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Profile: Joe Barton
Joe Barton was a participant or observer in the following events:
President George Bush, following the lead of Vice President Dick Cheney, prepares to renege on his campaign promise to cap carbon dioxide emissions (see September 29, 2000, March 8, 2001, and March 13, 2001). The promise is later described by authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein as “the environmental centerpiece of [his] presidential campaign.” Christine Todd Whitman, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, later says on CNN, “George Bush was very clear during the course of the campaign that he believed in a multipollutant strategy, and that includes CO2.” Initially, Bush stood by his pledge even as House Republicans Tom DeLay (R-TX) and Joe Barton (R-TX) attacked it as being bad for business. But on March 1, Cheney receives a personal note from energy lobbyist and veteran Republican operative Haley Barbour, headed “Regarding Cheney Energy Policy & Co.” The note reads in part: “A moment of truth is arriving in the form of a decision whether this administration’s policy will be to regulate and/or tax CO2 as a pollutant.… Demurring on the issue of whether the CO2 idea is eco-extremism, we must ask, do environmental initiatives, which would greatly exacerbate the energy problems, trump good energy policy, which the country has lacked for eight years?” Cheney moves quickly to respond to Barbour’s concerns. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 19]
Joe Barton, the chairman of the House of Representatives committee on energy and commerce, begins an inquiry into the careers of climate scientists Michael Mann, Raymond Bradley, and Malcolm Hughes. The three scientists had published a study in 1998 (see April 23, 1998) concluding that the last few decades were warmer than any other comparable time in the last 1000 years. Barton’s investigation is spurred by a recent report in the Wall Street Journal reporting that an economist and a statistician, neither of whom have a background in climate science, have found that the study was flawed. Barton’s investigation is demanding that the three scientists provide the committee with details about their funding sources, methodology, and other studies they have published. Barton, who has close ties to the fossil-fuel lobby, “has spent his 11 years as chairman opposing every piece of legislation designed to combat climate change,” notes the Guardian of London. Responding to Barton’s actions, 18 of the country’s most influential scientists from Princeton and Harvard write in a letter: “Requests to provide all working materials related to hundreds of publications stretching back decades can be seen as intimidation—intentional or not—and thereby risks compromising the independence of scientific opinion that is vital to the pre-eminence of American science as well as to the flow of objective science to the government.” Barton’s investigation also draws criticism from within his own party. Sherwood Boehlert, the chairman of the house science committee, says she objects to what she sees as a “misguided and illegitimate investigation.” [USA Today, 7/18/2005; Guardian, 8/30/2005] Congress eventually asks the National Academy of Sciences to review the issue. A year later, the Academy will publish a report confirming that the last few decades have been hotter than any other period since 1600. However, it says there is not enough data to make a solid conclusion regarding temperatures before that time (see June 22, 2006). [San Francisco Chronicle, 6/23/2006]
Dr. Susan Molchan testifies before Congress. [Source: CBS News]Dr. Susan Molchan, a former clinical researcher for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), testifies before Congress that her supervisor at NIH made a secret deal with the pharmaceutical company Pfizer that involved human tissue samples supposedly collected for the public good, but were instead used for Pfizer’s own research and garnered the company millions in profit. [CBS News, 6/14/2006] Molchan testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations [The Scientist, 6/14/2006] that a collection of unused spinal fluid samples, which CBS News describes as a "a treasure trove of biological material, many painfully given up by Alzheimer’s patients" disappeared without a trace from her laboratory freezer at NIH. The samples were slated to be used for NIH studies on Alzheimer’s disease. Molchan says she was told that some of the samples were lost due to freezer malfunctions, but, "nothing solid, nothing that made sense. I never got a handle on what happened to them." [CBS News, 6/14/2006] Procuring the tissue samples alone cost the government $6.4 million, say committee staffers, who spent a year investigating the matter. "It would really be a shame if we find out that the National Institutes of Health has more control over its paper clips and trash cans than it has over its human tissue samples," says committee member Joe Barton (R-TX). [The Scientist, 6/14/2006] Molchan’s testimony, and other data gathered by Congressional investigators, prove that Molchan’s immediate supervisor, Dr. Trey Sunderland, a well-known psychiatric researcher, cut a secret deal with Pfizer at the same time Pfizer was launching and refining a new Alzheimer’s drug. "If individual scientists are making use of that tissue for their own personal gain, that’s something we need to know about it. It’s not the right thing," says House Energy subcommittee chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY). Sunderland provided Pfizer "access" to 3,200 tubes of spinal fluid, costing the NIH and, as a result, taxpayers, an estimated $6 million. In exchange, Sunderland reportedly received $285,000 in personal compensation. Pfizer’s drug Aricept is now the top-selling drug in the world for treating Alzheimer’s, generating $1.6 billion in sales in 2004. "The more tissue samples you can collect these days and extract genetic information about risk and benefit, that’s the future of drug development around the world," says Dr. Art Caplan, a bio-ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania. The House committee finds that Pfizer itself broke no NIH rules or knew of any wrongdoing by Sunderland, who does not testify before Congress, instead invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. [CBS News, 6/14/2006] Sunderland himself received more than $600,000 in outside consulting and speaking fees from Pfizer from 1998 to 2004 without prior government disclosure or approval. A review by NIH’s Office of Management Assessment found that Sunderland "engaged in serious misconduct, in violation of HHS ethics rules and Federal law and regulation," the report stated. In December 2006, Sunderland will accept a plea bargain in regards to his accepting payments from Pfizer (see December 11, 2006). [The Scientist, 6/14/2006]
During a Congressional hearing on the US’s response to global warming, Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) says global warming is nothing more than a natural phenomonon, and the only response people need to make is to get some “shade.” Barton says: “I believe that Earth’s climate is changing, but I think it’s changing for natural variation reasons. And I think mankind has been adopting, or adapting, to climate as long as man has walked the Earth. When it rains we find shelter. When it’s hot, we get shade. When it’s cold, we find a warm place to stay. Adaptation is the practical, affordable, utterly natural reflex response to nature when the planet is heating or cooling, as it always is.… Nature doesn’t seem to adjust to people as much as people adjust to nature. Adaptation to shifts in temperature is not that difficult.” Think Progress reporter Satyam Khanna notes that Barton is nicknamed “Smokey Joe” for “his efforts on behalf of big polluters,” and last year “stalled Congressional efforts to decrease power plant emissions.” [Think Progress, 3/25/2009]
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