For the First Time Since 2010, People Who Accept Climate Change Control the House Science Committee

Several Democratic House candidates with scientific backgrounds won against Republican incumbents on Tuesday.

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Nov 7 2018, 5:35pm

The US midterm elections are over at last, resulting in the first Democratic majority in the House of Representatives since 2010. This shift in the Congressional power balance will have many long-term political repercussions, and among the most immediately obvious is an invigorated emphasis on science.

The combined effect of Democrats taking control of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, coupled with a surge of newly elected Democratic candidates with STEM backgrounds, stands to dramatically reshape science policy in Congress.

Climate and environmental science will be at the forefront of this shakeup. Under the past eight years of Republican leadership, the House Science Committee delivered an abysmal record on climate science, with GOP committee chair Lamar Smith pushing blatant misinformation about the major influence of human activity on warmer global temperatures.

Committee members have also been accused of intimidating and harassing scientists, and promoting unscientific views on subjects ranging from industrial pollution to evolution.

Texas Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson, a ranking member of the House Science Committee, is favored to take over as the new chair. Johnson has a medical background and became the first registered nurse to be elected to Congress in 1993. She has a long record of science advocacy, and accepts the scientific consensus that humans are contributing to climate change.

Read More: The Climate Change Deniers in Congress

Science advocates should also be encouraged by the influx of first-time Democratic challengers with STEM experience elected to the House. Registered nurse and health policy expert Lauren Underwood beat out GOP incumbent Randy Hultgren to represent Illinois’ 14th district, and biochemist Sean Casten took Illinois’ 6th district in a race against Republican incumbent Peter Roskam.

Elaine Luria, a nuclear engineer and Democratic candidate for Virginia’s 2nd district, won against Republican incumbent Scott Taylor. Ocean engineer Joe Cunningham bested GOP incumbent Katie Arrington in the race for South Carolina’s coastal 1st district. Chrissy Houlahan, a former science teacher, also won against incumbent Greg McCauley in Pennsylvania’s 6th district.

There was a big win for science in the Senate too—Jacky Rosen, a former computer programmer, will replace Dean Heller, a climate change denier, as the junior senator from Nevada. Though none of these candidates pitched their scientific backgrounds as the centerpiece of their campaigns, the majority spotlighted climate change and environmental conservation as top priorities.

These new gains for science in Congress will not necessarily materialize into effective evidence-based policy overnight, especially since the White House remains a flagrant and powerful anti-science force. But fortunately, the results signal that the American electorate is becoming more supportive of science-backed solutions to confront the nation’s most intractable problems.

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