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Bills Presented to President -

To amend title 38, United States Code, to authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to furnish assistance for adaptations of residences of veterans in rehabilitation programs under chapter 31 of such title, and for other purposes.

As Scott hammers Venezuela, his campaign takes contribution from biggest buyer of its oil

Politico -

TALLAHASSEE — As Gov. Rick Scott hits the campaign trail trashing Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, he is accepting contributions from Valero Energy Corporation, a Texas oil refiner that is the biggest buyer of the country’s oil.

Scott’s campaign took $5,000 last month from the company, which in recent months has purchased 200,000 barrels-a-day from Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., the country’s state-run oil company. The company boosted its purchases from Venezuela ahead of U.S. sanctions that were imposed earlier this week after Maduro was reelected, according to Reuters. The donations have not been previously reported.

Valero is the biggest buyer of Venezuelan oil, but Scott’s team says that any company giving to his campaign supports his platform, which includes ousting the Venezuelan president. A Valero representative didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

“The governor's position concerning Venezuela is abundantly clear,” said Kerri Wyland, a campaign spokeswoman. “Those who contribute to the campaign do so to support his candidacy, which includes calling for an end to the Maduro regime."

Scott has built part of his political brand around being a vocal Maduro critic over the past year. The U.S. government called this week’s Venezuelan election “a sham," and the country has been reeling in financial crisis.

In 2017, Scott got the Florida Cabinet to approve a plan blocking state investment in Venezuela, then during the 2018 legislative session led the charge to pass a bill putting that measure in state law. Scott also met earlier this year with opposition leaders and promised to crack down on Maduro when meeting with Venezuelan Supreme Court justices in January. The justices say they are exiled because they pushed for democratic reforms in the country.

Scott’s focus on Venezuela comes as people from the country become more politically important in Florida, and as Scott eyed a run for Senate, a post that requires a broader foreign policy portfolio.

“Together, we will continue to shine a light on the unacceptable political tyranny and violence that is inflicted by Maduro and his ruthless thugs,” Scott said in a statement when lawmakers passed the Venezuela investment ban legislation.

Scott has not yet had to file a quarterly campaign finance report, but some contributions to his campaign show up in Federal Election Commission records because other donors must report each month.

He has been running aggressively since announcing his campaign against Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson. Scott and his allies quickly funded more than $10 million in TV ads, a sign that his campaign is both raising large sums of cash and that he is likely using his personal wealth to give his run an early boost.

Lewandowski advising T-Mobile on Sprint merger

Politico -

Corey Lewandowski is advising T-Mobile on how to win approval for its proposed merger with Sprint, according to the company.

Lewandowski is advising T-Mobile through Turnberry Solutions, a lobbying firm started last year by two fellow veterans of President Donald Trump’s campaign, which Lewandowski managed before being fired.

T-Mobile hired Turnberry last year, but Lewandowski has denied any connection to the firm in the past. “I have nothing to do with Turnberry Solutions,” he told POLITICO in September.

But T-Mobile said on Friday that Lewandowski was advising the firm on the proposed merger as part of its work with Turnberry.

“Corey Lewandowski is now affiliated with that firm and they have offered perspective to T-Mobile on a variety of topics, including the pending transaction,” T-Mobile said in a statement.

The arrangement was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. Lewandowski didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Jason Osborne, a Turnberry lobbyist, said in an interview that Lewandowski was acting as an “unpaid strategic adviser” to the firm and had never lobbied for its clients.

“Corey Lewandowski has never gotten any money from Turnberry Solutions,” Osborne said. “He is not a paid employee of the firm.”

Lewandowski started a lobbying firm, Avenue Strategies, with another Trump campaign veteran weeks after Trump was elected. But he never registered as a lobbyist, saying he did consulting work that didn’t meet the definition of lobbying.

Lewandowski quit Avenue last year after questions arose about whether he was selling access to the president. Two of Lewandowski’s former colleagues at Avenue, Mike Rubino and Osborne, left the firm around the same he did and started Turnberry, bringing along several former Avenue clients. Lewandowski sometimes lived and worked out of the same Capitol Hill rowhouse that served as Turnberry’s headquarters, but he insisted he had no connection to the firm.

