Sign In or Create an Account.

By continuing, you agree to the Terms of Service and acknowledge our Privacy Policy

Sparks

The New House Speaker Once Helped Force the Government to Pay for a Noah’s Ark Theme Park

And other adventures with Mike Johnson

Mike Johnson.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

It is perhaps less surprising who the House elected as its new speaker than the fact that they managed to actually elect someone at all. After 22 days, 14 failed candidates, and in mounting desperation and embarrassment, Republicans finally rallied — unanimously! — around Mike Johnson, a northern Louisiana lawmaker who’s been described as “obscure” and “largely unknown” even by his home-state newspaper.

Given that Johnson is the least experienced speaker in 140 years, that obscurity is understandable. With only four terms in the House under his belt, he doesn’t have much of a track record for the media to highlight in their scramble to publish Wednesday afternoon explainers. Generally, the impression has been that he is both “mild-mannered” enough for the moderates put off by the antics of Jim Jordan and far enough to the right to be palatable to the MAGA wing that ousted his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy. Johnson is “known for combining his hard-line views with a gentle style,” says The New York Times, while The Washington Postnotes his opposition to abortion, LGBT rights, aid for Ukraine, and the certification of the 2020 election results.

But go a little further back and things get odder. In 2014, Johnson worked free of charge as a lawyer for Ken Ham — “one of the world’s most notorious purveyors of pseudoscience,” according to Salon:

Ham and his tax-deductible organization Answers in Genesis have earned a fortune peddling new earth creationism, a belief that the entire universe is only 6,000 years old and that all of science — evolution, geology, archeology, physics, astronomy, among others — is informed by a deceptive God, a God who tempted humankind by planting observable, verifiable evidence — things like fossils and distant stars — in order to test our loyalty …

While creationism and climate denialism don’t necessarily overlap, Answers for Genesis extensively addresses climate change as being a “myth,” calling environmentalism a “false religion.” Ham has written, “We don’t need to fear that man will destroy the planet, as God wouldn’t let that happen anyway.”

Ham runs a Creation Museum in Kentucky, and sometime around 2014, he decided he wanted to expand it into “an enormous Noah’s Ark theme park,” Salon goes on:

There was just one problem, though: He couldn’t possibly raise enough money to build his park. So, he turned to the government for incentives … [But] there was this one tiny issue called the Establishment Clause, and believe it or not, it’s still against the law for the government to fork over a bunch of money to pay you to convert people to your religion, even if you’re throwing in a lazy river and a roller coaster at no additional charge.

Johnson, in his position as chief counsel of Freedom Guard, a religious liberty interest group, disagreed with this interpretation of the Establishment Clause, however, going as far as to write op-eds for Answers in Genesis that were published alongside Ham’s waxings on the sins of climate activism. Johnson eventually helped to sue the state of Kentucky for refusing to use government funds to build the Noah’s Ark theme park; Answers in Genesis won, and the park was built partially using tax incentives. Later, Ham would also sue his insurance company over, of all things, rain damage to the park’s replica ark.

Johnson, you’ll be shocked to learn, is also not a believer in the scientific consensus on human-driven climate change. As a lawmaker from an oil state, the fossil fuel industry makes up Johnson’s biggest campaign donors, E&E News points out. Johnson, meanwhile, has voiced standard-issue doubts about the whole climate change thing, musing that “driv[ing] SUVs” isn’t the problem and that statistically impossible weather patterns are due to “natural cycles over the span of the Earth’s history.” He has a 2% lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters.

Still, even within more climate-skeptical circles, Johnson remains a bit of a question mark. When one “long-time [oil] industry official” was asked by Politico for an impression of the would-be speaker ahead of the final vote, the reply came, “Don’t know him too well, but glad they are hopefully getting someone into the job.” Another “long-time energy lobbyist” was similarly strapped when it came to offering any specific impressions, Politico’s Ben Lefebvre reports: At the very least, Johnson is “an [Louisiana State University] alumnus,” the lobbyist figured, “so that has to be good for the energy industry.”

Yellow
Jeva Lange profile image

Jeva Lange

Jeva is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Her writing has also appeared in The Week, where she formerly served as executive editor and culture critic, as well as in The New York Daily News, Vice, and Gothamist, among others. Jeva lives in New York City.

Sparks

We’re Worrying About Hurricanes Wrong

Don’t look at the number of forecasted storms and panic. But don’t get complacent, either.

Hurricane aftermath.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

When is an announcement less an announcement than a confirmation?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2024 hurricane season outlook, issued Thursday morning, might be one such case. For the past several weeks, hurricane agencies around the country have been warning of an extremely active, potentially historic season due to a confluence of factors including the record-warm water in the Atlantic Main Development Region and the likely start of a La Niña, which will make the wind conditions more favorable to Atlantic storm formation. With the Atlantic Hurricane Season set to start a week from Saturday, on June 1, NOAA has at last issued its own warning: There is an 85% chance of an above-average season, with eight to 13 hurricanes and four to seven of those expected to be “major” Category 3 or greater storms.

Keep reading...Show less
Blue
Sparks

A Carbon Border Adjustment Is Gaining Bipartisan Ground

If you haven’t already, get to know the “border adjustment.”

The Capitol.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

While climate policy has become increasingly partisan, there also exists a strange, improbably robust bipartisan coalition raising support for something like a carbon tax.

There are lots of different bills and approaches floating out there, but the most popular is the “border adjustment” tax, basically an emissions-based tariff, which, as a concept, is uniquely suited to resolve two brewing trade issues. One is the European Union’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, which will force essentially everybody else to play by its carbon pricing system. Then there’s the fact that China powers its world-beating export machine with coal, plugged into an electrical grid that is far dirtier than America’s.

Keep reading...Show less
Green
Sparks

It Took More Than 4 Days to Put Out This Battery Fire

The California energy storage facility is just a short hop from the Mexican border.

Cal Fire trucks.
Heatmap Illustration/Screenshot/KUSI-TV

A fire at a battery storage site in San Diego County appears to have been extinguished after burning on and off for multiple days and nights.

“There is no visible smoke or active fire at the scene,” Cal Fire, the state fire protection agency, said in an update Monday morning.

Keep reading...Show less