A Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing yesterday on the topic of federal regulations and their impact on minority communities devolved into a standoff over the existence of climate change — with neither Chairman Ted Cruz (R-Texas) nor Sierra Club President Aaron Mair willing to budge from their respective positions.
The debate erupted during a hearing of the Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts, when Cruz questioned Mair about global warming. The 10-minute argument only ended when ranking member Chris Coons (D-Del.) stepped in.
Cruz began the exchange by citing previous comments Mair had made saying that the existence of climate change is not debatable.
"Is this a frequent practice of the Sierra Club to declare science not up for debate?" the Republican presidential candidate asked.
Mair responded that there is a "preponderance of evidence" that man-made climate change is real.
That response only fueled the former Texas solicitor general and Princeton debater, who countered that "a preponderance would mean at least 49 percent."
He argued that scientists have not actually come to a conclusion about the existence of climate change, using the "global warming pause" — research showing that temperatures have risen at a slower rate since 1998 than in the preceding 50 years — as evidence that climate change is not occuring.
"Is it correct that in fact in the last 18 years satellite data showed no demonstrable warming?" Cruz asked Mair.
Before answering, Mair turned to his staffers, prompting Cruz to observe that, "I do find it highly interesting that the president of the Sierra Club apparently is relying on staff here.
"The nice thing about satellite data is that these are objective numbers," he added, before asking whether "the pause" undercuts the argument that global warming exists.
Mair responded that he relies on the expertise of the Union of Concerned Scientists and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, saying, "97 percent of scientists concur and agree that there is global warming."
Cruz countered that the statistic was based on a "bogus study."
"I asked about science," he said. "And your response was, ‘Pay no attention to your lying eyes and the numbers and listen to the scientists who receive massive grants who tell us to not debate the science,’" Cruz said.
Mair responded forcefully, saying, "While we are debating what 97 percent of scientists have settled, our planet is cooking and heating up and warming."
Cruz seized on that comment, asking twice asking whether "It is the Sierra Club’s position that the Earth is cooking up?" Each time, Mair responded with only, "We are concurring with 97 percent of the scientists."
In response, Cruz demanded that the Sierra Club issue a retraction if he could prove that "the pause" did exist, to which Mair again said his position was in line with 97 percent of scientists.
Cruz demanded a retraction two more times, to no avail, before finally asking Mair whether his repeated answer signified "that you are not willing to answer."
"You are asking me to take the 3 percent over the 97?" Mair responded. "The scientists rely on their objective data and analysis, and 97 percent agree and concur that global warming is occurring."
Cruz responded by asking for a retraction once again, saying, "Your policy is objectively false under scientific data."
That last comment prompted Coons to step in and admonish Cruz. "My assumption is that we should continue to focus on the subject of the hearing," he said.
Cruz, who earlier had chided Mair for straying from the purpose of the hearing by referring to the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, told Coons that his questions were on point because Mair had tried to justify the Clean Power Plan.
Prior to the climate change exchange, the hearing had focused on the impacts of regulations on minorities, with Republicans and Democrats largely only asking leading questions of their own witnesses to support the idea that regulations either harm or help minority groups, respectively.
The hearing turned combative when Cruz turned in disbelief to witnesses who had been called by Democrats.
"It’s rather striking that this is a hearing on overregulation, and yet as I review both the written testimony and the oral testimony of the three witnesses invited by the Democrats, none of you have identified even one single example of overregulation," he said. "I’m curious if it’s your collective view that every regulation is a good thing? That it never goes too far? That more and more government power over our lives is always good? Is there really not one example that any Democratic witness can point to?"
After a brief pause, Public Citizen regulatory analyst Amit Narang responded that the onus for identifying problems with regulations should fall on those advocating cuts.
"Those pushing for less regulation, it is incumbent on them to demonstrate those examples," he said. "We hear in the abstract instances of massive amounts of overregulation, but there are actually very few detailed, technical regulations that folks are saying justify massive reforms to the regulatory process."
Opponents of regulation at the hearing did name rules they thought overburdened minorities.
Harry Alford of the National Black Chamber of Commerce cited statistics from a study his organization did claiming that 125,000 African-Americans and 325,000 Hispanics in Texas would lose their jobs because of the Clean Power Plan.
Later, condemning the Obama administration’s new ozone standard, he testified that there is "no source to say how asthma is formed, and there is no cure for asthma."
"As asthma has increased, ozone has gone down, there is no correlation between ozone and asthma."
Timothy Sandefur, principal attorney at the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, said that any regulations that affect "economic freedom" harm minorities.
To bolster his point, he quoted the diary of escaped slave Frederick Douglass describing how he felt when he was paid for his labor for the first time and described government agencies as robbing minorities of economic opportunities.
"Sadly, overregulation at the federal, state and local level deprives many Americans of the fundamental human right to economic prosperity," he said.