Osborne declined to say when Lewandowski became an informal adviser to Turnberry.

“Corey has been providing, as a friend for over 20 years, advice and counsel, and that relationship has never changed,” Osborne said.

There’s evidence that Lewandowski has offered at least some advice to other Turnberry clients, as well. Joel Sheltrown, vice president of governmental affairs at Elio Motors, a Turnberry client, told POLITICO last year that Lewandowski had joined a conference call that it held with Turnberry.

Lewandowski is also working as an adviser to Vice President Mike Pence’s leadership PAC, Great America Committee.

The PAC didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Marty Obst, the PAC’s executive director, told The Wall Street Journal that Lewandowski had been “nothing but professional.”

“To the best of my knowledge, he has never mentioned any clients in front of the vice president and the vice president’s team,” Obst said.

T-Mobile isn’t the only telecommunications company to turn to the president’s associates for advice on navigating Trump’s Washington. AT&T secretly hired Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer, paying him $600,000 in consulting fees.

Like Lewandowski, Cohen offered the company’s advice without registering as a lobbyist. Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s chief executive, later apologized for hiring Cohen and said it had been “a big mistake.”

T-Mobile maintains a major presence in Washington, spending more than $8.3 million on lobbying last year, according to disclosure flings. The company retains nine other lobbying firms in addition to Turnberry.

The company said it hired Turnberry in August, although Turnberry didn’t register to lobby for T-Mobile until January. Osborne said Turnberry’s work for T-Mobile in the first few months didn’t require the firm to register.

T-Mobile has paid Turnberry $100,000 in lobbying fees, according to disclosure filings, although that does not include any earlier payments for work that Turnberry didn’t count as lobbying.

Marianne LeVine and Daniel Lippman contributed reporting.

Trump issues orders making it easier to fire federal employees

Politico -

President Donald Trump on Friday issued a series of executive orders to weaken the influence of government unions and make it easier for agencies to fire civil servants.

The orders will standardize agency rules to make it easier and quicker to remove poorly performing employees. They also direct federal agencies to renegotiate their labor contracts and cap the amount of paid time that workers can take off to conduct union-related business.

“The president is fulfilling his promise to promote more efficient government by reforming our civil service rules,” Andrew Bremberg, director of the president’s Domestic Policy Council, told reporters. “These executive orders will make it easier for agencies to remove poor-performing employees and ensure that taxpayer dollars are more efficiently used.”

The changes could save taxpayers more than $100 million a year, the White House estimated. It referenced a 2015 Government Accountability Office report that found it can take a year or more to dismiss a permanent federal employee.

The largest federal employee union condemned Friday’s orders.

“This is more than union busting — it’s democracy busting,” said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “This administration seems hellbent on replacing a civil service that works for all taxpayers with a political service that serves at its whim.”

In addition to hemming in union power, the executive orders could be abused to reduce accountability or punish whistleblowers, said Nick Schwellenbach, director of investigations at the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight.

“Weakening civil service protection laws would make the government less effective and put us all at risk, “ he said. “It would impede Congress’s ability to conduct oversight of the executive branch: Congress’s best sources of information are the employees inside agencies, and without robust protections and due process, more sources will remain silent.”

The executive orders are Trump’s latest salvo against the government workforce, which he has promised to reform as part of his “drain the swamp” agenda.

They direct agencies to charge rent to employees who use federal office space for union activity and to stop covering travel expenses for non-agency business.

Preference given to long-tenured workers will be eliminated. The common practice of agency gag orders, in which managers promise to keep silent about employees in exchange for their resignations, will be eliminated. Civil servants whose performance isn’t up to par will get 30 days to show improvements.

Agencies will be required to report disciplinary activity to the Office of Personnel Management for publication. They are also directed to negotiate new contracts with unions, which also will be made public. Unions will be charged for the use of agency office space.

The use of “official time” — legally sanctioned time off for labor-related activities — will be capped at 25 percent of an employee’s working hours.

Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee found this week that more than 12,500 employees took advantage of official time in 2017. The Department of Veterans Affairs was among the worst offenders, the House panel found. There, 472 employees spent 100 percent of their working hours on labor-management-related business in fiscal 2017, according to the GOP report. Those employees included a VA nurse anesthetist and dentist each making more than $190,000 a year.

