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House Committee Leaders Deny Climate Change While Extreme Weather Devastates Their States

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"House Committee Leaders Deny Climate Change While Extreme Weather Devastates Their States"

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by Jackie Weidman and Whitney Allen

On November 27th, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced the new and returning House committee chairmen (and yes, they are all men). Some of these congressmen will run committees with jurisdiction over federal climate, energy, and environmental programs.  This includes funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Clean Air Act, balancing the use of our public lands between energy production and recreation, and determining the infrastructure needs of a nation that now faces unpredictable extreme weather threats linked to climate change.

The vast majority of these chairmen voted for legislation that would dismantle EPA’s ability to limit industrial carbon pollution, and for retention of special tax breaks for the oil and gas industry. Oil and gas, coal, and electric utility companies have cozied up to many of these chairmen, giving them roughly $3.8 million in campaign contributions over the course of their careers.

Meanwhile, many climate-related extreme weather events have severely afflicted Americans over the past two years, including in their home states.  Record-breaking drought and heat waves, severe floods, and heavy storms wreaked havoc for the families living in the chairmens’ backyards.  Scientists predict that these weather events will become more frequent and/or severe if the industrial carbon pollution responsible for climate change remains unchecked.

Let’s take a look at some of the Republicans who will oversee federal climate, energy, and environmental programs over the next two years, as well as their campaign contributions from the industries responsible for most climate pollution:

Rep. Sam Graves (Missouri) — Small Business Committee

In a May 2010 op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Rep. Graves claimed that limiting carbon pollution is “out of touch with the people who keep this country running.”  Yet, the farmers, ranchers, and small business owners he refers to in his column dealt with crippling drought conditions this summer across Missouri and the Great Plains, a disaster that Midwestern scientists say “is consistent with an observed warmer climate.”

In addition to drought, Graves’ home state was also afflicted by other extreme weather events in 2011, including a Missouri River flood that inundated homes and businesses. All of Missouri’s counties were declared disaster areas from the three main extreme weather events hitting the state, including the Joplin tornado disaster.

Graves has received $150,000 in campaign contributions from electric utilities throughout his career.

Rep. Frank Lucas (Oklahoma) — Agriculture Committee

In his first term as committee chair, Rep. Lucas voted to prevent the Department of Agriculture from helping farmers adapt to a changing climate that will include more droughts, heat waves, and heavy storms.  Meanwhile, his home state of Oklahoma suffered from 8 extreme weather events that each caused at least $1 billion in total damages each.

Two of these events include the crippling heat and drought conditions that have overwhelmed his home state in both 2011 and 2012.  This year’s drought recently expanded, and as of November 20th 44 percent of winter wheat crops and 80 percent of the pastures in Oklahoma are experiencing poor to very poor conditions. All of the counties in Lucas’s state were declared disaster areas due to the drought. The average household in Oklahoma earns 17 percent below the national median income. The Oklahomans afflicted by the drought and other extreme weather events have less income to recover and rebuild from these episodes.

Lucas took  $467,325 in oil and gas contributions and $145,992 from electric utilities over the course of his career.

Rep. Mike McCaul (Texas) — Homeland Security

Texas experienced 10 extreme weather events with $1 billion plus in damages each in 2011-12. Every single Texas county was in a declared disaster area, and it received more federal disaster aid than any other state since 2009.

In his new position, Rep. McCaul will oversee FEMA, including its disaster relief and recovery efforts, which should be comforting to Texans.  But Rep. McCaul voted to approve the 2013 House Budget Plan that would have handicapped the government’s ability to respond to disasters, something he openly criticized when it affected his district. McCaul asserts, “It shouldn’t have taken that long,” for FEMA to respond to wildfires that spread through Texas in 2011.  He has not acknowledged that he would support government efforts to cut back the program even further.

Rep. McCaul received $300,000 in oil and gas contributions throughout his career.

Rep. Hal Rogers (Kentucky) — Appropriations Committee

Rep. Rogers’ committee is hostile to disaster relief and recovery.  It voted to slash FEMA’s budget by $87 million (2011) and $182 million (2012).  Budget cuts restrict FEMA’s ability to provide disaster relief, food and shelter, and flood management assistance for state and local governments.  Roger’s home state of Kentucky suffered from four separate tornado and severe storm events in 2011-12 with at least $1 billion in damages each.  Half of Kentucky’s counties were in declared disaster areas from the four events, and households in these counties earn, on average, 19 percent below the U.S. median household income.

