What eventually turned into a shouting contest in which phrases like “shush” and “young lady” were tossed around, began with a question about petrochemicals.Higgins — who calls fossil fuels “the lifeblood of our modern society” — asks Raya Salter, founder of the Center for Energy Justice Law and Policy at public interest law firm, Her plan is to process a large number of products made from compounds derived from fossil fuels.
“Everything you own—your clothes, your glasses, the car you sit in, your phone, the table you sit on, the chairs, the carpet under your feet—everything you own is petrochemical. What would you do Tell the world!” Higgins told Salter, who is also a member of the New York State Climate Action Council, the state’s environmental agency.
“If I have that ability, I don’t actually need that ability, because all I have to do is ask you, Mr. from Louisiana,” Salter replied, before Higgins interrupted.
For the next 2.5 minutes, Higgins and Salter tried to talk to each other in a tense back and forth.
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Salter asked Higgins to “look in your heart and ask your God what you’ve done to the black people and the poor in Louisiana,” who she said are the people most affected by pollutants emitted by petrochemical plants .
The Republican lawmaker responded: “My good lady, I want to give you the floor, shh,” and asked, “Okay, so what will you do?”
“You don’t have an answer, young lady? What about petrochemicals? So I’ll move on,” Higgins continued.
Salter replied, “We need to stay away from petrochemicals, we need to shut down petrochemical facilities in your state and stay away from plastics.”
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Louisiana produces more natural gas than all but two states in the nation. The state’s 16 refineries process about 3.2 million barrels of crude oil per day, or about 20 percent of the country’s refining capacity. Much of the infrastructure is concentrated in the southern part of Louisiana facing the Gulf of Mexico — part of the region Higgins represents.
Higgins noted that LNG projects in his area help reduce carbon emissions. Liquefied natural gas has been hailed as a transitional energy source on the move towards carbon neutrality, and in the midst of Russia’s war with Ukraine, the Biden administration is ramping up gas deliveries to Europe in hopes of containing the energy crisis. But while LNG produces fewer carbon emissions than fossil fuels like coal and oil, it’s not entirely clean, according to the environmental nonprofit the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The oil and gas industry is among the top five for Higgins’ campaign in the 2021-2022 election cycle, according to campaign finance watchdog OpenSecrets. The Republican lawmaker also advocated the economic importance of fossil fuels. Last year, he introduced a resolution challenging a Biden administration to run the White House without petrochemicals. The bill was presented to a House subcommittee in February 2021 and has not been discussed since.
“Modern life would not be possible without the oil and gas industry. These energy sources fuel the world, and petroleum products are almost everywhere,” Higgins said in a statement at the time.
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That’s the point he was trying to make on Thursday — but the way he made his remarks shocked some Democratic members of Congress. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) won an apology for “the commission’s actions and what we just witnessed.”
“I just wanted to let you know that in the four years I’ve been on this committee, I’ve never seen a congressman — Republican or Democrat — disrespect witnesses as much as I see them disrespect you today,” Otto said. Cassio-Cortez to Salter. “I don’t care what party they’re at. I’ve never seen anything like this. There’s more than one way to tell about this gentleman in Louisiana, and the comfort he feels when he yells at you like that.”
“Frankly, men who treat women like this in public, I’m concerned about the way they treat them in private,” Ocasio-Cortez added.
Higgins’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment earlier Friday. However, he told Hill in a statement that he would not let “left-wing radicals” run over him.
“When activists come up to my committee with a talk about anti-American trash, they can expect to be dealt with. I really don’t care if anyone’s feelings are hurt as I fight to preserve our republic,” he told the media.
Video clip of Ocasio-Cortez Criticism — which was widely echoed by liberals online — was the verbal back-and-forth trend on social media on Thursday.A clip showing the exchange between Higgins and Salter has Viewed over 560,000 times on Twitter early Friday.
On Thursday afternoon, the Republican lawmaker doubled down on what he said, share video and urged his followers to “watch my exchange with today’s unhinged climate activists” [House Oversight] Committee hearing. “
Salter insisted she was unscathed.
“Thank you for your support! I am not bothered by fossil fuel cronies!!!” she wrote on Twitter.