BRIDENSTINE

Rep. Jim Bridenstine speaks during a town hall at the Oral Roberts University. Tulsa World file

U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine says the climate is changing and humans are contributing to that change.

According to NASA Watch and other space media outlets, it appears that President Trump will name Bridenstine to be his NASA administrator. That puts Tulsa’s congressman and his global warming positions under a national microscope.

In a recent conversation with Bridenstine, he told me that carbon dioxide is a factor in climate change, and it is our nation’s responsibility to apply good science to study its effect and how it interacts with other climate-influencing factors.

He agreed with me that people who accept man-made climate change as a reality might disagree about the severity of the problem and what policies should be adopted.

As a congressman, Bridenstine said he opposed the Paris Accords, citing two valid concerns: The agreement wouldn’t have much effect on the problem and would disproportionately burden the U.S. economy.

As NASA administrator, Bridenstine said his role will be to take the policy determined by Congress and the president and see that it is faithfully executed.However, he says, his time in the House has led him to understand the importance and necessity of good Earth science.

Climate has become a politically charged issue. Climate action proponents favor aggressive measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions they believe are warming the Earth. Others, who believe climate is driven mainly by natural causes, question redirecting resources to measures they expect to have a very small effect. People favoring aggressive action label people holding contrary views “climate change deniers.”

But Bridenstine’s own words won’t satisfy those looking to tear him down as a “climate change denier,” and they’ll have one very powerful witness in that effort, Jim Bridenstine.

As his nomination consideration nears, I suspect we’ll see a lot of a one-minute speech Bridenstine delivered on the House floor on June 11, 2013, one month after an F-5 tornado struck Moore, killing 24 people.

Here’s what he said:

“Mr. Speaker, global temperatures stopped rising ten years ago. Global temperature changes, when they exist, correlate with sun output and ocean cycles.

“During the medieval warm period, from 800 to 1300 AD, long before cars, power plants or the industrial revolution, temperatures were warmer than they are today. During the Little Ice Age, from 1300 to 1900 AD, temperatures were cooler. Neither of these periods was caused by any human activity.

“Even climate change alarmists admit that the number of hurricanes hitting the U.S. and the number of tornado touchdowns have been on a slow decline for over a hundred years.

“But here is what we absolutely know: We know that Oklahoma will have tornadoes when the cold Jet Stream meets the warm Gulf air, and we also know that this president spends 30 times as much money on global warming research as he does on weather forecasting and warnings.

“For this gross misallocation, the people of Oklahoma are ready to accept this president’s apology, and I intend to submit legislation to fix this.”

Bridenstine says everything he said in the speech was accurate at the time. Politifact went over the “30 times” claim carefully and judged it “mostly false,” but agreed that there is much more spent on climate change research than weather research, perhaps more than twice as much.

Bridenstine’s office strongly disagreed with the finding, but the congressman told me — after the experience of struggling to ultimately pass legislation to shift some of the money spent on climate change research to weather forecasting — he wishes he had said it differently.

He says his words lost his proposal potential support in Congress among those who dismissed him as a climate change denier.

He doesn’t want that to happen again when his NASA nomination is considered.

The setback was hard to overcome, but after several years of efforts in partnership with Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., his weather proposal eventually passed with strong bipartisan support and was signed in to law.

I don’t doubt Bridenstine’s word when he says he accepts global climate change as real. He excels in understanding technical material, and he’s got the climate change data down cold. I don’t think this is a convenient confirmation-eve conversion.

I think the 2013 speech was whittled into as sharp a stick as possible for Bridenstine to poke President Obama in the wake of a deadly tornado.

Toward that end, I think he did what a lot of politicians do: He chose his words precisely for their emotional impact.

He may have come close to the edge of overstating his evidence, but I believe he believed the strict truth of everything he said that day.

I also believe that, if given the chance, Bridenstine will make a great NASA administrator.

Whether you agree with his politics or not, anyone who has spent time with Bridenstine must acknowledge that he has a powerful, agile mind capable for taking apart complicated, technical issues and finding solutions.

He clearly has a passion for NASA’s mission and through his work on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology he has encyclopedic familiarity with the issues facing the agency.

Bridenstine says he regrets the political impact that the speech had on the policy weather bill he was trying to promote, which reflects a political maturity that will serve him well at NASA.

In his heart, I don’t think Jim Bridenstine has moderated much since 2013, but I think he has grown in the job, and will choose his words more strategically in the interest of his agency.

Political maturation isn’t a small accomplishment, especially when you’re a congressman, a job where people carry your coat for you and hold open doors for you to walk through. Given a chance, I think Bridenstine will do fine at NASA.

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Editorial Pages Editor

Wayne is the editorial pages editor of the Tulsa World and a political columnist. A fourth-generation Oklahoman, he previously served as the World’s city editor for 13 years and as a reporter at the state Capitol of four years. Phone: 918-581-8308