Environment & Science

KPCC reporters fact-check Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and Tom Steyer's climate claims

(Above) Tom Steyer introduces a panel during the National Clean Energy Summit 6.0 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on August 13, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Below) Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C.
(Above) Tom Steyer introduces a panel during the National Clean Energy Summit 6.0 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on August 13, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Below) Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C.
Isaac Brekken/Getty Images and Gage Skidmore/Flickr/Creative Commons

On June 1, KPCC produced a live on-air special on President Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. We interviewed U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher, R-Orange County, and investor and environmental philanthropist Tom Steyer about their views on the decision. Afterwards, we received many comments from listeners who felt we did not sufficiently challenge their claims. KPCC environment reporter Emily Guerin and correspondent Matt Bloom have this fact-check.



Rep. Dana Rohrabacher I have no doubt that there are these climate cycles and we go through them and it's only been until recently that the politicians have tried to claim that we have to control people's behavior in order to control those climate cycles. And so I disagree with the theory that CO2, done by mankind, is a major cause for climate change.

KPCC Ninety-seven percent of scientists are in agreement that human activities are responsible for global warming trends over the past 100 years. Most of the leading scientific organizations in the world have made public statements in support of this consensus, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union and the National Academy of Sciences. 

Rohrabacher I think the CEOs [Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Disney CEO Bob Igner, who both condemned the President's decision], they don't have to worry about the unemployment the Paris agreement would cause. 

The notion that the Paris climate agreement will “cause” anything is misleading, because the agreement is voluntary. Each country pledges to cut its emissions by a certain amount by a certain year. Every five years, each country reviews where it’s at and explains why it has or has not hit its targets. But the targets are not legally enforceable. Vox has a great explainer on this topic.

Rohrabacher The people of the Paris accord were insisting on things like the ending of frequent flyer miles, because they see the airplanes just the worst violators.

 KPCC cannot find any evidence that the Paris accord mentions ending frequent flyer miles.

Rohrabacher We've had the most incredible, for the last 30 years, how do you say, political campaign to set a mindset in people's consciousness that some way every time there's some problem with the climate and you see a cycle going through, that that in some way has to do with human behavior, and thus there's an excuse to control human behavior. But I know a lot of people have looked into it who have come to this conclusion, and I certainly have, that there is a small impact of the manmade CO2 on the climate.

 According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body of international scientists that regularly scrutinizes climate research, “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.”

Rohrabacher Al Gore said global warming was going to dramatically increase the sea level. And of course that never happened.

According to the IPCC, sea level rose seven inches between 1901 and 2010. Not only is the sea level rising, but it’s rising faster than at any time over the past two thousand years. And the rate is only expected to increase in the future. 

Tom Steyer I think the president is attempting to make a winner out of the fossil fuel industry when it's in decline.

KPCC Steyer lumps all fossil fuels together here, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Coal production is in decline, in part due to the lower costs of natural gas generation and growing market share of wind and solar power, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Last year, the EIA said natural gas provided 33 percent of U.S. energy generation while coal’s share fell to 32 percent, making 2016 the first year that natural gas-fired generation exceeded coal generation on an annual basis. 

Meantime, EIA says  production of both natural gas and oil in the U.S. is booming. Since 2012, the U.S. has pumped more oil and gas than any other country in the world. 

Steyer I think what we've seen in the marketplace is that renewables plus storage is cheaper than fossil fuels.

When Steyer says "storage," he means the ability to store the electricity produced by solar or wind generation in massive batteries so that the energy is available later, when the wind is no longer blowing or it's cloudy.

The REN21 Renewables Global Futures Report from the United Nations says that renewables are now the least expensive option for new power generation in almost all countries. But the limitations of existing infrastructure are a barrier to further expansion.

Steyer It's unrealistic to think that the federal government doesn't have a role to play in our economy. For one thing, they fund an awful lot of research.

A lot of federal research and development grants jump start businesses here in Southern California. For example, the Department of Energy’s Advance Research Projects Agency-Energy, also known as ARPA-E, gave $2 million to Marine BioEnergy Inc. in La Cañada to develop a system for turning kelp into fuel. Other federally funded programs include $1 million for UCLA’s effort to build a better battery for electric vehicles. The Trump administration has signaled that it wants to eliminate ARPA-E funding next year.

Steyer But the fact of the matter is number one, you have to acknowledge the problem (climate change) before you talk about solving it. And number two, we believe that solving it will create better jobs, better paying jobs, and will help the health of Americans. So we not only solve a huge threat to America but we make ourselves better off and healthier.

A 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Energy found that California was home to 40 percent of the country's solar energy jobs, a number that could rise as the state moves toward ambitious renewable energy goals. Since 2004, greenhouse gas emissions in California declined over nine percent while the state's GDP grew 28 percent, according to the California Air Resources Board.