This article is from the In-Depth Report Election 2012: Grading Obama and Romney on Science

Does Congress Get a Passing Grade on Science?

Scientific American asks leaders of a dozen House and Senate committees for written answers to eight policy questions related to science and technology

Climate Change. The Earth's climate is changing and there is concern about the potentially adverse effects of these changes on life on the planet. What is your position on cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, and other policies proposed to address global climate change—and what steps can we take to improve our ability to tackle challenges like climate change that cross national boundaries?

Representative Timothy Bishop, New York State–1 (D) and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, writes:

Despite those who seek to deny its existence, scientific consensus is clear that the planet is indeed warming, and human activity is contributing to that trend. For coastal communities like Long Island, this means rising sea levels and more destructive storms.

I am proud of my efforts to address this pressing global challenge. I strongly support policies that promote clean energy, energy efficiency and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. I also support policies that encourage the international community to face this challenge head on in partnership with the U.S. These efforts make sense economically, environmentally, and improve public health and our national security.

As a member of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, I have worked closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to investigate options to combat sea level rise, which threatens our safety and property. I have secured millions of dollars in federal funds and promoted legislation to fortify our coastal areas and wetlands, which are our first line of defense against violent storms like hurricanes and nor'easters.

As Congress continues to consider policy options to combat the effects of sea level rise and climate change, one thing is clear: There is no silver bullet solution to this global problem. However, with an open and honest dialogue, I am confident that all parties can work together to identify solutions and opportunities to combat this threat. I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to put forth commonsense initiatives to reduce the effects of rising sea levels and climate change.

Representative John Boehner, Ohio–8 (R) and Speaker of the House, declined to respond to the eight science questions we asked. He has made statements about climate change in the past. During a July 2008 interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN he addressed climate change, the section of transcript, reproduced below, was accessed via Lexis Nexis:

REP. BOEHNER: I think that John McCain's position is not really very different than most Republicans.

BLITZER: You agree with him on global warming?

REP. BOEHNER: The fact is, is that we have had climate change. Clearly, humans have something to do with it, and we ought to begin reducing our CO2 emissions. But we need to do it in conjunction with other industrialized countries around the world. Otherwise, we're just going to ship our jobs to China and India and elsewhere. That is not what's in the best interest of the American people.

On April 19, 2009, Representative Boehner sat down with ABC's George Stephanopoulos for an interview. He was the House Minority Leader at the time. An excerpt of their conversation on climate change, accessed via the Federal News Service on Lexis Nexis, follows:

STEPHANOPOULUS: So what is the Republican answer to climate change? Is it a problem? Do you have a plan to address it?

REP. BOEHNER: George, we believe that our all-of-the-above energy strategy from last year continues to be the right approach on energy -- that we ought to make sure that we have new sources of energy, green energy, but we need nuclear energy, we need other types of alternatives, and, yes, we need American-made oil and gas.

STEPHANOPOULUS: But that doesn't do anything when it comes to emissions, sir.

REP. BOEHNER: When it comes to the issue of climate change, George, it's pretty clear that if we don't work with other industrialized nations around the world, what's going to happen is that we're going to ship millions of American jobs overseas. We have to deal with this in a responsible way.

STEPHANOPOULUS: So what is the responsible way? That's my question. What is the Republican plan to deal with carbon emissions, which every major scientific organization has said is contributing to climate change?

REP. BOEHNER: George, the idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you've got more carbon dioxide. And so I think it's clear --

STEPHANOPOULUS: So you don't believe that greenhouse gases are a problem in creating climate change?

REP. BOEHNER: -- we've had climate change over the last 100 years. Listen, it's clear we've had change in our climate. The question is how much does man have to do with it, and what is the proper way to deal with this? We can't do it alone as one nation. If we've got India, China and other industrialized countries not working with us, all we're going to do is ship millions of American jobs overseas.

STEPHANOPOULUS: But it sounds like from what you're saying that you don't believe that Republicans need to come up with a plan to control carbon emissions? You're suggesting it's not that big of a problem, even though the scientific consensus is that it has contributed to the climate change.