The moves are sure to be challenged by labor groups and Democrats, who have accused the administration of targeting labor for political purposes.

Meanwhile, worker complaints to the Federal Labor Relations Authority are piling up because the agency has been without a presidentially appointed general counsel since November. The vacancy has prevented labor complaints cases from
being prosecuted.

A senior administration official said on Friday that the White House had no announcement to make on the labor relations appointment.

Trump pick for refugee bureau draws flak for anti-immigrant views

Politico -

President Donald Trump’s choice of an anti-immigration hard-liner to lead a State Department division overseeing refugees has alarmed top Democratic lawmakers as well as human rights activists.

The White House announced this week that Trump had nominated Ronald Mortensen, a retired foreign service officer with humanitarian assistance experience, to serve as the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. The bureau has been a quiet conflict zone as Trump and his aides have tried to dramatically scale back refugee admissions to the United States.

Mortensen is listed as a fellow with the Center for Immigration Studies. The center, founded in 1985, is known for advocating severe restrictions on immigration to the United States. It bills itself as an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization that provides data and analysis to policymakers.

The left-leaning Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled the center a hate group for a range of reasons, including that it “has routinely disseminated the works of white nationalist writers.” Other critics say the center’s research is shoddy and misleading.

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed reservations about the nomination on Friday, a stance likely to be echoed by other Democrats in the Senate confirmation process.

“I am deeply concerned with Mr. Mortensen’s deep involvement with some of our nation’s most anti-immigrant organizations, and I find some of his past statements not only offensive and inaccurate but fundamentally in contradiction of American values and history,” Menendez said in a statement.

Rep. Joe Crowley of New York, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, was even harsher in his assessment of the nominee.

“Mr. Mortensen’s racist, vile and disparaging comments against immigrants and refugees disqualify him from serving our government in any capacity,” he said in a statement.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Anti-Defamation League also weighed in.

“Mr. Mortensen’s role at CIS, an organization with disturbing longstanding ties to racists, and his past extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric are disqualifying,” Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the ADL, said in a statement. “He is simply unsuited to head a bureau whose charge it is to provide protection to refugees around the world escaping persecution.”

The ACLU pointed out that Mortensen had spoken out against legislation designed to protect so-called Dreamers —undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors.

“Mortensen’s previous statements and animosity toward civil rights and civil liberties are deeply concerning and should be raised by senators,” the ACLU’s Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns, added in a statement.

In one item posted on the center’s website, for instance, Mortensen bemoans the fact that a Dreamer has to be convicted of a crime before being deemed ineligible for legal protection. “This means that Dreamer gang-bangers, Dreamer identity thieves, Dreamer sexual predators, Dreamers who haven't paid income taxes, and Dreamers committing a wide range of other crimes all qualify for DACA status as long as they haven't been convicted of their crimes,” he wrote.

Mortensen has also criticized several Republican lawmakers for being, in his opinion, too soft on immigration. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Mortensen wrote in 2015, is “either exceptionally gullible or just plain dishonest.” Arizona Sen. John McCain’s “support for illegal aliens and open borders,” he wrote in 2014, “has left the United States vulnerable to terrorists.”

The White House, in its announcement of Mortensen’s nomination, did not mention his affiliation with CIS. Rather, it emphasized his history of development and aid work, as well as his diplomatic background.

It noted that Mortensen, an Air Force veteran from Utah, has worked with both the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and that he had won awards for his efforts.

“He has worked on humanitarian responses that saved lives and alleviated the suffering of millions of people in Iraq, Syria, Mali, Libya, Haiti, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and many other countries in West Africa,” the White House said.

Mortensen could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday.

Refugees, who are often fleeing war or political persecution in their homelands, are generally categorized separately from other legal immigrants to the United States. Refugees must undergo security and other types of background checks lasting months, sometimes years, before being admitted to the United States — more scrutiny than any other group permitted on U.S. soil, advocates say.

Trump has made no secret of his hostility toward immigrants, in particular undocumented immigrants and refugees. He has blamed them for crime and alleged they could be terrorists trying to reach the U.S.

