The 114th Congress convenes this week. The last time a Congressional anti-science caucus was this strong may have been during the Scopes Monkey Trial ninety years ago. But that’s not the worst part of it: The folks who want to gut government research and deny climate change are virtually guaranteed perpetual reelection and jobs for life.
Let’s get straight to the moral of this story: Entrenched anti-science sentiment isn’t going away. Not soon, maybe not in our lifetimes. Every one of the most ardent congressional climate deniers who ran for reelection in 2014, most by runaway margins, and probably has a job for as long as he or she wants them. A landscape of gerrymandered “safe” districts and wide-open campaign cash spigots make their futures even safer, even as their behavior helps make our own a little more bleak.
Chris Stewart handily won a second term for his Utah congressional seat over a state senator. As a freshman, he chaired the House Environmental Subcommittee. In 2013, he dismissed human-influenced climate change in the Salt Lake Tribune, citing scientific uncertainty, “questionable” claims, and the motives of “radical environmentalists” as drivers behind a dubious debate.
But Stewart’s 27-point win was a squeaker compared that of his committee boss. Lamar Smith is a veteran congressman from San Antonio who ran the full House Science Committee for the last two years. While Smith embraces the language of climate denial, his portfolio is wider than that. Otherwise a solid opponent of Big Government intervention, Smith has targeted about forty National Science Foundation grants for congressional scrutiny. Democrats couldn’t muster a candidate to run against him in November, and he swamped two third-party candidates by capturing more than 70 percent of the vote. Smith’s Science Committee vice chair is Dana Rohrabacher of California. The veteran scientist-kicker romped by 29 points.
When it comes to sneering at science and cringing at climate claims, the Texas Congressional delegation is in a league of its own. Joe Barton, who famously issued an apology to BP after its 2010 oil spill, is pushing a bill to open up oil exports. He powered to a 25 percent win over his Democratic challenger.
Also elected was Texas dentist Brian Babin, an enthusiast for both energy independence and the Keystone XL pipeline. The Texas 36th district could benefit mightily from approval of the Keystone, which would have a terminal refinery in Port Arthur — a perfect spot to undercut energy independence by exporting Keystone’s oil. Just like Joe Barton wants. Babin drilled Democratic opponent Michael Cole: 76 percent to 22 percent.
Just north of Babin’s district is that of Louie Gohmert. For him, “crackpot” is too polite a discriptor. Gohmert has warned that a loosely patrolled border would lead to a brisk import trade in “terror babies.” In October, he lashed out at the Obama administration, which he characterized as so overwrought about climate change that it was willingly allowing Ebola to eat us alive. A month later, Gohmert beat his Democratic challenger by 55 points.
Then, there’s the rookie field. New congressman Glenn Grothman may have only won his Wisconsin seat by a relatively paltry 16 percent, but he’s busting out of the gate on this “environment stuff,” including the so-called War on Coal.
In Virginia, conservative college professor Dave Brat trounced another college professor by 24 points after ousting House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the primary. Brat believes climate change isn’t a big deal because “rich countries solve their own problems.”
In Georgia, we’re losing an anti-science giant. In 2012, Congressman Paul Broun became a viral video sensation when he told a small-town gathering that evolution was “lies straight from the pit of hell.” But Georgia will not miss a beat; in fact, Broun’s replacement may well be an anti-science upgrade. Jody Hice is a conservative radio talk show host who doesn’t stop at denying climate change — he denies that Islam is a religion, but acknowledges that it’s well on its way to overthrowing America. Voters rewarded him with a two-to-one margin of victory. I strongly suggest you keep regular track of his congressional pronouncements by watching the The Daily Show.
Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, the grandpappy of climate denial, won reelection by nearly forty points. He next runs, if he wants, in 2020, just before his 86th birthday. Martha Blackburn, the Tennessee congresswoman who waged war on energy-efficient lightbulbs, unplugged her Democratic challenger by 44 points — and in December, got a rider attached to the huge omnibus spending bill to block the Department of Energy’s new lightbulb efficiency standards. John Shimkus of Illinois, who famously dismissed the possibility of climate change by quoting the Book of Genesis on the House Floor, crushed an obscure Democrat by a three-to-one margin. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, new chair of the Government Oversight Committee and a fifty-point victor in November, will give the Benghazi treatment to the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies via a newly created subcommittee. Wyoming’s Cynthia Lummis, freshly reelected by a three-to-one margin, will chair the new government entity responsible for limiting government growth. Her pet cause during the last Congress was dismantling the Endangered Species Act.
Defying science, even in clumsy and ignorant ways, carries no political consequence for many American officeholders. Until it does, the consequences are ours to own.