How Republicans Turned the House Science Committee Into A Big Oil Lobbying Arm
In an astounding demonstration of the power of corporate influence coupled with ignorance to overpower logic, common sense, and the public good, the Republican-dominated House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has been bought out by the oil and gas industry and their stooge, Representative Lamar S. Smith (R-TX), who was appointed head of the committee in 2013.
Smith has led a crusade against “rampant environmentalism” that has seen the House science committee, once a venerable and intellectual body, degenerate into a farcical circus run by science-denying Republicans who are perfectly willing to ignore facts and behave like absolute imbeciles in order to keep the money from the oil and gas industry flowing.
Over the course of his three years as chairman of the Science committee, Smith has fought what he calls the “climate-change religion” of the Obama administration, by which he apparently means facts. He’s launched a legal battle against administration over new air-pollution regulations that he claims are “not backed up by science,” despite the fact that they’ve been upheld by federal appeals courts, they’d save tens of thousands of American lives and produce more than $40 billion in health care savings, and, of course, they are in fact backed up by essentially universal consensus in the actual scientific community.
When the Supreme Court eventually overturned the EPA’s curbs on toxic emissions, a major part of Obama’s environmental plan, in June, the decision was not the result of any scientific misgivings but rather because the EPA had “failed to take into account the costs [of the regulations] to utilities and others in the power sector.” In other words, regulations that would make help to stop the poisoning of the planet and its inhabitants were overturned because they would cost the people poisoning the planet some money. Smith and his band of oil industry-financed lawyers and lobbyists were of course influential in lobbying the court to overturn the obviously beneficial legislation.
From that inauspicious beginning, Smith moved on to slash NASA’s budget for earth sciences and subject grant reviews at the National Science Foundation to extra scrutiny. He ostensibly supported these moves out of concerns for the budget, which has become a boogeyman nearly as powerful as Islamic terrorism that conservatives can use to eliminate anything they don’t like. However, given his support for increasing our already enormous military budget, anyone with common sense can see that such moves are merely meant to stifle the voices of those scientists who disagree with the delusional brand of climate-denial that the oil industry bosses in Houston tell him to peddle. And, given the general tendency of scientists to have brains and common sense, that has essentially meant that the House science committee is battling to keep scientists from publishing the truth, which, as former committee member and physicist Rush Holt (D-NJ) notes wryly, is “an interesting way to raise the profile of a science committee,” but not surprising given the “substituting of politics for evidence.”
Most recently, he has accused scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of manipulating data and rushing publication of a major study that refuted claims that global temperatures were stabilizing, all in order to “advance Obama’s extreme climate-change agenda,” extreme apparently meaning, in Smith’s mind, anything to the left of his own brand of lunatic conservative rejectionism. He eventually subpoenaed NOAA administrator Kathryn Sullivan and – surprise! – nothing amiss was found. That setback, however, hasn’t stopped him from issuing a subpoena to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy seeking her personal phone and text records that he somehow believes will reveal a malicious plot in the EPA’s new regulations on ozone emissions.
With such blatant idiocy and obstructionism coming from the head of the science committee, and with its meetings regularly descending into such kindergarten-level stupidity as claiming that snowballs disprove climate change and that melting ice caps aren’t a concern because melting ice cubes don’t cause a drink to overflow, one has to wonder whether these lawmakers are really this stupid or are simply acting on behalf of their donors, and willing to sacrifice their dignity and the good of humanity for a little extra cash. The answer, of course, is the latter, as the energy industry – or, non-euphemistically, the oil and gas industry – spends millions of dollars to put lawmakers in their pocket to protect their interests and bottom lines at the expense of tens of thousands of Americans and tens of millions of humans who will die from climate-change related causes in the coming decades.
Smith, whose home district in West Texas depends heavily on the oil and gas industry, is a prime case and point. Over the course of his career in Congress, Smith has received almost $650,000 from big oil and gas companies, making the industry his biggest financier and making him one of the largest recipients of oil industry buyouts in Congress. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the notorious snowball Senator, has received almost $500,000 from the energy industry, twice as much as any other group, and Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX), of ice-melt-doesn’t-raise-water-levels fame, has received some $120,000 from the energy industry. It is an absolute travesty that such idiots have been allowed to take over a government committee overseeing what is perhaps the most dangerous issue of our time and run it like a joke, and yet that is exactly what a dangerous combination of unfettered corporate purchasing of lawmakers and delusional conservative anti-intellectualism have produced, and it is truly a tragedy for our country and for the planet.
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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.