Bridenstine’s Climate Change Stance Could Adversely Impact Confirmation Vote

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

Rep. Jim Bridenstine’s nomination to become the next NASA administrator has already run into trouble, with Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) expressing concerns over appointing a politician to lead an agency that has enjoyed broad bipartisan support and has been mostly free of the sharp partisan divisions that have led to gridlock in Congress in recent years.

Some media reports have suggested that Rubio is angry at Bridenstine’s attacks upon him when he ran for president, a charge the Florida senator denies. Bridenstine first backed Ted Cruz’s bid, then switched to Donald Trump after Cruz dropped out of the race.

Or it could be the conservative Oklahoma Republican’s floor speeches, which include one in which he claimed President Barack Obama “dishonesty, incompetence, vengefulness and lack of moral compass lead many to suggest that he is not fit to lead.” His opinion of Vice President Joe Biden was hardly better. “The only problem is that his vice president is equally unfit and even more embarrassing,” Bridenstine said.

Did I mention Bridenstine is a strong Trump supporter? Let that sink in for a moment.

Aside from the concerns about partisanship, there is one other issue that could cause Senators to vote against Bridenstine when his nomination is considered later this year: climate change, also known as global warming.

A couple of years back, Bridenstine made an 1 minute 6 second speech on the House floor that laid out his views on the subject.

These sentiments clearly played well back home in Oklahoma, whose economy is heavily dependent on the oil, gas and coal that workers can extract from the ground. Accepting that human created climate change is a real and must be addressed is a serious threat to the state’s economy.

However, in seeking to lead NASA, Bridenstine would be stepping into a national agency with a substantial climate change research portfolio. The space agency’s Earth Science budget, which includes climate change research, totals $1.9 billion in the current  2017 fiscal year.

The first part of his speech is composed of standard Republican talking points on global warming. There are serious questions about the accuracy of these claims. Rather than go through them one by one, I would point you to detailed rebuttals of them based on science that can be found here.

Bridenstine saved his most spectacular and partisan charge for the very end of the speech. At about 50 seconds, he accuses the Obama Administration of spending 30 times more on climate change than on weather forecasting and demands an apology from President Obama to the tornado ravished people of Oklahoma.

What pieces of evidence did Bridenstine present to back up the 30-to-1 ratio? None. No charts. No tables. No graphics. No facts. No figures. No evidence. No nothing.  He merely states it as fact, promises legislation to address the imbalance, and ends his speech.

So, how accurate is the 30-to-1 ratio? PolitiFact rated the charge as mostly false after it drilled down into the numbers and got some clarifications from Bridenstine’s office. In addition to finding the ratio much smaller, PolitiFact also noted substantial overlap between climate change research and weather forecasting.

We think the most obvious way to read his words is to compare climate-change research funding with dollars spent on “weather forecasting and warning,” which produces a 2.7-to-1 ratio. However, even if you accept Bridenstine’s argument that he meant to compare it to “weather forecasting and warning research,” the ratio is still not near 30 to 1.

Bridenstine does have a point that climate change research exceeds weather forecasting expenditures, but he’s overstated the discrepancy. We rate his statement Mostly False.

So, in demanding an apology from the president, Bridenstine’s was off by as much as a factor of 11. Little wonder that Nelson and Rubio are concerned about the Congressman running NASA.

Assuming that Bridenstine obtains Senate approval, what might he want to do with the space agency’s substantial climate change and Earth science portfolio? Here’s what he said early this year.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), who confirmed that he is the running to become NASA administrator, said he is open to moving part of the earth science study out of the agency and into NOAA, or even swapping a few programs between the two agencies. He was generally supportive of the earth science but did not commit to keeping climate research at NASA.

“I support earth science; it is critically important for us as a nation to understand what is happening on our own planet, so I think there is broad consensus, bipartisan, that earth science is important,” he said.

