Conservative leaders attack Browner, Administration and Upton on climate science and clean energy

November 23, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol 

Senior Fellow Daniel J. Weiss is CAPAF’s Director of Climate Strategy.

The incoming House Republican majority includes many climate science deniers.  They have already begun their attacks on promoters of policies to reduce energy use, save families money, and cut global warming pollution.  This includes an attack on Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), a leading candidate to become Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

He is under fire for his efforts to require more energy efficient light bulbs.  But he has also joined the global warming witch hunt by hurling misleading charges about Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Carol Browner in an attempt to discredit her long record of basing energy policies on sound science.  This attack is the beginning of efforts to undo the Obama Administration’s successes at creating clean energy jobs, saving families money, and reducing oil use and pollution.

The attack on Upton sprung from the effort by Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) to become Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee (E&C).  House Republican term limit rules restrict their members to three Congresses (six years) as chair and/or ranking minority member of a committee.   Barton seeks a waiver to allow him to become Chair of E&C in 2011 even though he already served as chair for two years and ranking member for four years.  Without a waiver, the next most senior Republican – Upton – should become chair.

Despite Upton’s life time American Conservative Union record of 72 percent, many on the far right believe he is not conservative enoughto oversee federal energy, communications, and health care policy.  Politico reported on this anti-Upton campaign.

They’re pointing to Upton’s support for phasing out some incandescent light bulbs in favor of greener alternatives.

Right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh cited Upton’s promotion of eco-friendly light bulbs evidence that he shouldn’t take the Energy and Commerce gavel.

“This would be a tone-deaf disaster if the Republican leadership lets Fred Upton ascend to the chairmanship of the House energy committee,” Limbaugh said this week. “This is exactly the kind of nannyism, statism, what have you, that was voted against and was defeated last week. No Republican complicit in nannyism, statism, can be rewarded this way.”

Upton (R-Mich.) teamed up with California Democratic Rep. Jane Harman on 2007 legislation aimed at phasing out the use of incandescent light bulbs in favor of more energy efficient bulbs. That language eventually became law as part of a larger energy bill.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy notes that incandescent bulbs that use only 10 percent of their energy for light – the rest is waste heat.  More efficient compact fluorescent bulbs

use less energy and last longer, [so consumers] will save up to several times their purchase price each year through reduced electricity bills and fewer replacement bulbs.

Upton’s light bulb efficiency provision was part of the Energy Independence and Security Act that President George W. Bush signed into law in 2007.

The bill sets lamp efficiency standards for common light bulbs, requiring them to use about 20-30% less energy than present incandescent bulbs by 2012-2014 (phasing in over several years) and requiring a DOE rulemaking to set standards that will reduce energy use to no more than about 65% of current lamp use by 2020.

The attack on Upton’s leadership to require light bulbs to waste less energy and save more money is an example of the right’s broad attack on science and clean energy technology.

After the assault he promptly dimmed his support for energy efficiency and consumer savings.  Politico reports

Hoping to counter attacks from his right, Rep. Fred Upton is promising to reexamine a controversial ban on incandescent light bulbs if he becomes chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

After the right’s attack on Upton, he followed in their footsteps by launching a similar misplaced attack on Carol Browner.  On November 15, he sent a letter questioning her actions on the Department of Interior moratorium on deep water drilling in the wake of the nation’s worst oil disaster.  It focuses on the disproved charge that her office modified the DOI report so that it appeared that the moratorium decision was peer reviewed by scientists when it was not.

This question was fully examined by the Inspector General at the Department of Interior, and it found no wrong doing.

While the 30-Day Report’s Executive Summary could have been more clearly worded, the Department has not definitively violated the IQA [Information Quality Act, which guides the federal government’s use of information]. For example, the recommendation for a moratorium is not contained in the safety report itself. Furthermore, the Executive Summary does not indicate that the peer reviewers approved any of the Report’s recommendations. The Department also appears to have adequately remedied the IQA concerns by communicating directly with the experts, offering a formal apology, and publicly clarifying the nature of the peer review.

Upton’s letter is like issuing a speeding ticket to a car traveling at 25.1 miles per hour in a 25 MPH zone, even after the radar gun demonstrated there was no violation.

Interestingly, we could find no record of Upton raising similar concerns about the Bush administration’s frequent editing of documents to remove descriptions of climate science.  The New York Times revealed that

A White House official who once led the oil industry’s fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming, according to internal documents.