Rogers has received over $830,000 in campaign contributions from fossil fuel industries throughout his career.

Rep. Paul Ryan (Wisconsin) – Budget Committee

Over the past two years, Rep. Ryan voted more than a dozen times to block Environmental Protection Agency public health rules, including pollution reduction measures that would limit carbon pollution from power plants. While serving as Budget Committee Chairman, Rep. Ryan authored a budget that would have hurt FEMA’s ability to help state and local governments repair or replace damaged infrastructure after a major disaster.

Although his budget does not mention FEMA by name, the plan would have cut discretionary federal funds to FEMA and other agencies.  The reductions in the FEMA budget would have shifted a significant portion of disaster response and recovery costs to states and cities.   Rep. Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin experienced three billion-dollar in damages weather events in 2011-12.  Nearly two-thirds of its counties were in declared disaster areas.

Ryan received $263,600 in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies throughout his Congressional career.

Rep. Lamar Smith (Texas) – Science, Space and Technology

As Climate Progress recently reported, Rep. Smith is the new chair of the Science Committee. Yet he does not accept the overwhelming scientific consensus on man-made climate change. In fact, Rep. Smith has repeatedly attacked the media for reporting on the mountains of scientific evidence confirming this fact.  Smith claims that they are “determined to advance the idea of human-made global warming.”

While Rep. Smith seeks to assert that climate change is just an “idea,” his state has continued to suffer from the impacts of climate related extreme weather. Texas has experienced more billion-dollar in damages weather events than any other U.S. state in the past two years. The 2011-12 droughts decimated Texas crops, threatened the state’s water supply, and severely harmed its cattle industry. Ironically, while pollution-fueled climate change helped cause severe economic losses in his state, Rep. Smith assured Americans that  “oil and natural gas fuel our economy and sustain our way of life.”

Rep. Smith is heavily supported by the oil and gas industry.  It is his second largest contributor, shelling out half of a million dollars on his campaigns over the course of Rep. Smith’s career.

Rep. Fred Upton (Michigan) — Energy and Commerce Committee

The Energy and Commerce Committee oversees many aspects of energy production and industrial pollution. Rep. Upton will head it up again. He has repeatedly said that he does not believe climate change is man-made, even though he used accept this scientific fact.  Upton became a fierce critic of the EPA’s authority to limit industrial carbon pollution. In fact, he authored the “Energy Tax Prevention Act” (H.R. 910) to amend the Clean Air Act by repealing the scientific “endangerment finding” by EPA that greenhouse gases endanger human health. This bill would have permanently prevented EPA from limiting climate change pollution.

Upton, claimed that “this legislation will remove the biggest regulatory threat to the American economy,” without any independent analysis to demonstrate this claim.  Months after working to get the bill through the House, multiple severe weather events hit Michigan in July 2011, causing $1 billion in damages.

Rep. Upton received $1.2 million– more than any other House committee chair – over the course of his career from the electric utility and oil and gas industries.

Jackie Weidman is a Special Assistant for Energy Policy at the Center for American Progress; Whitney Allen is an intern on the energy team at the Center for American Progress.

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26 Responses to House Committee Leaders Deny Climate Change While Extreme Weather Devastates Their States

  1. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Gosh! You mean that there is no sign that despite the overwhelming evidence and the absolute scientific consensus, that the Right are as obdurate as ever? Well, I never! If one visits the idiot’s playground of the MSM blogs, you’ll find just as many morons, just as vociferous as ever. The denialist industry top dogs have their letters published regularly, and the denialists appear in opinion pages more often that the rationalists, markedly so in the Murdoch sewer (which, thanks to their boy, Cameron, has now survived the little kerfuffle in the UK pretty much unchanged).
    As I’ve said often, to the point of tedious repetition (And Beyond!)this is a fight to the death between the forces of Life and those of Death, between Good and Evil. A contest where, if the Right continue to prevail as they have done so far, several billion humans will die prematurely, unnecessarily and wretchedly in the rest of this century, is the greatest moral question of all the Ages of Man. These creatures are, in my opinion, the living manifestation of absolute evil, and unless we recognise this and act accordingly, then all, literally all past, present and future, is lost.

    • Artful Dodger says:

      Quite right. Climate Scientists have a fundamental disagreement with Politicians:

      Scientists say that unrestricted burning of fossil fuel is unsustainable.

