Friday, November 30, 2012

House Committee Leaders Deny Climate Change While Extreme Weather Devastates Their States

by Jackie Weidman and Whitney Allen

On November 27th, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced new and returning House committee chairmen (and yes, they are all men). Some of these congressmen will run committees with jurisdiction over federal climate, energy, and environmental programs. This includes funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Clean Air Act, balancing the use of our public lands between energy production and recreation, and determining the infrastructure needs of a nation that now faces unpredictable extreme weather threats linked to climate change.

The vast majority of these chairmen voted for legislation that would dismantle EPA's ability to limit industrial carbon pollution, and for retention of special tax breaks for the oil and gas industry. Oil and gas, coal, and electric utility companies have cozied up to many of these chairmen, giving them roughly $3.8 million in campaign contributions over the course of their careers.

Meanwhile, many climate-related extreme weather events have severely afflicted Americans over the past two years, including in their home states. Record-breaking drought and heat waves, severe floods, and heavy storms wreaked havoc for the families living in the chairmens' backyards. Scientists predict that these weather events will become more frequent and/or severe if the industrial carbon pollution responsible for climate change remains unchecked.

Let's take a look at some of the Republicans who will oversee federal climate, energy, and environmental programs over the next two years, as well as their campaign contributions from the industries responsible for most climate pollution:

Rep. Sam Graves (Missouri) - Small Business Committee

In a May 2010 op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Rep. Graves claimed that limiting carbon pollution is "out of touch with the people who keep this country running." Yet, the farmers, ranchers, and small business owners he refers to in his column dealt with crippling drought conditions this summer across Missouri and the Great Plains, a disaster that Midwestern scientists say "is consistent with an observed warmer climate."

In addition to drought, Graves' home state was also afflicted by other extreme weather events in 2011, including a Missouri River flood that inundated homes and businesses. All of Missouri's counties were declared disaster areas from the three main extreme weather events hitting the state, including the Joplin tornado disaster.

Graves has received $150,000 in campaign contributions from electric utilities throughout his career.

Rep. Frank Lucas (Oklahoma) - Agriculture Committee

In his first term as committee chair, Rep. Lucas voted to prevent the Department of Agriculture from helping farmers adapt to a changing climate that will include more droughts, heat waves, and heavy storms. Meanwhile, his home state of Oklahoma suffered from 8 extreme weather events that each caused at least $1 billion in total damages each.

Two of these events include the crippling heat and drought conditions that have overwhelmed his home state in both 2011 and 2012. This year's drought recently expanded, and as of November 20th 44 percent of winter wheat crops and 80 percent of the pastures in Oklahoma are experiencing poor to very poor conditions. All of the counties in Lucas's state were declared disaster areas due to the drought. The average household in Oklahoma earns 17 percent below the national median income. The Oklahomans afflicted by the drought and other extreme weather events have less income to recover and rebuild from these episodes.

Lucas took $467,325 in oil and gas contributions and $145,992 from electric utilities over the course of his career.

Rep. Mike McCaul (Texas) - Homeland Security

Texas experienced 10 extreme weather events with $1 billion plus in damages each in 2011-12. Every single Texas county was in a declared disaster area, and it received more federal disaster aid than any other state since 2009.

In his new position, Rep. McCaul will oversee FEMA, including its disaster relief and recovery efforts, which should be comforting to Texans. But Rep. McCaul voted to approve the 2013 House Budget Plan that would have handicapped the government's ability to respond to disasters, something he openly criticized when it affected his district. McCaul asserts, "It shouldn't have taken that long," for FEMA to respond to wildfires that spread through Texas in 2011. He has not acknowledged that he would support government efforts to cut back the program even further.

Rep. McCaul received $300,000 in oil and gas contributions throughout his career.

Rep. Hal Rogers (Kentucky) - Appropriations Committee

Rep. Rogers' committee is hostile to disaster relief and recovery. It voted to slash FEMA's budget by $87 million (2011) and $182 million (2012). Budget cuts restrict FEMA's ability to provide disaster relief, food and shelter, and flood management assistance for state and local governments. Roger's home state of Kentucky suffered from four separate tornado and severe storm events in 2011-12 with at least $1 billion in damages each. Half of Kentucky's counties were in declared disaster areas from the four events, and households in these counties earn, on average, 19 percent below the U.S. median household income.

Rogers has received over $830,000 in campaign contributions from fossil fuel industries throughout his career.

Rep. Paul Ryan (Wisconsin) - Budget Committee

Over the past two years, Rep. Ryan voted more than a dozen times to block Environmental Protection Agency public health rules, including pollution reduction measures that would limit carbon pollution from power plants. While serving as Budget Committee Chairman, Rep. Ryan authored a budget that would have hurt FEMA's ability to help state and local governments repair or replace damaged infrastructure after a major disaster.

Although his budget does not mention FEMA by name, the plan would have cut discretionary federal funds to FEMA and other agencies. The reductions in the FEMA budget would have shifted a significant portion of disaster response and recovery costs to states and cities. Rep. Ryan's home state of Wisconsin experienced three billion-dollar in damages weather events in 2011-12. Nearly two-thirds of its counties were in declared disaster areas.

Ryan received $263,600 in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies throughout his Congressional career.

Rep. Lamar Smith (Texas) - Science, Space and Technology

As Climate Progress recently reported, Rep. Smith is the new chair of the Science Committee. Yet he does not accept the overwhelming scientific consensus on man-made climate change. In fact, Rep. Smith has repeatedly attacked the media for reporting on the mountains of scientific evidence confirming this fact. Smith claims that they are "determined to advance the idea of human-made global warming."

While Rep. Smith seeks to assert that climate change is just an "idea," his state has continued to suffer from the impacts of climate related extreme weather. Texas has experienced more billion-dollar in damages weather events than any other U.S. state in the past two years. The 2011-12 droughts decimated Texas crops, threatened the state's water supply, and severely harmed its cattle industry. Ironically, while pollution-fueled climate change helped cause severe economic losses in his state, Rep. Smith assured Americans that "oil and natural gas fuel our economy and sustain our way of life."

Rep. Smith is heavily supported by the oil and gas industry. It is his second largest contributor, shelling out half of a million dollars on his campaigns over the course of Rep. Smith's career.

Rep. Fred Upton (Michigan) - Energy and Commerce Committee

The Energy and Commerce Committee oversees many aspects of energy production and industrial pollution. Rep. Upton will head it up again. He has repeatedly said that he does not believe climate change is man-made, even though he used accept this scientific fact. Upton became a fierce critic of the EPA's authority to limit industrial carbon pollution. In fact, he authored the "Energy Tax Prevention Act" (H.R. 910) to amend the Clean Air Act by repealing the scientific "endangerment finding" by EPA that greenhouse gases endanger human health. This bill would have permanently prevented EPA from limiting climate change pollution.

Upton, claimed that "this legislation will remove the biggest regulatory threat to the American economy," without any independent analysis to demonstrate this claim. Months after working to get the bill through the House, multiple severe weather events hit Michigan in July 2011, causing $1 billion in damages.

Rep. Upton received $1.2 million- more than any other House committee chair - over the course of his career from the electric utility and oil and gas industries.

Jackie Weidman is a Special Assistant for Energy Policy at the Center for American Progress; Whitney Allen is an intern on the energy team at the Center for American Progress.

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