What eventually became a shouting match with phrases such as “boo” and “young lady” being thrown around, began with a question about petrochemicals. Higgins — who calls fossil fuels “the cornerstone of our modern society” — asked Raya Salter, founder of the Energy Justice Law and Policy Center, an energy-focused public interest law firm., what his plan was to deal with the abundance of products made with chemical compounds derived from fossil fuels.
“All you have. Your clothes, your glasses, the car you arrived in, your phone, the table you’re sitting at, the chair, the rug under your feet, all you have are petrochemicals. What would you do with that? Tell the world!” Higgins told Salter, who is also a member of the New York State Climate Action Council, an environmental organization affiliated with the state government.
Salter responded by saying, “If I had that power, actually I don’t need that power because what I would do is ask you, sir, from Louisiana…” before Higgins called him out. interrupts.
The next two and a half minutes were marked by a tense back-and-forth in which Higgins and Salter tried to talk to each other.
Salter asked Higgins to “search your heart and ask your God what you are doing to the black and poor people of Louisiana,” who she says are among the hardest hit by pollutants released from petrochemical plants.
The Republican lawmaker responded by saying “my good lady, I’m trying to give you the floor, boo” and asking “okay, but what would you do?”
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“You don’t have an answer, do you, young lady?” What to do with petrochemicals? So keep going,” Higgins continued.
“We need to get away from petrochemicals, we need to shut down petrochemical facilities in your state and get away from plastics,” Salter replied.
Louisiana produces more natural gas than all but two states nationally, according to the US Energy Information Administration. The state’s 16 oil refineries, capable of processing some 3.2 million barrels of crude oil per day, account for about 20% of the country’s refining capacity. Much of this infrastructure is concentrated along the southern region of Louisiana facing the Gulf of Mexico, which is part of the district that Higgins represents.
Higgins noted that liquefied natural gas projects in his district are helping reduce carbon emissions. LNG has been hailed as a transitional energy source in the transition to carbon neutrality, and amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Biden administration is ramping up natural gas deliveries to Europe in the hope of controlling the energy crisis. But although LNG produces fewer carbon emissions than fossil fuels such as coal and oil, it is not completely clean, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental nonprofit.
The oil and gas industries ranked among the top five contributors to Higgins’ campaign in the 2021-2022 election cycle, according to data from OpenSecrets, a campaign finance watchdog. The Republican lawmaker also argued for the economic importance of fossil fuels. Last year, he introduced a resolution challenging the Biden administration to run the White House without using petrochemical-derived products. The bill was referred to a House subcommittee in February 2021 and has not been discussed since.
“Modern life is not possible without the oil and gas industry. These sources of energy power the world, and petroleum-based products are found in virtually everything everywhere,” Higgins said in a statement at the time.
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That was the point he was trying to make on Thursday — but the way he delivered his remarks shocked some Democratic members of Congress. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) went so far as to apologize for “the conduct of this committee and what we just witnessed.”
“I just want you to know that in the four years I’ve served on this committee, I’ve never seen any member of Congress – Republican or Democrat – disrespect a witness the way I’ve seen you. disrespect today,” Ocasio- Cortez told Salter. “I don’t care what party they are. I have never seen anything like it. For the gentleman from Louisiana and the comfort he felt yelling at you like that, there’s more than one way to get a message across.
“Frankly, men who treat women like that in public, I fear the way they treat them in private,” Ocasio-Cortez added.
Higgins’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Friday. However, he told the Hill in a statement that he was not going to let “leftists” crush him.
“When radicals come before my committee with an attitude that talks about anti-American trash, they can expect to be manipulated. I really don’t care if I hurt anyone’s feelings while I fight to preserve our Republic he told the outlet.
Video footage of Ocasio-Cortez critical remarks – which were widely picked up by liberals online – and the verbal back-and-forth on social media on Thursday. A clip showing the exchange between Higgins and Salter had cumulated more than 560,000 views on Twitter by early Friday.
On Thursday afternoon, the GOP lawmaker doubled down on what he said, share a video back-and-forth and urging his followers to “watch my exchange with today’s unbalanced climate activist [House Oversight] Committee hearing.
Salter was unharmed, she said.
“Thanks for the support! I don’t mind fossil fuel buddies!!!” she wrote on Twitter.