Trump’s rhetoric during the 2016 presidential campaign coincided with terrorist attacks in Europe, which was also grappling with a wave of Syrian refugees at the same time. Trump’s hard-line approach helped destroy long-standing bipartisan U.S. support for refugees.

Now Republican lawmakers have largely turned against the U.S. refugee resettlement program, while Democrats have been trying to protect it.

President Barack Obama, in his final two years, sought to lift the cap on U.S. refugee admissions to 110,000 from 70,000 people a year in response to a global migration crisis that has seen a record 65 million people displaced from their homes.

As part of his travel bans, Trump initially tried to completely halt refugee admissions for several months, moves that ran into legal trouble. His administration eventually lowered the cap on refugee admissions to 45,000 a year, but because of bureaucratic and other hurdles that Trump and his aides have imposed, it appears that fewer than half that many refugees will be admitted.

The White House has been especially suspicious of career foreign service and civil service employees who work in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. Trump advisers such as Stephen Miller, a former congressional staffer well known for his anti-immigration views, have repeatedly sought to undercut the bureau, according to several former and current U.S. officials familiar with the issue.

Earlier this year, a Miller ally, Andrew Veprek, was named a deputy assistant secretary in the bureau, a role that doesn’t require Senate approval. Veprek, officials said, has repeatedly expressed hard-line views on immigrants, including refugees.

Who’s to Blame for Higher Gas Prices?

FactCheck -

With gasoline prices rising, Sen. Chuck Schumer placed the blame on President Donald Trump, and specifically his decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. But experts say that decision has had only a modest effect so far on rising prices at the pump.

One expert estimated the impact of the Iran deal on gasoline prices at “maybe 3 to 5 cents per gallon.”

Gasoline prices have been rising fairly steadily since late 2016 when OPEC decided to curb its oil production. Experts say that is the main driver of rising prices, though there are others outside Trump’s control as well.

Schumer complained about the rising prices of gasoline at a May 23 press conference at an Exxon station in Washington, D.C., where a sign showed regular gas selling for $3.89 a gallon (the national average on May 21 was $2.92). The Democratic Senate leader blamed Trump for not doing more to encourage leaders in oil-rich countries and domestic oil executives to lower prices. He also blamed Trump’s policies — specifically his decision to back out of the Iran deal — for helping to drive up prices at the pump.

“According to energy analysts and experts, President Trump’s reckless decision to pull out of the Iran deal has led to higher oil prices,” Schumer said. “These higher oil prices are translating directly to soaring gas prices, something we know disproportionately hurts middle- and lower-income people, since a larger chunk of their disposable income goes for gasoline.”

Schumer pointed to one analysis, from Goldman Sachs, that concluded higher oil prices were canceling the consumption benefits of the Trump-led tax cuts passed earlier this year.

“Whatever meager benefit working families might’ve seen from Trump’s tax scam for the rich is being wiped out by the gas prices that President Trump is responsible for,” Schumer said.

We asked Schumer’s office for backup for the claim that the decision to back out of the Iran deal “has led to higher oil prices … translating directly to soaring gas prices.” Schumer’s office pointed to several statements from industry experts immediately before and after Trump announced his decision on May 8 to pull out of the Iran deal.

For example, just prior to Trump’s announcement, Devin Gladden, a spokesman for the American Automobile Association, told Newsweek, “If sanctions are reinstated, the U.S. could see potential impact on gas prices this summer, leading to the national average ranging between $2.80 and $3.00. Any immediate impact will be to crude oil prices, which will then trickle over to retail later this summer.”

Dan Eberhart, CEO of oilfield services company Canary LLC, echoed those concerns, saying just after Trump’s announcement, “Withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal will support higher oil prices.”

“I would have to say several dollars per barrel of what we’re seeing today is due to Iran concerns,” Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy, told Vox just prior to Trump’s announcement.

We spoke to DeHaan, and he told us Trump’s decision on the Iran deal turned out to have a “relatively small impact,” pushing the price of crude oil up about $2 to $3 a barrel, which he said translates to “maybe 3 to 5 cents per gallon” extra. That could change if the United State’s allies join in the sanctions imposed by Trump, he said.

OPEC’s decision to limit oil production has played a far larger role in driving up gasoline prices, he said. A strong global economy also has contributed to rising prices, he said.

