Energy & Environment

Republicans assail DHS officials for focusing on climate change

House Republicans lambasted the Obama administration Wednesday for making climate change a high priority at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The GOP argued at a hearing that the emphasis comes at the expense of other, more important, activities at DHS, and puts the country at greater risk from terrorists, including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

{mosads}The hearing of the Homeland Security Committee’s oversight subcommittee focused mostly on last year’s Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, which said climate change and its effects “present major areas of homeland security risk.”

“I am shocked that the department continues to make climate change a top, top priority,” said subcommittee Chairman Scott Perry (R-Pa.), citing the risks from terrorist groups, cyberattacks, incompetent airport screeners and other threats.

DHS reported that extreme weather caused by climate change could spur militant groups to become active, a prediction Perry found ridiculous.

“Are the American people to believe that the increased operations by ISIS are due to hot weather or a shortage of water?” Perry asked. “Such assertions are ridiculous, and frankly, insulting.”

The panel called on three DHS officials to testify. President Obama has asked for about $16 million for various climate-change related activities in DHS, mainly in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and in critical infrastructure resilience.

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) said climate change is not caused by human activity, a position with which the Obama administration and the vast majority of scientists disagree.

“The Earth’s been warmer before … before fossil fuels, the industrial revolution,” Duncan said. “And this notion that man-made climate change is happening is, I think, wrong. I think your priorities are wrong at the Department of Homeland Security.”

Meanwhile, the DHS isn’t sufficiently protecting the United States, Duncan added.

“We’ve got threats of ISIS, we’ve got cartels shooting at helicopters on the border, we’ve got unaccompanied children coming into this country, we’ve got illegal aliens murdering beautiful, innocent lives in San Francisco. We’ve got a woman who got her head blown off in Los Angeles by someone,” he said.

Duncan later added that he is not a climate change “denier,” although he does not believe that humans can change the climate.

Obama’s recent focus on climate change in terms of national and international security has angered many Republicans.

He declared in January that climate change is the greatest threat to future generations and that it threatens more people than terrorism.

That led Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) to famously mock the president by throwing a snowball on the Senate floor earlier this year.

The DHS representatives said considering climate change is essential, but it is not one of the five top priorities of the agency.

“Climate change, just like pandemics and natural disasters, is a factor, but certainly not the only factor that impacts the strategic environment, threats and hazards that face our homeland security,” said Thomas Smith, acting assistant secretary at the DHS for strategy, planning, analysis and risk.

Roy Wright, deputy associate administrator at FEMA, said climate change is an important part of planning for natural disasters.

“By addressing future risks, state, local, tribal and territorial governments are best prepared for future disasters and are able to bounce back faster,” he said.

The committee’s Democrats were angered at the premise of the hearing, titled “Examining DHS’s Misplaced Focus on Climate Change.”

“It concerns me that we’re having this particular hearing and that we’re spending our taxpayer money on trying to create some political theater around this issue of your role in keeping our homeland safe, on any level, with regard to any issue,” Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), the panel’s top Democrat, said to the witnesses.

“I’m not quite sure where my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are assessing or quantifying your misallocation of priorities,” she said.

Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) apologized to the witnesses for the behavior of the GOP.

“We continue to reinforce the border to the south in fear of the boogeyman, while neglecting the real risk to the American people. And that’s the next hurricane that’s going to hit and take down a bridge, or that’s the next flood that is going to impact our homeowners,” she said. 

Tags Bonnie Watson Coleman Climate change Department of Homeland Security Jeff Duncan Norma Torres Scott Perry
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