Vol. VII, No. 16

Vol. VII, No. 16

August 12, 2003

Politics

Return of the Living Dead Energy Bill

 

In an extraordinary turn of events, on July 31, the Senate ceased debate on the omnibus energy bill, S.14, and instead agreed unanimously to bring last year’s energy bill back to the floor.  It passed on a vote of 84 to 14.  S.14 had seen slow progress, constantly interrupted by other issues such as judicial nominations, and still faced hundreds of potential amendments.  The deal surfaced after majority leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) proposed a cloture motion which many thought unlikely to pass.  The Senate therefore faced the prospect of a genuine stalemate which would lead to no energy bill passing at all.

The compromise baffled many outside observers, who could not understand what drove either side to reach the agreement.  Both sides claimed victory, with Max Baucus (D.-Mont.) announcing that last year’s was “a better bill,” while Pete Domenici (R.-N.M.) reminded commentators that the Republicans would be able to rewrite the bill in conference with the House.

 

It seems that each side felt there were things that they could not afford to lose and last year’s bill contained them.  On the Republican side, as well as certain measures to promote affordable energy, there was the consideration of giving the President some sort of energy bill to sign.  On the Democrat side, Minority Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.) had already written to the President suggesting that the energy bill was dying and asking for some form of bill mandating the expanded use of ethanol as a gasoline additive.  Clean Air Trust director Frank O’Donnell accused Daschle in an article for TomPaine.com on Aug. 5 of putting the price of corn (from which ethanol is manufactured) above environmentalist concerns.

 

In order to reach unanimous consent to bring last year’s bill to the floor for a vote, the Republican leadership also promised Senators Joe Lieberman (D.-Conn.) and John McCain (R.-Az.) to allow an up-or-down vote on their legislation to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.  Reports suggest that Lieberman and McCain intend to offer only the first phase of S. 139 in order to make the costs seem lower.  The vote may occur as early as the week of September 15.

 

CEI Sues Administration Over Climate Change Junk Science

 

The Competitive Enterprise Institute filed suit in federal court August 5 against the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for refusing to implement the Federal Data Quality Act in regard to two major global warming reports.  The law, signed by President Clinton, requires that data disseminated by the government meet basic scientific standards for “objectivity” and “utility.”  It has been ignored in the case of administration climate reports, despite earlier petitions by CEI.

 

Under the Data Quality Act, material which is considered “influential scientific information”--in other words, is likely to influence public policy or private sector decisions--is also subject to the scrutiny of scientific validation.  The National Assessment on Climate Change (2000) and EPA's Climate Action Report 2002 base their analyses of the potential impacts of climate change on two computer models that are incapable of providing reliable predictions.  Efforts to validate these two models actually exposed them as less capable at predicting climate impacts than a table of random numbers.  The law prohibits this.

 

“The agencies producing the Assessment were informed their models had been proven useless, and in fact they confirmed the test’s results themselves, but still proceeded to publish a knowingly fictional document.  This establishes that the data fails to meet not only the ‘utility’ but also the ‘objectivity’ standard,” said Christopher C. Horner, counsel and senior fellow at CEI.  These two junk science reports have already encouraged otherwise untenable ‘climate’ lawsuits to be filed, such as the State Attorneys General suit to compel the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. 

 

The Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, which produced one of the models used in the Assessment, acknowledged at the time it was selected that its model’s data were not useful for the purpose the administration is using it.  Specifically, Hadley stated this on its website, “In areas where coasts and mountains have significant effect on weather [and this will be true for most parts of the world], scenarios based on global models will fail to capture the regional detail needed for vulnerability assessments at a national level.”  Regardless, this model is used to project specific, but scientifically unsupportable, U.S. climate impacts, which are incorporated in both reports.

 

Senators Examine Hockey Stick

 

The creator of the infamous “hockey stick,” Michael Mann of the University of Virginia, came out swinging when the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing July 29 on whether the last century was the warmest in the past thousand years.  Responding to the devastating refutation of his claim, Mann resorted to personal attacks and wild charges of scientific incompetence.

