Cruz hearing stirs partisanship, White House nominee posturing

By Hannah Northey | 12/09/2015 07:03 AM EST

Looking to shore up his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas yesterday convened a controversial, skeptic-laden hearing on climate change in which he attacked mainstream science and riled up his Democratic rivals.

Cruz, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness, kicked off the hearing by accusing climate "alarmists" and the media of ignoring critical data and warning that scientists skeptical of popular climate data points are being muzzled by Democrats and the Obama administration.

Cruz also reiterated his go-to assertion that some satellite data show there’s been no significant warming for almost two decades. “According to the satellite data, there has been no significant global warming for the past 18 years," Cruz said. “Global warming alarmists don’t like these data. They are inconvenient to their narrative, but facts and evidence matters."

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Although Cruz appears to be gaining in the polls ahead of February’s Iowa presidential caucuses, one Democratic contender for the White House yesterday said the senator had done little to differentiate himself among Republican nominees by holding the hearing.

Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state and front-runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, wasted no time in releasing a statement critical of Cruz and his decision to invite climate skeptics to Capitol Hill so close to the president’s call for action at Paris negotiations.

"Ted Cruz may be the latest candidate to use his office to stoke doubts about climate change, but virtually all the Republicans running for president share his commitment to denial and defeatism about America’s capacity to lead the world in confronting this challenge," Hillary for America Chairman John Podesta said in a statement. "We can’t afford to put one of these deniers, one of these doubters, in the White House."

Democrats on the Senate subcommittee and the lone minority witness — Rear Adm. David Titley, former naval oceanography operations commander and professor of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University– also challenged Cruz.

Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico accused Cruz of injecting controversy and uncertainty into established science and the need for climate action (Greenwire, Dec. 8).

Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, the subcommittee’s top Democrat, acknowledged there are questions about climate science but argued against halting action.

"We know there will always be more to learn … that’s the beautiful thing about science," Peters said. "But knowing there’s more to learn shouldn’t stop us from acting on what we know now."

At one point, Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts sparred with witnesses including Judith Curry, chairwoman of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, who asked the senator whether he was aware of a survey of more than 1,800 members of the American Meteorological Society that showed 52 percent of those asked said climate change was occuring and humans were to blame.

"We need to sort this out rather than ignore it," Curry said.

One Republican witness, Mark Steyn, the Canadian National Review writer and author of "Climate Change: The Facts," accused Democrats of trying to threaten and hush scientists who question the theories behind climate change, while Curry said there’s a "chilling effect" in the scientific community among those who disagree.

"The social contract currently between the Obama administration and climate science is that if you say alarming things, you’ll get funding," Curry said.

But Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida cautioned Cruz and his witnesses about making such accusations.

Nelson said he found it "ironic" the subcommittee was talking about stifling those questioning climate science, when the opposite appears to be true. Nelson noted that he introduced an amendment in March to combat Gov. Rick Scott (R) allegedly directing state officials to stop using the words "climate change" or "global warming."

Nelson said his amendment, which secured a vote of confidence from two Republicans on the Senate panel — would have prevented any similar "muzzling" of federal officials, but Republicans raised a point of order against the amendment as too prescriptive under budget rules (E&E Daily, March 27).

"We start talking about muzzling of scientists, I think we better watch out how we talk about which side is trying to do the muzzling," Nelson said.

Cruz also sparred with Democrats over whether or not Sierra Club President Aaron Mair was properly invited to testify.

Whereas Cruz accused Mair of "pre-emptively" refusing to attend the hearing in October following a separate hearing on U.S. EPA regulations, Democrats including Nelson said the majority should have sent him a formal invitation.

Cruz was referring to a hearing at which Mair said there was a "preponderance of evidence" that man-made climate change is real, to which the senator asked Mair about the last 18 years of satellite data. Cruz said the group’s president in a string of emails then refused to attend yesterday’s follow-up hearing (E&E Daily, Oct. 7).

The Sierra Club acknowledged Mair refused the senator’s invitation, saying the hearing was no place for serious debate.

"Mr. Mair did turn down an invitation from Senator Cruz," said Melinda Pierce, a legislative director for the environmental group, adding that Mair just returned home from the climate negotiations in Paris. "These are critical negotiations at which Ted Cruz’s absurd conspiracy theories would be summarily dismissed, a problem he faces any place where serious discussions are happening to solve real issues."

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