Gasoline prices were rising steadily long before Trump announced his decision to walk away from the Iran deal. Indeed, on the day Trump announced his decision, the Energy Information Administration released a short-term energy outlook that forecast a continuing rise in gasoline prices for the April–September summer driving season, and it made no mention of the Iran deal.

Energy Information Administration, May 8: For the 2018 April–September summer driving season, EIA forecasts U.S. regular gasoline retail prices to average $2.90/gallon (gal), 17 cents/gal higher than in last month’s STEO and up from an average of $2.41/gal last summer. The higher forecast gasoline prices are primarily the result of higher forecast crude oil prices. For the year 2018, EIA expects U.S. regular gasoline retail prices to average $2.79/gal. Monthly average gasoline prices are forecast to reach a summer peak of $2.97/gal in June, before falling to $2.86/gal in September.

Tom Kloza, an oil industry analyst and founder of the Oil Price Information Service, said Schumer is wrong to pin the blame for rising gasoline prices on Trump.

“Perhaps 75% of the ascent for crude oil and gasoline was tied to the usual factors; a very disciplined OPEC agreement and global demand growth that has outpaced global supply growth,” Kloza told us via email. “The withdrawal from the Iranian agreement helped promote a small geopolitical risk premium on oil, as did the continued deterioration of Venezuelan oil production and refinery output.

“In a sense, the rhetoric on Iran and worries about policies that hawks like Mike Pompeo and John Bolton might pursue made oil markets a bit too risky for short sellers, and these markets depend on short sellers as circuit breakers. But most of the run-up in crude and gasoline prices had roots in robust global GDP and a higher appetite for oil from emerging economies,” Kloza said. “The other new factor this year has come via robust exports of U.S. crude, gasoline, and diesel fuel, but those trends are market-linked and not tied to political policy or bluster.”

Blaming the president for rising gasoline prices is a popular political ploy. Indeed, Trump often blamed Obama for rising gasoline prices.

“Gas prices are at crazy levels–fire Obama!” Trump tweeted on Oct. 22, 2012, when the national average for regular gas was $3.69 a gallon. (See Trump’s other tweets about Obama here, here, here, here, here, here and here.)

For the record, we wrote in 2011 that those attacks on Obama for rising gasoline prices were misplaced as well.

Said DeHaan: “It wasn’t President Obama’s fault then, and it’s not President Trump’s fault now.”

The post Who’s to Blame for Higher Gas Prices? appeared first on FactCheck.org.

Scientist Schools Congressmen on Climate

FactCheck -

During a recent hearing on the role of innovation in addressing climate change, several Republicans made faulty claims about the climate, past and present:

  • Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks falsely claimed river sediment deposits and rocks falling from cliffs cause sea level rise, later writing that this was “the #1 cause.” Melting ice at the poles and ocean thermal expansion are the dominant causes.
  • Brooks also said global warming leads to more ice on Antarctica. That’s false. The continent has been losing ice since the beginning of the 21st century.
  • Texas Rep. Lamar Smith falsely said there’s “no correlation” between sea level rise and carbon emissions. Sea level rise is strongly linked to global warming, which is primarily caused by increased carbon emissions from humans.
  • Florida Rep. Bill Posey falsely claimed it was “30 degrees warmer when the dinosaurs roamed.” It was never that hot when dinosaurs lived. More importantly, it has never been close to that hot when humans lived.
  • Posey also claimed the last ice age “was caused by a cataclysmic collision of an asteroid.” That’s false. Ice ages are caused by changes in the Earth’s orbit and related factors.

The congressmen — all members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee — made their claims while questioning Philip Duffy, a physicist and the president of the Woods Hole Research Center, a climate change think tank. On a number of occasions, Duffy contested what the Republicans said, to no avail. We’ll take their claims one by one.

An Alabaman in Antarctica

Brooks, the congressman from Alabama, made two false claims during the hearing — one about river sediments and cliff rocks and another about ice in Antarctica — both during a debate with Duffy about the causes of sea level rise.

Brooks asked why “sea levels have risen” since “human beings have been on the planet.” Duffy then correctly explained that “sea levels over the last 3 million years have gone up and down in line with the cycles of ice ages.”