 

Professors Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center and David R. Legates of the University of Delaware, two of the authors of the review article that revealed the fragile factual basis behind the hockey stick, also testified.  Professor Soon offered three conclusions from his research.  First, that local and regional, rather than “global” (or, indeed, hemispheric) changes are the most relevant and practical measure of climate change and impact.  Second, that there was a widespread Medieval Warm Period between 800 and 1300 AD, followed by a widespread colder period, the Little Ice Age, from 1300 to 1900 AD.

 

Third, Soon testified that, “There is no convincing evidence from each of the individual climate proxies to suggest that higher temperatures occurred in the 20th century than in the Medieval Warm Period. Nor is there any convincing evidence to suggest that either the rate of increase or the duration of warming during the 20th century were greater than in the Medieval Warm Period.”

 

David Legates summed up by saying, “If we are truly to understand climate and its impacts and driving forces, we must push beyond the tendency to distill it to a single annual number … [After examining proxy records] one reaches the conclusion that climate variability has been a natural occurrence, and especially so over the last millennium.  And given the uncertainties in the proxy and instrumental records, an assertion of any decade as being the warmest in the last millennium is premature.”

 

Mann’s testimony was a mixture of ad hominem attacks, appeals to authority, and irrelevant points.  He claimed that his critics had no professional expertise in paleoclimatology and didn’t know what they were talking about.  He did not attempt to refute the numerous paleoclimatological studies which Soon et al’s article reviews.  The preponderance of these studies suggest that the few data sets that Mann chose to show that global temperatures were steady from 1000 to 1900 are unusually unresponsive to temperature changes and must be considered outliers.

 

In response to questions, Mann claimed that the scientific consensus represented by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change agreed completely with him.  On the other hand, his critics had been discredited and were not taken seriously by the same consensus.  Inasmuch as Mann must be somewhat familiar with the literature in his own field, it is hard to conclude otherwise than that Mann was lashing out in an attempt to preserve what may be left of his own reputation.  Although Mann’s disgraceful performance contained nothing of scientific merit, it provided much entertainment and indicated a possible alternative career in Don Rickles-style heckling.

 

Economics

 

The Cost of Renewables

 

Renewable energy is both more expensive than and as damaging to the environment as energy produced from natural gas or coal, says Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute.  Writing in the Washington Times (Aug. 4), he points out that the usual argument that traditional energy fuels are unfairly subsidized has been judged groundless by the General Accounting Office.  The GAO said fossil fuel subsidies are “too small to have a significant effect on the overall level of energy prices and consumption in the United States.”

 

In fact, it is renewable energy that has its market share inflated artificially.  Of the 5,356 megawatts of power scheduled to be generated from those sources, only 291 megawatts would be generated without states having ordered their production.  The inevitable result of such a command approach to the production of energy is higher prices.

 

Yet Taylor also points out that there are few environmental benefits accruing from such government orders.  The Energy Information Administration has calculated that 80 percent of renewable energy needed to comply with such mandates will come from biomass fed into existing coal-fired plants.  A recent survey by Thomas Sundqvist and Patrik Soderholm found that every kilowatt of energy produced from biomass has an external cost of 7 cents worth of environmental damage.  This compares unfavorably to nuclear energy (4 cents), is about the same as for energy from natural gas, and only slightly less than coal-fired electricity (9 cents).

 

As a renewable mandate will probably increase the amount of energy produced from coal-fired power stations because of their utility in producing biomass-based energy, Taylor concludes it is likely that renewable mandates will actually increase environmental damage.

 

Nuclear Power Expansion Touted as the Solution

 

An MIT study led by ex-CIA director John Deutsch and Ernest J. Moniz, a former undersecretary of energy, recommended expanding the use of nuclear power around the world to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.  The MIT panel said that it shared “the scientific consensus that [greenhouse gas] emissions must be reduced and … that the US will eventually join with other nations in the effort to do so.”