REP. BOEHNER: I think it is -- I think it is an issue. The question is, what is the proper answer and the responsible answer?

STEPHANOPOULUS: And what is the answer? That's what I'm trying
to get at.

REP. BOEHNER: George, I think everyone in America is looking for the proper answer. We don't want to raise taxes, $1.5 to $2 trillion like the administration is proposing, and we don't want to ship millions of American jobs overseas. And so we've got to find ways to work toward this solution to this problem without risking the future for our kids and grandkids.

STEPHANOPOULUS: So you are committed to coming up with a plan?

REP. BOEHNER: I think you'll see a plan from us. Just like you've seen a
plan from us on the stimulus bill and a better plan on the budget.

Representative Boehner released a statement regarding the Republican's strategy for a cleaner environment on April 21, 2009. He wrote:

Republicans are committed to working with the Administration and congressional Democrats to advance policies that promote clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment. Led by Rep. Mike Pence and his American Energy Solutions Group, House Republicans support an ‘all of the above’ strategy that will promote clean alternative technologies, encourage conservation, and increase environmentally-safe production of American energy. This strategy not only will lower energy costs and create good-paying jobs, it also will pave the way for a cleaner, healthier environment for our children and grandchildren.

This week, House Democrats are beginning their push for a cap-and-trade scheme that makes big promises, but amounts to little more than a national energy tax that will destroy countless jobs and raise energy prices on families and small businesses already struggling during this recession. Let’s be clear: Republicans and Democrats both support the efforts of employers and employees devoted to new, cleaner sources of energy, but cap-and-trade is not the answer. In fact, it will only make our problems worse, as proven in Europe, where cap-and-trade hurt the economy, drove up energy costs, and failed to cut carbon emissions at all. It’s time for Democrats in Congress and the Administration to reach out to Republicans and cooperate on an ‘all of the above’ plan to lower energy costs, create more jobs, and clean up our environment.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, California (D) and chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, writes:

I believe the long-term health of the planet depends on taking further action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The inability of Congress to address climate change is one of the great disappointments in my tenure, including the failure to enact cap-and-trade legislation that I supported. However, I was proud to author one of the most significant pieces of climate legislation signed into law: the bipartisan Ten-in-Ten Fuel Economy Act. In addition to requiring at least a 10 mpg increase for passenger vehicles over 10 years, the law required ‘maximum feasible' fuel economy standards. That provision led to this year's federal rule requiring 54.5 mpg by 2025, a tremendous victory that will cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks in half by 2025 and reduce emissions by 6 billion metric tons. That's more than the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the United States in 2010.

Representative Ralph Hall, Texas–4 (R) and chair of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, writes:

As Chairman of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee I have had the opportunity to hear from widely respected scientists on all sides of this question. The only thing that is clear is that there continues to be great debate and uncertainty among these experts regarding the extent of natural climate variability versus human impacts, and what, if anything, enactment of economy-wide greenhouse gas regulations might do to alter our changing climate. I do not ignore those who, like former Vice President Al Gore, warn us about the seriousness of global warming. We should get the best science and stay abreast of any threat from human impacts, but I am disturbed that we have spent over thirty billion dollars studying climate change and have little to show for it.

More importantly, however, science alone does not and cannot tell us if cap-and-trade or other greenhouse gas regulatory regimes are a good idea; many other factors—particularly economic consequences—must be considered to answer this question. Unfortunately, this Administration has pursued a regulate-at-any-cost agenda with respect to greenhouse gases, completely disregarding the harmful impacts on our long-sputtering economy. Until we have a better handle on these issues, I will continue to oppose regulation of greenhouse gases because of the significant threat it presents to American jobs, the economy, and energy affordability and reliability.

Senator Tom Harkin, Iowa (D) and chair of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, writes:

Climate change is a global problem; hence global collaboration is needed to address it. Experiences with the Kyoto Treaty and the various international climate change conventions, however, tell us that formulating and adopting an effective international policy is very difficult.

