Senator Threatens To Block Nominee For Top Climate Post Because She Accepts Climate Science

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., asks a question during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about immigrant women and immigration reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 18, 2013. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JACQUELYN MARTIN
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., asks a question during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about immigrant women and immigration reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 18, 2013. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JACQUELYN MARTIN

President Obama’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s clean air office will be getting at least one “no” vote from a lawmaker who on Monday said he can’t support someone who accepts that climate change can aggravate extreme weather events.

During Janet McCabe’s confirmation hearing, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) cited research from two Singaporean scientists and a widely-disputed political scientist to claim that there is no connection between intensifying weather and climate change. McCabe, whose critical job would put her in charge of many climate-related regulations, attempted to refute the claims, but was repeatedly interrupted.

Sessions: You believe that we’ve had more storms, more hurricanes.

McCabe: I believe that the scientific record shows that, over a long period of time and over broad geographic areas, there have been changes in our climate that…

Sessions: You dispute, then, the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]’s recent finding, that “current data set indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cycles frequency over the last century.” That’s the international panel on climate change.

McCabe: I know that the IPCC has made many findings relative to the effects of climate change around the world.

Sessions: Well, I’m just going to tell you, I’m going to submit this is writing to you, and if you continue to insist that we’ve had more hurricanes in the last century and that they’ve increased as a result of global warming — climate change — I don’t see how i can support your nomination. I don’t see how I can support somebody who can advocate against plain fact. My time is up.

Video of the exchange, which is near the end of the two-hour hearing, can be found here.

Though the IPCC has indicated that it does not yet have strong evidence to suggest notable increases in the number of global tropical cyclones or hurricanes, the panel cited medium-to-high confidence that human-caused climate change is causing longer and more intense heatwaves and more intense rainfall, and high confidence that it is causing sea-level rise. These findings are all the more alarming because the panel tends to be conservative in its estimates, as it draws from the expertise of more than 800 scientists around the world.


In addition, the IPCC says it is “more likely than not” that global warming is causing longer and more intense droughts in many regions. Drought, coupled with extreme heat and low humidity, can increase the risk of wildfires, the IPCC says.

Apart from the conservative IPCC, many notable scientists have taken the extreme weather/climate change connection further. As Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) noted after Session’s comments, the U.S Global Change Research Program — headed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and backed by the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, NASA, and the Smithsonian Institute among others — confirm “more frequent heat waves, extreme precipitation, wildfires, and water scarcity” due to climate change.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers have also recently found that climate change has the ability to worsen storms like the infamous Hurricane Sandy, saying “climate-change related increases in sea level have nearly doubled today’s annual probability of a Sandy-level flood recurrence as compared to 1950.”

As many scientists would also note, Sessions’ demand that McCabe confirm or deny increases in the number of storms misinterprets how climate change works. Increased carbon emissions bring increased moisture and heat into the atmosphere, which has an effect on the intensity of weather events — not necessarily the amount of weather events that occur.

“The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question,” Dr. Kevin E. Trenberth, a distinguished senior climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has written. “All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.”


It is not particularly surprising that Sessions, along with other members of the Republican party who sat on the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee Hearing on Monday, attempted to challenge the science of man-made climate change. The politics of climate change is very different from the scientific reality.

Specifically, approximately 56 percent, or at least 130 members, of the current Republican caucus in the House of Representatives deny the basic tenets of climate science. Sixty-six percent, or at least 30 members, of the Senate Republican caucus also deny the reality of climate change. That is compared to the 97 percent consensus in peer-reviewed literature that humans are causing global warming.

“My colleagues can rant and rave about this all they want, they have every right to rant and rave. I rant and rave at them too, it’s fine,” Boxer said after Session’s comments. “But the facts are the facts, and the fact is that the leading voices in America are warning us.”