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The Senate's New Environmental Leader Thinks Michael Crichton Is a Climate Expert

Mandel Ngan, AFP/Getty Images

The Republican takeover of the Senate means that the chamber’s worst climate-change denier, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, will likely become the chair of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee. That gives him the power to call hearings and witnesses in order to conduct oversight for the Environmental Protection Agency—the Obama Administration’s main tool for reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

It doesn’t take much guesswork to know the next chairman's priorities, and not only because Inhofe has written a book claiming that global warming is "the greatest hoax." Inhofe was already once chairman of the committee from 2003 to 2007.

In 2005, Inhofe described one of his “top three priorities” for the committee as wanting to “improve the quality of environmental science” and “shining a light” on scientist’s activities. “I have convened hearings on this subject and the specific issue of global warming science,” he said. Inhofe did convene hearings on environmental science—a lot of them. He held a hearing in 2003 'to strip away political factors and just get to the hard science.” Two of the three witnesses were longtime climate change deniers.

Another one of those hearings came in September 2005. Inhofe invited the science fiction author Michael Crichton as a witness, because of his thriller novel State of Fear about a scientist who exposed climate change as a global fraud. Inhofe said, “I enjoyed most State of Fear and made it required reading for this committee." Democratic Senators were unimpressed. “His views on climate change are at odds with the vast majority of climate scientists; it also appears in a work of fiction,” then-Senator Hillary Clinton said.

That year, when Inhofe held a hearing on eco-terrorism, he reportedly refused to let Democratic congressman Bennie Thompson testify. Thompson wanted to note the threats right-wing terrorist groups posed to the country. That refusal was almost unprecedented for the time—Democrats claimed it only happened once before in recent memory. The late-Senator Frank Lautenberg argued the hearing also conflated environmentalistm with extremism, saying that "the label of a terrorist, a terrorist conspiracy that spreads through the environmental community, I think is excessive namecalling."

Before handing over the gavel to Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer in 2007, Inhofe’s last hearing again zeroed in on climate-change science. NPR noted at the time that three of the five witnesses at the hearing shared Inhofe’s views. One of Inhofe's witnesses, a geophysicist at the University of Oklahoma, corrected Inhofe: Global warming might not be a hoax exactly, but he did think it was a “mass delusion.”