Facts and Data Prevail at House Hearing on Oceans and Climate Change

Published March 28, 2019

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife held a hearing on ocean health and climate change, moderated by Subcommittee Chair Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Ranking Member Tom McClintock (R-CA).

Among the witnesses called by the majority were Carol Browner, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton administration, and Beth Casoni, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association.

Minority members invited testimony from David Legates, Ph.D., of the University of Delaware, and Kevin Dayaratna, Ph.D., senior statistician with The Heritage Foundation. The latter two witnesses are both policy advisors to The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.

Hurricane Link Debated

The majority party’s witnesses told the committee climate change is causing a variety of problems such as more powerful hurricanes, water-temperature change, and coastal erosion.

In his opening statement at the February 7 hearing, ranking member McClintock noted “hurricane activity is much lower [now] than that recorded in the eighteenth century.”

Browner conceded human-induced climate changes are not creating more hurricanes, instead arguing climate change is making hurricanes stronger.

Legates cited in his testimony the Fifth Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to refute Browner’s claims.

“[T]here is low confidence in long-term … changes in tropical cyclone activity, … and there is low confidence in attribution of changes in tropical cyclone activity to human influence owing to … lack of physical understanding of the links between anthropogenic drivers of climate and tropical cyclone activity, and the low level of agreement between studies as to the relative importance of internal variability, and anthropogenic and natural forcings,” Legates quoted the IPCC’s most recent assessment as stating.

Legates went on to say the frequency and severity of landfall hurricanes in the continental United States has remained unchanged since 1990.

Claims of Rising Sea Level

Legates testified claims climate change is causing sea levels to rise at an unusually rapid rate are not true, and some of the purported effects of rising seas are caused by other factors.

“Global sea levels have risen naturally at a rate of about seven to eight inches per century for at least several hundred years,” Legates testified. “Locally, this rate may be higher due to local land subsidence and/or compaction of sediments, or lower due to isostatic rebound.

“[I]ncreasing [carbon dioxide] concentrations are not significantly affecting the rate of sea level rise,” Legates testified. “As these concentrations have increased from before the industrial age when atmospheric [carbon dioxide] levels were about 280 ppm [parts per million] to current conditions where they exceed 400 ppm, the lack of a significant change in the rate of increase implies that sea level rise is not responding to changes in greenhouse gas concentrations.”

Lobster Controversy

Casoni testified about numerous threats to sea life in general and lobster fisheries in particular, including the potential threat from offshore oil spills should new oil production in the Atlantic Ocean be allowed, and plastic waste in the ocean. Among the threats she cited to New England’s fisheries, two were directly related to climate change or proposed responses to it: warming oceans and offshore wind turbines.

“Warming water trends are causing lobster stocks to shift,” testified Casoni. “The Gulf of Maine, for example, is one of the fastest warming bodies of water on the planet. In the last century, it has warmed faster than 99 percent of the oceans. It has been estimated that by 2050 … warming could cut lobster populations by 62 percent in the Gulf of Maine.”

Evidence shows Casoni’s fears about the impact of rising ocean temperatures on lobsters are misplaced, says James Taylor, a senior fellow with The Heartland Institute.

“Lobstermen in Maine are hauling in approximately eight times more lobsters now than they did when the Earth began to resume warming about 40 years ago,” Taylor said.

Wind Farm Dangers

Casoni also testified she feared building large offshore wind farms to reduce fossil fuel consumption to fight climate change could disrupt coastal fisheries.

“There is increasing concern about the impact on the future of fishing in offshore wind farms, and many fishermen are concerned about navigating around the turbines,” said Casoni. “Depending on turbine placements, fishermen may not be able to set their gear as they typically do.

“We are also engaged in the difficult challenge of right whale conservation, but this issue will only become more complicated as offshore wind farms spring up in the feeding grounds of right whales,” Casoni testified, referring to a species also known as black whales.

Economic Pain, No Climate Gain

Proposed restrictions on fossil fuels to prevent climate change will impose huge economic costs and provide no appreciable benefit in terms of preventing climate change, Dayaratna testified.

“Policies aimed at ‘decarbonizing’ the American economy are predicated on faulty models that are prone to user-selected manipulation,” Dayaratna testified. “These policies will raise the cost of energy, thus resulting in devastating economic impacts.

“On the other hand, policies that are aimed at taking advantage of fossil-based fuels have tremendous potential to grow the economy,” Dayaratna told the committee. “And moreover, either policy—regulatory or deregulatory—will have negligible impact on the climate.”

Aaron Stover ([email protected]) is a government relations officer for The Heartland Institute.

Internet Info

David R. Legates, “A Scientific Assessment of Coastal Hazards,” Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, February 7, 2019: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/a-scientific-assessment-of-coastal-hazards

Kevin D. Dayaratna, “Healthy Oceans and Healthy Economies: The State of Our Oceans in the 21st Century,” February 7, 2019: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/healthy-oceans-and-healthy-economies-the-state-of-our-oceans-in-the-21st-century