Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) expressed shock at a male Republican committee member’s treatment of a Black female environmental lawyer during a Thursday hearing.
“Frankly, men who treat women like that in public,” Ocasio-Cortez said of the Republican’s behavior, “I fear how they treat them in private.”
Cortez admonished Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) after his heated discussion with environmental lawyer Raya Salter about petrochemical products during a House hearing titled, “Fueling the Climate Crisis: Examining Big Oil’s Prices, Profits, and Pledges.”
Salter is a member of the New York State Climate Action Council and the executive director of Energy Justice Law and Policy Center, an organization that centers the concerns of communities at the frontline of pollution and climate change; particularly working-class people, indigenous communities, and those historically disenfranchised by racial and social inequity.
Higgins began the exchange by saying that Salter had delivered “some of the most outlandish testimony I’ve witnessed yet in six years in this oversight committee.”
“It’s stunning,” he said. “With all due respect to our panelists today, I’m not quite sure some of you are connected to reality.”
Higgins asked Salter how she could argue in favor of shutting down petrochemical plants when so many of the products that she and the world use every day depend on petrochemicals.
Salter replied, “Actually I don’t need that power. Because what I would do is ask you, sir from Louisiana, to search your heart and understand why the EPA knows that toxic petrochemical facilities are some of the most toxic, polluting facilities in the world and are killing Black people throughout Louisiana. So my request would be for you to search with your heart and ask your God what you are doing to the Black and poor people in Louisiana.”
Higgins talked over her response and then briefly argued with the chairman. Higgins then resumed speaking to Salter, their voices growing louder while often speaking over one another. He even called the lawyer “young lady.”
“America needs to hear it,” Higgins said. “You’ve got no answer, do you, young lady, about what to do with petrochemical products?”
Salter replied, “Of course we do. We need to move away from petrochemicals. We need to shut down the petrochemical facilities in your state and move away from plastic. We need to move away from it.”
He responded, “That’s insane. What are you going to do with the aviation industry?”
Salter answered, “The only thing that would not function is the petrochemical industry in your state, sir.”
Higgins then asked Salter if she had “an ecological concern, for real, like from a biblical perspective.”
He said, “The Lord gave us dominion over the planet and the creatures thereof…. to care for and nurture. So from a biblical perspective, I am an environmentalist: I love my planet, my people, and the creatures thereof. Do you?”
Salter replied, “The fossil fuel industry that owns your state is destroying the earth and the natural world, and that is a fact, sir.”
Higgins replied, “You know what you got, young lady? You got a lot of noise but you got no answers.”
Afterward, Ocasio-Cortez spoke directly to Salter, and said, ” In the four years that I’ve sat on this committee, I have never seen members of Congress, Republican, or Democrat, disrespect a witness the way that I have seen them disrespect you today. I do not care what party they are in. Never seen anything like that.”
She continued, “And, the gentleman of Louisiana the comfort that he felt yelling at you like that. There’s more than one way to get a point across. And frankly, men who treat women like that in public, I fear how they treat them in private. We can be better than this. We don’t have to resort to yelling.”
Ocasio-Cortez then apologized to Salter on behalf of the committee, stating that Higgins probably wouldn’t apologize for his behavior.
Salter replied, “Thank you, ma’am. I want to thank you, and you’ve provided so much leadership and courage. They can come from me all day long.”
Ocasio-Cortez smiled at Salter’s response and said, “Well, let’s get them today,” and continued with her questioning of Salter.
This is what Democrats support – total and immediate elimination of American oil and gas production. Watch my exchange with an unhinged climate activist from today’s @GOPoversight Committee hearing. pic.twitter.com/P5nOuYoNqj
— Rep. Clay Higgins (@RepClayHiggins) September 15, 2022
AOC: Men who treat women like that in public, I fear how they treat them in private… pic.twitter.com/Jji1V2XhT2
— Acyn (@Acyn) September 15, 2022