The Trump Administration and Republican assault on science reached a new level last night when in a narrow vote the Senate voted to approve the climate denier and uniquely unqualified, Jim Bridenstine, a Republican congressman from Oklahoma, for the post of NASA administrator.
The vote, 50-49 was split along party lines and comes after months of wrangling. NASA has been without a leader for fifteen months. Bridenstine, who has no scientific or administration qualifications will now lead NASA, which has a staff of 17,000 and a budget of nearly $19 billion.
I have previously written about how unqualified and unsuitable Bridenstine is, and it is worth repeating some of what he said over the years:
Back in 2013, speaking on the House floor, Bridenstine incorrectly stated global temperatures had stopped “rising ten years ago”. He added: “Global temperature changes, when they exist, correlate with sun output and ocean cycles”.
Three years later, he said in another interview: “I would say that the climate is changing. It has always changed. There were periods of time long before the internal combustion engine when the Earth was much warmer than it is today. Going back to the 1600s, we have had mini ice ages from then to now.”
That same year, he introduced legislation which would significantly alter NASA’s mission by stripping out all Earth science related work from Congress’ declared policy for NASA, leading to the Union of Concerned Scientists to argue that “Anyone who does not support Earth science research at NASA should not be confirmed as Administrator.”
At his confirmation hearing he said: “I believe that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. I believe that humans have contributed to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” but when pressed by Sen. Brian Schatz, Bridenstine would not say if humans were the primary contributors to climate change.
Due to positions such as this, Bridenstine has faced a “blistering critique” by Democrats who have repeatedly questioned his fitness for the role.
At his confirmation hearing, Senator Bill Nelson, said “As I have said, NASA is a family. This committee has heard me say many times NASA is not political. The leader of NASA should not be political. The leader of NASA should not be bipartisan; the leader of NASA should be nonpartisan. And when that has occurred when it has been partisan in the past, we’ve had a disaster.”
Before yesterday’s vote, Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tweeted: “There is a simple reason why the Senate should reject James Bridenstine’s nomination to lead NASA: he is a climate denier with no scientific background who has made a career out of ignoring science.”
Schatz added that it is “downright dangerous” to put someone without any expertise in charge of NASA. “And quite frankly it is even more frightening to have a leader who has made a career out of ignoring scientific expertise,” he said, whilst also calling the whole scenario “terrifying”.
But there are other reasons to be concerned too. As the Atlantic points out: “He may soon join another, more specific club: Trump appointees swirling in controversy over ethical misconduct.”
Last Wednesday, The Daily Beast reported: “An investigation and review of public records by the Project On Government Oversight shows that, prior to his time in Congress, Bridenstine led a small non-profit organization into hefty financial losses. Some of the losses involved the use of the non-profit’s resources to benefit a company that Bridenstine simultaneously co-owned and in which he’d invested substantial sums of his own money.”
The non-profit was called the Tulsa Air and Space Museum. The Beast continued: “Evidence of Bridenstine’s self-dealing dates back to December 2008, when the Museum, under his leadership, put its own cash reserves on the line to bring the struggling Rocket Racing League—a company set up to race rocket-powered aircraft before live audiences—to an air show in Tulsa in 2010.”
The Beast reports that Bridenstine vehemently denies the allegations, but how long he stays in post remains to be seen before we witness another Trump Administration fiasco.