WASHINGTON – The Democratic chairman of a key congressional panel Tuesday characterized the Trump administration's latest efforts to challenge the science behind climate change as "dangerous."
The comments by Rep. José Serrano, D-N.Y., chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing federal climate funding, came amid news reports that White House officials are putting together a national security advisory panel aimed at countering the science behind human-caused global warming.
The panel's findings could give President Donald Trump, who has challenged his own government's conclusions about the causes of and threats from climate change, more ammunition to ignore it.
Serrano, who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, said that would be perilous.
"This unaccountable working group appears set to deliberately cherry-pick data and science with the sole purpose of pushing back against the widely accepted science around climate change," he said at a hearing Tuesday that featured government scientists testifying on the crisis. "This only serves to diminish the magnitude of this crisis, and it is dangerous."
Shortly after Serrano spoke, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced Senate Democrats are drafting legislation that would block the White House from creating the panel.
"This is maybe the most conspicuous symptom of a disease of climate denial that has infected the Republican Party and the hard right," Schumer said at a Capitol Hill news conference.
The science is largely settled on climate change and the threats it poses the panel. But the public relations war over how to address it is heating up as both sides navigate an issue expected to be a top issue in the 2020 election.
Democrats who retook the House following the 2018 midterm election have been holding numerous hearings on the crisis. Republicans, in turn, have accused Democrats of trying to use climate change to impose a leftist agenda that would ruin the economy.
In early February, progressive Democrats unveiled their Green New Deal to remake the American economy into a social justice model focused on clean energy.
But moderate Democrats have distanced themselves from the broadly worded plan that also calls for free housing, health care and higher education for all Americans, preferring only to endorse the portions that directly address climate change.
Trump has touted environmental deregulation and his abandonment of Obama-era steps to confront climate change as pillars of his "America First" economic agenda that has helped spur growth and lift the financial markets.
But moderate Republicans are urging their party to stop challenging the science and starts confronting the problem of higher temperatures, worsening natural disasters and rising sea levels.
"This is like a call to arms. Let’s have conservatives have a discussion instead of being in denial that this is a problem," former Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich, who ran against Trump in 2016, is expected to say at a speech Tuesday at the University of British Columbia. "You can’t just be a science denier."
The White House would not confirm reports on the panel.
Asked about the formation of the panel, a National Security Council representative said the administration wants to ensure that "decisions are fully informed and based on the most accurate and relevant information available.”
John Kerry, who served as President Barack Obama's secretary of State, wrote in a Washington Post column Tuesday that Trump should abandon the effort to discredit the science.
"As we careen toward irreversible environmental tipping points, we have no time to waste debating alternative facts only to invest years more reestablishing trust in the real ones," Kerry wrote. "No panel 10 years from now can put the ice sheets back together or hold back rising tides."
During Tuesday's hearing, NASA Earth Science Division Director Michael Freilich was asked about the scientific integrity of the administration's most recent climate assessment, released in November, which White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders described as "not based on facts."
The report "is a comprehensive, scientifically rigorously analysis and assessment if the available information primarily from the U.S. government," Freilich said. "We have made measurements of many climate indicators and many of the Earth's systems and it is clear that the climate is changing."
David Doniger, a climate change expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said he was not worried about the administration's efforts to discredit the science given the preponderance of evidence.
"It just seems so late in the day," he said. "It's no longer a future hypothetical, it's real. And to think that you're going to be able to stave off public concerns and public demand for action by ... writing a denial report seems too late."
Contributing: Michael Collins
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Climate change: Democratic lawmaker rips Donald Trump's panel on climate science as 'dangerous'