Misguided House Hearing on Climate Change Asks the Wrong Questions

Across the nation, communities are struggling to recover from the damage done by climate change and its signature extreme weather. Others are trying to make their hospitals, roads, and airports more resilient in the face of future flooding or sea level rise. Here in New York, we are trying to do both at once: rebound from Superstorm Sandy and make sure we are ready for the next major storm surge.

Yet instead of supporting these communities or advancing national efforts to address climate change, several GOP House lawmakers on the Committee on Energy and Commerce are holding a hearing today to attack the Obama Administration’s work on climate change.

They are hauling Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz up to Capitol Hill and demanding an exhaustive review of “the Federal government’s past, current and planned domestic and international activities, climate research programs, initiatives, and new regulatory requirements.”

They aren’t requesting this list in order to ask: why aren’t you doing more to protect Americans from this grave threat?  Instead they seem to be saying: tell us everything you are doing on climate change so we can tell you that you shouldn’t be doing it.

Many of the GOP leaders on the Committee have denied the scientific evidence of climate change or voted to block the EPA from limiting global warming pollution. They have claimed that fighting climate change is an unnecessary expense, when in fact, the cost of inaction is far steeper: The government spent nearly $100 billion to respond to extreme weather events in 2012. That’s more than $1,100 per average US taxpayer.

But instead of considering those staggering figures, these lawmakers are going after two highly esteemed public servants. Secretary Moniz was a former top Department of Energy official and head of the MIT’s Energy Initiative who was confirmed in May unanimously.

Administrator McCarthy previously served as the top environmental official for two Republican governors and as the lead EPA air official—and the Senate easily confirmed her for that post. She has earned the respect of lawmakers, public health experts, and environmental groups, as well as many industry executives who view her as a fair broker of science and the law.

Lawmakers are free to question government officials, but there is no scandal here, no secret climate operations to locate. President Obama has been fully transparent about his commitment to confront this economic, security, and health threat. He ran on a platform of climate action and he is directing his administration to implement that policy with broad public support and accountability.

At the end of this week, the EPA is expected to release revised carbon standards for new power plants, and in the next year, it will propose standards for existing power plants. Standards for existing plants alone could cut carbon pollution 26 percent by 2020 and save people hundreds of dollars on electricity bills each year, according to NRDC analysis. They would also create a net increase of 210,000 jobs in 2020.

Many Members of Congress have rallied behind these measures—and behind Administrator McCarthy when she comes under attack. Now we need more Members to throw their weight behind climate action instead, because the climate crisis is only growing more intense.

On Tuesday, several Democratic Representatives hosted a forum to spotlight how climate change is already endangering American communities. A Texas rancher talked about the devastating effects of prolonged drought, an Iowa farmer described the rapidly changing weather patterns that are interfering with crop production, and New York and Gulf Coast residents said that hurricanes have pounded their regions with newly destructive force.

Testimony like this should prompt swift climate action, not more stall tactics and trumped-up government hearings.