May 23 7:30 PM

House votes to defund reality

A plume of exhaust extends from the Mitchell Power Station, a coal-fired power plant built along the Monongahela River, southwest of Pittsburgh.
Jeff Swenson / Getty images

Earlier this month, the Obama Administration released the National Climate Assessment, a report on climate change that warned of consequences so dire it prompted environmentalists to call for action on the scale of a “wartime effort” to address the issues outlined in the report.

Now, House Republicans (and a few Democrats) are trying to ensure a report like that never gets issued again, and that its recommendations never get implemented.

On Thursday, 227 Republicans and four Democrats voted for an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) proposed by Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., that would prevent the Pentagon from spending money to carry out the policy recommendations from the National Climate Assessment or several United Nations reports on climate change and sustainability.

It’s unclear if the amendment will make it into the final version of the NDAA — the annual spending bill for the Department of Defense, which is worked out mutually between the Senate and the House. But the overwhelming support in the House highlights the increasingly obvious gap between elected Republicans (and a few Democrats) and pretty much every government agency.  

The military has long been aware that climate change is a real and growing threat to the United States. Most recently, in a report published by a government-funded nonprofit earlier in May, retired military officers warned that climate change has already stretched defense budgets and could cause disruptions in military operations.

But the consensus on the perils of climate change in the scientific community — and the increasing consensus among many government officials that something needs to be done about it — hasn’t prevented politicians from attempting to fluff their conservative cred and stop climate research and action in its tracks.

A report this week found that the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee  — led by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, has spent more time investigating the possibility of alien life than they have devoted to discussing climate change.

In January, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted against an amendment that would have put on record that the committee believes climate change is real and affected by greenhouses gases.

This science denial even seems to disrupt policy that has little to do with climate change.

Common core, the new educational standards favored by the Obama administration, has been challenged by many, including a group in Wyoming, which believes that its science curriculum has, “been influenced by political agendas that criticize the fossil fuel industry.”

All of the political opposition to climate science and policy has prompted the White House to look for institutional workarounds, moving climate policy by executive action. A big indicator of how serious the administration really is about bringing policy in line with the science could come to fruition on June 2, when the Environmental Protection Agency releases new rules aimed at reducing the amount of carbon and other pollutants U.S. power plants are allowed to emit.

Just like every piece of proposed climate legislation, those rules are facing harsh criticism from a significant cross-section of Capitol Hill. Forty-five Senators sent the EPA a letter this week asking them to delay the rule changes. Among those 45, a few Democrats … more than a few … as in 15.

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