White House science pick gives climate skeptic a pass

Source: Scott Waldman, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, August 27, 2018

President Trump’s likely science adviser revealed how he might handle questions about climate change from a boss who has called it a hoax.

Kelvin Droegemeier, an extreme weather expert who told lawmakers that politics has no place in science, did not publicly correct a senator who misrepresented scientific conclusions about rising temperatures during his confirmation hearing yesterday.

That aside, it was clear that Droegemeier enjoys bipartisan support as Trump’s nominee to oversee the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who has been sharply critical of Trump’s other science picks, said Droegemeier already had his vote.

“If confirmed, you have a tough task ahead of you, but I think a lot of us on this committee are going to be happy that you’re the White House science adviser,” he said.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), perhaps the fiercest critic of climate science in the Senate, proudly introduced Droegemeier, who works at the University of Oklahoma. Inhofe noted the nominee’s wide base of support.

“There is no one in America who is better-qualified for this position than he is; Democrats and Republicans agree with that,” Inhofe said.

During the hearing, Droegemeier did not correct lawmakers who espoused views that are contradictory to mainstream science. He said he was “excited” to work on climate science and quickly turned to computer models, which some Republican senators have attacked as inaccurate.

“I think we need improvements in climate models,” Droegemeier said.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has aggressively attacked climate science by using data out of context and who has held hearings designed to inflate the amount of doubt in the field, offered a familiar talking point from those who reject the scientific consensus on climate change. Cruz asked Droegemeier whether he was familiar with satellite data that show the Earth has not warmed in 18 years.

“Yes, I’m familiar with some of the studies; I don’t study climate personally, but I’m aware of those studies,” Droegemeier replied.

In fact, 17 of the last 18 years have been the warmest in the era of modern record-keeping, and this year is on track to be the fourth-hottest behind 2015, 2016 and 2017. NASA, NOAA and other science agencies around the world state that it’s connected to human-caused global warming. In addition, some regions of the Earth, including the Arctic, are now considered to be in a “new state” because they have warmed so substantially.

Cruz has made the same point in the past by using a short window of temperature data, rather than a fuller record dating back to 1880. Since then, average global temperatures have increased by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Observations also show that it’s accelerating. Two-thirds of that warming has occurred since 1975.

In 2015, while the Paris climate accord was being negotiated, Cruz held a hearing on climate science with a handful of researchers who disagree with mainstream findings.

At the hearing yesterday, Cruz suggested that politicians who accept climate science and craft policy in response to it are not following the facts. Droegemeier did not push back on his assertions.

“Should questions of policy concerning science be dictated by actual data and evidence rather than political agendas of members of Congress who want to expand government control over the economy?” Cruz asked.

“Certainly my role, if I’m confirmed as director of OSTP, is to bring unbiased science, the best science available, to the executive branch, to all parties to make sure that information is at the table and available for policymaking,” Droegemeier replied.

“Do you believe there is only one acceptable and permissible view when it comes to issues of climate?” Cruz asked.

“I know that there are multiple views to me, senator; I welcome all points of view,” Droegemeier replied. “As a scientist, I get very concerned, and I’ve read articles where they say, ‘OK, this particular viewpoint is science, not climate necessarily, but whatever is absolutely settled.’ Science rarely provides immutable answers about anything. We thought we understood the atom, and now there is quarks and subatomic particles, so we have to be open and inclusive to all points of view. Science I think is the loser when we tend to vilify and marginalize other voices; I think we have to have everyone at the table talking about these things and let the science take us where it takes us, and that’s certainly where I’ve run my career.”

Droegemeier was not asked directly whether he accepts basic climate science.

Also at the hearing, Trump’s pick to take the No. 2 slot at NASA, which conducts the bulk of the nation’s climate research, tiptoed around mainstream climate science by expressing uncertainty about the strength of researchers’ confidence regarding people’s role in warming.

James Morhard was nominated to be NASA’s deputy administrator after serving as deputy sergeant-at-arms in the Senate. Morhard, a former lobbyist, has little space experience and was appointed even though NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said he wanted a “space professional” for the job.

“I believe the climate is changing and that man has a significant impact on it,” Morhard said when asked by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) whether he accepted the consensus on climate science.

“Do you agree that is the dominant driver of climate change?” Markey asked.

“I can’t speak authoritatively on that, senator, to make that statement,” Morhard replied.

Morhard did say that federal science must be conducted without political influence, and he promised not to interfere in NASA’s research.

“I certainly, if confirmed, would work to ensure that there is no distortion or disregard for science and scientific evidence,” he said. “If we compromise on it, we won’t have science, so I can assure you I think it’s critical there is no influence on the outcome of the scientific method.”

The Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee scheduled a vote on both nominations for Wednesday. A full vote on the Senate floor is expected soon after that.