The Three Climate Deniers in Congress Whose Districts Will Soon Be Underwater

(Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP)

Republican Representative Steve Scalise speaks for the Coal Caucus during a news conference on greenhouse gas standards in September 2013. Scalise's congressional district in southeastern Louisiana is in particular danger of the effects of climate change, rising sea level, and hurricanes, and the state has lost nearly 2,000 square miles of land since the 1930s.

On July 17, the Democrats on the Committee on Energy and Commerce held a forum entitled “Climate Change at the Water’s Edge” to discuss the localized impacts of climate change. Headed by Ranking Member Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the forum included the mayor of Annapolis and a climate scientist from the Union of Concerned Scientists, who discussed the realities of climate change in their communities. But while the attendees seemed to understand the very real threats facing our country, so many others choose to ignore them.

A staggering 97 percent of scientists agree that not only is climate change is real, but that most of it is due to human activity. Despite this massive consensus in the scientific community, climate change denial continues among plenty of Republicans—even those representing some of the most climate-vulnerable places in the United States.

Congressman Steve Scalise of Louisiana came under fire earlier this year when news broke that he had given a speech in front a white supremacist group. But neo-Nazi sympathy isn’t the only thing that should have voters worried about Scalise.

In 2013, while speaking to the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Scalise put his ignorance on full display. “He talked about global warming at his inauguration, I found it ironic that the president was wearing a trench coat. It was so cold but he’s talking about global warming,” he quipped, clearly unaware of the difference between weather and climate, or of the fact that climate change does not mean that winter will suddenly cease to exist.

Scalise’s alarming ignorance becomes scarier when one realizes he represents a part of the country that has already been negatively affected by rising sea levels. His district, Louisiana’s 1st, covers land from Lake Pontchartrain down to the Mississippi River Delta; much of the district sits right on the Gulf of Mexico. Since the 1930s, Louisiana has lost 1,900 square miles of land; according to a joint report by ProPublica and The Lens, in just 50 years most of southeastern Louisiana not protected by levees will be underwater.

The losses from an undersea Louisiana would be staggering. Louisiana Highway 1 is a two-lane highway that runs diagonally across the state and connects the oil and gas fields with the northwestern portion of the state. In the southern part of the highway, seven miles of the road are elevated to withstand floodwater. The remaining eight are at sea level. LA-1 constantly faces the threat of flooding from rising sea levels as well as storm surge from hurricanes.

Port Fourchon is Louisiana’s southernmost port. A 2011 study assessed the potential of damages to the port and the rest of country if LA-1 were to suffer from a washout. The study looked at two scenarios in which the repairs to LA-1 would take 90 days. By 2030, sea-level rise would necessitate such repairs, as would a major hurricane at any time. This type of road closure would severely impact the oil and gas industry, with an estimated $7.8 billion loss in gross domestic product.

Many of Steve Scalise’s constituents who are under the age of 35 will live to see the day where half of the region they call home goes under. It’s past time for the congressman to stop mocking the president and start thinking of real ideas to keep his state afloat.

Nearly 1,300 miles away from Scalise’s district is Maryland’s 1st Congressional District. Though Maryland is often described as America’s bluest state, newly elected Republican Governor Larry Hogan is wishy-washy on climate change and the state’s most vulnerable district, the 1st, is represented by climate-denier Republican Andy Harris.

Harris is perhaps most well-known as the congressman who tried to keep Washington, D.C., from legalizing marijuana because he believes marijuana usage causes brain damage, despite his medical degree and despite the evidence that the effects of marijuana are not any more dangerous than alcohol or nicotine. “As a physician, I have read study after study on the devastating effects of marijuana use, especially on developing brains of teenagers,” Harris said in a press release in 2014.

Much like his views on marijuana, Harris’s views on climate change don’t line up with science either. “I believe the actual science is uncertain,” Harris told The Star Democrat in 2013. While Harris ponders if the science is “certain,” Maryland quietly slips into the water.

Harris’s district includes the entire Eastern Shore region of the state; much of it lies along the Chesapeake Bay or the Atlantic Ocean. The area is comprised of nine counties, including the vulnerable Dorchester and Worcester counties, the latter of which is home to the popular vacation spot (and small island) Ocean City. Because of its prime location, the area is famous for its beaches and is heavily reliant on the seafood industry—both of which are vulnerable to climate change—as sources of revenue.

Maryland should expect to see two feet of sea-level rise by 2050, and nearly four feet by 2100—a threat to low-lying areas and 3,100 miles of tidal shoreline. A 2008 study by the Center for Integrative Environmental Research at the University of Maryland found that commercial fishing and crabbing in the state accounts for $207 million dollars in revenue and manufacturing contributes to $1.76 billion in wages. Harris’s district stands to lose a lot of revenue due to climate change, but the congressman is too busy mocking the president and ignoring science to act.

In neighboring Virginia, climate change has already started to wreak havoc in the Chesapeake Bay portion of the state. Virginia is home to Norfolk, one of the most climate vulnerable cities in the United States, but Norfolk’s neighbors aren’t going to get off easy either.

Virginia’s 1st Congressional District is represented by Republican Rob Wittman, and sits on the bay and includes much of the cities and counties that make up the Hampton Roads metropolitan area, which is home to shipyards, military bases, and beachfront property.

“I recognize that the earth’s climate is changing,” Wittman told the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 2013. “We must recognize that these climactic cycles of heating and cooling have been going on well before man appeared on earth.” As the representative of such a vulnerable district, Wittman’s disregard for science is disturbing.

Hampton Roads is second only to New Orleans when it comes to areas in the United States most affected by sea level rise. If the sea rises three feet, nearly 900 miles in (and around) Wittman’s district could be permanently or regularly flooded. And according to the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, three feet of sea-level rise could cost the region between $12 billion and an astonishing $87 billion dollars.

Wittman’s climate change denial will prove disastrous for his constituents and the region they call home.

For the sake of our children and our children’s children, the time to act is now. Voting for politicians who understand science and are dedicated to mitigation and adaptation policies is a must for all districts, but is especially important for coastal ones. The election of climate change deniers is certain doom for those vulnerable districts.

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