The Left’s obsession with climate change has been on full display in the confirmation hearings of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees. They seem to believe the issue is more important than any other foreign, domestic, or security concern. Indeed, in their minds, it seems to trump even the need for the fair and objective administration of justice.
In fact, climatologists hold widely divergent views on the causes of climate change, the rate at which change is occurring, which sets of climate and temperature data to use, and the accuracy of climate models projecting decades and centuries into the future. But you would never know this from the questions lobbed by the Left at the hearings.
Take former Kansas congressman and newly confirmed CIA Director Mike Pompeo. The CIA’s job is to gather and analyze information about foreign threats to U.S. national security, from terrorist organizations like ISIS to belligerent countries like Russia and North Korea. Getting actionable information that can prevent the next 9/11 or the next invasion of a friendly country or ally is — or at least should be — job number one for the CIA.
But not according to Kamala Harris, D-Calif. (A, 0%), the new senator from California and the state’s former attorney general. She cross-examined Pompeo about his views on climate change and global warming, quizzing him on whether he accepts the supposed scientific “consensus” on the issue.
Thankfully, Pompeo understands — even if Harris doesn’t — that the correctness of this theory has absolutely no bearing on the CIA’s mission.
Pompeo told Harris that, as the prospective director of the CIA, he sees no need “to get into the details of climate debate and science.” Rather, he noted, his role would be “to work alongside warriors keeping Americans safe.”
Unfortunately, that answer only led Harris to question Pompeo’s ability to accept evidence and the consensus of the intelligence community — as if the intelligence community should be wasting its time sifting through the competing data and claims regarding global warming.
The senator’s questioning was as predictable as it was off-base. After all, while serving as attorney general of California she joined a coalition of state AGs bent on using state securities fraud and RICO laws to prosecute anyone who disputed the supposed consensus on global warming. In other words, she tried to abuse her power to criminalize scientific debate and silence dissent.
Climate crusaders similarly tried to sidetrack the hearings for Rex Tillerson, the nominee for secretary of state. America faces serious threats from around the globe, and relations with what used to be some of our closest allies — like the United Kingdom and Israel — are badly frayed. Yet Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. (F, 12%) asked Tillerson about climate change and whether we need to increase our efforts to combat it.
Tillerson rightly said that scientific evidence linking climate change with a supposed increase in natural disasters is “inconclusive.” But this sparked only more climate-related questions from Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M. (F, 4%), Ed Markey, D-Mass. (F, 17%), Ben Cardin, D-Md. (F, 2%), and Tim Kaine, D-Va. (F, 0%). Apparently, they must believe that the secretary of state’s position on a scientific theory is more important than his views on how to deal with real foreign relations problems.
Trump’s the attorney general nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. (C, 78%), also received questions about climate change. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. (F, 6%) told Sessions that as attorney general he would be in a position to bring actions that relate to carbon emissions and climate change. At that point Whitehouse asked: Would he rely on “real facts and real science?” Whitehouse was pushing Sessions to agree that he would prosecute climate change “skeptics.” He tried the same thing earlier with Attorney General Loretta Lynch. During a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting last March, Whitehouse urged Lynch to prosecute those “who pretend the science of carbon emissions’ dangers is unsettled,” particularly those in the “fossil fuel industry” who, Whitehouse asserted, have constructed a “climate denial apparatus.”
There is no legitimate role in science for political influence or threats of prosecution for dissent.
Sessions, like Tillerson, diplomatically recognized the plausibility of climate change, yet pointed out that “honesty and integrity in that process is required.” Hopefully, this means that he will reverse the actions of Loretta Lynch who told Whitehouse that she had referred the issue to “the FBI to consider whether or not it meets the criteria for which we could take action.” The Justice Department should not be investigating or prosecuting those who hold disfavored views regarding scientific controversies.
Finally, the Democrats found nominees where questions about the environment actually make sense: Scott Pruitt, the nominee for the Environmental Protection Agency, and Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont. (F, 33%) nominee for the Department of Interior.
Asked by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. (F, 17%) for his “personal opinion” on the issue of climate change, Pruitt responded — as any good lawyer should — that his “personal opinion is immaterial.” Similarly, Zinke acknowledged the “debate over the human role in climate change,” but called for an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy. Instead of bowing down to political correctness, Zinke and Pruitt took the more scientific approach of acknowledging the theory but questioning whether it has been definitively proven.
No one questions that we should continue studying climate change, whether it is actually occurring or not, and if so, what is causing it. But that needs to be done without theatrics, using rigorously appropriate scientific methods. There is no legitimate role in science for political influence or threats of prosecution for dissent.
Cabinet members in national security, economic, and other positions that do not have environmental policy as their primary (or even secondary) remit should be allowed to focus on their real jobs, rather than being side-tracked into dealing with preening politicians’ pet causes. Their focus should be on the threats that we face in terms of confronting stagnant growth, a ballooning debt, deteriorating social conditions, and increased crime in some of our inner cities, and the many enemies we face abroad including dangerous terrorist groups who are dedicated to our destruction.
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Hans A. von Spakovsky is a Senior Legal Fellow at The Heritage Foundation and the coauthor of “Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk” and “Obama’s Enforcer: Eric Holder’s Justice Department.” Nicolas Loris is the Heritage Foundation’s Herbert and Joyce Morgan Fellow in Energy and Environmental Policy.