On the eve of “Earth Day” this Sunday a handful of state senators got into a partisan squabble over “climate change.”
It was Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, who got things started by reading a statement from a group of Iowa religious leaders, including his own Catholic bishop.
“This was the statement: ‘Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges facing our world today and as religious leaders representing diverse faith traditions we are called to reaffirm our committment to be responsible stewards of Earth’s resources and to act in love to our neighbors both locally and globally,'” Hogg said. “‘Scientists, including those representing 28 Iowa colleges and universities who recently released a statement, have warned us that changes in global climate patterns are brining more extreme weather events to Iowa, the United States and our world.'”
That prompted Republican Senator David Johnson of Ocheyedan to ridicule the idea that humans are the main cause of climate change.
“With all due respect to our religious leaders…how much are you willing to spend to reverse what you call global warming?” Johnson asked. “…The country of Spain made a huge transition to their economy for green energy. What was the result of that? Bankruptcy?”
Hogg suggested ignoring climate change would wreck the U.S. economy.
“How much better off would this country be if there hadn’t been a $6 billion drought last year in Texas? How much better off would our state be if we hadn’t suffered $20 billion in flood damage over the last 20 years,” Hogg said, his voice rising to a yell. “You want to ruin our economy, Senator Johnson, you stick your head in the sand and ignore this issue.”
Johnson responded with a little yelling of his own.
“I’m on the side of the scientists I served with in Antartica and Greenland and I’m the only member of this body that has done that,” Johnson said. “And there is no agreement in the scientific community, no consensus that things have really changed because change happens.”
Not every senator exhibited a hot temper. There were some light-hearted moments in this episode.
Senator Joni Ernst of Red Oak openly admitted to being a Republican who drives a fuel-efficient Prius.
“I did it just because I’m fiscally conservative and driving a Buick Enclave all around my rather large (senate) district was just not affordable,” Ernst said.
That prompted Senator Tom Courtney, a Democrat from Burlington, to admit he drives a gas-guzzling Corvette convertible.
“That’s my choice and I think it makes a 64-year-old man look pretty good, so that’s why I drive that,” Courtney said.
At the mid-way point Senate President Jack Kibbie called the 40-minute episode a “wonderful discussion” about climate change. Near the end, Senator James Seymour and Kibbie joked about their looming retirement from the senate.
“This has been a great debate this morning and I suspect, Mr. President, you — like myself — are going to miss this place terribly,” Seymour said, as most in the senate began laughing. Kibbie laughed heartily, too, and his chuckles were amplified because he laughed right into his microphone.
Others like Republican Senator Randy Feenstra of Hull suggested it was time for legislators to quit talking about climate change and move on to more productive tasks.
“Once a year we do this,” Feenstra said of the Iowa Senate’s climate change debate. “…Honestly, on that subject I think we should just agree to disagree because it’s not going to get us anywhere.”
AUDIO of Iowa Senate’s “climate change” discussion this past Thursday.
Key leaders expect the 2012 legislative session to wrap up sometime next week, but big decisions remain on budget issues. There’s been a tentative agreement on property tax reform, but details have not been made public.