During their exchange, Duffy also said that “ground subsidence” is “a factor in some regions.” Ground subsidence, or the sinking of land, does contribute to land loss in some regions, such as in Louisiana, which we wrote about in March 2017.

But those answers didn’t satisfy Brooks, so he pointed to factors he believed are causing sea level rise.

Brooks, May 16: What about erosion? Every single year that we’re on Earth, you have huge tons of silt deposited by the Mississippi River, by the Amazon River, by the Nile, by every major river system and, for that matter, creek, all the way down to the smallest systems. And every time you have that soil or rock, or whatever is it, that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise because now you’ve got less space in those oceans because the bottom is moving up. What about the White Cliffs of Dover, California, where you have the waves crashing against the shoreline, and time and time again you’re having the cliffs crash into the sea? All of that displaces water which forces it to rise. Does it not?

Duffy’s response: “I’m pretty sure that on human time scales those are minuscule effects.” Duffy is right again, as we’ll explain.

Brooks doubled-down on these claims in a May 19 op-ed published on the news site AL.com. “Over the history of planet Earth, far and away the #1 cause of sea level rise has been erosion and its resulting deposits of sediment and rocks into the world’s seas and oceans,” he wrote, adding, “There is no close second cause of sea level rise.”

This is false.

According to a 2017 report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, global sea level rise is “primarily driven by two factors,” both directly related to global warming.

First, the oceans are expanding because water swells as it gets warmer. According the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the “oceans are absorbing more than 90 percent of the increased atmospheric heat associated with emissions from human activity.”

Second, there’s also more water in the oceans because mountain glaciers and the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are melting, explains the 2017 report.

We asked Steven Goodbred Jr., an environmental scientist at Vanderbilt University whom we interviewed for another piece on sea level rise, for his take on Brooks’ claim. He did say that “sediment does displace water,” but it has a minuscule effect “on shorter time scales (<100 years) due to the small volume of sediment relative to the immense volume of the oceans.”

On time scales longer than 100 years, “it has no real effect” because of a process called isostasy, where “the added weight of sediment to the oceans causes the crust to sink and the reduced weight of the sediment eroded from the land causes it to rise,” Goodbred added. In other words, there’s “no net change in water level relative to land,” he said.

Torbjörn E. Törnqvist, a geology professor at Tulane University in New Orleans whom we spoke with for the March 2017 piece on land loss in Louisiana, gave us the same explanation, adding that Brooks’ comments “are utter nonsense.”

This brings us to the second false claim Brooks made. As he continued his exchange with Duffy, Brooks asked “would it surprise you to know that as global temperatures rise — assuming for the moment that they do — that that actually increases the amount of ice that is collected on Antarctica?” Brooks repeated these claims in his May 19 op-ed.

Duffy’s response: “That’s not true sir.” Duffy is right — it’s not.

We wrote about ice levels in Antarctica and Greenland in January, after President Donald Trump falsely implied the globe’s ice caps are at “record” high levels. According to NASA, both of these ice sheets have declined in mass since 2002. “Both ice sheets have seen an acceleration of ice mass loss since 2009,” the agency adds. 

During the hearing, Brooks supported his claim by saying that he “made a trip down to Antarctica and met with National Science Foundation scientists and they all agreed with global warming and they emphasized that you’re going to have an increase in the amount of ice in Antarctica because of global warming.”

His explanation?

“[P]rojected global warming will LOWER sea levels because warmer Antarctic air will carry more moisture above the Antarctic land mass, and deposit that moisture in the interior of Antarctica, where it will take hundreds of years to glacially make its way to the sea,” wrote Brooks in his op-ed. NSF “scientists opined that the increase in Antarctic continental ice will more than offset the loss of ice elsewhere on planet Earth.”

We reached out to Brooks’ office to ask for the names of the NSF-funded scientists who gave him this information, but we received no response. We also contacted multiple researchers studying the topic, and they all agreed that Brooks’ explanation was inaccurate.

Santiago de la Peña, a researcher at Ohio State University who studies glacier dynamics, told us that, while he was there when Brooks and other politicians visited Antarctica in 2014, he did “not recall having said conversation” with Brooks.

