Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Senate’s most vocal climate change skeptic, took the gavel of the Environment and Public Works Committee Wednesday, eight years after he gave it up.
The assignment makes him the top senator in charge of two of his passions: fighting attempts to curb climate change and building transportation infrastructure.
Inhofe, who has declared climate change to be the greatest hoax played on mankind, came to the hearing wearing a polar bear tie, referencing assertions from scientists and environmentalists that unchecked climate change could decimate the polar bear’s habitats.
In keeping with his opinions on climate change, Inhofe brushed aside the report last week from federal scientists that 2014 was the hottest year on record.
“It’s kind of funny they’d say that. It has to be in some other hemisphere, because we had the coldest in the western hemisphere in the same time frame,” he asserted.
Inhofe said global temperature patterns come in cycles of about three decades and are not affected by carbon dioxide emissions or other human activity.
“So we’ve got these 30-year cycles everybody likes to ignore, but it’s a reality,’ he said. “That’s what it’s been, for as long as I can remember.”
Along with the gavel, Boxer gave Inhofe a few gifts.
The first was a shirt printed with a gavel, reading “elections have consequences.”
It was a reference to what she told Inhofe eight years ago shortly after she took the gavel, when she wielded her power by letting former Vice President Al Gore speak longer than Inhofe wanted him to.
“This time, I have to say, Jim, you are and I are friends,” Boxer said Wednesday. “And if I was to hand this gavel over to anyone, I’m happy that it’s you.”
Boxer also gave the chairman three toys: a dump truck, a model Toyota Prius and a bicycle. She said they represent three concerns she wants Inhofe to keep in mind when the panel negotiates highway funding: construction workers, the environment and bicyclists.
Both senators were very friendly to each other and constantly reminded the other members of their friendship and agreement on infrastructure.
“Sen. Boxer and I have a long history of working together, particularly in the areas that she mentioned, on highways,” Inhofe said.
“On the infrastructure, Mr. Chairman, there’s very little distance between us,” Boxer said. “We may argue on the edges and that’s fine, we compromise on most things. But I am going to work with you as hard as I can.”
Inhofe said climate change would be a top priority of the committee under his leadership.
“We’re going to be conducting rigorous oversight of EPA regulations,” he said. “I strongly believe that the president’s misguided agenda on climate change has led to an onslaught of new regulations that is endangering future job creation, energy independence and reliability in the power grid.”
But its first two priorities will be to write a long-term highway bill that lasts at least five years and to rein in the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed waters of the United States rule, which redefines its jurisdiction for water pollution rules.
The first hearing, on Jan. 28, will feature Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and up to four state governors to speak about highway funding needs.
The next, in February, would be a joint hearing with the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on the water rule.
“If you talk to farmer organizations, they’ll tell you that ... the most difficult things for them to deal with are the regulations of the EPA,” Inhofe told reporters.
Endangered species rules and fuel storage standards are difficult, but the water jurisdiction rule is the worst.
“The one that is the most difficult to deal with, for them, is the waters of the United States,” he said.
Inhofe also changed the committee rules so that there are only four subcommittees, down from the five under Boxer.
Three of the subpanels are chaired by freshman senators. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) will lead the Clean Sir and Nuclear Safety panel; Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) will lead the Waste Management panel; and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) will lead the Fisheries, Wildlife and Water panel.