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Senator Barrasso: Why Won't Congressional Democrats Permit Science Oversight Hearings? (PJM Exclusive)

Senator John Barrasso M.D. (R-WY), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Oversight in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, recently released a report [PDF]on the subcommittee’s work in the first year of the Obama Administration. The report has less to it than might be imagined — in the first year, the subcommittee has failed to meet or to hold a single hearing of its own. “There were exactly two hearings in 2009,” Barrasso said, “a joint hearing with the full committee on June 9th, and a joint hearing with the Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife on July 8th.”


The subcommittee was chartered by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, to perform oversight on the science involved with environmental issues. “Senator Boxer wanted the subcommittee to perform oversight on the Bush Administration, not the current administration,” Senator Barrasso said.  “We have made repeated requests to the chairman of the subcommittee [Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)] to hold hearings [in the past year] but no hearings have been held. It has been a lost year for science oversight in the Senate.”

“There have been plenty of reasons to hold hearings,” Barrasso said. “For example, in April 2009, Shawn McGibbon, a career attorney with Small Business Administration, wrote part of a memo saying the EPA had not considered the economic consequences of an Endangerment Finding for carbon dioxide.” When the memo became known, McGibbons was “smeared as a ‘Bush holdover'” even though she was hired during the Clinton Administration. Later, McGibbons was replaced by President Obama.

In another incident, Dr. Alan Carlin, a 39-year veteran of the EPA, prepared a report skeptical of the real human impact on the climate.  Carlin (who has since written several articles for Pajamas Media) was instructed not to disseminate the report and, as Kim Strassel reported in the Wall Street Journal, was denounced by “unnamed EPA officials” as a “climate change denier.” Dr. Carlin eventually left the EPA.

The release of the Climategate files in November of 2009 (reported here in Pajamas Media) is the major science oversight issue of the year.  In December, Dr. Carlin pointed out it was extremely unusual for the EPA to issue an Endangerment Finding based principally on an external source, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment Report Four (IPCC AR4).  Senator Barrasso’s report notes that in the Federal Register announcement of the EPA’s proposed Endangerment Finding,


The Administrator [EPA] has determined that the body of scientific evidence compellingly supports this finding. The major assessments by the U.S. Global Climate Research Program (USGCRP), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the National Research Council (NRC) serve as the primary scientific basis supporting the Administrator’s endangerment finding.

However, when asked about this, both Senator Boxer and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson insisted that the IPCC report had not been a major source. As ranking member, Senator Barrasso requested “an immediate investigation into this matter, including taking the necessary steps to prevent any further loss of related documents, e-mails, and other records that would shed some light into this matter.” Senator Whitehouse responded:

I do not believe that our subcommittee has any jurisdiction over this matter, which involves the theft by private individuals of emails stored in a British university’s computer system. Furthermore, to my knowledge, the government agencies over which the Oversight Subcommittee has jurisdiction were not involved in any of the exchanges contained in the stolen emails.

However, among the individuals addressed in the emails are Dr. James Hansen and Dr. Gavin Schmidt of NASA, and Tom Karl of the National Climatic Data Center. Senator Barrasso says these people, and others, work for organizations that are clearly under the jurisdiction of the committee. “Senator Whitehouse has taken a pass” on his responsibilities as subcommittee chair, Barrasso says.


The senator sees a pattern in these incidents. “The Obama Administration is establishing a record of mistreating career public servants who express opposing [scientific or legal] opinions. The Obama Administration promised transparency, openness, and to make decisions based on science, not politics. These issues deserve to be looked into, and the American people have a right to expect Congress to be doing its job.”

[Correction: This article originally said Mrs Shawn McGibbon was an employee to the Environmental Protection Agency, when it was in fact the Small Business Administration.  Her name was also misspelled.  PJM regrets the error.]

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