"Filthy Five: New House Energy Committee Members Ignore Climate While Taking $1.7 Million From Fossil Fuels"
by Jackie Weidman and Whitney Allen
Under the leadership of climate science denier and chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), the House Energy and Commerce Committee has repeatedly passed legislation that would increase oil and gas drilling and promote unchecked carbon pollution in the face of a rapidly warming climate. Nearly half of the sitting Republican committee members have made public statements indicating that they question or reject the scientific consensus that climate change is real, it’s happening, and it’s caused by human production and consumption of fossil fuels.
On November 29th, Upton announced five new Republican representatives that will join the Energy Committee. He said that these members – Gus Bilirakis (FL), Renee Ellmers (NC), Ralph Hall (TX), Bill Johnson (OH), and Billy Long (MO) – have “diverse backgrounds.” However, their records indicate that they all have unwavering support for fossil fuel interests and hostility toward carbon pollution reductions.
Over the course of their congressional careers, these five members received a combined $1.7 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, electric utilities, and coal mining companies. Four of the new members – Bilirakis, Hall, Johnson, and Long – signed onto an anti-climate protection pledge from the Koch Brothers’ outside-spending group Americans for Prosperity. The pledge “opposes any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.”
Interestingly, these new members come from states that have experienced many climate change related extreme weather events that have severely harmed their residents and communities. These record-breaking droughts, severe floods, and heavy storms, have disproportionately affected counties with middle-and lower-income households in each of their states.
Let’s take a look at some of the new Energy and Commerce Republicans who will vote on essential climate, energy, and environmental legislation, as well as their campaign contributions from the industries responsible for most climate pollution:
1. Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) represents a state that is a frequent victim of hurricanes. This year Florida experienced damages from Hurricane Isaac and a string of severe thunderstorms. Middle-class households in the Florida counties that were declared a disaster due to Isaac and other events, earn 1 percent below the U.S. median household income. Meanwhile, Rep. Bilirakis sponsored legislation that would have prevented the United States from participating in any international climate agreement. He has also voted against ending billions of dollars in special oil and gas tax breaks and shifting this revenue to invest in renewable forms of energy. Rep. Bilirakis has received a total of $117,100 in congressional campaign contributions from fossil fuel companies.
2. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) has voted for a suite of measures that would permanently block EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions and undo public health safeguards. Meanwhile, Rep. Ellmer’s state experienced six different severe storms and hurricanes in 2011-12 that caused over $1 billion in damage each. These storms affected half of the counties in North Carolina. Households in these counties earn 11 percent less than the U.S. median household income. Although she claims to support renewable energy and efficiency, Ellmers voted against efficiency standards for light bulbs and in favor of retaining special tax breaks for Big Oil. Since her congressional career began in 2010 she has received $34,850 in campaign contributions from fossil fuel companies.
3. Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) is rejoining the committee after serving as the chair of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Last year, Hall said that he wasn’t worried about climate change because he’s “really more fearful of freezing.” It’s astonishing that Hall isn’t concerned about extreme heat since Texas has experienced crippling drought in 2011 and 2012, a problem that Travis Miller of the Governor’s Drought Preparedness Council says will “have a lasting impact on Texas agriculture.” These extreme temperatures also led to the most destructive wildfire in Texas history, burning 34,000 acres and 1,700 homes in Bastrop during September 2011.
As Science Committee chair, Hall led the charge to kill a budget-neutral provision to create a climate-monitoring service within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This service would have housed NOAA’s climate-monitoring capabilities under a single roof to ensure it provided the most comprehensive, authoritative and timely climate information. Rep. Hall received a staggering sum from the fossil fuel industry throughout his 32-year congressional career, raking in $609,834 from oil and gas companies and $664,145 from electric utilities – nearly $1.3 million in campaign contributions.
4. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) doesn’t seem too concerned about the heavy weather that has hit Ohio in recent years. In 2011 and 2012, the state was pelted by four severe storms that caused at least $1 billion in economic damages each. Every county in Ohio was declared a disaster area due to at least one of these downpours. The households in these counties earn 8 percent below the U.S. median household income. Meanwhile, Rep. Johnson authored the “Stop the War on Coal Act,” H.R. 3409, which denies the existence of climate change, and would eliminate EPA’s ability to reduce carbon pollution. It’s no wonder that Johnson so adamantly supports coal interests when he has received $233,661 from fossil fuel companies — $142,000 alone from coal companies — over the course of his congressional campaigns.
5. Rep. Billy Long (R-MO) represents Joplin, Missouri, which was hit by the deadliest tornado in U.S. history in May 2011 that caused 157 fatalities. The town has a poverty rate of 20 percent and a median annual household income of less than $37,000 – or 40 percent below the U.S. median. Although the relationship between climate change and tornadoes is far less defined than other weather events, heavy precipitation events associated with thunderstorms and convection (the transfer of heat in the atmosphere) are increasing, and “have been linked to human-induced changes in atmospheric composition,” as climate scientist Kevin E. Trenberth told Climate Progress earlier this year. In addition to the tragic Joplin tornadoes, Missouri was slammed by 7 other separate billion-dollar extreme weather events in 2011 and 2012, including massive floods along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.
Despite all of the low-income households in Joplin and elsewhere in his district, Rep. Long co-sponsored the Stop Green Initiative Abuse Act that would have ended the Weatherization Assistance Program that provides funds to help weatherize lower-income households reduce energy bills by an average of $400 per home annually. He also voted for the Energy Tax Prevention Act, H.R. 910, that would have repealed the scientific “endangerment finding” by EPA that greenhouse gases endanger public health. In the two short years of his career thus far, Rep. Long received $35,150 in contributions from fossil fuel companies.
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