The Climate Denier Caucus in Trump’s Washington

There are 180 climate deniers in Congress, and one in the White House.

CREDIT: Diana Ofosu
CREDIT: Diana Ofosu

Donald Trump’s surprise victory last November swept a climate science denier into the nation’s highest office. And he’s not alone: in this new Washington, there are 180 members of Congress who deny the science behind climate change and have received more than $82 million from fossil fuel industries, according to new analysis from the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

The majority of Republican members of Congress are still ignoring public opinion, but as members of Congress increasingly face resistance in their districts with constituents calling for climate action, some deniers are starting to shift their tone.

While 2016 became infamous for its electoral consequences in America, it also marked the third straight year that earned the title of hottest year on record globally. Last week, the earth reached record levels of carbon dioxide, and so far, 2017 is the “second warmest on record.” But acknowledgment of these alarming milestones in Congress remains far from uniform.

Of the 180 climate science deniers in the 115th Congress, 142 are in the House and 38 are in the Senate. That’s more than 59 percent of the Republican House caucus and 73 percent of Republicans in the Senate that deny the scientific consensus that climate change is happening, human activity is the main cause, and it is a serious threat. No Democrats publicly deny the science behind climate change.

This year’s analysis, displayed below in a new interactive map and accompanying data sheet, accounts for new members as well as gaps left by members of Congress who previously had been identified as climate deniers and now have moved to take senior positions in the Trump administration.

Click on a state to see how many climate deniers represent it and how much in campaign contributions they have received from the fossil fuel industry. Click on a member’s name to see the relevant quote.

The redder a state appears, the more deniers, proportionately, in its delegation. The states colored in grey have no members who have publicly denied the scientific consensus on climate change.

Notably, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), an infamous science denier who was awarded the “Climate Change Denier” award by the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) in August 2013, is no longer on the list this year. When asked for comment on Issa’s current position on climate change, a spokesperson told ThinkProgress via email, “I think the Congressman has made himself clear, in a number of forums, on this,” directing ThinkProgress to a quote from 10 years ago. However, since that time, Issa had issued a statement — now removed from his website — questioning the scientific consensus on climate change. Following additional back-and-forth where his office again directed ThinkProgress to the 10-year-old quote, the spokesperson stated that “the Congressman accepts scientific consensus on climate change.”

This type of statement from members of Congress who have little history of taking action on climate change, and continue to vote against environmental protections, is becoming increasingly common. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) was previously on the deniers list as a result of his statement in 2009 questioning the scientific consensus on climate change. However, in a town hall meeting this month, he said, “I do agree that human beings are responsible for climate change, at least in part, maybe not 100 percent but certainly to a significant degree.” Although he has flip-flopped on environmental issues in the past, this acceptance of the scientific consensus that humans significantly contribute to climate change was enough to remove him from the deniers list.

Even Trump administration officials have toed the line, taking great pains to avoid denying climate change when releasing Trump’s executive order undoing climate actions and in confirmation hearings.

A change in rhetoric does not necessarily mean a corresponding change in action on climate and environmental issues. Issa has continued to vote against environment and science, earning himself just 3 percent on LCV’s 2016 Environmental Scorecard and a lifetime score of just 4 percent. In a statement announcing his membership in the Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group of House members designed to “explore policy options that address the impacts, causes, and challenges of our changing climate,” Issa did not mention the phrase “climate change.” One explanation for the shift is that Issa narrowly won re-election in November and will face a tough campaign in 2018 in a district that a Republican operative told Mother Jones is “highly environmentally conscious.” Since the election, Issa has also faced “raucous” crowds at town halls pressing him to oppose President Trump’s agenda and answer questions on climate.

Overall, climate deniers have received $82,882,725 from dirty energy companies in the coal, oil, and gas industries, according to CAPAF’s research. That is an increase from the $80,453,861 total in the last report. In general, the average career fossil fuel contribution per Senate denier was just over $1,034,397. The average House contribution was $306,870 per denier. In total, House deniers raised $43,575,628 in dirty energy money, while deniers in the Senate pulled in $39,307,097. Donald Trump, the first public climate science denier to win the White House, received an additional $1,132,996 from the fossil fuel industry.

