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September 18, 2013

Congressional Republicans Ignore Americans Affected by Climate Disruption

Yesterday, Safe Climate Caucus members held a forum with Americans from across the country who have had their lives changed by climate disruption: a farmer from Iowa, a Texas rancher, a Californian who has seen wildfires harm her community, a New Yorker whose home flooded during Hurricane Irene, and a Louisianan who said that Katrina woke him up to the realities of climate change. Each was offering first-hand testimony of the tragedies that extreme weather have already brought to American families - and each was unfortunately ignored by Congressional Republicans.

Congressman Henry Waxman arranged this event the day before Republicans on the Energy and Power Subcommittee were planning to attack the Obama Administration’s climate proposals during a hearing with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. It was an opportunity for those members of Congress to not just hear about climate policy, but to hear about climate disasters from the people who’ve faced them. That’s why Congressman Waxman invited every Republican from the subcommittee to attend. Why every single one of them was absent is an open question, as they missed the striking testimonies of Americans who have dealt with the reality of climate disruption.

“Even members representing areas hit by floods, droughts, and storms vote like nothing is happening,” Waxman said at the beginning of the hearing, expressing frustration at the disconnect embodied by many of those absent members.

Republicans didn’t hear Matt Russell’s call to action. Russell, a fifth-generation farmer, called on Congress and farmers to act on climate, because droughts and floods are making it impossible to grow the amount of food that he used to.

"I speak for a lot of farmers when I say we need to stop wasting our time debating whether climate change exists,” Russell said.

They didn’t bother to hear from Emily Dondero, a California resident affected by the rim fire that has led to evacuations and the closing of schools and business, while degrading air quality and threatening water quality.

While Dondero’s community is on fire, other communities are flooding or experiencing drought - extreme weather that impacts the economy in the long-term and threatens the opportunities families in the area could otherwise enjoy in the future.

She quoted Sierra Club founder John Muir: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."

Hugh Fitzsimons, a bison farmer and rancher from Texas who has felt the costs of drought and the fracking industry's abuse of the limited water supply, was also ignored by House Republicans.

"Fracking in the Eagle Ford Shale has brought more change in two years than in the past one hundred," Fitzsimmons said, speaking on behalf of those in drought-ridden Texas. "We have a new, man-made water crisis etched atop the man-made problem of climate change that produced drought."

Rev. Tyrone Edwards spoke on behalf of Louisiana residents who hail from a state that has been hit by both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Irene.

"Climate change is nonpartisan, it is not based on race or religion,” he said. “It is a cause all humans must be involved in."

Dr. Noah Diffenbaugh, an Assistant Professor at Stanford, taught about climate change and sits on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. His fact-based testimony connected the dots between climate and extreme weather, but not one Republican climate denier was there to make the same connections.

Each story was personal and thoughtful. Stefanie Kravitz, a resident of Long Beach, New York told her story about a town decimated by Hurricane Sandy, and Reverend Tyrone Edwards, a native Louisianian, gave a sermon about the problems climate change poses for Louisiana.

After each person told their story, they all had the same call to action: We must act on climate.

"We can't choose whether or not to deal with the consequences, but we can be part of the solution,” Russell said.

But none of the invited Republicans came to the hearing. None of them heard these stories or their cries for action. Instead, today, they held a hearing stocked with those denying climate science and attacking climate policy, ultimately ignoring the problems climate disruption is causing by focusing on the elevating the arguments of big polluters. It’s akin to setting a building on fire and then voting to defund the fire department.

But ignoring the problem and attacking the solutions won’t help people like those who these same members  of Congress ignored just the day before.

Looking forward, Reverend Edwards wants our future leaders to act on this important issue. He started a program to connect young children to the environment so they can understand climate better than Congress does.

However, as Representative Waxman has said, “Members of Congress say there is no cost to climate change. They should hear from you. Tomorrow, the EPA is going to hear from people questioning the costs. The cost of doing nothing is unbearable.”

--Sierra Club Media Intern Lauren Lantry

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