Science

Bill Would Protect Climate-Change Deniers From Discrimination

Seems warmer, because it is (image: NASA, but what does it know?)

Lots of people talk about the need to protect downtrodden and oppressed minority groups, but Maine Rep. Larry Lockman is actually doing something to help them. Well, to help at least one such group: people who don’t think climate change is real.

Earlier this month, Lockman introduced a bill that would provide legal protection for those people by preventing discrimination against individuals or businesses based on their “climate change policy preferences.” (The GuardianPortland Press-Herald) The bill is entitled “An Act to Protect Political Speech and Prevent Climate Change Policy Profiling,” and believe it or not, the authors’ steadfast and determined refusal to hyphenate “climate change policy” is not the worst thing about it.

The bill has three sections. The first declares that Maine’s legislature agrees with the U.S. Supreme Court that “political speech” is entitled to “the highest level of protection from abridgment.” Not that it really matters whether a state legislature “agrees” with U.S. Supreme Court decisions interpreting the federal constitution, but it’s nice to see everybody’s getting along.

The second section forbids the state attorney general from investigating or prosecuting anyone based on that person’s “protected political speech,” or from using “prosecutorial power” in any other way (though I’m not sure there is another way to use it) to “favor or disfavor protected political speech.” Well, using it to disfavor protected speech would be unconstitutional anyway, and a law making it illegal to favor protected speech seems likely to be unconstitutional itself. Especially since the bill doesn’t bother to define “protected political speech,” it seems impossible for the AG to comply with this law, no matter what she does, assuming at least that there’s some dispute over “political speech.”

Turns out there is.

We learn what it might be in the third section, which goes like this:

§ 4753. Climate change policy preferences

1. Contracts and grants. A department or agency of State Government may not discriminate in purchasing goods or services or in awarding grants or contracts based on the climate change policy preferences of the vendor, recipient or contracting party.

2. Employment. A department or agency of State Government may not discriminate with respect to the hire, tenure, promotion, transfer, compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment or any other matter directly or indirectly related to employment or in recruiting for employment or otherwise discriminate against an individual based on the climate change policy preferences of the individual.

The bill doesn’t specifically say that this is the “protected political speech” the first two sections were going on about, but you don’t have to be a genius to make the connection.

As the Press-Herald pointed out, the bill is largely a response to a lawsuit being pursued by a group of state AGs (including Maine’s) against ExxonMobil, accusing it of not being, well, entirely truthful when it comes to climate change. It was proposed to Lockman by Jonathan Reisman, an associate professor who is a climate-change denier, or as he would say, “not a climate alarmist.” Reisman says the bill is an effort to apply the Citizens United decision to defend the rights of not-climate-alarmists like ExxonMobil to express controversial views without getting sued.

It may also be an effort to defend the rights of not-climate-alarmists like Reisman to express his controversial views without losing his job. He didn’t say that in the article, but I did notice the use of the word “tenure” in that section of the bill he is said to have proposed to Lockman. That could just be coincidence, though.

And both Reisman and Lockman insisted that the bill is, in fact, completely neutral with regard to what kind of “climate change policy preferences” an individual or large energy company might prefer. So if people want to take the view, Lockman said, “that climate change is caused by humans [and] is an emergency and we’ve got to do something about it”—like 99.9% of scientists who have studied the issue, for example—then the law would also protect that point of view.

There was going to be a joke here about solid scientific views supported by overwhelming evidence not really needing protection, but then it struck me that a joke like that would have been a lot funnier a few months ago.

Still, the idea of legislating protection for ideas one bad idea at a time seems like, well, a bad idea. You could also fairly take the position, I think, that it’s a bad idea and not a great use of resources for government to bring fraud lawsuits like the one against ExxonMobil for the primary purpose of setting the record straight on something. The best way to do that is education and telling the truth, even if that’s frustrating because some people may have a motive to do otherwise. The cure of government lawsuits is probably worse than the disease.

But punitive government action is what the first two sections of the bill are about. The third one is a different story, because (setting aside protected religious beliefs, of course) you should be able to “discriminate” against people who believe crazy things. Sorry, let me state that more positively—you should be able to discriminate in favor of people who don’t believe crazy things. If there are two guys up for tenure and only one hyphenates “climate-change-policy preferences,” for example, I don’t want to be required to give the other guy equal consideration. I mean, that’s just nuts.

Reports say the bill is considered unlikely to pass, and there’s at least some reason to think Lockman is just using it to get attention for a political point. I guess this Guardian quote is the reason I think that:

Lockman has a history of causing controversy. He once dressed as a vampire outside a federal building in Bangor to protest against the Internal Revenue Service. He also once accused liberals of assisting the AIDS epidemic, saying they assured “the public that the practice of sodomy is a legitimate alternative lifestyle, rather than a perverted and depraved crime against humanity.”

To be fair, the vampire thing is pretty good.