“Current climate models do contemplate an increase of snowfall over Antarctica in a warming scenario, which is logical given a potential increase of moisture in the atmosphere,” he added, but “the increase would be of an order of magnitude smaller than total mass loss.”

Erin Pettit, an associate professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, who studies glaciers, told us that she “did meet with the congressional visitors as a whole for about 10 minutes,” but she didn’t speak with Brooks specifically. “The vast majority of the peer reviewed papers in recent years would not agree with the congressman’s statement,” she added.  

In short, while there might be some ice gained in the interior of Antarctica, there’s a net loss because ice is retreating along the coasts at a faster rate. Other experts in this area — Eric Steig at the University of Washington, David Holland at New York University and Richard Alley at Penn State — also told us Brooks’ claim was inaccurate for the same reasons. 

Smith Strikes Again

We’ve written plenty of times about claims made by Rep. Lamar Smith, who is the chairman of the House science committee. But rarely, if ever, has a scientist corrected him on the spot, as Duffy did during the hearing.

While putting up a slide showing two graphs (see image below), Smith said, “You will see that for the last 100 years sea level rise has been basically constant,” adding, “It’s been going up at about 1.8 mm per year, and you’ll see that there appears to be no correlation between the increase in the sea level and carbon emissions.”

Duffy interjected, pointing out to Smith that he had “shown a sea level record from one location.”

Duffy, May 16: You’ve shown a sea level record from one location.

Smith: Right, this is San Francisco. I’ve looked at also Boston, which appears to be the same.

Duffy: The rate of global sea level rise has accelerated and is now four times faster than it was 100 years ago.

Smith: Is this chart inaccurate then?

Duffy: It’s accurate, but it doesn’t represent what’s happening globally. It represents what’s happening in San Francisco.

Smith: All of the charts I’ve seen, whether it be San Francisco, whether it be Boston, or anywhere else, show about the same degree of increase.

Again, Duffy is right.

First, the rate of global sea level rise is around four times faster than what it was about 100 years ago. We reached out to Duffy for support for his claim, and he sent us a study led by James Hansen, a climate scientist at Columbia University. That paper summed up previous research on the topic, which showed the average rate of sea level rise was about 0.6 millimeters per year between 1900 and 1930. Between 1993 and 2015, the rate was about 2.6 mm per year, which is 4.3 times faster — and that’s the conservative estimate. 

However, we should mention that we’ve written previously that other climate scientists have said the Hansen paper’s future projections for global sea level rise are exaggerated, one of those scientists being Michael Mann, the director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University. We reached out to Mann to ask him if the paper’s summary of past observations is accurate, and he confirmed that it is. 

Second, Duffy is right that sea level rise in San Francisco, or any other specific location, “doesn’t represent what’s happening globally.” As we explained in March 2017, local sea level rise takes into consideration phenomena, such as ground subsidence, not just melting ice and the thermal expansion of the oceans, which is what scientists consider when they look at rise globally.

Plus, juxtaposing sea level rise in one location with global carbon emissions is an apples-to-oranges comparison. When you look at sea level rise globally and compare it with global temperature rise, there is a strong association, says the 2017 Global Change Research Program’s report. And as we’ve written countless times, there’s also a causal link between global temperature rise and carbon emissions from human activity.

When we reached out to Smith’s office for comment, his spokesperson didn’t provide us with any evidence to the contrary.

Posey’s Scientific Faux Pas

Florida Rep. Bill Posey also questioned Duffy about the Earth’s climate previous to the development of human civilization — and made several scientific misstatements along the way.

During their exchange, Posey asked Duffy what “the temperature on Earth [was] before the last ice age,” to which Duffy responded, “Before the last ice age, the last interglacial, well, similar to what it was about 100 years ago.”

Duffy is a little off here. According to NOAA, “global mean annual surface temperatures were warmer than preindustrial [times] by about 1° to 2°C” during the last interglacial period, which started about 125,000 years ago. 

Posey followed up by rhetorically asking, “You think? You don’t think maybe it was 30 degrees warmer when dinosaurs roamed the Earth?” As we’ll explain, he’s much more than a little off.

Duffy then responded by correctly stating, “There certainly have been epochs in the past when global temperature was warmer than it is now.”

