Climate change skeptic to chair the House natural resources committee

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Arkansas Republican Rep. Bruce Westerman has voted against the environment 96% of the time, according to the League of Conservation Voters.

The new House Republican majority has selected Arkansas Rep. Bruce Westerman to chair the House Committee on Natural Resources. The oil and gas enthusiast will lead the committee with jurisdiction over energy production, mining, and similar issues.

Westerman, a vocal opponent of efforts to address climate change and the harms of drilling, told E&E Daily on Thursday that he plans to push a pro-energy package as one of his first priorities for the pane, though he offered no specifics as to what that means. He told the Washington Post in October that he also hopes to investigate the administration's handling of offshore drilling rules. "We will have a lot of oversight hearings if I'm the chairman of the committee," he promised. "I think everybody probably understands that."

The fifth-term Republican says on his campaign website that he believes in "environmental stewardship," claiming, "As the only forester in the House of Representatives, I have been dedicated to restoring the health of our national forests."

But the Sierra Club said in 2017 that his proposed Resilient Federal Forest Act "would make clear-cutting forests easier and undermine environmental review" and would not lead to healthy forests nor solve the problem of forest fires.

The League of Conservation Voters gave him a career pro-environment score of just 4%, meaning that he opposed the group's positions 96% of the time since he was first elected in 2014.

A Westerman spokesperson did not respond to an American Independent Foundation inquiry about his anti-environmental record.

The progressive Center for American Progress included him in its March 2021 list of "Climate Deniers in the 117th Congress," citing his June 2017 comment at a hearing on federal lands:

I assume if climate's changing, it's changing in Arkansas, as well as other places. So I did a little research and found out the number of forest fires in Arkansas has actually decreased over the past 20 years. It's either held level or slightly decreased as our management has continued to increase. So apparently the climate change isn't affecting forest fires in my state. You would think even though it's a more moderate or temperate climate, if climate change was causing more fires we would see a lot more of them than what's in the baseline.

Though there is near-universal scientific consensus that climate change is real, human-caused, and a profound global threat, Westerman falsely said at a May 2015 committee hearing that it was "debatable" whether "carbon pollution is the biggest driver of climate change."

He told the Washington Post in October that while humans have contributed to carbon dioxide emissions, he does not believe dire consequences are imminent, saying: "Do I think we've only got 10 years left? No. I think we've got a lot longer left."

He has opposed efforts to curb climate change, including President Joe Biden's historic investments in electric vehicle and climate infrastructure, tweeting that the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act was "a lie designed to bring down the force of … economy-killing climate programs … onto the backs and into the wallets of every American family." He fought against implementing the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and belittled efforts to label the climate an emergency.

Westerman has also pushed for increased drilling for oil and gas with fewer environmental and safety regulations.

"It's time to reverse this downward trajectory and become fully energy independent," he urged in September as he introduced a bill to restrict the executive branch's regulation of drilling. "This is a pivotal part of the Republican commitment to America: that we will maximize American-made energy and reduce reliance on foreign countries."

Westerman has also backed construction of the dangerous Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, an aborted project that would have imported oil from Canada. Tar sands pipelines are notoriously susceptible to leaks. He asserted that doing so would bring "energy independence" to the United States, though Canada is a foreign country.

"It is time to build this pipeline, put our nation on the path to energy independence, and create thousands of good-paying jobs in the process," he said in a January 2015 press release.

The forestry and fossil fuel industries have rewarded Westerman's pro-industry record with hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions.

According to OpenSecrets, those rank as the top two industry sources of campaign cash donated to Westerman over the course of his political career.

Since 2013, OpenSecrets reports, Westerman has received at least $624,281 from forestry and forest products interests and $416,575 from the oil and gas sector.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.