WASHINGTON — The Senate rejected the scientific consensus that humans are causing climate change, days after NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared 2014 the hottest year ever recorded on Earth.
The Republican-controlled Senate defeated a measure Wednesday stating that climate change is real and that human activity significantly contributes to it. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, offered the measure as the Senate debated the Keystone XL pipeline, which would tap the carbon-intensive oil sands in the Canadian province of Alberta.
The Senate voted 50-49 on the measure, which required 60 votes in order to pass.
“Only in the halls of Congress is this a controversial piece of legislation,” Schatz said.
The chairman of the environment committee, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., is an enthusiastic denier of climate change, saying it is the “biggest hoax” perpetrated against mankind.
“The hoax is there are some people so arrogant to think they are so powerful they can change the climate,” Inhofe said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “Man can’t change the climate.”
The Senate, with Inhofe’s support, did pass a separate measure saying that climate change is real — just not that human activity is a cause. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., was the only senator to vote against it.
The Democrats pushed for the climate change votes as an attempt to get Republicans on the record in advance of the 2016 elections, with polls showing that a majority of Americans believe humans are causing global warming. The votes were offered as non-binding amendments to the bill authorizing construction of Keystone.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, urged her colleagues to vote against the finding that climate change is significantly caused by humans.
Murkowski, chairwoman of the energy committee, has expressed worries about the impact of climate change on her state. But she said on the Senate floor that the fact the measure included the word “significantly” was enough to merit voting against it.
Some Republican senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have dodged the issue of whether humans are causing climate change, often using the talking point that “I’m not a scientist.”
President Barack Obama mocked the “I’m not a scientist” line in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night.
“Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what? I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities,” Obama said.
Scientists from NASA and NOAA announced last week that 2014 was the hottest year on record, continuing a warming trend that the scientists attributed to greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels.
Just five Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, joined the Democrats on Wednesday in voting for the finding that human activity significantly contributes to climate change.
Graham said he’s not a scientist, but that he has heard enough from scientists on the issue to be convinced.
He rejected Democratic arguments that approving the Keystone XL pipeline would worsen climate change, though, maintaining that the Canadian oil sands are going to be developed even if the pipeline is not built.