 

The study found that a threefold increase in the number of nuclear reactors worldwide (including increasing the number of American reactors from 100 to 300) could reduce incremental carbon emissions by up to 25 percent.  The report recommended granting a limited production tax-credit to 'first movers' (private sector investors who successfully build new nuclear plants). The credit would be extendable to other carbon-free electricity technologies but would not be paid unless the plant was in operation.

 

In order to reduce the risk of expanded nuclear power leading to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the report recommended giving countries that forego “proliferation-risky” enrichment and reprocessing activities a preferred position to receive nuclear fuel and waste management services from nations that possess the full range of nuclear processing capacity.

 

The report did conclude, however, that, “We have not found, and based on current knowledge do not believe it is realistic to expect, that there are new reactor and fuel cycle technologies that simultaneously overcome the problems of cost, safety, waste, and proliferation.”  (Boston Globe, July 30).

 

Pew Center Says U. S. Emissions Will Rise Under All Scenarios

 

In a recent report, US Energy Scenarios for the 21st Century, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change looked at three possible scenarios for future US energy use and found that in all of them greenhouse gas emissions would remain significantly above the US targets under Kyoto.  This is especially notable in that the Pew Center is a front group for multi-national corporations that hope to profit from energy rationing.

 

The first scenario, “Awash in oil and gas,” assumes that consumers enjoy secure access to abundant supplies of oil, natural gas and coal at low prices.  America would enjoy “significant GDP growth” and carbon emissions would grow more than 50 percent between 2000 and 2035.

 

In the second scenario, “Technology triumphs,” all the wishes of environmentalists for state intervention and alternative technologies come to pass.  State governments set "rigorous" efficiency standards for appliances, enact caps on CO2 emissions from power plants, and introduce more renewable portfolio standards.  They also subsidize fuel cell research and effectively raise federal fuel economy standards by requiring new cars, minivans, and light trucks to reduce emissions of CO2 per mile traveled.  These actions, combined with breakthroughs in solar photovoltaic manufacturing and a shift in consumer preference from "sprawling" to compact residential development, slow the growth of vehicle miles traveled, expand markets for hybrid cars, accelerate power sector fuel switching from coal to natural gas, and lay the building blocks of a hydrogen economy.  Nevertheless, US carbon emissions rise 15 percent by 2035, 35 percent above the Kyoto target.

 

In the third scenario, “Turbulent world,” the US is beset by disruptions in the supply of foreign oil, terrorism at home, and global warming-triggered extreme weather events.  Responding to those challenges, federal policy makers enact a national renewable portfolio standard, increase new-car fuel economy standards to 50 mpg, promote distributed generation, and subsidize CO2 capture and sequestration technologies. Above all, in 2010, the federal government launches an Apollo-scale program to commercialize fuel cell and hydrogen technologies. Notwithstanding these measures, volatile energy prices, and a poorly performing economy, carbon emissions “grow to almost 20 percent above the 2000 level in 2035” – about 40 percent above the U.S. Kyoto target.

 

The report concludes, “In the absence of a mandatory carbon cap, none of the base case scenarios examined in this study achieves a reduction in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 2035 relative to current levels.” And it emphasizes, “This is true even in the scenario with the most optimistic assumptions about the future cost and performance of energy technologies.”

 

Science

 

New Perspectives in Climate Science

 

The Independent Institute held a briefing at the National Press Club on July 28 to launch a new report (available at http://www.independent.org ) on recent developments in climate science.  As well as examining the recent debates over changes in climate over the past millennium and what the satellite records are telling us that have been extensively covered in this newsletter, the report also looked at two other areas: what research is telling us about urban mortality at higher temperatures and the institutional culture of the EPA and other public bodies.

