Palmer, Who Doubts Climate Crisis, Picked for House Climate Crisis Committee

U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Alabama, Sixth District. (Source: U.S. House)

Alabama has a voice on the recently appointed House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, but whether “climate crisis” is in Rep. Gary Palmer’s vocabulary is in question.

Palmer, elected from Alabama’s Sixth District, is one of six Republicans appointed to the panel by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California. Democrats have a majority eight members appointed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, who said the panel would help Congress respond to “the existential threat of the climate crisis.”

Palmer, in a statement announcing his appointment, said he wants the committee to “focus on sensible solutions” but did not acknowledge a crisis and placed “climate change” in quotation marks.

That’s not a surprise to some local environmental activists. Palmer was described as a “known climate denier” by the Sierra Club’s Stephen Stetson, who called his appointment “further dismaying proof that congressional Republicans have no real plan to take action on what’s confronting us.”

He added. “Sadly, even with the economic threats posed by climate variability and droughts, Rep. Palmer isn’t prioritizing our concerns or needs.”

Yet, some hold out hope that extreme weather events and economic impacts of the changing climate will influence Republican policy makers to moderate their stances. Randy Haddock of the Cahaba River Society said he is “hopeful (members of Congress) will recognize and respond to the problems their constituents are having, even if they are reluctant to acknowledge the source of those problems is climate change.”

Haddock said climate models show that droughts may become longer and more severe during summer months, placing “extra stress on drinking water supplies and greater stress on ecosystem functions like assimilating discharges form wastewater treatment facilities and biodiversity protection.”

Municipalities, he said, “are already seeing how land-use decisions and climate change have combined to cause more frequent and more severe flooding,” he said.

Local Citizens’ Climate Lobby leader John Northrup called Palmer “a smart guy” who he hopes will “have his ears and mind open to a wealth of available evidence” to confront “the biggest crisis in human history.”

The congressman, who through a spokesperson said he did not have time for a BirminghamWatch interview, is a member — along with fellow committee member Morgan Griffith, R-Virginia — of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus. First elected in 2014, Palmer has a 1 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters and has argued that Congress never gave the Environmental Protection Agency the right to regulate greenhouse gases.

More Republicans Starting to Agree Climate Change is Real

However, Republicans on the panel represent a continuum of views on climate issues. The committee’s ranking minority member, Rep. Garret Graves, R-Louisiana, is from a state that is losing substantial amounts of shoreline to rising Gulf waters. That’s partly why he has said “to put your head in the sand and ignore that (climate is changing) I think is a real mistake for any party,” according to a recent Politico story.

How far that goes is to be determined as the panel prepares for its first meeting by early April. After committee chair Rep. Kathy Castor, D- Florida, met with Graves recently, she was unsure whether Republicans would seriously consider carbon-emission reductions. According to Politico’s March 1 Morning Energy report, she told reporters: “We talked about adaptation, mitigation, and emergency planning, but hopefully they will come to the table on the transition to clean energy, too. It will be difficult for him, I understand, but we’re talking about the future of the human race.”

Despite views of Palmer and the rest of its right wing, the House Republican leadership, faced with public reaction to extreme weather events and economic damage from occurrences such as the “cyclone bomb” in the Midwest, shows slight but increasing signs of conceding climate science and acknowledging that global warming is a federal problem.

In a post headlined “Committee roster exposes Republican fault lines,” E&E News reported on “the Republican climate evolution some activists have been claiming to see for years” as members of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee “called for bipartisan climate action that stresses ‘innovation,’ pleas that would have been stunning just a few years ago.”

If that were fully true, however, House Republican Francis Rooney of Florida would be on the committee. Rooney is the party’s most aggressive member in confronting climate change, according to the Washington Examiner. That he wasn’t selected, Rooney said, “shows (GOP leaders) are not quite where I am yet.”

Rooney’s appointment would have been welcomed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s Northrup. The congressman is the sole Republican cosponsor of the carbon tax-and-dividend bill (HR763) supported by Northrup’s bipartisan organization. “We see climate change not just as a huge threat, but also as an historic opportunity to promote a prosperous and more healthful future through robust energy innovation,” Northrup said.

House Select Committee Members

Republicans: Palmer, Graves, Griffith, Buddy Carter of Georgia, Carol Miller of West Virginia, and Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota.

Democrats: Castor, Mike Levin of California, Sean Casten of Illinois, Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon, Julia Brownley and Jared Huffman of California, A. Donald McEachin of Virginia, and Joe Neguse of Colorado.