The only practical approach is for individual nations to move forward together. We need to explore the adoption of universal, international pricing of greenhouse gas emissions. Individually, nations should establish domestic programs and policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially through the promotion of energy efficiency and cleaner energy technologies. As more nations adopt such policies, other nations will be inclined to do the same. We are seeing some genuine progress in this direction. Shifting towards conservation and renewable technologies will, in the long term, not only help lower the adverse impacts of greenhouse gasses but can make a nation more competitive in the World economy.

Here in the U.S., our energy programs and policies are leading to increasing contributions from windpower, biofuels, natural gas, in addition to significant advances in energy efficiency in all sectors, and these are contributing to significant greenhouse gas reductions but, I believe those efforts could be significantly increased.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Kentucky (R) and Senate minority leader, did not respond to the eight science questions by press time. The senator opposes cap and trade, according to his Web site.

Representative John Mica, Florida–7 (R) and chair of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, writes:

I oppose cap-and-trade, carbon taxes and other tax penalties to address climate change. Government policy can encourage environmentalism by supporting research and development in alternative energies and by being good stewards of public lands. Internationally, we should further assist nations with the development and implementation of technologies that enhance our world environment.

Representative Nancy Pelosi, California–8 (D) and House minority leader, declined to respond to this question. Representative Pelosi's Web site has the following statement on energy and the environment:

I have made energy independence and combating climate change my flagship issue. Energy independence is a moral, environmental, health, economic and national security issue. We must support innovation in clean energy and efficiency technologies, in doing so we can reduce transit fares and help Americans struggling with energy prices.

Experts have been clear: Wall Street speculators are artificially driving up the price at the pump and causing pain to millions of American consumers. This year alone, gas prices have increased by 62 cents a gallon. Higher gas prices negative effects on our economy at large.

By repealing the tax breaks to multi-national oil companies, we can reduce the deficit and invest in clean energy jobs. Renewable energy like wind and solar, will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, lower energy costs and create millions of jobs that cannot be shipped overseas.

Profits for the biggest oil companies were at record-breaking levels in the last few years and Congress must take action to ease the pain at the pump. Comprehensive legislation that protects the pocketbooks of America’s taxpayers and consumers is critical as many continue to suffer from tough economic times. Preserving our planet is just as critical to ensuring a safe and bright future for future generations. With the future of our country, and indeed our entire planet, possibly at stake, now is time to turn our collective concerns about climate change into concerted action. We must work to prevent any future damage to our environment and world by developing new energy technologies and replacing fossil fuels with clean and renewable energy sources.

As we approach the 40th anniversary of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, ensuring public health and sustaining a federal agency to regulate global warming emissions is crucial to the future of our nation and preservation of our planet. I have vigorously opposed bills that would weaken our nation's environmental protections which would endanger the health of all Americans. We must protect our nation's precious wetlands and coastlines by investing in technologies that will reduce air pollution and protect the natural habitat for any species along those shorelines.

Senator Harry Reid, Nevada (D) and Senate majority leader, did not respond to the question by press time. His Web site states:

Global warming is one of the greatest challenges of our time. The United States accounts for approximately 4 percent of the world’s population, yet it is responsible for about 25 percent of the world’s global warming pollution. Our government must provide domestic and global leadership on this issue because we have a moral responsibility to leave future generations with a safe and habitable world.

Climate change will have enormous consequences for Nevada, the Great Basin, and all of the Southwest – average temperatures are currently rising, and it is widely predicted that climate change will decrease precipitation. Drought will make farming and ranching tougher, increase the frequency and intensity of wildfires, and could drive many plant and animal species to extinction. Some invasive plants, such as cheatgrass, are better suited to hotter climates, and are already replacing native vegetation. These effects create serious challenges and could become catastrophic in the future if we fail to take action.

Climate change’s impact on our water supply could be the most devastating near-term impact on the desert southwest, which is why I have introduced legislation like the Drinking Water Adaptation, Technology, Education and Research (WATER) Act, the Water Efficiency, Conservation, and Adaptation Act, and the Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Act. These bills would help address the urgent need for more research and investment to improve the ability of America’s water systems to meet our nation’s escalating water supply needs, in light of reduced water supplies caused by longer droughts from hotter temperatures.

