WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-controlled Senate acknowledged Wednesday that climate change is real but refused to say humans are to blame.
The series of votes publicly tested Republicans’ stance on global warming just days after two federal agencies declared 2014 the hottest year on record and hours after President Barack Obama called global warming one of the greatest threats to future generations.
It also came as Republicans in control of Congress moved to challenge Obama’s actions to curb the pollution blamed for global warming. The votes were held during debate over a bill on the Keystone XL pipeline.
In a surprise move, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma endorsed one of the measures, drafted by Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse. It passed 98-1 and read simply that “Climate change is real and not a hoax.” But Inhofe quickly made clear that he still thought humans were not to blame.
“Climate is changing and climate has always changed and always will. There is archaeological evidence of that, there is biblical evidence of that, there is historical evidence of that,” said Inhofe. But “there are some people who are so arrogant to think they are so powerful they can change climate.”
Many other Republicans were also unwilling to back measures Wednesday that said human activities — primarily the burning of fossil fuels in vehicles, power plants and factories — contributed to the warming of the planet. The vast majority of scientists have cited pollution from fossil fuels, chiefly emissions of carbon dioxide, as the main culprit in the Earth’s temperature rise.
A measure sponsored by Sen. John Hoeven, the lead Republican on the pipeline bill, that said human beings contributed to the problem fell one vote short of the 60 needed for it to be adopted. It was supported by 15 Republicans, including potential presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, but Hoeven himself voted against it.
The Senate was divided, 50-49, on another measure from Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, that claimed human activities “significantly” altered the climate. Only five Republicans endorsed it, including South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who in 2010 sponsored a bill to limit carbon emissions that died in a Democrat-controlled Senate.
Graham said Wednesday he accepts that global warming is happening and that it is largely man-made, but said the solutions pushed by Democrats would turn the economy “upside down.” He also said the Keystone XL pipeline has nothing to do with it, because the oil sands would be developed regardless whether the pipeline is built. Environmentalists, and their Democratic supporters, have cited global warming as a reason to oppose the $8 billion project.
Many Republicans have either denied the science of climate change or distanced themselves from it, saying they don’t have the expertise to issue an opinion.
On Tuesday, Obama addressed that head-on, saying in his State of the Union speech, “I’m not a scientist, either.”
However, he said, “The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate.”
Republicans will have at least one more opportunity to vote on climate science. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, will offer a measure that says climate change is real and caused by human activities. But his measure adds that the U.S. needs to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible.
Despite the outcomes Wednesday, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California called the votes a “breakthrough moment in the climate change debate.”
“We will go on the record, climate change is real and human activity contributes to climate change,” Boxer said before the vote. “What a breath of fresh air this amendment is.”