Malpractice Alert: Dr. Barrasso Ignores Science

Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held its confirmation hearing for Gina McCarthy, who was nominated by President Obama to be our next Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator. During the hearing, one of her chief inquisitors was Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), who is one of three doctors in the United States Senate and a long-time opponent of public health safeguards from dirty air, water and climate pollution.

Barrasso used this opportunity to indicate that he only applies the physician’s Hippocratic Oath to “keep them from harm and injustice” when the harm would occur to the profits of big oil and coal companies. Furthermore, he frequently denies the ever-strengthening scientific understanding that human activity is responsible for climate change. It’s like a physician denying that smoking causes cancer.

Barrasso began his opening statement today by falsely accusing the Obama administration and the EPA of “making it impossible for our coal miners to feed their families…. These people are heroes and they deserve better than what they are getting from the EPA.” The facts say otherwise — the average number of coal-mining jobs under the Obama administration has been over 15 percent higher than under George W. Bush. Moreover, McCarthy has received a lot of support from industry officials including American Electric Power, a company that relies heavily on coal.

This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that Barrasso has provided protection for polluters’ profits over public health concerns. Let’s examine some of the most extreme attacks from the good doctor:

  • Attempted To Reverse Scientific Finding That Greenhouse Gases Harm Public Health. In 2011, Barrasso introduced legislation to not only prohibit the EPA from regulating carbon pollution, but ban the federal government from even studying what is happening with our climate. The bill would have overturned the EPA’s findings that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are harmful to public health and the environment — and blocked federal regulations under the Clean Air Act as well as under the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. Barrasso even included a provision to take away the EPA’s ability to reduce carbon pollution from automobiles, handing that power over to the Department of Transportation. The EPA was essential in the landmark deals reached on greenhouse gas emissions with automakers and states in 2009 and 2011 to double the distance cars travel on a gallon of gas. These deals have resulted in cleaner, more efficient cars that save families money due to lower gasoline purchases.
  • Voted To Abolish Mercury And Toxic Air Pollution Protections. Dr. Barrasso voted to eliminate EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for power plants, once again putting utilities interests above the health of our children. Power plants are the largest source of domestic mercury pollution — a known neurotoxin that impairs brain development in the unborn and small children. The standard’s pollution reductions will prevent up to 11,000 early deaths and 130,000 asthma attacks annually. Gina McCarthy has previously testified before Congress that the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards will provide up to $90 billion in health benefits every year, or up to $9 for every $1 in clean-up costs.
  • Tirelessly Attacked The EPA. Barrasso has repeatedly claimed that he EPA’s main goal was no longer protecting the environment, but rather “remaking society,” and has even co-sponsored legislation to abolish the agency in its entirety. In a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, he chastised the “heavy-handed” EPA for shutting down factories, discouraging energy exploration, burying job creators under red tape, and deliberately hiding information from the public. Barrasso goes on to claim that the EPA’s regulations only “chase microscopic benefits at a maximum cost.” Yet EPA’s protocols on air, water and pollution saves thousands of lives, prevents chronic illnesses and hospital visits, which avoids extra sick days and leads to long-term economic benefits. For example, EPA’s Boiler MACT rule would prevent up to 7,900 premature deaths each year and provide up to $67 billion in annual economic benefits — outweighing the annualized costs by at least $23 billion.
  • Adamant Climate Denier. Most physicians stay informed about the latest medical research, and alter their treatments accordingly. Not Dr. Barrasso. He has consistently denied the science behind climate change, despite the fact that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that it is occurring and “very likely” caused mainly by human activity. Barrasso admitted to being “legislatively … on the same page” as Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), who wrote a book titled The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, in which he argued that only God can change the climate and the idea that manmade pollution could affect the seasons is “arrogance.” During Secretary of State John Kerry’s confirmation hearing, Barrasso stressed that the US should not aim to curb greenhouse gases, as it would have “very little impact on the global climate” and urged Kerry to give considerable thought to using resources. However, Secretary Kerry has consistently advocated for acting on climate change, stating that “we as a nation must have the foresight and courage to make the investments necessary to safeguard the most sacred trust we keep for our children and grandchildren: an environment not ravaged by rising seas, deadly superstorms, devastating droughts, and the other hallmarks of a dramatically changing climate.”

So why is Senator Barrasso is protecting polluter interests over public health? Maybe it has something to do with the $526,866 in campaign donations from oil or gas. Or maybe the $122,831 from the coal industry? Whatever the reason, the doctor is a longtime practitioner of political malpractice.