Senator Jay Rockefeller, West Virginia (D) and chair of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, writes:

There is clear and compelling scientific evidence that anthropogenic climate change is occurring. Ultimately, for this issue to be addressed in a meaningful way, a global effort will have to be coordinated that seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emission in both the developed and developing world. The United States should first show leadership in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

The initial step in reducing greenhouse gas emissions must promote technology and practices to increase energy efficiency. In the transportation sector, the new CAFÉ standards for model years 2017-2025 are expected to decrease greenhouse by 2 billion metric tons. This is a clear step forward, but we must continue to spur efficiencies in the residential and commercial sectors and promote combined heat and power systems that can dramatically increase energy efficiency in the industrial sector while reducing cost.

We also need to explore alternative fuels with lower greenhouse gas emission profiles, integrate larger amounts or renewable into the electric grid and develop ways to use natural gas and coal in cleaner ways. To drive investment and provide the certainty needed to develop these technologies, some form of pricing mechanism will be needed to reflect the cost of greenhouse gases that is currently being paid by society. Incorporating a pricing mechanism into our climate policy would likely be more efficient at driving down greenhouse gas emissions at a lower cost than the current policy of regulating such emissions under the Clean Air Act. We saw success with the cap and trade mechanism in reducing acid rain at a significantly lower cost than originally anticipated. If we don't act swiftly to embrace the changes required to address this global challenge we could also face a carbon tax. No matter what mechanism the United States ultimately decides to employ in addressing climate change, it must be implemented in a way that minimizes costs and recognizes the impacts on different regions of the country, like my home state of West Virginia.

Representative Chris Van Hollen, Maryland–8 (D) and ranking member of the Committee on the Budget, writes:

The overwhelming scientific consensus is that the earth's climate is changing and that human activity – including emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases – is contributing to that change. In that regard, I introduced the first Cap and Dividend legislation in the United States Congress, which would have put a price on greenhouse gas emissions and rebated the proceeds to consumers in the form of a Healthy Climate Dividend. Additionally, I have supported comprehensive clean energy legislation like the House-passed American Clean Energy and Security Act, which included a cap and trade program, as well as Green Bank and Home Energy Savings Revolving Fund initiatives I authored. Finally, while I believe the United States should lead on this issue, I also favor robust international engagement with other greenhouse gas emitting countries in order to maximize our global progress in this area.

Representative Henry Waxman, California–30 (D) and ranking member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, writes:

Climate change is one of the most serious dangers facing the world today. Over the past twelve months, U.S. temperature records have repeatedly been shattered and we have experienced the droughts, floods, wildfires, and extreme weather events that scientists have long predicted would intensify and become more frequent as the planet warms. It is imperative that the United States act to sharply reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases and that we engage with other nations to achieve world-wide emissions reductions.

I strongly support policies to address global climate change and believe that a comprehensive solution requires congressional action. Market-based policies such as cap-and-trade programs and carbon taxes offer the most cost-effective approach, and I strongly support such policies.

In the 111th Congress, Rep. Markey and I joined together to introduce the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, known also as the Waxman-Markey bill. This bill offered a comprehensive and cost-effective approach to reducing greenhouse gases through a cap-and-trade system to reduce emissions by 28% to 33% below 2005 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050. The bill passed the House, but did not gain Senate approval.

This Congress, the House Republican leadership has attempted to reverse any progress on addressing climate change. Republicans have voted 47 times on the House floor to oppose action on climate change. These included votes to overrule the Supreme Court and repeal existing EPA authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases, to cut funding for clean energy, and to cut funding for climate change research. The House Republicans even voted to deny the fundamental scientific reality of climate change.

In light of the Republican denial of the science and opposition to action on climate change, I have called on the chairmen of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the relevant subcommittee to hold hearings on the science and impacts of climate change, so that the Committee could better understand the issues. I have written to the chairmen fifteen times requesting hearings on different topics related to climate change. Among others, I have requested hearings on new findings on the impacts of climate change on agriculture, new findings regarding the probability that extreme weather events are influenced by climate change, and new analysis of earth surface temperatures. I have never received a response to any of these requests.


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This article was originally published with the title "Why Science Is Better When It's Multinational."

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