COLUMBIA, Maryland — Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen on Wednesday stressed the urgency of understanding climate change and dismissed Trump administration efforts to ban the term as “all nonsense.”
The Democrat, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told the University Space Research Association’s inaugural Earth From Space Institute symposium that climate change should be a regular part of the federal government’s conversations, especially regarding the budget.
The two-day symposium, titled “Making Communities More Resilient to Extreme Flooding,” brought together scientists from around the world to brainstorm ways to salvage areas that are hardest hit by flooding and to prevent future damage.
“On Capitol Hill, they say we have a lot of commotion but not necessarily a lot of forward motion,” Van Hollen said. “But here you’re working on very important efforts and projects for the United States and other parts of the world.”
Van Hollen expressed his frustration with how some of his colleagues in Congress discuss climate change – or rather, ignore it – citing reports that some federal departments had banned using the term.
“This is all nonsense. We have to protect the integrity of the scientific enterprise,” he said emphatically.
“There are a lot of people in Congress who totally have your back,” the senator said. “We will be the first to call out any efforts to penalize scientists.”
Van Hollen said he’s worked to do just that, bringing lawmakers’ attention to space-based, national and local methods to combat climate change.
Many in attendance said the senator is a strong ally of the scientific community. USRA President and CEO Jeffrey Isaacson called him someone who “fights to protect scientific integrity in government,” and “a champion of science.”
“We have a leader in Washington who actually knows NASA acronyms,” exclaimed Miguel Roman, the founding director of URSA and the symposium.
Van Hollen has been an outspoken advocate for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and noted its importance in informing natural disaster response efforts.
“With a changing climate we can expect more disasters, more extreme weather, and we’ll need to use this data more and more from our satellites and space-based instruments to address challenges in our communities,” the senator said.
Van Hollen also highlighted the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay and rebuilding towns after flooding, such as Ellicott City, which has been hammered with two catastrophic floods in the last four years.
Officials and residents have debated the utility of rebuilding the downtown and Van Hollen said decisions must encompass sustainable infrastructure and “resilient” rebuilding.
“It only makes sense from a taxpayer point of view…that you’re building it to last,” he said.
In Maryland, Van Hollen said the disappearing islands in the Chesapeake and the danger to cities on the Bay is in the front of his mind while developing the budget.
He said he fought back against proposed cuts on several programs, such as the carbon monitoring program, that work to combat climate change and its effects. These programs will continue to receive funding in the next budget and some will even receive more funds than the previous budget, he said.
Van Hollen said he hopes the United States rejoins the Paris Climate Accord, which subsequent speakers pointed out Howard County joined earlier this year, making it one of the only counties in the nation to do so.