Jun 17, 2019 | Updated: 11:38 AM EDT

Climate Change: A Hot Topic for Congress

Mar 24, 2019 11:47 AM EDT


The House Science Committee held its first of a promised series of hearings on climate change on Feb. 13, with a second one, dedicated to its impacts on oceans and coasts, scheduled shortly thereafter. The first hearing departed significantly in tone from ones held under the committee's former Republican leadership, which were often punctuated by contentious exchanges about the validity of the scientific consensus on drivers and impacts of climate change. While there were still disagreements at this latest hearing, they remained comparatively mild and divisions within parties were sometimes as evident as the divisions between them.

In prior years, Science Committee Democrats criticized Republicans for holding hearings on climate change that were stacked with witnesses expressing views at odds with consensus positions. Now, for the first time in more than eight years, they were able to invite the majority of speakers. They were: Natalie Mahowald, faculty director at Cornell University's Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future; Robert Kopp, director of Rutgers University's Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences; Jennifer Francis, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Research Center; and Kristie Ebi, director of the University of Washington's Center for Health and the Global Environment.

The Republicans invited Joseph Majkut, director of climate policy at the Niskanen Center, a think tank that frames itself as "animated by a spirit of thoughtful moderation." Called on often over the course of the hearing, he endorsed mainstream positions on climate science while backing mitigation policies based on innovation and incentives that are conscious of costs and market demands.

In her opening remarks, Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat representing the state of Texas, avoided discussing the committee's past and focused her criticisms on the Trump administration. Referencing the recently issued National Climate Assessment, she remarked, "Though this administration has regrettably chosen to ignore the findings of its own scientists in regards to climate change, we as lawmakers have a responsibility to protect the public's interest." Citing the committee's jurisdiction over climate research and technology development, she said her intent is to "devise adaptation and mitigation strategies, which will have numerous positive benefits for our economy, our safety and security, and our public health."

While the hearing was intended as an examination of climate science, much of the conversation turned to policy options for mitigating climate change. Some Republican members criticized proposals to move quickly away from fossil fuels, saying they would unacceptably raise the costs of energy. Meanwhile, two Democrats, Reps. Ami Bera from California and Steve Cohen of Tennessee, praised the Green New Deal concept as an expression of "aspirational" goals for climate policy.

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