Energy & Environment

Protesters Disrupt Congressional Hearing

The 111th Congress hit a new low last week—one that should make us all wonder exactly where the federal government is headed.

Four coal industry CEOs voluntarily showed up to testify before Rep. Ed Markey’s House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. They graciously accepted Chairman Markey’s invitation despite the fact that the eponymous Waxman-Markey bill, which passed the House last June, is aimed at putting the coal industry out of business. You might think that this civil gesture on the part of the CEOs would have earned some level of respect from Chairman Markey. But you’d be wrong.

As one CEO testified from his seat at the witness table, several protesters wearing masks suddenly appeared at the table. They placed chunks of coal on the table where the CEOs sat and then stood in the area between the CEOs and Chairman Markey chanting “Coal is dirty.”

You might think that Chairman Markey moved quickly and forcibly to protect the witnesses and reassert control over the hearing. But again you’d be wrong. This scene went on for 9 minutes.

The most Chairman Markey managed to do during this surreal scene was to ask feebly for security in a quiet monotone voice. Though security stood right outside the hearing room, no officers responded. When the protesters finally left on their own volition, they were not pursued.

It is outrageous that Rep. Markey invited the CEOs to testify and then, either negligently or not, allowed them to be exposed them to the physical humiliation and intimidation of protesters. Certainly, if Secretary of Energy Steven Chu or former Vice President Al Gore had been at the witness table, Chairman Markey would have had ample security around to protect them. Given Chairman Markey’s reaction to the scene, one may reasonably wonder whether he was in on the attempted humiliation.

You might think that these brazen protesters were from a radical group like Earth First. But you’d be wrong. The protesters were part of a group called Campus Progress, a subsidiary of the Center for American Progress (CAP)—essentially the Obama Administration’s think tank. CAP is led by John Podesta, who chaired President Obama’s White House transition team.

Had the protesters been with a group like Earth First, Markey’s complicity in the event would be less open to question. But Markey undoubtedly has close ties with CAP as it is the leading Democratic policy group in Washington, D.C. At the very least, he spoke at a CAP event in 2008. Moreover, CAP strongly supported the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill. Would CAP-affiliated protesters risk Chairman Markey’s wrath by disrupting his hearing?

As congressional invitees, the CEOs should have been afforded every courtesy by Chairman Markey. But they weren’t even given the most basic courtesy—personal security. The outstanding question is what did Chairman Markey know and when did he know it?

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