Democrat-led House Science Committee holds first hearing on climate change

House members listen to testimony from climate change experts at a committee hearing on February 13, 2019. (Brock Hall/Medill)

By Brock Hall

Democrats on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee invited experts on Wednesday to lay out climate change concerns before their sometimes skeptical Republican colleagues in the panel’s first hearing of the new Congress.

“Climate change is real,” said Robert Kopp, a climate scientist from Rutgers University, “It is happening now and humans are responsible for it. The planet is running a fever.”

Kopp’s testimony matched that of the other academics and think tank experts, each of whom seemed to address their answers to GOP lawmakers who have expressed doubts or denial about climate science.

“We support a mainstream version of climate science — nothing to be afraid of,” said Joseph Majkut, the director of climate policy for the Niskanen Center, a Washington-based think tank focused on market-based solutions.

In some cases, the experts made more pointed arguments.

“It saddens me to fly over your state, frankly, because I look down and I see almost no roofs with solar panels on them and you’re just missing a huge opportunity” said Jennifer Francis, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Research Center, a climate-focused research organization in Massachusetts, to Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida. “And yes, it took some incentives to get the ball rolling down the hill but now the incentives in Massachusetts are disappearing and still people are putting solar panels on their roofs.”

The panel, convened primarily by the Democrats on the committee, underscored the priority the party has placed on making this issue front and center.

“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,” said the committee chairwoman, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas.

Republicans remained mostly unswayed.

“We have seen a lot of aspirational goals lately,” said Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., referencing the Green New Deal proposal unveiled last week by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass. “I think we need to be careful about crossing the line from aspirational to outlandish goals.”

GOP lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have panned the plan, which would require generating 100% of the nation’s power from renewable sources within 10 years.

At least one Republican on the committee, however, was receptive to the panelists’ points of view.

“As a farmer and an animal scientist I understand the importance of leaving the land healthier than you found it,” said Rep. Jim Baird, R-Ind., a freshman congressman with a doctorate in animal science.

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