Sen. Whitehouse demands HHS nominee explain how we can trust him with health policy if he denies settled science


President-elect Donald Trump's Secretary of Health and Human Services-designate Tom Price already had some serious ethics questions to answer. But at his confirmation hearing Wednesday, Price was on the hot seat over another area of grave concern: His dismissal of climate science.

Secretary of Health and Human Services-designate Tom Price faced stiff questioning at his confirmation hearing, including from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who wisely questioned Price's ability to run a science-based department while ignoring the basic facts of climate science:

WHITEHOUSE: These groups, and many others, have gone very clearly on record that climate change presents significant health issues. They signed a declaration on climate change and health, which stated that the science is clear, that this is happening. You, on the other hand, have said that the carbon pollution standards of the Obama administration "go against all common sense" and that "there are errors and obfuscation in the allegedly 'settled science' of global warming." I'll pursue this with you through questions for the record because my time has expired. But if you could give a brief answer, because it appears to every scientific organization in the country, all the legitimate major ones, and to really every American university, that this actually is pretty darn settled science, and that the only people who disagree with it are people that have vast financial interests in preventing any work getting done. And it looks to me like, in making this statement, you have taken the side of those vast special interests against actually settled science. And if we can't trust you on science that is as settled as climate science, how can we trust you on public health science issues? Where there's a big special interest on the other side?

PRICE: I don't agree with the premise of the insinuation. But I will say that the climate is obviously changing. It is continuously changing. The question from a scientific standpoint is what effect does human behavior and human activity have on that, and what we can do to mitigate that. And I believe that is a question that needs to be studied and evaluated and get the best minds available —

WHITEHOUSE: Start by finding me a university that thinks the way you do.

Agree with the "premise" or not, Price did actually say what Whitehouse quoted him as saying. The statements were made in a press release which is no longer on his website (emphasis mine):

"The Democrats' plan to impose a national energy tax in Congress has collapsed under the weight of public scrutiny," said Congressman Price. "Now the Obama administration is trying to sneak this job-killing scheme through the back door with oppressive bureaucratic dictates. Unfortunately, this administration has shown little regard when its partisan agenda conflicts with the will of the American people. The EPA's unilateral decision to regulate carbon dioxide would impose a de facto national energy tax on every sector of the economy and push our struggling job-creators off a cliff. This decision goes against all common sense, especially considering the many recent revelations of errors and obfuscation in the allegedly "settled science' of global warming. A national energy tax is a surefire way to make the U.S. uncompetitive in the global economy. The American people don't want it, and the Obama administration shouldn't try to impose it by fiat."

Price is not the only Trump nominee to tap-dance around climate science, and adopt the currently-popular dodge that says we ought to endlessly debate the effects of human activity on climate change while we choke the planet with more fossil fuels. Whitehouse's grilling, however, is another reminder that Democrats will not let this crucial issue go unexamined.

With all the clouds of scandal hanging over Trump nominees, it is important not to lose sight of their manifest lack of qualifications. Whitehouse was absolutely right to point out that someone who denies climate science has no place regulating an industry in which special interests peddle junk science to public detriment.

It is also important, as my colleague Melissa McEwan notes, "that we have a person overseeing the Department of Health and Human Services who respects the scientific consensus that we no longer treat mental illness with lobotomies; effects of misogyny with hysterectomies; being gay with conversion therapy; being a poor woman of color with sterilization."

The stakes are literally a matter of life and death.