Will Energy And Science Chairs Become Kindling For Post-Election Blaze?

Get it? Chairs?

Late yesterday, the House GOP Steering Committee recommended Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) as the next chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. They could have chosen far, far worse (meanwhile, Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), a climate denier, was picked to lead the Science and Technology Committee).

The above cartoon was predicated on the assumption that, whatever new congressional leadership had in store, it would reduce key chairs—namely those of the Energy and Commerce, Science and Technology, and Appropriations Committees—to so much kindling in what figures to be a rough few years for advocates of clean energy and climate progress.

Again, it probably could have been worse. The new Energy and Commerce Committee chairman COULD have been Joe Barton, Big Oil All-Star and avowed climate denier. That would have required a special waiver, but it was still a possibility. We can breathe a small sigh of relief that Smoky Joe won’t get the gavel for now.

Still: Upton’s office has referred to recent attempts to cut emissions as “the job-killing cap-and-tax scheme that would have decimated our economy.” Basically, every serious contender to lead the committees, which are partly “responsible for setting America’s energy and science policy,” was a ‘climate skeptic’ anyway. They didn’t all earn baseball cards to that effect, but it’s safe to say they were each somewhere in the denier farm system.

The committee changes aren’t terribly surprising. The House Republicans already plan to do away with the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, created in 2007 to hold hearings on curbing carbon pollution. It’s being cut under the pretense of “sav(ing) taxpayers’ money (and) reducing waste.” Throw that chair in the fire too, along with the table on which it leaned.

Contrast the post-election anti-science pyre now being built to the views expressed in a Washington Post op-ed from late last month:

I can understand arguments over proposed policy approaches to climate change. I served in Congress for 24 years. I know these are legitimate areas for debate. What I find incomprehensible is the dogged determination by some to discredit distinguished scientists and their findings.

What is happening to the party of Ronald Reagan? He embraced scientific understanding of the environment and pollution and was proud of his role in helping to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals. That was smart policy and smart politics. Most important, unlike many who profess to be his followers, Reagan didn’t deny the existence of global environmental problems but instead found ways to address them.

The author was Sherwood Boehlert, a former chairman of the House Committee on Science, and a Republican congressman. He was willing to believe that scientists knew more about science than he did and support action in kind.

Hopefully Rep. Upton, currently ranking member on the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, read those words and stands ready to share them with his colleagues. If not, we may find that his chair, among others newly nabbed, is nothing more than tinder for the coming inferno.