WHITTINGTON: How A Key House Democrat Abandoned Space Exploration In Favor Of Climate Change


Mark Whittington Contributor
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When news broke that Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas) had received a seat on the House Science Committee, it raised eyebrows in the scientific and aerospace communities, which were still smarting from her attacks on science. Would she use her position to mend fences with supporters of space science, offended by her campaign’s open mocking of her opponent, John Culberson’s support for the Europa Clipper mission?

Then Fletcher acquired a seat on the House Energy Subcommittee and became chair of the House Environment Subcommittee. The first seemed to be a natural fit. Fletcher dealt with a lot of energy companies when she was a corporate litigator. A lot of energy firm employees live in her district. However, placing someone from Houston in charge of environmental issues seemed to be eccentric at best. A more natural fit would have been the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee. The Johnson Spaceflight Center is just south of Houston. Houston-based members of Congress traditionally are united in support of NASA.

Fletcher revealed what she intends to do on the House Science Committee in an interview on Houston’s NPR station. She is going all in on climate change, though not with the same kind of zeal as her fellow freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Her approach seems to consist of “listening” to scientists and other experts and developing clean energy technology. Which scientists and what technology? Fletcher declined to reveal. The interview starts at about the 15-minute point in the broadcast.

Fletcher is pursuing a dangerous course. Climate change may have been accepted as holy writ in more liberal states such as California and New York. The phenomenon and measures proposed to combat it are regarded with more skepticism in oil- and gas-rich Texas. Hurricane Harvey frightened many people, and some are prepared to at least listen to suggestions that climate change enhanced its severity. However, Texas voters are not prepared to sacrifice their economy for any hasty effort to fix, whatever that means, human-caused global warming,

On the one hand, getting into the forefront of the climate change issue is a sure method for advancement in the Democratic-controlled House. On the other hand, getting too much in front of the issue would make Fletcher a one-term member of Congress. She has not uttered, at least in public, the words “Green New Deal,” the next big thing in Democratic politics. To do so would be a gift to any Republican who wants to end her political career in 2020.

One should expect a lot of talk about technological solutions to climate change, such as outfitting power plants with carbon capture equipment. According to Ars Technica, a natural gas power plant that emits no carbon emissions is being tested in La Porte. The carbon is captured and then sold as a product for fuel or carbon nanotubes. Carbon capture, if it can be made to work economically, would be a much more attractive response to human-caused climate change than ending all fossil fuels by a date certain, which even the Green New Deal doesn’t propose, at least right away. Nuclear and perhaps fusion, the latter fueled with helium-3 mined from the moon, are other technological responses.

Fletcher will sooner or later face some hard political choices. The Green New Deal will eventually come up for a vote in the House. Will she follow her fellow Democrats and vote in favor, thus dooming her political career? Or will she vote against it and with her constituents, but angering the radical wing of her party?

Meanwhile, since Fletcher appears to be disinterested in NASA and space exploration, at least for now, who will mind the store on the Democratic-controlled House Science Committee? It turns out that the chair of the Space and Aeronautics subcommittee is Rep. Kendra Horn from Oklahoma, another newly-elected Democrat. Horn worked for the Space Foundation as Manager of Government Affairs and then Manager of Communications and Media Relations. At the very least, Rep. Horn knows space policy issues.

How the new situation will affect NASA space policy and whether the return to the moon program will come under attack in the House Science Committee remains to be seen. Should an effort be mounted to defund or cut back on the lunar program to fund climate research, Fletcher will face another tough choice. Her campaign mocking the Europa Clipper was one thing. An effort to end the third attempt for Americans to return to the moon would be catastrophic.

Mark Whittington (@MarkWhittington) is the author of Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? and The Moon, Mars and Beyond. He also operates his own blog, Curmudgeons Corner. 

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.