When Democratic senators sought last week to put the U.S. Senate on record as agreeing that climate change is real, a lone Republican stood out as the biggest skeptic of all: Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker.
Wicker was the dissenter in a 98-1 vote that global warming is not a “hoax.”
Even Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee who has called claims that humans are causing global warming “the biggest hoax” perpetrated on mankind, agreed that climate change is real. So did Mississippi’s senior Senate Republican, Thad Cochran.
In a second vote, Inhofe, Wicker and other Republicans narrowly blocked, by 50-49, a proposed “sense of the Senate resolution” declaring that human activity contributes “significantly” to climate change.
The votes came amid contentious debate over Republicans’ push to authorize construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline to carry crude oil from Canada through Nebraska to refineries in the Texas Gulf Coast. President Barack Obama has threatened in the past to veto the legislation on environmental grounds.
A big concern is that the oil is being pumped from Canadian tar sands, a locale that produces a type of oil that when burned produces large volumes of greenhouse gases.
Wicker charged that the amendment by Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island affirming the existence of climate change was “a word game ... designed to stop the construction of the Keystone pipeline by suggesting it would cause global warming,”
The Mississippi senator was unabashed about taking what appeared to be the most extreme position in the Senate, at least that day, amid polls showing that a majority of Americans believe climate change is accelerating because of carbon emissions from power plants, vehicles and other human sources.
“My record is very clear on this issue, and I will not change my position based on a political show vote,” Wicker said in a statement to McClatchy. “Scientific research is advanced by asking questions and allowing for multiple viewpoints. With so much at stake – our economy, our livelihoods, and our environment – we should be tolerant of differences of opinion.”
Wicker is no country bumpkin. A lawyer and the son of a circuit judge, he speaks eloquently and makes his arguments in measured tones, not out of pique.
Still, Wicker’s vote on Wednesday seemed almost a show of defiance just a day after Obama stood in front of the Congress during his State of the Union Address Tuesday night emphasizing that government scientists had declared 2014 the warmest year on record and the 18th straight year in which average global temperatures had risen.
Wicker was unfazed by those figures from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, citing a petition signed by 31,487 scientists who contend the evidence that humans are the culprit is not definitive.
“The facts are in dispute about whether significant warming has occurred at all over the past two decades,” he said. “There is a considerable body of scientific work to indicate that there has been no appreciable global temperature rise in the past 15 to 20 years. Anyone who refuses to acknowledge this continuing debate has simply not read all of the material available.”
Wicker has been forceful in trying to protect Mississippi’s electric utilities in the face of the administration’s proposed response to global warming – to dramatically cut emissions from coal- , oil- and gas-fired power plants.
Last summer at a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, he assailed the plan while questioning Administrator Gina McCarthy of the Environmental Protection Agency.
“There has been no rise in global average temperatures over the past 17 years,” he told her, while defending as “reliable and economical” the use of coal to fuel electric power plants.
Wicker held up a petition from the Global Warming Petition Project, the group that rounded up more than 31,000 signatures challenging the consensus on global warming, including more than 9,000 from PhD scientists. It read: “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane or other greenhouse gases is causing or will cause in the foreseeable future catastrophic heating of the earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the earth’s climate.”
Wicker said he resents “the drumbeat from the other side of the aisle, that the science is over, it’s been decided and everyone who disagrees is somehow some sort of a quack.”
He told McCarthy that the administration’s targets for slashing carbon dioxide emissions “would be disastrous for our economy” and would have “miniscule impact on the environment.”
“I believe the climate has changed numerous times over the course of history and that these changes have happened naturally,” he told McClatchy. “To the extent that there has been some warming over the past century, I do not think it was caused by human activity.”