House Passes Bill Requiring Agencies To Put Climate Change On The Back Burner

CREDIT: AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), the bill's sponsor.

Two days after a U.N. report warned of increased famine, war, and poverty from unmitigated carbon emissions, the Republican-led House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill that would require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to focus less on studying climate change, and more on predicting storms.

The bill, introduced last June by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), wouldn’t require NOAA to stop its climate research entirely, but it would require the agency to “prioritize weather-related activities, including the provision of improved weather data, forecasts, and warnings for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy.”

NOAA is a scientific agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, focused on the changing conditions of both the oceans and the atmosphere. It’s not a standalone entity, either — NOAA oversees the National Weather Service, the National Ocean Service, and the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, among other agencies. Bridenstine’s bill would affect NOAA’s activities in all of its underlying departments.

It’s not particularly surprising that Bridenstine would want a smaller government focus on climate change — he has repeatedly said that he believes it does not exist, despite consensus from 97 percent of the scientific community. Specifically, Bridenstine has said temperature increases have coincided more with “solar activity” than the human-driven increase in heat-trapping gases emitted into the atmosphere.

Bridestine said he hopes that shifting funds to weather forecasting and taking them away from climate change research will “protect lives and property,” noting that his home state of Oklahoma was ravaged by severe tornadoes last year.

Scientists are still trying to determine what, if any, impact climate change has on tornadoes, though the link between other forms of extreme weather has been shown time and again. As ClimateProgress’ Joe Romm notes, the link between the tornadoes and climate change is scientifically difficult to attribute, though that doesn’t mean it should be avoided.

Dr. Kevin Trenberth, former head of the Climate Analysis Section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explains: “It is irresponsible not to mention climate change in stories that presume to say something about why all these storms and tornadoes are happening. The environment in which all of these storms and the tornadoes are occurring has changed from human influences (global warming). Tornadoes come from thunderstorms in a wind shear environment. … The basic driver of thunderstorms is the instability in the atmosphere.”