Who Is Joe Barton?

Who exactly is Joe Barton? Before yesterday, few people really knew. The 13-term Texas congressman stayed, like most members of Congress, relatively obscure. Even as the former chairman of the influential Energy and Commerce Committee, Barton rarely gained national headlines.

Until yesterday. After his stunning public apology to BP chief executive Tony Hayward, Barton is suddenly a top trender online, and the subject of almost all Capitol Hill buzz. The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics blasted out the revealing fact that Barton received $1.6 million in campaign contributions from Big Oil and Gas since 1990, which could explain his sympathy for those same companies.

But the bigger question is, as ranking member of his committee, could he retake the chairmanship if Republicans take back the House this fall? The conventional wisdom on the Hill—with plenty of anonymous sourcing to back it up—is that Republican leaders would probably pick someone else that better represents that party's widespread frustration with BP and the situation in the gulf. Or, someone who would simply be less controversial than the embattled Barton.

As they make those decisions, one might still wonder what Barton would look like as head of the committee in 2011. Borrowing the old adage about the past being the best indicator of the future, NEWSWEEK took a stroll through several recent statements addressing climate change and environmental adaptation. The verdict? If he's a friend of the planet, then the planet needs new friends.

On his hunch that wind power could speed up climate change:

Wind is God's way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it's hotter to areas where it's cooler. That's what wind is. Wouldn't it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up? Now, I'm not saying that's going to happen, Mr. Chairman, but that is definitely something on the massive scale. I mean, it does make some sense. You stop something, you can't transfer that heat, and the heat goes up. It's just something to think about.

On adaptation being a more urgent concern than greenhouse-gas pollution:

Adapting is a common natural way for people to adapt to their environment. I believe the earth's climate is changing, but I think it's changing for natural variation reasons and I think mankind has been adapting to climate as long as man has walked the earth … It's inevitable that humanity will adapt to global warming. The longer we postpone finding ways of doing it successful the more expensive and unpalatable the adjustment will become.

On allegations—later disproven—that EPA scientists hid evidence suggesting climate change didn't exist:

The president has a carbonate problem with the EPA suppressing the endangerment documents. We have a scientist at the EPA who says that manmade global warming isn't what it's cracked up to be. Just as Nixon had Watergate, Obama now has Carbongate.