Erik the Red, that trickster, snagged another one: Sen. Roger Wicker.
The Mississippi Republican said Wednesday that "Greenland used to be green" and once provided fertile farmland as he tried to make the claim that global warming isn't human-caused because "the climate has always been changing." That view is at odds with most climate scientists who say current trends are driven by human activity, largely by burning greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels.
That Greenland was once an agrarian paradise is not correct. The ice sheet that covers 80 percent of its land is thousands of years old. Its name was a marketing gimmick by Erik the Red, a viking who was exiled from Iceland around the year 982 and needed to convince people to join his new colony. Some farming was possible on the country's fringes, but growing seasons were too short to support significant agriculture and dairy and livestock farming diminished due to overgrazing.
Wicker's comments underscored the heated partisan debate over climate change at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Democrats walked out of the hearing, preventing a vote on a bill that would allow governors to exempt their states from an Environmental Protection Agency climate change rule, which was finalized Monday, if they found it posed economic harm, significantly raised electricity rates or threatened the reliability of the power system.
"We had a level of civility when we were doing the highway bill and I thought that would endure," committee Chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., told reporters after the hearing. Republicans passed the bill later Wednesday off the floor with their 11 members and no Democrats present.
The committee markup disrupted the comity expressed by Inhofe and ranking Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer of California. The two began the hearing exchanging pleasantries over a compromise six-year highway bill the Senate passed last week, as Boxer gave Inhofe a tie patterned with "structurally deficient bridges," as Boxer described it.
Instead, the panel turned into familiar ground for political sniping over climate change, with Democrats, led by Boxer, suggesting the hearing should stop. Republicans said the EPA rule would raise energy costs and wouldn't do much to address global warming, while Democrats said Republicans were ignoring health benefits from reducing coal-fired power emissions and coastal destruction from rising sea levels.
"This has been a regulation that's been developed by the administration," said bill sponsor Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. "Yes, we should have this debate. This should be debated on both the floor of the House and the Senate. But that's not how this is set up right now."
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said that Republicans who dislike the rule should come up with a substitute rather than punt on or ax the Obama administration's plan, which aims to cut carbon pollution from power plants almost one-third below 2005 levels by 2030.
"What's your plan? Put your plan out there," he challenged his GOP colleagues.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., later responded that Republicans have put forth a plan, as he touted a bipartisan energy bill that passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last week on an 18-4 vote. The legislation doesn't deal specifically with climate change, but its supporters have said energy efficiency and other policies in it would lower emissions.
"It is focusing on clean energy and energy legislation that will actually help our country, help our economy," Barrasso said, later saying of the EPA rule, "The costs are real, the benefits are unproven."
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., offered an impassioned plea to Republicans to act on reducing emissions. She noted that lives were lost in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, the intensity of which climate scientists say was enhanced by warmer waters and rising sea levels attributed to climate change.
"Your states are not affected, our states are deeply affected," Gillibrand said to Republicans, most of whom represent interior states. "Consider the whole country. ... This is not just about money."