The Republican-led war on science and reason escalated on Wednesday as science-deniers in the House introduced a bill that would reallocate federal research funding away from fields they deem politically untenable. The controversial legislation in question, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act, covers funding and policy for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the research division of the Department of Energy (DOE). The bill was problematic from the start, having been penned in secret without any input from Democratic committee members, who weren’t even shown the document until yesterday. Notorious climate-change-denier and committee chairman Lamar Smith (R), who has accused climate scientists of altering and suppressing evidence to suggest global warming, introduced the bill to unanimous Republican approval, and not a single vote from a Democratic committee member. The ranking Democrat on the board, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, criticized his colleagues for “partisan posturing” on an issue of tremendous import.
While certain areas received a boost in funding, the overall budget is $165 million less than the White House’s request. Within the NSF, a regulatory agency that awards grants for research, funding for geoscience, which includes climate change study, would be slashed $165 million, while the allocation for the social sciences, which often includes such unsavory studies as those that confirm the benefits of Medicare or decry gun-culture, will be cut in half, to $150 million. Funding for the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy will take a precipitous fall of almost $700 million. Moreover, the Republican climate-change thought police continue to take aim at climate change as the bill prohibits DOE scientists from engaging in any climate change research that “duplicates existing research,” a thinly-veiled gag on a scientific consensus that Republicans find uncomfortable.
This is only the latest in a long string of attacks on science and free expression by the House Science Committee, nicknamed the House Anti-Science Committee by more intelligent observers. Smith and his band of rejectionist zealots have placed dozens of prominent projects under threat of defunding, including such supposedly-useless investigations as research into arctic oil drilling, methane emissions into the atmosphere, and 35,000 walruses stranded by melting sea ice. While the purported reason for the scrutiny is that such vital research projects are not “in the national interest,” the real explanation would be that they aren’t in the oil and gas industry’s interest. The increasingly ridiculous and nonsensical committee, which has voted five times to decree that climate change is a myth, has become totally beholden to the dirty black gold of the Koch Brothers and other top oil and gas companies.
All of its Republican members receive extensive donations from the industry; indeed Smith himself just received a $10,000 gift from Koch Industries last month. This vital committee, meant to serve as a nonpartisan regulatory agency for unbiased scientific research that will drive America forward, has instead become little more than a thinly-disguised oil industry boardroom, stacked with members who have collectively received many millions in campaign contributions and lobbying fees from dirty energy companies. It is preposterous and unacceptable that an agency tasked with forwarding science should be hijacked by a small cache of elitist corporations with a vested interest in ignoring the dire prognosis of scientists worldwide.
Chairman Smith’s criteria of research that is “in the national interest” apparently doesn’t include climate change, which will undoubtedly impact tens of millions of Americans in the decades to come. No issue has the potential for anywhere near the long-term damage that climate change is bound to wreak on our country and our world, and yet Republicans would rather listen to the flow of their cash than the voice of reason. Money-induced ignorance continues to reign in the halls of power as Republicans, in the words of Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, “adopt an opportunistic approach to defunding certain areas of science that [they] either don’t agree with or where [they] don’t want to see what the results might actually be.” One can only wonder what the Republicans will argue when the South Texas oil fields are flooded by rising seas.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.