Texas Republican Rep. Ralph Hall would like you to know this: He is not a climate skeptic.
"I think it's happening," the incoming chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee said yesterday when asked if he believes climate change is real.
But others aren't so sure. Hall, known in part for his strong support of the oil and gas industry, opposes cap-and-trade policies and U.S. EPA's plans to regulate heat-trapping emissions. He said last month that, as chairman of the science panel, he would investigate "global warming or global freezing."
And Hall has repeatedly suggested that so-called "Climategate" e-mails between climate scientists posted on the Internet in 2009 raise doubts about the quality of climate science, a belief that landed him on the liberal Center for American Progress' list of "climate zombie" lawmakers who question the scientific consensus on global warming.
The former Democrat -- who switched parties in 2004 -- is also among new Republican committee chairmen in the House who have floated plans to investigate climate science.
A skeptic gets lead on climate issues
"There are doubts about the quality of the climate science," Hall said yesterday. "I think those really ought to be wiped aside or confirmed. ... I think the American people are entitled to have some testimony."
Hall said his vice chairman, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), an outspoken climate skeptic who served as ranking member on the recently disbanded Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, will take the lead on the issue.
That's not a surprise to former Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, a moderate Republican who represented an upstate New York district before he retired in 2006.
"[Hall]'s from Texas, and I'm from the Adirondacks, and we see things somewhat differently," said Boehlert, now a consultant with the Accord Group on science, energy and environmental policy. "He used to kid openly at hearings that the chairman -- referring to me -- had never seen a tree he didn't want to hug, and [Hall] had never seen a cemetery he didn't want to drill in. That pretty much sums it up."
But Boehlert said he's not sure how Hall's climate hearings will play out.
Some guile and a lot of Texas charm
The Texas Republican recently ruffled feathers on the science panel, which has a long history of bipartisan cooperation, when he moved to prevent the passage of an energy research and education bill by sponsoring a motion to recommit that included a hard-to-oppose anti-pornography measure.
House Democrats managed to pass the measure last fall on their third try, but not before then-Science Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) blasted the Republican tactic as a "cynical ploy" and "Trojan horse."
When it comes to climate change, "I have great respect and admiration for [Hall], and I'm keeping my fingers crossed," Boehlert said. "I know going into the discussion that he has a different point of view than one I share, but I hope he will not be so blind as to refuse to see there are other sides of the issue."
Whatever moves Hall makes, his brand of down-home Texas charm may be his biggest asset -- including the 87-year-old's regular boast that he runs 2 miles a day.
"I'd have to believe that he'll never make any enemies in [the Science Committee], because he's too likable," Boehlert said.
Paul Lenchner, a professor of political science at Texas A&M University's Commerce, Texas, campus, said Hall "is not a slick media figure, but on a personal level he's a wonderful raconteur."
What Lenchner called a "retro" brand of retail politics has won the lawmaker strong, steady support back home in Texas' 4th Congressional District northwest of Dallas. Hall won re-election in November by a margin of more than 50 points.
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