Senator Lisa Keim, Chair
Representative Matthew Moonen, Chair
Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary
My name is Dylan Voorhees and I am the Climate & Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Thank you for allowing us to present this testimony. NRCM strongly opposes this legislation for one overall reason. Although the bill would fail to actually add any legal protections beyond those we already enjoy, it sends a message—as we believe it intends—that climate change is a matter of belief and that scientific information can be ignored and denied. The bill is the same type of effort we are seeing at the federal level to institutionalize and normalize climate denial.
On the first point, the bill is completely unnecessary as a protection of free speech or political speech. The Maine Legislature does not need to reaffirm its “agreement” with the protection of free speech in the U.S. Constitution. To suggest that it does, if anything, weakens the impression of Constitutional rights (1). Political speech is so broadly protected in this country that we consider corporations “people” and their dumping of vast sums of money into politics as “free speech.” If it wasn’t for the very serious attack on climate science and propagation of climate denial that is behind this bill, it would merely be a frivolous waste of time and ink that undervalues our existing constitutional rights.
The limitations on hiring in the bill are unnecessary and adverse to the state’s ability to hire people with the proper expertise. It is absurd to single out “climate change policy preferences” among thousands of other areas of policy preference which individuals or contracted companies may possess. In addition, consideration of policy preferences is perfectly appropriate for agencies that want to hire consultants to develop policy proposals. Imagine if Governor LePage had not been able to consider the policy preferences of a consultant hired to examine school consolidation or welfare reform.
The limitations on the Attorney General in this bill are not aimed at protecting individuals from exercising free speech or having policy preferences. Although unlikely to succeed, this section is aimed at stopping Maine from participating in lawsuits like the ongoing lawsuit against ExxonMobil for deliberately withholding information from shareholders about the company and its activities that was of material financial interest (2). That is fraud. Fraud is not and should not be protected speech.
Attached to this testimony are examples of scientific research from the University of Maine, National Academy of Sciences, and others, all of which make clear that the contributions to the atmosphere of greenhouse gasses from burning fossil fuels is the primary cause of recent warming over the last century. Maine’s oceans are warming, ticks are killing moose and spreading more Lyme Disease, our seas are rising, and storms and flooding are increasing. I will not belabor these points here because most of us are beyond that. In fact, the views and experiences of ordinary Maine people align with the science. In a poll conducted last year, 70% of Mainers say that global warming will be moderately or very harmful to Maine. Furthermore, 60% of Mainers say that global warming is already having a negative impact on the state. These views and observation cut across political and demographic lines.
If you find yourself uncertain about how to make sense of the public or media dialogue about this science, it is because huge amounts have been spent to make you feel that way. In the last century, tobacco companies spent vast sums of money trying to prevent the public and policymakers from understanding the significant health risks of smoking which they themselves clearly understood. Today, we see climate polluters exercising the same tactics of scientific misdirection and communications campaigns meant to preserve their status quo. In fact, companies like ExxonMobil and Koch Industries have literally employed the same public relations firms to execute this strategy, which has been well documented. They do not want you to understand that the level of scientific certainty that human emissions are driving climate change is, to continue the comparison, the same level of medical certainty that smoking increases the risk of cancer. A leaked memo by the American Petroleum Institute two decades ago borrowed explicitly from the tobacco deception strategy, saying, “Doubt is our product… Victory will be achieved when average citizens ‘understand’ (recognize) uncertainties in climate science.”
This campaign struck Maine and other states just this week, with a mailing to school teachers with materials designed to misinform them and students about climate science. This prompted the Director of the University of Maine’s internationally renowned Climate Change Institute, Paul Mayewski to say, “It’s a pathetic attempt at trying to sway some people’s minds.”(3)
Climate deniers have recently attained prominence at the federal level, most notably the new EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, whose recent statements questioning the science of climate change have prompted an internal investigation by his own agency’s Office of Scientific Integrity (4). These statements dangerously undermine public confidence in scientific information and weaken our ability to implement policies and solutions that protect Maine’s health, natural resources and economy.
This bill seeks to normalize climate denial by propping up the absurd notion that the problem is not a denial of fundamental science, but rather the perceived persecution of those who claim the Earth is flat.
Given this context and the empty legal meaning in the bill, we conclude that the only reason to for any legislator to support this bill is to give cover for climate denial. We believe your constituents would be dismayed by such action. We urge you to vote unanimously Ought Not to Pass.
Useful and authoritative information on the science of climate change
One of the most readable is also the most local, from the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute:
Fernandez, I.J. et al. Maine’s Climate Future: 2015 Update. University of Maine. 2015.
The National Climate Assessment is the country’s top interagency review of climate change science and impacts. The Third Assessment was published in 2014. (Dr. Robert Kates, from the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute, was a lead author for the Northeast chapter.)
Horton, R., et al. Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment (Ch. 16: Northeast) J. M. Melillo, Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and G. W. Yohe, Eds., U.S. Global Change Research Program. 2014. http://s3.amazonaws.com/nca2014/low/NCA3_Full_Report_16_Northeast_LowRes.pdf?download=1
The National Academy of Sciences and Royal Society have also produced a very readable summary about the causes and evidence of climate change.
Fung, Inez et al. Climate Change Evidence & Causes. National Academy of Sciences and The Royal Society. 2014.
For the more business/economically-minded:
The Risky Business Project focuses on quantifying and publicizing the economic risks from the impacts of a changing climate. The project is led by a bipartisan committee that include George Schultz (Treasury Secretary and Secretary of State for Ronald Reagan) and Henry Paulson (Treasury Secretary for George W. Bush), and former U.S. Senator from Maine, Olympia Snowe.
Risky Businesses: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States. 2014.