This is line with views expressed by the Trump Administration and the Republican leadership in Congress, which are equally skeptical that human-caused climate change is anything to worry about. (Trump, in fact, has previously claimed climate change is a Chinese plot to destroy American industry.) Yes, Earth science is important and we support it, they say. But, let’s have other agencies deal with it and let NASA deal with deep-space exploration, which has suffered due to the focus on climate change.

It’s an argument that, on the surface, makes perfect sense. Drill down a bit and Grand Canyon sized gaps begin to appear in it. While it’s certainly true that Earth science takes up a chunk of the budget, this has not stopped NASA from mounting a vigorous robotic exploration of the planets.

As for moving astronauts out beyond low Earth orbit, it’s difficult to point to NASA’s work on Earth science as having prevented that. The problems have resulted from a series of decisions over decades by various administrations and Congresses relating to funding and technical architectures that have resulted in extremely expensive programs that nobody wants to properly fund.

The other problem involves the motivations of the people saying that other agencies should do climate research. These calls are coming from politicians like Bridenstine who don’t believe climate change is a problem. They will not give NOAA and other agencies the funds to study it properly.

It’s true that Bridenstine supports Earth science. However, he has been laser focused on improving weather forecasting, which is related to but not the same as climate change. There’s no indication in his record of supporting climate change research. In fact, the American Energy Renaissance Act, which he co-sponsored with Cruz, is aimed at promoting more oil, gas and coal use and weakening environmental controls.

The Trump Administration has proposed slashing environmental and climate research across the government, including a significant cut in NASA’s Earth Science program for fiscal year 2018. It also has been scrubbing references to climate change from government websites.

The House Appropriations Committee cut the space agency’s Earth Science budget even deeper than the Trump Administration proposed. The Senate Appropriations Committee kept NASA’s Earth Science budget flat at FY 2017 levels.

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  • mike_shupp

    Being a climate change denier seems to be essential for appointment to any major position in the Trump administration. It likely counts in Bridenstine’s favor with Republican representatives and senators — the majority of Congress, in other words. And it probably is greeted enthusiastically by half the country’s space enthusiasts — much of your readership, for example.

    What else to say, I do not know, A year ago, it seemed to me this attitude was on the wane. Now it strikes me I was wrong, and that AGW denialism is likely to be orthodox opinion in this country for the rest of this century.

  • windbourne

    I wonder if it is possible to raise the money to get OCO3 put up on ISS. It would seem like 250K to 1M would be MORE than enough to do that.
    The question is, will Trump/GOP allow it?

  • windbourne

    actually, more and more GOP are swapping sides and backing our making changes.
    Though to be fair, I seriously doubt that they will push for us to join Paris, which like Kyoto, is another horrible agreement.

  • MzUnGu

    Having NASA focus on some core competency instead of doing climate research is a good thing.

    Let EPA and NOAA do their thing. Don’t think the Apollo days have much climate research.

  • Jeff2Space

    I hope it does adversely impact his confirmation vote. Putting someone who denies science in charge of NASA is bizarre.

  • Jeff2Space

    Respectfully disagree. NASA is supposed to be on the cutting edge of technology which includes earth observation. Earth is a planet too you know.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    You’re only saying that because it’s true. But don’t you know you’re wrong ‘in spirit’? 🙂

  • Paul451

    Let EPA and NOAA do their thing.

    EPA and NOAA are also under attack by the same people. Pretending this is about “core competency” is disingenuous at best.

  • Douglas Messier

    Scott Pruitt has put a PR flack with no science expertise in charge of reviewing awarded grants. He has the power to nix them. He is specially focused on climate change grants. This is not done.

    Trump is systematically attacking climate research across the govt. These other agencies have no capability to focus on it.

  • Pasi Jokela

    “…for the rest of this century.”

    I think we’re lucky if we see 2050.

  • MzUnGu

    Then focus your energy fixing EPA or NOAA, not by having a space agency fixing everything …

    If we are doing that, I suppose we can have NASA go about “reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science” again too. 😛

  • savuporo

    Mike Griffin did the same.

