House science committee chairman warns of ‘biased’ science in climate change debate

(Caroline Tanner/Medill)

By Caroline Tanner

WASHINGTON – A Capitol Hill hearing called to discuss the use of technology to address climate change quickly veered into a long debate about how much human activity has contributed to the country’s warming temperature.

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hearing, held May 16, was led by its chairman Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas. 

In reference to climate change, Rep. Smith warned of “legitimate concerns that scientists are biased in favor of reaching predetermined conclusions that inevitability lead to alarmist findings wrongfully reported as facts."

His skepticism was condemned by committee member Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., who said “we should not be using valuable time to discredit scientific facts,” and she encouraged a bipartisan effort to work quickly to address climate change.

“We can no longer sit back and debate the merits of taking action (on climate change),” Rep. Bonamici said. “The time is now.” 

While other lawmakers, such as Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., have expressed doubt as to whether climate change exists, a bipartisan group of members at the hearing concurred that mitigation and adaptation technology is necessary, with Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, the committee’s Ranking Member, and Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., expressing support. 

“It is crucial that U.S. policy focuses on technology,” declared Rep. Biggs, who said a policy aimed at hydraulic fracturing to lower carbon emissions already has proven to boost the economy. 

Even Rep. Rohrabacher supported some technology investment, speaking about the need to develop new technology to mitigate the amount of U.S. carbon pollution, such as a new battery to sustain solar and wind power technology.

Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., echoed the call for new technology, saying, “It is clear that we are underinvesting in technology for climate change, specifically for energy research, development and demonstration.”

But Chairman Smith cautioned against over-regulation.

“Before we impose energy taxes or costly and ineffective government regulations, we should acknowledge the uncertainties that surround climate change research,” said Rep. Smith. “Natural climate variability contributes to this uncertainty,” he said, citing solar cycles, volcanic activity, temperature fluctuations, and long-term oceanic circulation patterns.

He also said that other unknowns, specifically the future of energy production and consumption, create uncertainty when it comes to accurately predicting climate change.

Congresswoman Bonamici listed examples of how she says climate change has affected residents and the economy in her Oregon district. She noted that devastating wildfires last summer resulted in “losses” for the timber industry, as well as high levels of carbon dioxide that has changed atmospheric conditions for fishers, wineries, farmers, and the tourism industry in general.

The full debate can be seen on the committee's web page.

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