 

Recent research from Robert Davis and Wendy Novicoff of the University of Virginia looked at whether urban mortality related to higher temperatures than normal has increased or decreased over recent years.  In many cities across the US, they found that human mortality during days with extremely high apparent temperatures has declined significantly since the 1960s, probably as a result of sociological, technological, and physiological adaptation.  This finding directly contradicts the prediction of the National Assessment on Climate Change that mortality rates in cities such as New York and Minnesota could more than double as a result of the projected increased incidence of extreme heat waves.

 

The report also suggested that the institutional bias in favor of intervention in climate policy can be explained by public choice theory, which says that climate scientists define themselves as providing “good” in the political sphere, which is the technical information required to save ourselves from impending climatic doom.  The value of this good is currently $4.2 billion a year (the current federal research budget, which supplies 99.5 percent of climatic research funding).  Portraying climate change as benign would reduce the value of this good, and is therefore a clear threat to the well-being of its scientific community. 

 

The theory does not judge anyone’s honesty or dishonesty, but implies that the structure of incentives scientists face must create a bias of distortion, in which problems must be exaggerated to garner funding.  The magnitude of the threat also provides an aura of virtue to the scientists and supportive politicians.

 

The report concludes that the biases demonstrated by the IPCC and EPA present, “not an indictment of the individuals involved, but is rather more symptomatic of the nature of science when funded by a government leviathan.”

 

Models Show Atmospheric Warming, Data Do Not

 

Research published in the July 25 issue Science suggests that the height of the tropopause—the boundary between the stratosphere and the troposphere, the atmosphere's lowest layer that extends to the Earth's surface—has risen by almost 700 feet since 1979 because of the human impact on the atmosphere.  The tropopause plays an important role in the development of weather formations.

 

Benjamin Santer of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and their colleagues put together weather forecasts and other data from the past 20 years to construct a computer model of a series of atmospheric simulations.  The researchers concluded that greenhouse-gas warming in the troposphere and ozone-related cooling in the stratosphere accounted for about 80 percent of the rise.

 

Nevertheless, the satellite data for tropospheric temperatures, which are confirmed by weather balloon observations, fail to show the sort of warming required to support the researchers’ conclusions.  Wigley and Santer believe that their research indicates that those data are incorrect. “The increase in the height of the tropopause appears to support the data set that shows the troposphere is warming,” Wigley told Environmental News Service.  (Boston Globe, Aug. 5)

 

John Christy of the University of Alabama at Huntsville, who with his colleague Roy Spencer compiles the satellite temperature record, commented that Santer’s “model shows that increasing tropopause heights are due in good measure to human factors for 1979-99.  However, the real world shows a huge tropospheric temperature spike due to the 1997-98 El Nino which then tilts the tropopause height trend upward.  So what causes the height increase in the model and in the data are likely two different causes.” 

 

Etc.

 

Do the Math

 

In an op-ed touting their Climate Stewardship Act that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle August 1, Senators McCain and Lieberman made an extraordinary claim about the deleterious effects of greenhouse gases.  They asserted, “According to a United Nations' [sic] study, every ton of greenhouse gas emitted into the atmosphere costs each American up to $160—and we are emitting billions of tons each year.”

 

The United States produces well over 5 billion tons of CO2 alone every year.  At $160 per ton, this means that the total cost is $800,000,000,000 each year, which is more than the gross domestic product of every state except California.  To say the least, this seems unlikely.

 

 

THE COOLER HEADS COALITION

 

Alexis de Tocqueville Institution

Americans for Tax Reform

American Legislative Exchange Council

American Policy Center

Association of Concerned Taxpayers

Center for Security Policy

Citizens for a Sound Economy

Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow

Competitive Enterprise Institute

Consumer Alert

Defenders of Property Rights

Frontiers of Freedom

George C. Marshall Institute

Heartland Institute

Independent Institute

JunkScience.com

National Center for Policy Analysis

National Center for Public Policy Research

Pacific Research Institute

Seniors Coalition

60 Plus Association

Small Business Survival Committee