Senate Republicans criticize NASA for its climate change and diversity efforts

The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite captured its first view of the entire sunlit side of Earth from one million miles away on July 6, 2015.
The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite captured its first view of the entire sunlit side of Earth from one million miles away on July 6, 2015. (Image credit: NASA)

Following NASA's recently proposed rule that requires federal contractors to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, two Republican senators have accused the space agency of overstepping its authority and straying from its core space exploration mission.

Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas, a senior member of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Sen. Eric Schmitt from Missouri, another senior member of the committee’s space wing, voiced concerns that NASA is advancing the "woke" agenda of the Biden administration and could threaten the rare bipartisan support that NASA receives in Congress.

"I do worry sometimes that we may be losing focus on what makes America the preeminent spacefaring nation," Sen. Cruz told NASA Administrator Bill Nelson during a budget hearing on Tuesday (May 16), according to Space News' Jeff Foust. "Rather than helping us win the space race, the proposed rule would ensure that NASA could do less exploration and less science for more taxpayer dollars."

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"You and I in this committee have a different approach to what is happening to the Earth's climate," Nelson said. "It so happens that NASA is in the middle of this."

The regulation being slammed by Republicans was proposed jointly by NASA, the General Services Administration and the Department of Defense on Nov. 14, 2022. The rule, which requires federal contractors to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and submit science-backed targets to reduce them, would increase costs for federal agencies and contractors by $4 billion, over a dozen Republicans argued in a letter sent to the space agency in early March. 

In addition to disclosing and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the proposed rule also requires contractors to estimate and reveal climate-related financial risk, measures that are "ever-changing" and "impossible" for an entire industry to follow, Republicans said in the same letter. The high upfront and annual costs to adhere to the proposed rule would prompt companies with limited resources to quit working with government contracts, they wrote.

NASA would end up bearing a large chunk of the $4 billion costs, which would in turn "remove dollars that otherwise would be available to go to the moon and Mars… Just how much are y'all driving up costs because of the political mandate from the White House?" Sen. Cruz told Nelson on Tuesday, according to's Marcia Smith.

Nelson defended the specifics of the proposed rule, saying he could waive the requirement for small businesses and emphasized that NASA will continue to operate as "not only bipartisan but non-partisan."

Cruz and Schmitt also raised concerns about NASA's budget request for fiscal year 2024, which includes $22 million for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives via its Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity. The senators said such efforts could cause NASA to lose focus from the purported space race between the United States and China, which has announced its own planned crewed landing mission to the moon around 2030.

The requested funds for NASA's diversity initiatives have "little to do with winning what you have called a space race between the free world and China," Sen. Cruz told Nelson on Tuesday. 

"America cannot afford to take its eye off the ball with the rising threat of the CCP [Chinese Communist Party]. We must be laser-like focused on our approach, and I can assure you that China has no interest in out-DEI-ing us, and they're not intimidated at all by this divisive radical policy that's found its way into this budget," Cruz said.

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Sharmila Kuthunur contributor

Sharmila Kuthunur is a Seattle-based science journalist covering astronomy, astrophysics and space exploration. Follow her on X @skuthunur.

    MLK "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." --- MLK would not have wanted it this way