House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans have rebuffed Democrats’ bid to require the high-profile panel to hold hearings on links between climate change, extreme weather and threats to coastal areas.
On Wednesday the Committee, along party lines, voted down Democratic amendments to its formal oversight plan for the 113th Congress.
“To be kept in ignorance, to not be informed, is irresponsible,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), the committee’s top Democrat.
Waxman led the push for climate-related hearings as part of a broader political strategy to play offense on global warming.
Climate legislation remains frozen on Capitol Hill, but green groups and allied lawmakers want to help create political space for tougher White House actions in President Obama's second term.
One defeated amendment, from Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), would have required hearings on the role of climate change in drought, heat waves, wildfires, reduced crop yields and other effects.
Rush knocked GOP climate skeptics. “Hurricane Sandy wasn’t a hoax. The droughts and the fires experienced by those in the Western states, those weren’t hoaxes, those are realities. There was pain suffering and loss of property,” he said.
Major scientific reports – such as a recent study by a federal advisory panel – say there is strong evidence that human-induced climate change is adding power to big storms and worsening heatwaves, among other effects.
A second defeated amendment, by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), called for hearings on climate-related coastal threats including sea-level rise, more frequent and intense storms, and ocean acidification.
Both proposals called for witnesses including National Academy of Sciences members.
Republicans largely held their fire during the Democratic calls for the hearings, although there was some pushback.
“We are not responding on the majority side because we think this is a pro-forma hearing to ratify a pretty routine oversight plan,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), a former chairman of the committee.
But he also said, “to say we are ignorant, or have chosen to be ignorant, is a bald-faced lie.”
More votes – with a similar outcome – are expected when the meeting to approve the oversight plan resumes next week.
Waxman is offering a third amendment calling for a hearing on recent reports that warn, “the window for action to prevent irreversible harm from climate change is closing rapidly.”
His amendment cites studies including a November World Bank report that warned of catastrophic temperature increases by 2100.