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Health Team

Climate hearings stoke division over 'fairy tale' Green New Deal, Trump's commitment to science

Posted February 26, 2019 5:00 p.m. EST

— On Tuesday, Congress held the first of what will be several hearings this week on the challenges of climate change. But the hearings could not avoid partisan comments about the Green New Deal and the Trump administration's plan to have a controversial climate change skeptic lead a White House committee to scrutinize climate science.

The Green New Deal, a Democratic proposal introduced to Congress on February 7 that would cut carbon emissions, foster green development and push renewable energy, was a target at the US House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on how federal infrastructure policy could help the country mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, implored members to find common ground and focus on "pragmatic yet effective solutions to mitigate carbon emissions and provide for resilient infrastructure," rather than "spar over the Green New Deal." However, ranking member Sam Graves, R-Missouri, spent the bulk of his opening statement doing just that and criticized the proposal as a "fairy tale."

"Who actually believes that we can make aviation unnecessary by building some vast high-speed rail system? Because right here in the real world, the poster child for high-speed rail in California has simply run off the tracks, right before our eyes," Graves said with a laugh.

The US Department of Transportation announced last week that it was canceling $929 million in grant funds for the state's high-speed rail system. The system would have run from San Francisco to Los Angeles, but the state scrapped the project a week earlier because it would have cost too much and taken too long to build.

Graves said that the Green New Deal's "massive shift" from air to rail travel would put 11.5 million people in the aviation sector out of work and that the plan itself would cost trillions of dollars. "There are some real consequences of pursuing this fantasy proposal," he said.

"We don't need sweeping mandates that ignore economic reality and differing needs within our communities. That heavy-handed approach which is envisioned in the Green New Deal doesn't work," Graves said.

Nearby at a House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife hearing, Rep. Mike Levin, D-California, called it a "long-overdue discussion." He asked witnesses about the Trump administration's plan to review climate science, led by a climate change skeptic with "no formal training" on the topic: physicist William Happer, who once compared the "demonization" of carbon dioxide to Adolf Hitler's treatment of the Jews.

Levin asked climate scientist Brad Udall what he thought of Happer's statement that doubling carbon dioxide emissions "won't make a big difference."

"That statement is not accurate," Udall said. Increased CO2 emissions are actually considered the biggest contributor to climate change, according to government research.

"When Chevron tells us that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is right, as it recently did, and Exxon says we need a carbon fee, I think the debate is over if this is a real issue and we need to do something about it,' Udall said.

Also Tuesday, the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing intended to compare the fossil fuel industry's tactics to "manufacture doubt" about climate change to those used by the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries and the NFL.

"In each of these cases, science showed a clear risk, but industry distorted the science to keep selling their product," Chairman TJ Cox, D-California, said in his opening statement.

But in a highly unusual move, Republicans made a motion to adjourn the hearing, suggesting that the topics were outside of the subcommittee's purview; the motion passed 4-2. Democrats turned the hearing into a forum in order to continue listening to witnesses' testimony on the issue.