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Republican congressman uses climate change as excuse for possible campaign violation

Rep. Culberson’s staff says he purchased collectible fossils with campaign funds "as research material on paleo-climatology."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), right, and Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) share a laugh in the Capitol. February 12, 2015. CREDIT: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), right, and Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) share a laugh in the Capitol. February 12, 2015. CREDIT: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Call it “the climate change defense” or, maybe, “the climate science denier defense.”

Texas Rep. John Culberson (R) has come up with a novel argument against complaints that he has used more than $50,000 in campaign funds to buy collectibles such as Civil War memorabilia and even fossils.

The Houston Chronicle reported Monday that “Culberson’s aides explained the purchase as research material on paleo-climatology, a subject that would help him understand climate science,” which he supposedly needs to do since he’s on a committee that oversees funding for NOAA — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “They said the materials helped give him a better understanding of the changing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

This defense from Culberson, a long-time denier of climate science, is particularly laughable when you go to his campaign’s Federal Election Committee filing, which reveals the purchases come from the Black Hills Institute of South Dakota.

Screen shot of Black Hills Institute website.
Screen shot of Black Hills Institute website.

The Institute’s motto, “Always the finest in fossils, fossil replicas, and service,” along with its Tyrannosaurus rex logo, suggest this may not be the best place for researching climate science.

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The Institute is “most famous for excavating and selling replicas of some of the most complete” T. rex specimans, as Wikipedia explains.

The Institute’s website features “STAN, the largest and most complete (65% real bone) T. rex available to science,” and explains, “Cast replicas of STAN’s magnificent skeleton, skull, teeth and claws are available for sale or rent from the Institute.”

In their complaint about how Culberson has been spending his campaign funds, Texas Democrats write, “It is very unlikely that a congressional campaign committee needs to buy or rent fossils to win a federal election. Thus, these expenditures also appear to be personal use of campaign funds.”

It seems even more unlikely that fossils — or potentially fossil replicas — would give the Congressman much insight into climate science.

That’s especially true because Culberson is a long-time climate science denier who  rejects the overwhelming scientific consensus that human emissions, primarily from burning fossil fuels, are the dominant cause of recent warming.

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In 2015, he told the L.A. Times, “I’m confident humans have had some effect on the climate. We just don’t have enough data or accurate data to say with certainty what that effect has been.”

He repeated that mantra to the Texas Tribune in its Tuesday story on how Hurricane Harvey has become a major point of contention in Culberson’s race with Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher: “I’m confident humans are having an impact; my focus is on getting good, accurate, objective data to tell us what’s driving the changes in the climate.”

This is the same tired talking point that Trump administration officials have been using — namely, that humans play some role in climate change, but darned if we know what it is.

This talking point has been so thoroughly debunked that when former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt tried it on Fox News last summer, host Chris Wallace pounced. “Mr. Pruitt, all kinds of studies contradict you,” he said.

Given the Congressman’s rejection of the overwhelming conclusions of modern climate science, he probably won’t be using some fossils or fossil replicas for research into paleoclimatology.

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It’s up to voters this fall whether they want to retire a Congressman who loves fossils but hates the science of fossil fuel-caused climate change.