Another week, another Oklahoma senator in the spotlight for alleged wayward views on heroes of the environmental movement.
Usually it’s Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, whose skepticism about man-made global warming have made him the anti-Gore.
Now, however, it’s Sen. Tom Coburn. The Muskogee Republican is taking on Rachel Carson, the late scientist and author who is widely credited with inspiring the modern environmental movement with her book “Silent Spring.”
Carson’s book, released in 1962, warned of the dangers of widespread and indiscriminate use of pesticides, including DDT, a chemical that was ultimately banned in the United States ten years after the book came out.
It has been 100 years this month since Carson was born and some lawmakers want to mark that milestone by naming a post office after her and with a resolution honoring her contribuitons to the environment.
But Coburn won’t let them. Last week, he blocked an attempt to bring up the resolution honoring her and vowed to do the same on the post office bill.
The reason: Coburn, a physician, is among those who believe Carson’s warnings about DDT _ and the stigma to the chemical that resulted _ have led to millions of people dying needlessly from malaria.
The majority of deaths from malaria, he says, are children and pregnant women in Africa.
In a statement, Coburn’s office said Carson’s book had been “debunked.”
COBURN SIDES WITH WHO
Last year, the World Health Organization approved the use of DDT for “indoor residual spraying”
“We must take a position based on the science and the data,” Dr Arata Kochi, director of WHO’s Global Malaria Program, said in a press statement. “One of the best tools we have against malaria is indoor residual house spraying. Of the dozen insecticides WHO has approved as safe for house spraying, the most effective is DDT.”
Coburn was quoted in the WHO press release as saying that the organization’s endorsement would help “put to rest the junk science and myths that have provided aid and comfort to the real enemy – mosquitoes – which threaten the lives of more than 300 million children each year.”
The same press release said that environmental groups Environmental Defense and the Sierra Club now “endorse” the indoor residual spraying of DDT.
That would be extraordinary since Environmental Defense was formed five years after Carson’s book came out because of the concerns she expressed _ that DDT was killing birds and having a tragic ripple effect throughout the ecosystem.
The groups don’t exactly endorse indoor DDT spraying. According to information on their websites, they support a 2001 treaty that allows the indoor useage when there are no locally safe and effective alternatives. But Environmental Defense wants all uses of DDT phased out as alternatives become available.
REID WON’T STAY SILENT
On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, tried to bring up a resolution honoring Carson but a Republican member _ on Coburn’s behalf _ objected. Under Senate rules, a single senator can keep legislation bottled up for a long time with a “hold,” and Coburn has a hold on all things Carson right now.
Reid came close to questioning Coburn’s “courage.” Actually, he did kind of question it, when Coburn wasn’t on the Senate floor. Here’s what Reid said:
“I think it is too bad, first, that the person who objected to this would not have the _ I should not say courage. But that person who objects to this should come and do it on their own behalf, not have some other Senator object.”
Coburn’s been accused of a lot of things, but the guy who challenges powerful senators’ pork barrel projects (Bridge to Nowhere, anyone?) on the Senate floor and tries to take them out of bills hasn’t been called a coward.
Reid apparently knew Coburn was objecting, but he didn’t name him. But he said he had heard the reason the bill was being held was because Carson “relied on flawed science to come to her conclusions.”
“I do not know anything about flawed science,” Reid said, “but I do know this woman turned the minds of young people to the environment, turned the minds of the academic world to the environment. As a result of her work …we became conscious of our need to make sure we do things to protect the environment.”
Reid also vowed to try again, saying he felt strongly about the issue.
Not sure if that means there’s going to be a Rachel Carson debate on the Senate floor at some point, but I’ll try to post a heads-up here if I hear that.
BTW: The headline of the post refers to the fact that Coburn’s 2004 opponent was Brad Carson.