A House climate watchdog hearing erupted in disrespect Thursday when a Republican lawmaker yelled at and belittled an expert who criticized the fossil fuel industry’s impact on the environment as well as its role in black and brown communities.
Raya Salter, an energy justice lawyer who serves on the New York State Climate Action Council, was asked to testify before House lawmakers during a hearing on the lack of accountability of the oil and gas industry and its major role in the climate crisis. She said the climate crisis is an “unprecedented global crime and the smoking gun is in the hands of the big oil and gas companies”.
Salter, a black woman, spoke about the disproportionate impact the fossil fuel industry has had on black and brown communities, as well as low-income families. She said companies are trying to blame the climate crisis on individual consumers and environmental activists instead of focusing on the real solution: moving away from fossil fuels.
But Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) wasn’t buying Salter’s testimony, asking him an open-ended question.
“All you have – your clothes, your glasses, your car you arrived in, your phone, the table you’re sitting at, the chair, the rug under your feet – all you have are petrochemicals,” Higgins said. . “What would you do with that?” Tell the world.”
As Higgins talked about her, Salters answered her question.
“If I had this power in the world – in fact, I don’t need this power because what I would do is ask you, sir, from Louisiana, to search your heart and understand why the EPA knows that toxic petrochemical facilities are among the most toxic polluting facilities in the world and are killing black people throughout Louisiana,” Salter said.
“My good lady. I’m trying to give you the floor, boo,” Higgins said as she continued to speak above her. “Boo” is a common endearment term in the black community, however, when it’s used sarcastically – as the white congressman apparently did – it can be seen as disrespectful, racist and misogynistic.
Higgins then tried to bring his religion into the discussion, saying he was an environmentalist “from a biblical perspective” because he believed God had given humans the power to care for the planet.
“Sir, if we are going to talk about the Lord, I ask you to search your heart again and think about repenting because the fossil fuel industry that owns your state is destroying the earth and the natural world. And that is a fact, sir, answered Salter.
Higgins continued to yell at her as he expressed his belief that Salter had no solutions to the issues she presented to Congress.
“Do you know what you have, young lady? Higgins said to Salter. “You have a lot of noise, but you have no answers.”
later higgins tweeted about the swap, calling Salter a “lopsided climate activist.”
The incident was addressed shortly after by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.), who also sits on the committee.
“In the four years I’ve served on this committee, I’ve never seen members of Congress — Republican or Democrat — disrespect a witness like I’ve seen them disrespect you today. I don’t care what party they are, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
“And for the gentleman from Louisiana, and the comfort he felt screaming at it like that – there’s more than one way to get a message across,” she added. “Honestly, men who treat women like that in public, I’m afraid of how they treat them in private. We can be better than that.
Salter thanked Ocasio-Cortez before saying, “They can pick me up all day.”