It’s very hard to have a debate with someone when your underlying assumptions are radically different. Inevitably, things will get pretty heated.
That’s what happened at a House Energy and Environment Subcommittee hearing this morning on “The Role of Offsets in Climate Legislation.” Chairman Edward Markey (D-Mass.) attempted to engage six expert witnesses in a nuanced discussion of the merits of carbon offsets. But he was essentially preempted by denials and occasional hostility from several Republicans on the subcommittee.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, opened his response to Markey by saying, “I’m not sure we need climate change legislation, as you well know, Mr. Chairman, but if we do need it, offsets might be something we could do theoretically, if they work, which I don’t think they do.”
Fair enough, although it raises questions about the purpose of the debate (and Barton didn’t help his case when he said later, “I’m probably below average in my ability to understand these things”). But Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) really took it to another level when he started berating the witnesses, who despite their different perspectives agreed on the general need to address climate change.
First, Shimkus asked all of the witnesses whether cap-and-trade legislation with offsets would raise energy prices, and insisted on a yes-or-no answer. Every witness attempted an “it depends” response but was quickly and rudely cut off by Shimkus — everyone, that is, but the last witness, whom Shimkus told not to bother to answer.
He then had the following exchange with one of the witnesses, Graeme Martin of Shell Energy:
Shimkus: What’s the advantage of cap-and-trade over a carbon tax?
Martin: A cap-and-trade program gives you environmental certainty. …
Shimkus: So you don’t trust the government to use the tax revenue?
Martin: No, that’s not it, it’s –
Shimkus: No, I think it is.
[End of conversation.]*
At least Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) had a sense of humor about his disagreement with the hearing’s premise when he told Markey, “I’ll listen to your outrageous proposal with an open mind.”
The hearing was a window into what will certainly be a very strange debate, as Congress weighs the details of legislation whose underlying principles are vehemently denied by a large percentage of the lawmakers on the right side of the aisle. It’s akin to discussing the organization of an evolution textbook with someone who doesn’t even believe in evolution, let alone that it should be taught in schools.
Ultimately, if this legislation is going to pass, it’s going to have to squeak by with some concessions to moderates, and the climate change deniers will be left largely out of the debate.
*Some of the wording of this exchange is slightly paraphrased, due to the sluggishness of my note-taking. Apologies.