. Yet, Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia could not resist a parting shot at representative from the White House: