Bring in the climate clowns

The Senate had its first climate change hearing of 2021 yesterday. Woof.

The Senate had its first climate change hearing of 2021 yesterday. It was chaired by coal-state Democrat Joe Manchin—expected to be a key vote in the success of President Joe Biden’s climate agenda—in his new position as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee.

The hearing’s intention, according to Manchin, was to set “a baseline of common facts” to talk about climate change. However, according to the folks at Climate Nexus, “many statements made at the hearing were not at all factual. “

Climate Nexus is a strategic communications group focused on climate. It has a daily newsletter called “Hot News,” which contains a broad overview of all the day’s top climate stories. (It’s a good complement to this newsletter, which focuses on one story per day). Hot News also often contains a so-called “Denier Roundup,” which points out and fact-checks the day’s most egregious and notable climate misinformation. Manchin’s climate change hearing is the subject of today’s Denier Roundup.

I asked the folks at Climate Nexus if they would allow me to re-publish their Denier Roundup in HEATED today so you all could stay informed about the climate goings-on in the Senate as I continue to work on a few other stories. They graciously agreed.

First, though, a little analysis from me.

Insidious, sophisticated climate denial on display

As you can see from the tweet embedded at the top of this post, yesterday’s Senate hearing provided a forum for fossil fuel-backed Republicans like Wyoming’s John Barrasso to test out their kinder, gentler type of climate change denial—a type that focuses not on the existence of climate change, but what is necessary to solve it.

Barrasso has historically denied the vast body of evidence showing climate change is real and caused by greenhouse gases. He now claims to be part of a good-faith, bipartisan effort to address the ongoing crisis.

Barrasso’s opening statement at yesterday’s hearing, however, showed that claim to be hot bullshit. It was a master class in oil industry-shaped strategic language that will allow the Republican Party to act like they’re concerned about climate change while still denying basic scientific reality: that fossil fuels are the primary climate problem, and must be significantly reduced to solve it.

Barrasso, of course, never said the words “reducing fossil fuels.” He said things like “Undermining America’s energy security” and “raising the cost of traditional energy sources.” Note his use of the word “energy,” as if fossil fuels are the only type of energy. Note his avoidance of what he’s actually talking about—Biden’s policies to reduce fossil fuel development and replace it with clean energy development—and his emphasis on what the oil industry says those policies would do.

You don’t need to be a genius to read between the lines. When Barrasso says “Undermining America’s energy security will not solve climate change,” he’s actually saying “reducing the use of fossil fuels will not solve climate change.” That’s climate denial.

When Barrasso says “Instead of raising the cost of traditional energy sources, we should work to lower the cost of alternate technologies like carbon capture and advanced nuclear reactors,” he’s actually saying, “Instead of reducing emissions from fossil fuels, we should spend many years developing unproven new technologies to remove fossil fuel emissions from the air and create safer nuclear power. Then when that’s done—if it’s ever done—we should spend many more years bringing the cost of those technologies down to compete with fossil fuels, which will still be priced artificially low because I refuse to impose the actual cost of pollution on this industry, or take away its billions of dollars in federal subsidies.” That’s not climate denial, but it’s pretty stupid.

As Biden presses on with his climate agenda, the fossil fuel industry is going to continue to push its talking points into the ears of Senators and millions of Americans.

The next one to keep an eye out for: liquid natural gas is climate-friendly. Who knew!

Anyway, Climate Nexus’ Denier Roundup from today is below. If you’d like to read more about yesterday’s hearing, check out coverage from the West Virginia Gazette-Mail and Grist—or watch the whole hearing yourself.

The Denier Round-up by Hot News from Climate Nexus

To begin yesterday’s hearing, Senator John Barrasso’s (R-WY) opening statement falsely claimed that the U.S. stopping fossil fuel use won’t change anything, and downplayed our contributions and contrasted it to China’s emissions. But the U.S. has emitted way more carbon dioxide over the last hundred and fifty years than any other country, and China is just starting to catch up. 

Sen. Barrasso also claimed that developing countries don’t consider climate change a priority. They absolutely do, and are adopting renewables at a greater rate than developed countries. By 2018, developing countries were adding more clean power than fossil fuels. 

As for the job losses invoked by multiple statements in the hearing, those figures almost certainly inflated by the covertly industry-funded front groups that made them up. In reality, Keystone XL would have only created 35 to 50 permanent jobs, so the threat of President Biden’s policies eliminating potential jobs pales in comparison to the jobs the industry is already shedding anyway.

The fossil fuel industry got $15 billion in pandemic aid last year, but still fired 75,000 workers, continuing a trend that started well before the COVID-19 crisis. Meanwhile, in the U.S., more than 3 million people work in wind, solar, efficiency, and similar fields. That’s more than the number of people employed as registered nurses, and just shy of the number working as school teachers

Republican-called witness Scott Tinker Director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas-Austin used his opening statement as an opportunity to plug his group, Switch Energy Alliance, with advisors from BP, and his movie SwitchOn, a film that was praised by the formerly Koch-funded Manhattan Institute’s Robert Bryce in Koch-funded RealClear.

SwitchOn focuses on “energy poverty,” a phrase previously exploited by Peabody Coal to exploit concern for global poverty and energy access to sell fossil fuels. It’s a sequel to his earlier film Switch, which was panned by climate scientists. It’s using very legitimate developing world concerns as distractions and excuses as part of his activism to consistently oppose US climate policy, downplay renewables and promote gas.

Tinker’s opening comments claimed the environmental impact of solar and wind are greater than fossil fuels, which is simply false

The other Republican witness,Mark Mills of The Manhattan Institute, focused on the critical earth mineral mining, essential for clean technology and regular technology alike. While global mining conditions certainly need improved labor and environmental standards, that’s as much an international supply chain standards issue as it is a climate one, as every computer and cell phone and even gas cars rely on those same minerals as well. But the EV industry is addressing the issue and working on recycling.

Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry’s human rights abuses are well-documented, with worker deaths and billions in environmental and economic damages. 

Mills’s attacks on electric vehicles as being dirty were also misplaced, as the average EV produces as much pollution as a car that would get 88 mpg, overall polluting less than half of what a regular gas car does.

Eventually, after being pressed on his statement that EV batteries require a hundred barrels of oil to produce, he admitted that the emissions from the battery production are in fact offset by the emissions saved over the course of the EV’s life.

At one point, Manchin asked about the Paris Agreement, whether the U.S., China, and everyone else can meet net zero by 2050, and if we can trust China’s government figures. After a science-based answer from Dr. Angel Hsu about how satellites can track emissions and how China appears to be making great progress, Manchin asked for other comments and Tinker spoke up.

Tinker repeated his previous argument that gas replacing coal negates the need for climate policy (or the Paris Agreement) despite the fact that methane emissions largely negate the climate benefit of the coal-gas switch and sustained gas use is long-term not compatible with even a disastrous a 3.6°F (2°C) pathway. To achieve that, 80 percent of proven fossil fuel reserves need to remain in the ground. 

Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) asked Mills about how if the U.S. stops drilling for oil, other countries with worse emissions-per-energy-unit will drill more, leading to more overall emissions. This ignores methane leaks in the U.S., which makes American gas particularly polluting—twenty times worse than Russian gas. So even compared to other nations, U.S. gas is actually quite dirty, leading to the cancellation of several major export projects and calling gas export policy into question.  

Unfortunately, one of the things that didn’t come up was one of our favorite facts discovered while researching the witnesses. In 2016, Tinker penned an op-ed arguing for a “radical middle” between the “alarmist” who claimed fracking was causing earthquakes and those they’d label deniers. He highlighted the TexNet project to study the issue as an example of such a radical middle position, a collaboration between his Bureau of Economic Geology at UT Austin, the state of Texas, and the oil industry. 

In 2019, the project showed that fracking actually was causing earthquakes.  

Catch of the Day:

A reader e-mailed me and asked me to pet Fish for her.

This is for you, Cara.

One last thing:

Senate confirmation hearings for Michael Regan, Biden’s nominee to lead the EPA, began yesterday. Check out the Washington Post’s coverage and E&E News’s coverage if you haven’t already. You can also check out his opening remarks in the tweet below.

OK, that’s all for today—thanks for reading HEATED! If you’d like to share this piece as a web page, click the button below.


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Stay hydrated, eat plants, break a sweat, and have a great weekend!