It has been a year since this research was last conducted, and since then, seven former members of the Climate Denier Caucus have taken senior-level positions in the Trump administration. Following the special election of Republican Ron Estes in Kansas and his swearing in earlier this week, there are currently three seats previously occupied by climate deniers that are vacant (Estes has not spoken on the subject and did not respond to a request for comment). Additionally, since last year’s analysis, six House members have revealed themselves to be climate deniers from their public statements. There are also 15 freshman House members and two new senators who have now joined the Climate Denier Caucus. Senator Todd Young (R-IN), who was elected to the Senate in 2017, was previously identified as a climate denier as a member of the House of Representatives.

Last year’s analysis found that 202,803,591 people were represented by a climate denier in Congress. Now, the entire population of almost 325 million Americans is represented by a climate denier with the election of Donald Trump as president.

The unprecedented scenario of an unabashed climate science denier in the White House has broad implications for his climatedenierheavy cabinet and the manner in which federal agencies deal with science and climate regulations. One of the most prominent climate deniers in Congress, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), has seen several of his staff take positions at the EPA.

Trump’s ascendance also gives anti-science representatives new prominence, and the opportunity to push legislation attacking the EPA, boosting fossil fuels, and compromising science-based policy. According to a recent analysis, in its first 100 days, Congress voted 42 times on anti-environmental provisions, including voting on reforms to regulations that would limit federal agency ability to set pollution limits and weaken public participation. Additionally, Congress voted nine times to use the Congressional Review Act, which had only been used once ever before in history, to undo critical Obama environmental protections, such as a rule to protect waterways from toxic coal mining waste. It is also being reported that Senate Republicans will vote as early as next week to revoke a regulation aimed at reducing waste from methane emissions on public lands.

While President Trump and his allies in Congress continue giveaways to the fossil fuel industry, there is more focus at the local level on resisting Trump’s anti-environmental agenda. Just in the past few months, many members of Congress heard from their constituents on climate at packed and “contentious” town hall meetings. In February, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) avoided a little girl’s question on whether he believes in science, which was met by loud and angry shouts from the crowd.

Some members of Congress are taking note, literally. Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL) remarked after a “heated” town hall, that he “wrote down a couple issues… there is obviously some passion on climate change.” And he’s right. This Saturday, hundreds of thousands of individuals are planning to march in Washington, D.C. and across the country “pushing back against the Trump agenda and at the same time pushing forward on [their] vision of a clean, safe world.”

With more Americans than ever worried about climate change, members of Congress are paying attention and many are starting to shift their tone. According to a recent Gallup poll, 71 percent say most scientists believe climate change is happening, 68 percent believe it’s caused by humans, and 45 percent worry about it a great deal (a seven percent jump from 2016). The question is whether those members of Congress, such as Issa, will listen to public opinion and follow through to ensure their actions match their words.

Methods

What defined a denier? The researchers classified as a denier any lawmaker who: has questioned or denied the scientific consensus behind human-caused climate change; answered climate questions with the “I’m not a scientist” dodge; claimed the climate is always changing (as a way to dodge the implications of human-caused warming); failed to acknowledge that climate change is a serious threat; or questioned the extent to which human beings contribute to global climate change.

Simply becoming a member of the Climate Solution Caucus did not remove the “denier” sobriquet from a lawmaker who had nevertheless denied climate change — it took a clear, recent statement accepting the scientific consensus for the researchers to remove them from the denier column.

Highlighting the current and future threats posed by denying the existence of human-caused climate change and blocking any action to fight it, CAPAF’s research also includes data on the number of natural disasters declared in each state over the last five years. The national total reached 680 from 2011–2016.

To accurately total the number of climate-related disasters, the researchers gathered data for federally declared disasters from FEMA. This data included all official FEMA Disaster Declarations, beginning with the first disaster declaration in 1953 and featured all three disaster declaration types: major disaster, emergency, and fire management assistance. They looked at all disasters declared between 2011 and 2016. In order to narrow their list to include only climate-related natural disasters, they excluded disasters caused by: terrorism, explosions, fires caused by explosions, earthquakes, chemical spills, tsunamis, bridge collapses, and volcanoes.

They included the following types of incidents: coastal storms, drought, flooding, freezing, hurricanes, mudslides (from flooding), severe ice storms, severe storms, snow, tornadoes, typhoons, and wildfires. They included major disaster declarations, emergency declarations, and fire management assistance declarations.

Claire Moser (@Claire_Moser) is the Senior Campaign Manager for Climate at the Center for American Progress.

Credit to Jonathon Padron for the updated map, Diana Ofosu for graphics and design, and Myriam Alexander-Kearns, Ra’iatea Lohe, Kristen Ellingboe, and Erin Auel for research assistance.