Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) wrote the letter after a March hearing at which he challenged EPA head Gina McCarthy to answer specific questions about whether the models her agency uses have correctly predicted various climate events. "Although questions regarding the impacts of climate change were clear and straightforward, none of the questions received direct answers, and many responses contained caveats and conditions," Sessions wrote in the Wednesday letter, which was also signed by Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), all members of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which hosted the hearing.
Last year, the climate crisis left congressional Republicans in an awkward position. If GOP lawmakers accepted the science, they'd have to do something to deal with the catastrophe, and they simply didn't want to. If GOP lawmakers denied the science, they'd look like fools.
So they eagerly embraced a poll-tested dodge: "I'm not a scientist." It was a convenient way to avoid any responsibility at all. It was also a cowardly and ridiculous posture that exacerbates a crisis that continues to intensify.
Complicating matters, however, is the fact that Republicans can't seem to stick to their own position on willful ignorance. Consider, for example, the GOP senators who this week began pressing the Environmental Protection Agency to justify its climate models in more detail.
I understand the basic point of the letter. The four far-right senators want to compare previous EPA projections against actual climate results. If there are inconsistencies -- for example, if global warming proved to be even worse than previously believed -- the Republican lawmakers will conclude that the EPA models are unreliable and a poor basis for future policymaking.
But all of this is predicated on a bizarre assumption the senators themselves don't believe: they're willing to consider legitimate evidence and shape public policy accordingly.
Or put another way, why would Sessions, Inhofe, Wicker, and Barrasso even ask the question to the EPA when the EPA's answer won't make any difference with them?
If Gina McCarthy responds with evidence that the climate models are correct, the climate deniers will still be climate deniers. If she responds by explaining instances in which the models were off, the climate deniers will still be climate deniers. If she sets fire to the senators' letter and offers no response at all, the climate deniers will still be climate deniers.
For goodness sake, Inhofe recently brought a snowball to the Senate floor, convinced that snow in the northeast during the winter was evidence that climate science is illegitimate. In what universe will he be swayed by a compelling EPA response to insincere questions?
GOP lawmakers should probably pick a posture and stick with it. Pretending that science does and doesn't count at the same time isn't doing them any favors.