James Inhofe, Oklahoma Senator and Climate Change Denier, Dies at 89

James M. Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma who served nearly 30 years in the U.S. Senate, where he chaired the Defense and Environment committees and became known as the most outspoken climate change denier in the Capitol, died on July 9 at the age of 89.

He recently suffered a stroke, the Associated Press reported, citing a statement from his family. Other details were not immediately available.

Mr. Inhofe retired as a senator in January 2023 after nearly six decades in politics. He began his career as a state legislator and as mayor of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second-largest city.

He served in the U.S. House of Representatives for nearly eight years before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1994. Mr. Inhofe became the longest-serving member of his state’s chamber and a “rock-solid, senior figure in the Republican Party,” according to Norman J. Ornstein, a congressional scholar and senior fellow emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute.

Mr. Inhofe was a staunch supporter of conservative causes, including opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage, and an effective advocate for regulations that benefit his oil-rich state.

On the Armed Services Committee, which he led after the death of Sen. John S. McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2018, he advocated forcefully for robust military spending.

But he became best known for his sometimes combative objections to the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change.

“With all this hysteria, all this fear, all this false science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people?” Mr. Inhofe said in a 2003 Senate speech. “It certainly sounds like it.”

Mr. Inhofe, who described himself as a “one-man truth squad” on the subject, published a book in 2012 titled “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.”

He argued that only God could change the climate, writing that “God is still there, and that He promised to maintain the seasons and that cold and heat would never cease as long as the earth stood.” It was arrogant of people to assume otherwise, Mr. Inhofe claimed.

In the winter of 2015, while he was chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, Mr. Inhofe brought a snowball to the Senate floor in an attempt to debunk global warming. “It’s very, very cold. Very unusual,” he said, before throwing the snowball at the sitting Senate Speaker.

(According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it was cold in Washington that winter, but the Washington region has warmed more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century due to human-caused climate change.)

During a previous snowstorm in Washington, in 2010, Mr. Inhofe and his grandchildren built an igloo and put up a sign that read “Al Gore’s New Home,” a reference to the former vice president, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his efforts to combat climate change.

Mr. Inhofe’s influence in Washington grew during the presidency of Donald Trump, who supported Mr. Inhofe and filled key appointments with administrators who shared Mr. Inhofe’s commitment to environmental deregulation. He once characterized the EPA as a “Gestapo bureaucracy.”

Scott Pruitt, an Inhofe protégé who served as Oklahoma’s attorney general, became Trump’s first EPA administrator before resigning in 2018 amid an ethics scandal. Pruitt’s successor, Andrew Wheeler, who led the agency until the end of the Trump administration, had worked for Inhofe on the Senate Environment Committee.

In 2021, Mr. Inhofe stood up to Trump and the president’s loyalists by voting to certify Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election, which Trump had sought to overturn. Any other action, Mr. Inhofe said of his vote at the time, would have been “a violation of my oath of office.”

James Mountain Inhofe was born on November 17, 1934 in Des Moines and grew up in Tulsa.

He served in the Army before following his father into the insurance business — Mr. Inhofe eventually became president of Quaker Life Insurance Co. — and venturing into real estate development. His move into politics was motivated in part by his frustration with government regulations.

Mr. Inhofe was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 1966 and to the Oklahoma Senate two years later. He completed his college education during his time in the legislature, receiving a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Tulsa in 1973, the year he turned 39.

After serving in the Senate, Mr. Inhofe served as mayor of Tulsa from 1978 to 1984. He lost elections for governor and Congress before being elected to the House of Representatives in 1986.

Eight years later, Mr. Inhofe defeated Rep. Dave McCurdy (D-Okla.) in a special election to fill the Senate seat left vacant by David L. Boren, a Democrat who resigned to become president of the University of Oklahoma. Mr. Inhofe won his first full Senate term in 1996 and was re-elected four times before resigning at age 88.

Mr. Inhofe was a licensed pilot and routinely flew himself to and from Washington. In 1991, he and three other pilots flew a Cessna around the world in honor of Wiley Post, an Oklahoman who had completed a record-breaking flight around the world 60 years earlier.

In 2010, Mr. Inhofe landed his plane at a rural South Texas airport on a runway marked closed and with construction crews at work. He agreed to undergo remedial training in lieu of punishment.

For a 2020 campaign ad, when he was 85, Mr. Inhofe flew a plane upside down to demonstrate his aerial skills.

Mr. Inhofe’s survivors include his wife, the former Kay Kirkpatrick, whom he married in 1959, and three children, Molly, Jimmy and Katy. His son Perry, also a pilot, died in 2013 when the private plane he was flying crashed near Owasso, Okla.

Despite his conservative views and combative rhetoric, Mr. Inhofe reportedly had strong working relationships and friendships with many Democrats on Capitol Hill.

“A lot of people have said to me, ‘Inhofe, I don’t agree with you on everything, but I know where you stand,’” he once told the Tulsa World.

Former U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, his Democratic counterpart on the Environment Committee, told The Washington Post in 2015 that she considered his views on climate change “dangerous” and “way outside the mainstream,” but she said she considered the two siblings with different worldviews. During congressional hearings, Mr. Inhofe sometimes wore a tie with a picture of a polar bear, a gift from Boxer.

Maxine Joselow contributed to this report.

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