A clash with Tulsa's city engineer over a plan to move a fire escape launched the career of the Senate's anti-regulatory crusader and leading climate change skeptic, Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe.
That's the tale that Inhofe tells to start his new book, "The Greatest Hoax," which was released yesterday.
When the city engineer refused to budge on Inhofe's plan to move the fire escape on his mansion, it fueled his political ambitions.
"So I told him I was going to run for mayor and fire him," he said. "And I ran for mayor and I fired him."
Published by right-leaning WND Books, a division of WorldNetDaily, the book establishes Inhofe as an opponent of environmental regulations of all stripes long before 2003, when he famously told the Senate that climate change was "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."
In his early career as a mayor and state legislator, Inhofe took on everything from Tulsa's local-access cable channel to the 1965 Highway Beautifications Act, which limited advertising along interstate highways and was championed by President Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson. All, Inhofe says, in the name of free enterprise and individual liberty.
Inhofe says he brought the same ethos with him to the Senate in 1994 and took a seat on the Environment and Public Works Committee.
"This committee has primary jurisdiction over the Environmental Protection Agency -- an agency that puts forth some of the most job-destroying regulations in the country," Inhofe writes. "From water rules, to the regulation of our energy capabilities, the EPA has the power to affect almost every facet of business and industry in America, and under the Obama administration the results have been devastating for our economy."
After he became chairman in 2003, he says he staffed the committee with "people who had actually worked for a living, instead of filling it with the kinds of idealists who often end up in these jobs," and invited industry representatives to testify.
Against this backdrop, Inhofe discusses his crusade against those who say human greenhouse gas emissions are accelerating global warming. Climate science, he writes, is a discredited theory promoted by scientists more interested in grants than in the truth. The media, he adds, is only too happy to cheerlead for those scientists and former Vice President Al Gore, who laid out his views on climate change in the Oscar-winning documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth."
Gore himself is targeted by Inhofe throughout the book, which features caricatures of the former vice president in prose and cartoon. One cartoon, copied from a March 2010 edition of The Weekly Standard, shows Gore naked and shivering in an arctic scene with polar bears mocking him.
To support his thesis that man-made climate change is not occurring, Inhofe writes at length about the so-called Climategate scandal, in which scientists' emails were stolen from a server at the University of East Anglia. Their contents -- which Inhofe reprints in a 40-page appendix -- were interpreted by some as showing that researchers had manipulated study results to show warming where none existed. Independent investigations have cleared the scientists of wrong-doing, but Inhofe views it as a turning point in the climate debate.
"After Climategate there was an interesting reversal in the mainstream media," he said. "All those outlets that had praised Al Gore and the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] to the heights just a few years prior were suddenly tearing apart the IPCC's assessments -- and more and more and more flaws came to light."
In January 2010, IPCC officials admitted their 2007 report incorrectly stated Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035. The statement was called an error by those involved, but Inhofe denounces it as "Glaciergate," and calls it a "black eye for the IPCC."
'They all hated me'
Inhofe gives himself considerable credit for accurately predicting that Democrats would fail to pass a cap-and-trade bill in the last Congress -- a policy for limiting greenhouse gases that he says would have amounted to the biggest tax hike in history. He also speaks almost fondly of his visits to the U.N. climate change conferences, which he refers to as "the lion's den" for climate change skeptics such as himself.
Particular warmth is reserved for the 2009 U.N. talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, which took place in the aftermath of Climategate and at a time when Senate passage of a carbon bill still seemed remotely possible.
"I was only in Copenhagen for three hours, but they were the most exhilarating three hours of my political life," he writes.
He recalls holding an impromptu press conference on a staircase at the conference center because he was not given a room to give his briefing.
"I know it sounds strange to say it, but the experience was really quite enjoyable," he writes. "I will always remember all those people in the room -- hundreds of them -- and all the cameras. And they all had one thing in common: they all hated me."
Inhofe's professed indifference to criticism is a theme in the book. He recalls proudly the poster the National Environmental Trust brought with it to the 2003 U.N climate talks in Milan, which declared Inhofe "the most dangerous man on the Planet." Inhofe signed a copy for NET, and it hung in the environmental group's office for years. He said having a "dangerous" grandpa wowed his grandchildren.
Marc Morano, publisher of the skeptic blog Climate Depot and former committee aide to Inhofe, told E&E Daily that his former boss deserves credit for being one of the few people in Washington willing to question the underpinnings of climate change, even at times when such skepticism wasn't in vogue even with his own party.
In 2003 -- the year Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) co-sponsored a carbon cap-and-trade bill -- Inhofe delivered his hoax speech, Morano said, staking out his position as "the key skeptical player on Capitol Hill" on climate change.
"He is one of the very few, in fact probably the only, U.S. senator who stood up and recognized very early on in 2003 what the global-warming fear movement was all about," Morano said.
But Joe Mendelson, director of global warming policy at the National Wildlife Federation, said Inhofe's admission that he is against regulation in almost every instance suggests that he arrived at his scientific skepticism through something other than an impartial look at the facts.
"He sort of comes at it from 'I am an anti-regulatory person, and therefore if there is something out there that may require a government response to address, I'm either going to ignore it or poke holes in the science so I don't have to get the regulation,'" he said.
Mendelson also disagreed with Inhofe that environmental regulation threatens personal freedom.
"The impacts of the pollution actually do impede our freedom," he said. "Our freedom to breath healthy air, our freedom to ensure that our family or our property is actually safeguarded from harm."