11 Responses to Malpractice Alert: Dr. Barrasso Ignores Science

  1. Why refute the inaccuracies of pro-coal people by proclaiming that coal miner employment is up? Sure, it makes them look like liars, but one day soon this assertion must be correct. Less coal, fewer coal miners.

    It just seems like caviling, and profoundly beside the point.

    The real rebuttal is: let’s pass some legislation that mitigates the job dislocations that are inevitable as we switch from a fossil economy to a renewable one. Coal miners are just trying to earn a living. But at some point soon, they can’t do it that way anymore. It’s nonsensical to tout increased coal employment if the objective is to reduce coal use.

  2. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Et tu Brutus, or something like that, ME

  3. David Sheridan says:

    Ignoring science is patriotic. In order to accept the official version of 9/11 it is necessary to ignore science.

  4. TKPGH says:

    what is it about these people that turns them into complete and total whores for the industries in their districts? When the bottom drops out of the food supply due to climate change and ocean acidification, what will they say; I’m sorry? That doesn’t cut it.

  5. Tom Lewis says:

    Twenty-five years ago this spring, the following words appeared in National Wildlife Magazine (I know because I wrote them):

    “…scientists now generally agree that the average temperature of the global atmosphere has been increasing for a century, and will likely continue to do so throughout the next…the apparent cause of this temperature increase is human activity…most climatologists now agree, a man-made buildup of carbon dioxide and other gases (methane and chlorofluorocarbons in particular) has increased the amount of solar heat retained in the lower atmosphere

    “Thermal expansion of the oceans and melting of glaciers could cause sea levels to rise five feet during the next century, inundating coastal wetlands and developments. If substantial heating were to continue, partial melting of the south polar ice cap could eventually flood entire cities. Altered rainfall patterns, the inevitable consequence of the temperature changes, could make much of the North American grain belt too dry for normal agriculture…the current prognosis is that the average temperature will continue to climb between three and eight more degrees during the next century, possibly during the next 50 years.”

    Those were the points on which most climatologists agreed in 1988. Today, the Congress is riddled with corporate servants like the good doctor who profess not to believe a single one of the points made above. Fox News would not allow one of those statements to go unchallenged by a representative of some flat-earth, religion-first, fossil-foolish organization with a dozen members.

    A quarter of a century into the Age of Information, and this is where we are.

  6. I think the word I was looking for was “disingenuous” rather than “nonsensical.” I’m sure that’s not the intent, but that’s how it’ll be perceived. The clear result of leaving fossil fuels unmined is a decline in that category of jobs.

    The deniers are deniers because they don’t trust the people who advocate change. If we act untrustworthy by being coy about the consequences of our advocacy, then we play into that mistrust.

    People don’t have to blare it from the (removed) mountaintops, but the truth shouldn’t be played with, either. The economic dislocations are just something we’ll have to face.

    There are other jobs to transition to related to the new energy paradigm.

  7. Mike Roddy says:

    Tom, you must be even more frustrated than the rest of us here. The cause appears straightforward to me: corporate control of the major media companies, burying or watering down stories about the earth’s future ability to support life.

    I came up with a proposal to do something about it, via rolling advertiser boycotts and aggressive monitoring of bad climate stories. Humor would be included, and the target audience would be the general public.

    I know about half of the top climate leaders in this country. They all blew me off. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t think so. Got any suggestions? If so, you can reach me at

  8. Superman1 says:

    The politicians understand the message, and they also understand it’s a message their constituents don’t want to hear. The political statements from both sides of the aisle are nothing but Kabuki theater playing itself out.

  9. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    And commonsense. Like JFK.

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Money, the universal lubricant.

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The very next year, 1989, the Right got that victory, over the forces of socialism, that it had expended trillions in money and tens of millions of human lives in defeating, and which it had been seeking for more than a century (in fact over thousands of years, since the first cave-man resisted the local ‘entrepreneurs’ ‘leveraging’ his meat away). Free to be that which they always have been and always will be, without fear of any viable alternative, the Right has driven humanity into a brutish, thuggish world where might makes Right, where inequality burgeons, where fear and hatred of the other has been normalised, where everything has been commodified for sale to the highest bidder (including much science)and where concern for the living world has been vilified, harried and persecuted as ‘the new communism’.As far as the Right are concerned, environmentalists, who they despise with absolute ferocity, are ‘water-melons’ green on the outside and red in the middle, and God knows, we ought to prove them correct, for once in their poor, misbegotten, imbecile lives.