      Rep. Smith says it’s the American way of life that is unsustainable.

    • Will Fox says:

      Well said, Mulga.

    • Mike Roddy says:

      I agree with you, Mulga, you have your ear to the ground. I’m headed to the AGU conference, and will be attending seminars on climate communication, but their take is usually too stuffy. We need to be more creative in reaching the people, most of whom have no clue about how much they are being manipulated. Here’s my take from a couple of years ago:

      http://www.alternet.org/story/149120/5_awards_for_the_world's_most_heinous_climate_villains

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        I have to say that I remain befuddled as to why the worthy panjandrums of the scientific elites remain so detached from the public, so reticent to become engaged (I’d prefer enraged, like myself)so inappropriately ‘above’ the turmoil. They all have lives yet to live, children, grandchildren, neighbours, friends etc, all about to be devastated, yet no scientific grandee has yet launched a protesting hunger-strike, or created a fuss of any kind. They prefer to take a toothpick to a machine-gun fight with the fanatical zealots of denialism and auto-genocide. Are they cowards? Stir ‘ém up, Mike! Get them up off their academic backsides.

  2. peter whitehead says:

    OK – I’m not American, so I don’t know the exact way to address these people but how about this? Draft a letter to each of these people, put it on a large board in BIG writing, invite the local media to the street outside their local office (don’t tell them why), unveil the board, and try to deliver it. Here’s a possible draft:

    Dear Representative . . .

    We congratulate your on your appointment as Chairman of …..

    We note that in the past you have rejected the scientific view of climate change for reasons we find difficult to discover. We note that you have in the past received $… from …… industries.

    We would like to invite you to a seminar on climate change to be presented by ……, a distinguished expert in the field.

    How much do we have to raise as a donation to your next election fund to get you (a) to come the seminar (b) to vote rationally on climate issues?

    Best wishes, your constituents.

    • Susan Anderson says:

      Excellent approach. Now we just have to do it!

    • Mike Roddy says:

      Unfortunately, they won’t take our money, since they know they can get so much more from the oil companies. It’s not just campaign cash, but also lifetime income in the form of lobbying jobs if they are ever defeated.

      • Artful Dodger says:

        It’s not ‘money for’ that is most effective, it’s the threat of ‘money against’ that most easily cows otherwise reasonable Politicians.

        The political strategy of the Teaparty is to overwhelm anyone that strays from their hard line with negative attack ads and defeat them in the Primary. Just ask ex-Senator Dick Luger how that feels.

        The result is a further polarization of Congress and extended grid-lock, which favors the Status Quo, Big Oil and Big Banks.

  3. M Tucker says:

    We know these guys are buffoons. We know they will vote against the best interests of even their own constituents. BUT they are kept in office BY their constituents. Behind every moron in the House or Senate is a large cohort of voters who are equally moronic. This is the situation we in the US find ourselves. It is so sad that close to half of the American voters is so completely ignorant of history and science that they will believe any stupid thing their representatives say or whatever BS is broadcast on FOX. I have only one vote and I don’t live in any of the states these freaks represent.

    • Mike Roddy says:

      They keep us stupid on purpose. All you have to do is watch the nightly news to see how that works, or attend a class in high school.

  4. Mark Shapiro says:

    Three big AGW questions to watch forever:

    1) How fast will we decarbonizer the world energy economy? (We control this, collectively. Don’t worry, we can’t decarbonize too fast.)

    2) How fast will the destruction and death due to AGW mount? (We will never know for certain, since we are doing an uncontrolled experiment. Debate will continue.)

    3) How will millions, and then tens of millions, of people dispossessed by AGW respond? (This will be the big test. A planetary, civilization-wide test.)

    • Mike Roddy says:

      The short answer is that we are going to see fascist takeovers, as people become more desperate. Millions will emigrate, to be met with weapons by starving occupants of the countries they are going to.

      We are not going to be able to decarbonize until governments nationalize the fossil fuel companies. Today, these companies control governments, and it’s either them or us.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        Fascism is the ruling elite’s default setting for situations where sham democracy fails, and the rabble are vitalised and energised. The lower middle class, habitually terrified of falling back into comparative poverty with the serfs, prove useful allies in the fascist takeover, and the US middle-class is hanging on by its fingernails. The Tea Party Mad Hatters are pseudo-fascistic already, with the necessary inchoate rage,ignorance, paranoia and ‘kick down, lick up’ character formation so preferred by the elites. Nasty times lie just ahead- indeed, just ask hundreds of millions around the world and you will find that they have arrived already.

