FOR THE PAST eight years, climate science has been under a sort of spell in the House of Representatives. Instead of trying to understand it better or even acknowledging some of the field’s current uncertainties, House Science Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) used his position to harass federal climate scientists with subpoenas while holding hearings on “Making the EPA Great Again” or whether “global warming theories are alarmist” and researchers are pursuing a “personal agenda.”
But Smith retired this year and Democrats won control of the House on Tuesday. Now some on Capitol Hill say that the anti-climate science spell may be broken.
“Hopefully we will no longer see the science committee used as a messaging tool for the fossil fuel industry,” says Rep. Bill Foster, an Illinois Democrat and science committee member. “I look forward to hearings with a balance of witnesses that reflect mainstream scientific hearings instead of a small group of industry players.”
Foster, who was a particle physicist before being elected to Congress in 2008, said he also wants to see more appearances from cabinet members like Energy Secretary Rick Perry or EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to explain both their budget and their rulemaking on environmental and science issues. Neither agency head was called before Smith’s committee during his tenure, Foster says.
Ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) issued a statement after the election results Tuesday night stating that, if elected chairwoman, she wants to restore the credibility of the science committee “as a place where science is respected and recognized as a crucial input to good policymaking.” Johnson said that includes acknowledging that climate change is real, “seeking to understand what climate science is telling us, and working to understand the ways we can mitigate it.”