Lamar Smith’s No Climate Denier, Just a ‘Semi-Skeptic’

Lamar Smith chairs the house science committee.
Congressman Lamar Smith, who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, says he’s not a climate change denier, just a “semi-skeptic” hoping to get to the bottom of the Obama administration’s climate “agenda.”

At a fall constituent meet-and-greet on Tuesday, Congressman Lamar Smith, chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, rejected the suggestion that he doesn’t believe in human-caused climate change.

Two dozen constituents turned up at a South Austin community center to meet the Central Texas congressman, who’s been exercising his newly granted subpoena power by demanding raw data and internal correspondence from federal climate change researchers.

When one woman asked him about his reputation as a climate change denier, Smith said that he’s merely a “semi-skeptic” — that while he thinks human activity has “some effect” on the environment, he doesn’t know how much. (We do, in fact, know how much — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that human activity is the “dominant cause” of climate change.)

“I think the human component may actually be a small fraction of the contributing forces on climate change,” Smith said, listing other causes like “natural cycles” and changes in the tilt of the Earth’s axis over time. (Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have actually found that climate change has caused Earth’s axis to wobble slightly.)

Unconvinced, the woman pressed on: “But that’s something we can’t do anything about. If humans are affecting it, that would be something we could do something about.”

Smith countered that he doesn’t believe that what he described as an “infinitesimal” amount of human-produced carbon dioxide could be to blame for the planet heating up.

As chairman of the science committee, Smith oversees a $39 billion budget that includes operations at NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Science Foundation, and he plays a major role in determining where that money goes. His committee also has oversight of those agencies, a role he has relished as he subpoenas the scientists he believes are lying to the American people at Obama’s behest.

“In fact, I’ve issued eight subpoenas, so I’m warming to the task,” Smith said.

Smith’s goal? To ferret out out how — not whether — politically motivated government scientists are using what Smith believes are “skewed” numbers. Science agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), he said on Tuesday, are using cooked stats to overstate the effects of climate change, which Smith believes is itself part of President Barack Obama’s “agenda.”

Asked why he would subpoena NOAA’s internal emails when their research data is already publicly available, Smith said it’s the only way to sniff out what he says is “biased” data.

“The data is skewed. The data is biased. That’s not good science,” Smith said. “When I see government agencies skewing the data, that makes me very suspicious.”

Smith says he’s simply encouraging the nation’s highest-ranking climate scientists to perform “good science” before the government takes any “radical steps” to combat climate change, because “any step we take is going to be expensive, it’s going to be disruptive.”

Smith is also the sponsor of the 2014 “secret science” bill, which would require the EPA to use research that is publicly available and reproducible, something critics say is not only unnecessary but may skew findings away from the most scientifically sound conclusions, which might be drawn from private medical data or studies too large to easily reproduce. Smith’s bill passed the House, but a watered-down version stalled in the Senate. Either way, Obama has said he’d veto the legislation.

Now, Smith’s switching gears, ramping up the subpoenas and trying to convince his constituents that America’s foremost scientific thinkers need a lawyer-turned-career-congressman checking their work. It’s definitely a less-is-more approach: less science, more skepticism.

Hannah McBride, a bike commuter and Topo Chico guzzler, is an editorial fellow at the Observer. Previously, she wrote for the Boston Globe and screened calls for NPR's Car Talk.

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Published at 4:33 pm CST