  5. Anne says:

    I began to look at this very issue a few years ago, and thought it would be an ambitious but very worthwhile project to profile Congressional decisionmakers in terms of their vulnerability to climate impacts (e.g. states and districts at risk of floods, droughts, sea level rise, etc) contrasted with the elected official’s stance on climate change, voting record, and total GHG emissions and/or efforts to curb emissions). I have also thought it would be a good idea to offer federal incentives (e.g. in the form of “extra” relief following weather and climate-related disasters or hardships) to those states or districts that can demonstrate CO2/GHG emissions reductions – “good behavior” should be rewarded, in other words. But it does strike me as utter hypocrisy when a politician who is an avid climate science denier in one breath starts whining for federal help when climate change hits home, in the next breath. “It jus’ ain’t right,” as they say.

  6. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    We will remember, but it is past time to get it all on the record. Time to document those who would drive us to the edge of extinction.

    Time to document these days of infamy.

    Time to document just how much they hate their children.

    Time to document how the cry of liberty has been suborned to freedom of the dollar.

    Time to document how damaging the worship of the graven images in everyone’s pocket.

    • Mike Roddy says:

      We need to find a country with a legal system capable of trying the fossil fuel companies for crimes against humanity. They can be convicted in absentia, with the full scope of their crimes (including bribery and funding of denial) included in court documents.

      It shouldn’t be an obvious place, like Tuvalu, since before long an enlightened larger country like New Zealand or Ecuador will pull this off. The prosecutors will bear witness, and open communication with media and legal systems throughout the world.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        It can’t be Tuvalu because it will soon be submerged. A great idea. And another possibility is an international tribunal like the one Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre set up to judge crimes against humanity in Indochina. Set it up, gather the evidence, and have it all waiting for an international jurisdiction to be established to bring the criminals to justice. And see that the evidence is widely disseminated on the web and elsewhere. Make the swine rest uneasily in their beds.

  7. prokaryotes says:

    Why don’t we outspend the oil lobbyist, in order to get the votes? :)

    Does anyone have a better idea, i like to hear it.

    • Mark Shapiro says:

      Shame them. Not the companies, the people in charge.

      The companies are merely the conduits for the bad conduct of the CEOs and board members. The bad conduct is not selling oil, it is lobbying and funding denialism. Corrupting politics, science, and public opinion, with trivial amounts of their budgets, is simply evil. It is bad for their legacies.

      We need to let them know. Continuously.

  8. M Tucker says:

    Didn’t many Republicans and their supporting PAC’s outspend many Democrats and didn’t many of those Republicans fail to win their elections? I think Romney was one of those.

  9. Tom says:

    While it seems just that those who deny suffer the consequences, I don’t want them to suffer, and unfortunately we don’t have multiple life rafts – so we can put those who want to juggle with razors can be on one inflatable life raft, and the rest of us on another – they are slinging razor sharp bayonets at OUR life raft – that fact that they are on it too just makes them dumber – it doesn’t help us in any way.

  10. PeterM says:

    The Chairman of these committees named come from Red States, with the exception of Paul Ryan. The majority of the populace in these states watch FOX News as if it where the ‘truth’.

    Its amazing the disconnect between blue America vs Red America, West coast vs East Coast. It seems that the vast majority of Flyover America is still living in the America of Reagan in the 1980s and refuse to let go.Their continued voting of politicians of such abominable character has already sealed their fates, and that of their children and Grandchildren and way beyond.

    In the short time span of a decade the climate will be heading into a disastrous new paradigm in many of these states- the population here will hang on to the republican party till they pack up and have to migrate to other places, climatically less harsh.

  11. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    Might the problem be an untempered, overly active addiction to dopamine? We are all addicted to the short-term activities which earn us our next “hit”. Some of us, however, have learned to moderate our immediate needs, resulting in the beneficial ability to ponder future consequences and events.

  12. Joan Savage says:

    In a News Hour dialogue, Mark Shields mentioned in passing something to the effect that the ‘red’ states receive a lot of Congressional military spending. I found a Bloomberg Government analysis from 2011 that doesn’t wholly confirm that generalization, but still has value.
    Map here:
    http://about.bgov.com/2011/11/18/bgov-special-report-defense-spending-state-by-state/

    However, what would our political dialogue look like if climate-change and sustainable-energy spending were differently distributed among Red and Blue states?