Upton’s misleading attack on Browner is his attempt to demonstrate his right wing, anti-science bona fides during the mud wrestling to win the coveted E&C chair.  However, this false attack is not an isolated incident, but instead part of the incoming House majority’s effort to attack climate science and scientists, as well as the administration’s successful clean energy policies.

As chair, Upton plans to conduct hearings designed to undermine EPA rules to protect public health and the environment from toxic coal ash, smog, mercury and other toxic chemicals, and global warming pollution.  All of these safeguards will be based upon the best medical and scientific evidence available in order to protect children, seniors, and others from these harmful, controllable contaminants.

Upton’s attacks are the rule, rather than the exception, among the new majority.  His colleagues plan a host of similar efforts to conduct witch hunts in the name of oversight.  This could include efforts to overturn or delay the implementation of President Obama’s new fuel economy standards that would reduce oil use by 1.8 billion barrels, save consumers $ 3000 or more over the life of their car, and cut nearly a billion tons of greenhouse gas pollution.  Bloomberg reports,

Tea Party-backed candidates who won seats in the House by campaigning against federal regulation and spending, including the GM and Chrysler bailouts, may lead opposition to increasing fuel-economy standards, said Russ Harding, senior environmental policy analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality from 1995 to 2002 [under Republican Governor John Engler, now head of the National Association of Manufacturers].

Incoming Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Darrell Issa (R-CA) plans to interrogate the administration over some of its other successes.

With their new majority in the House, Republicans are expected to waste no time in flexing their oversight authority. The ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government reform panel confirmed that the GOP-led committee will investigate polices like the stimulus, the health care bill, and the bank bailout.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a.k.a. the “stimulus”) has had a real success creating clean energy jobs, investing in renewable technologies, and reducing families’ energy bills via efficiency.

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), the likely chair of the House Science Committee, has already announced his future assault on climate science.

The likely next chairman of the House Science Committee says “reasonable people have serious questions” about the science connecting manmade greenhouse gas emissions to global warming.

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) on Wednesday vowed to investigate the Obama administration’s climate policies if he becomes chairman.

Fred Upton is on the receiving end of the kind of assault that he has levied on Carol Browner.  Many more similar attacks are likely after his colleagues take control of the House of Representatives on January 5, 2011.  The objective of these attacks is to defeat or delay health and science based policies that protect and benefit society as whole even if they reduce profits for big oil, dirty coal or other special interests.

Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC), defeated by a Tea Party candidate in his primary, alerted his Republican colleagues that their assault on science and clean energy policies would harm Americans.  At a House Science Committee hearing on global warming science he warned,

I would also suggest to my Free Enterprise colleagues — especially conservatives here — whether you think it’s all a bunch of hooey, what we’ve talked about in this committee, the Chinese don’t. And they plan on eating our lunch in this next century. They plan on innovating around these problems, and selling to us, and the rest of the world, the technology that’ll lead the 21st century. So we may just press the pause button here for several years, but China is pressing the fast-forward button.

What we’ll find is we’re way behind those Chinese folks…They plan on leading the future. So whether you — if you’re a free enterprise conservative here — just think: it’s a bunch of hooey, this science is a bunch of hooey. But if you miss the commercial opportunity, you’ve really missed something.

Former House Science Committee Chair Sherry Boehlert (R-NY) also counseled his compatriots against this attack on science.

The new Congress should have a policy debate to address facts rather than a debate featuring unsubstantiated attacks on science. We shouldn’t stand by while the reputations of scientists are dragged through the mud in order to win a political argument. And no member of any party should look the other way when the basic operating parameters of scientific inquiry — the need to question, express doubt, replicate research and encourage curiosity — are exploited for the sake of political expediency. My fellow Republicans should understand that wholesale, ideologically based or special-interest-driven rejection of science is bad policy. And that in the long run, it’s also bad politics.

Inglis and Boehlert are urging Republican leaders to reject the unfair, anti-science attacks aimed at Fred Upton and his common sense light bulb efficiency legislation.  Hopefully, he and his colleagues will refrain from hurling such false, destructive charges at Carol Browner, scientists or other administration officials.  If not, they will demonstrate the same ignorance, selfishness, and economic obliviousness shown by Upton’s attackers.

- Daniel J. Weiss is Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy, Center for American Progress Action Fund

Climate Progress


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