  • therealdmt

    How so? (I honestly don’t know)

  • savuporo
  • Jeff2Space

    I was never impressed with the tenure of Mr my rocket will be bigger than the Saturn V Griffin. And add to that a side of EELVs aren’t suitable for manned missions, so we have to have a single SRB powered crew launcher as well. Recipe for the most expensive, non-flying, disaster of a manned space program in decades.

  • Paul451

    Then focus your energy fixing EPA or NOAA

    EPA/NOAA aren’t the thing that is broken. The broken thing is those attacking them.

    I suppose we can have NASA go about “reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science” again too.

    Name a single thing that NASA actually did that conforms to your idiotic conspiracy theory.

  • ThomasLMatula

    If it’s done via a private firm like CASIS would he even care about.

    This also illustrates the need for private space stations.

  • MzUnGu

    That’s an actual quote from Bolden…. “When I became the NASA administrator — or before I became the NASA administrator — he charged me with three things. One was he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science … and math and engineering,”

    I made no claim of what Bolden/Obama/NASA did, just what they said. … Just as all you or anyone have is what Bridenstine had said.

    Kind of funny for Obama to turn NASA into Department of Education, or the State Dept is his Top 3 priority. 😀 Ever wonder why there is little that NASA had done in the last 8 years…. See what I mean by that lack of focus on core competency. 😀

  • Paul451

    Kind of funny for Obama to turn NASA into Department of Education, or the State Dept is his Top 3 priority.

    Name a single thing that Obama actually did that conforms to your idiotic conspiracy theory.

  • Douglas Messier

    Oh for God’s sake. Lacking a coherent response to Trump’s attempts to destroy global warming research across the government, you’ve resorted to trolling that has nothing to do with any of that.

  • Douglas Messier

    Mango Gerry is trolling us here on account of him lacking a coherent argument to address the actual issue.

  • MzUnGu

    All I am saying is climate science is irrelevant to NASA’s core mission. If you want to make a difference, transfer all the climate science guys to EPA or NOAA, those agency actually implement the policies that protects the environment. NASA on the other hand have ZERO power to enforce any environmental policy. NASA is prob the worst place you want to be doing climate research.

  • windbourne

    only because of some vodka or gin.

  • MzUnGu

    Urhhh… Read the quote … .Obama TOLD the top administrator of NASA that it is his top three priority. 😀

    Having NASA saving the planet’s climate in not on that TOP-3 either,… back on point. 😀

  • Paul451

    You said: “Kind of funny for Obama to turn NASA into Department of Education, or the State Dept is his Top 3 priority.”

    Name a single thing that Obama actually did that conforms to your idiotic conspiracy theory.

    I get it’s your spastic rightwing meme, and, for people like you, pretend is the same as reality. For the rest of the world, reality is reality, not idiot memes. So repeating your memes doesn’t answer my demand. I’m asking you to name a single thing that Obama actually did that conforms to your claim that he turned NASA into the Dept. Ed or State. One thing he actually did.

    I suspect you’ll just keep repeating the same thing as if that answers me. Because you really can’t tell the difference and don’t actually understand what I’m asking.

  • Douglas Messier

    And I’m saying that conservatives would transfer the programs to NOAA and then starve them for lack of money. The problem is less where various elements of global change research exist within the government and more about whether it’s going to be supported properly.

  • MzUnGu

    President gave orders, and he gave an order.

  • Paul451

    President gave orders, that’s what Presidents do… and he gave an order.

    Which resulted in what? Show me “Obama to turn NASA into Department of Education, or the State Dept”. Show me one thing that actually happened.

  • MzUnGu

    Can you show me what Bridenstine had done to ruin Climate Change research… ??

    Good thing what Obama said got out and he’s too embarrass to do anything and backtracked themselves.

    The key word in my statement here is “to”…. meaning INTENT. just as all you prob going to find on Bridenstin is intent.

  • Paul451

    I’ve made no claims about Bridenstine. You, otoh, have repeated your Obama conspiracy for years.