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U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch says he's not convinced that climate change is a serious problem, but he is keeping an open mind about it.
"I don't know" if the dire predictions are true, he said during a visit to The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday. "And I don't think anybody does."
A consensus has grown in recent years among scientists that global warming is a reality even if it is not clear exactly how those changes will impact humans and the environment. But Washington policymakers have been reluctant to take steps on a nationwide basis to address the problem.
Meanwhile, in Utah and more than a dozen other states, some political leaders have determined that the scientific evidence for climate change is strong enough that they have undertaken initiatives to reduce the pollutants that contribute to global warming, pollutants primarily blamed on burning fossil fuel. Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson garnered international recognition for global warming reductions his city has undertaken.
Hatch, a Republican and 30-year veteran of Congress, spoke just as the political season begins to rev up and the senator asks Utahns to return him to Washington for a sixth term. Hatch said he has considered both sides of the climate change debate from the political and scientific perspectives.
"I suspect there's a little truth to both."
Pete Ashdown, Hatch's likely Democratic opponent, agreed the causes of climate change may not be clear "but it is worth doing something about."
"If we manage to reverse climate change, that would be remarkable," he said. "But, even if we cannot reverse climate change, we would see clean air as a benefit" of addressing the underlying causes of it.
Hatch said he had read Michael Crichton's State of Fear, a novel about climate change, and took note of the scientific citations at the end of the book. He could not recall specific articles or authors he had read that confirm concerns about global warming but said he thought there was a lot of "non-science" around the issue.
"In fact, let's call it science fiction," he said.
The senator also dismissed the idea that government scientists have been silenced and their reports rewritten to downplay the case for climate change.
"I don't think they can get away with that even if they wanted to," he said of Bush administration political appointees who have been accused of watering down reports and muffling scientists. "They can't hide that."
In January, James Hansen of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, perhaps the nation's most prominent climate scientist, said scientists at his agency had been censored by the agency's press office. And in 2003, reports surfaced that a former oil industry lobbyist working for the Bush administration had watered down a climate change assessment developed by scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Hatch said more research is needed and the politics need to be stripped from the discussion so decision-makers can zero in on the truth about climate change. He also noted his success in promoting alternative fuels and restated his support for nuclear power as a clean source of energy.
"Without that, we are going to eat our atmosphere alive" with pollution, he said.