WASHINGTON—A remarkably balmy January—the fourth warmest on record—has prompted top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to prod Republicans into scheduling a congressional hearing to explore why winters are warmer than average.
Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Bobby Rush of Illinois cited recent data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as the basis for their hearing request.
During January, the average temperature in the United States—excluding Alaska and Hawaii—was 5.5 degrees above normal, according to NOAA.
NOAA reports show that above-normal temperatures are part of a global trend. For example, they pointed to NOAA statistics listing 2001-2011 as ranking among the 13 warmest years worldwide since recordkeeping began in 1880.
In a Wednesday letter addressed to GOP committee leaders, Waxman and Rush wrote that a hearing to discuss these findings would "provide members with a more robust understanding of the scientific consensus around rising temperatures."
"Denial of basic science is a serious obstacle for action to understand and address global climate change," Waxman and Rush wrote. "Yet last year during debate on H.R. 910, all Republican members of the Committee voted against a simple amendment that recognized that warming of the climate is occurring."
Since May 2011, Waxman and his fellow Democrats have made at least seven other requests to Republican leadership for climate-related hearings, according to information provided to InsideClimate News by energy committee spokeswoman Karen Lightfoot. Thus far, none has been granted.
In their letter this week, the two Democrats also pointed to NOAA numbers revealing that the first two months of this winter are the fourth warmest on record, with 22 states experiencing unusually high temperatures.
This swing of warmer-than-normal temperatures was especially evident in the Northern Plains. For instance, temperatures climbed to 71 degrees in Jackson County, S.D., and 61 degrees in Minot, N.D. on Jan. 5. Minnesota temperatures in December and January were 10.1 degrees above average, the warmest such period on record for that state.
Waxman is the ranking Democrat on the Republican-majority energy committee, while Rush is the ranking Democrat on the panel's subcommittee on energy and power.
They addressed their letter to their energy committee counterparts, Chairman Fred Upton and Rep. Ed Whitfield.
The prospects for the hearing request being granted seem unlikely, but no definitive answer was given by today's deadline. Spokespeople for Upton didn't return requests for comment.