In January, Republicans will take control of the Senate and Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe will likely get the nod from his party leadership to chair the Environment and Public Works Committee.
That's right: the man who called climate change the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American public will preside over any legislation dealing with air, water, and soil pollution, while also overseeing the US Environmental Protection Agency — the government regulator tasked with implementing nearly all of President Obama's climate change policies.
It's a scenario that has left environmentalists with mouths agape.
In describing a passage from his book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, Inhofe said: "[T]he Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that 'as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.'"
It's a common refrain among deniers and Inhofe explains his interpretation, saying: "My point is, God's still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous."
Inhofe could tone down the climate denial, say some observers, knowing that many of his fellow Republicans have moderated their own positions on climate change, now preferring to say "I'm not a scientist," when queried about their views, rather than outright denying the scientific consensus. Why bring attention to themselves with flat-Earth theories, so the theory goes, when the GOP will control both houses of Congress, providing them with ample opportunities to attack the administration's climate policies. Think of it as a "death by a thousand [budget] cuts" strategy instead of one aimed at spinning conspiratorial tales of plots between the United Nations, climate scientists, and Hollywood liberals to tank the economy and torture Americans through excessive regulation.
But Inhofe might go full-on denier, a strategy that could backfire, as growing numbers of Americans — moderate Republicans even — support action on climate change.
""The climate denial pedaled by Senator Inhofe won't resonate in Congress any more than it does with the American people. Americans see what's happening and they want their leaders to do something about it — not obstruct progress on the central environmental challenge of our time," David Goldston, Director of Government Affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told VICE News. "Senator Inhofe, along with incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seem hell-bent on learning that the hard way, by creating a backlash against their obstructionism."
Inhofe previously used his chairmanship as a launching pad for some of the most egregious distortions of climate science and attacks on researchers and environmentalists who have called for action on climate change.
"Much of the debate over global warming is predicated on fear, rather than science," he said in 2003, reflecting on his role as committee chairman. "Global warming alarmists see a future plagued by catastrophic flooding, war, terrorism, economic dislocations, droughts, crop failures, mosquito-borne diseases, and harsh weather — all caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions."
Looking back through 2014, it's an easy task to find each of those events and scientists who say climate change was a likely factor in their becoming more frequent and more extreme.
The most epic battles around US climate change policy will undoubtedly unfold in his committee in the coming years. Whether he moderates his denialism and chooses a more tactful path toward gutting greenhouse gas regulations, or unleashes his tried-and-true method of distorting science and attacking environmentalists, Inhofe will be front and center in 2015, influencing how the public perceives climate change and very likely blocking at every possible moment US action on climate change.
Follow Robert S. Eshelman on Twitter: @RobertSEshelman