There have been periods during which the Earth’s mean temperature was warmer than it is today, but Posey is wrong to say that the mean global temperature was 30 degrees warmer at any point when dinosaurs roamed.

NOAA explains: “Our planet probably experienced its hottest temperatures in its earliest days” at more than 3000 degrees Fahrenheit about 4.54 billion years ago. Even after “those first scorching millennia,” Earth “has sometimes been much warmer than it is now,” the agency adds. NOAA points to two such periods — between 600 and 800 million years ago and about 55 to 56 million years ago.

NOAA points out that these record periods “occurred before humans existed.” It added, “Those ancient climates would have been like nothing our species has ever seen.” But did dinosaurs roam during either of these periods? 

Dinosaurs are traditionally thought of as living between 247 and 66 million years ago, a time known as the Mesozoic Era. However, scientifically speaking, dinosaurs still exist today, as research has shown that modern-day birds are a group of dinosaurs that survived the mass extinction of dinosaurs occurring 66 million years ago.

So, a record warm period didn’t occur when dinosaurs, as we typically think of them, roamed the Earth. Still, since modern-day birds are technically dinosaurs, one could say dinosaurs were still around about 55 to 56 million years ago. But how hot was it?

During this period — what scientists call the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum — evidence suggests that the planet’s global mean temperature rose “by as much as 5-8°C (9-14°F) to an average temperature as high as 73°F,” NOAA explains. The global average temperature over the past few years has hovered between 58 and 59 F, or upwards of 1.5 F above the 20th century average of 57 F

So that comes out to, at most, around 14.5 F warmer about 55 million years ago than now — not 30 F warmer, as Posey said. In degrees Celsius, the difference would be even smaller. And it’s also worth reiterating that this warm period did not occur during the previous interglacial period — or the last ice age — about 125,000 years ago, which is what Posey first asked Duffy about.

In short, Posey’s statement is wrong on multiple counts.

Posey made another false claim while questioning Duffy about the cause of the last ice age.

Posey, May 16: What caused the end of the last ice age?

Duffy: The ice ages are caused by oscillations in the Earth’s orbital parameters.

Posey: Yeah, the last one was caused by a cataclysmic collision of an asteroid on this planet, I believe.

Again, Duffy is right and Posey is wrong. There are additional factors, however.

NOAA explains, “Variations in Earth’s orbit through time have changed the amount of solar radiation Earth receives in each season.” And the warmer periods — the interglacials — “tend to occur during periods of peak solar radiation in the Northern Hemisphere summer.” But there are likely other factors at play as well.

Pettit, at the University of Alaska, put it this way: “Ice ages in general are caused by subtle changes in the Earth’s orbit and Earth’s tilt, with complexities introduced by feedbacks within our climate system and the arrangement of the oceans and continents.”

One example of a feedback in the climate system is the ice-albedo feedback, NOAA explains. As solar radiation increases with changes to the Earth’s orbit, it melts ice covering the planet, which, in turn, leads to more solar radiation being absorbed by surface, leading to more warmth. Why? Because ice is more reflective, or has a higher albedo, than land or water.

So where did Posey get this idea that an asteroid caused the last ice age? We contacted his office to find out, but we never received a response.

Posey may be confusing the cause of ice ages with the theory that asteroid impacts caused the Younger Dryas. This is a period between 11,600 and 12,900 years ago when the planet’s climate got drastically colder, explains Nature in a September 2013 article. 

But as Pettit explained to us in an email, “That theory is definitely not the leading one, but more importantly it only applies to *one* particular cold period of a thousand years at the very end of the last ice age. It did *not* cause the last ice age.”

Toward the end of their exchange, Posey asked Duffy: “What do you say to people who theorize that the Earth, as it continues to warm, is returning to its normal temperature?” Duffy responded: “If you want to characterize a temperature above today’s temperature as normal, you’re free to do that, but that doesn’t mean that’s a planet that we want to live on.”

Posey then replied, “I don’t want to get philosophical,” adding, “I’m trying to stay on the science here.” But the fact of the matter is — he didn’t stick to the science, and neither did Brooks nor Smith.

The post Scientist Schools Congressmen on Climate appeared first on FactCheck.org.


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