Barton_Headshot_Small_300.JPGRep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee as well as its subcommittee on energy and power. In these roles he has repeatedly demonstrated that he is an idiot.

Well, that’s not really fair. I’m sure he’s a perfectly capable person in some capacities. In every photo I’ve seen of Barton, for example, he is wearing pants — and putting on pants is a tricky procedure that even small children have trouble with. He has also mastered the English language. The problem is just that he leverages the English language in an effort to consistently downplay the need for tighter pollution standards. (This is perhaps because he is also smart enough to have raked in $1.7 million in campaign contributions from Big Oil over the course of his career.)

He used the English language when, in 2011, he said “I’m not a medical doctor but my hypothesis is that’s not gonna happen” — where “that” is that people could die from mercury emitted by coal plants. Those who are medical doctors say it is gonna — and does — happen.

And he used it today, in speaking at an event held by the National Journal. I’d like to walk through some of those statements now. Included, for your convenience, is a rating of how stupid each statement is using our unique rating system.

This argument is a favorite of those who want to delay or obstruct legislation that seeks to limit carbon dioxide pollution. It comes in two forms: We exhale carbon dioxide, so how could it be bad? And: Plants need carbon dioxide to live, so how could it be bad? Barton seems to be going for the latter. (If you meet someone who employs the former, ask them how they’d feel about living in a world overflowing with their own feces.)

Plants also need water. Water is a life necessity. And if you get too much of it, Joe, you get scenes like this. Should we therefore regulate water? No, but we should sure as hell take precautions to make sure we’re not getting flooded out by it.

How stupid is this? Three Trumps out of five.

This is a nifty bit of footwork. (Joe Barton is also smart enough to tap-dance!) Barton escapes criticism for being a flat-out climate change denier but also avoids having to do a single thing to prevent it. The obvious follow-up question, then: Should the government invest in infrastructure that can prevent the worst effects of climate change? We’ll see how he votes on any package for Sandy relief and upgrading New York City’s defenses. But if his past votes on infrastructure are any guide, his acceptance that climate change is happening doesn’t actually extend to spending federal money.

How stupid is this? Two Trumps out of five. Politically, it’s kind of clever, if deeply immoral and hugely destructive over the long term.

In other words, Barton is saying that, yeah, yeah, the Clean Air Act did some good stuff, but it has maxed out on how much good stuff it can do.

Here, as we noted this morning, the “good stuff” is saving people’s lives. What Barton is saying in a flippant, dismissive way is that preventing thousands of early deaths and cases of lung disease is not worth the cost of asking polluters to turn down the amount they pollute — which is far short of stemming pollution entirely! This is because Joe Barton, while not a medical doctor, has done the math, tallying up a column in which he’s listed the cost of his friends and donors at Conoco and Exxon and power companies reducing their pollutants and has compared that to the various people — Joe Smith of Houston and Jane Jones of Cincinnati — and the bills they’re having to pay for chronic lung disease. And, however close it is, the cost to the companies is greater. So Joe Barton, always one who hews closely to his rigorous mathematical calculations, has no choice but to let Joe and Jane be sick. It’s only fair.

How stupid is this? Five full Donald Trumps.

In summary: These are the views of a powerful elected official, holding office in the year 2012. If you would like more information on Joe Barton and his views on the issues, see his website’s “Congressman Barton on the Issues” page, which is completely and understandably empty.