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Vol. VII, No. 18

Cooler Heads Digest

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Vol. VII, No. 18

EPA Refuses to Label CO2 a Pollutant

Attempts by environmental groups to circumvent congressional authority and achieve their goals through the back door were set back on August 28, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) turned down requests to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The environmentalists hoped that EPA would use the Clean Air Act, which allows it to regulate substances if they are could be reasonably expected to harm human welfare.  The Act lists “climate” as an area of human welfare.

Jeffrey R. Holmstead, the assistant administrator who oversees air programs, said that the act “does give us authority to do research on climate change, not to issue regulation … Where there is a major public policy issue, Congress needs to decide.”  The general counsel, Robert E. Fabricant, issued a memorandum that said, “E.P.A. cannot assert jurisdiction to regulate in this area.”

The EPA had been asked to declare the life-sustaining gas detrimental to human welfare by a coalition of environmental groups and two north-eastern states that filed petitions under the Act.  Fabricant based his reasoning on the 2000 Supreme Court decision, Food and Drug Administration v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco, which said the F.D.A. could not try to regulate tobacco as a “drug” and cigarettes as a “device.”

Holmstead clarified, “The Supreme Court said where there is a major public policy decision to be made, an agency can't just go out and use a broadly worded statute to deal with that.”  Fabricant added, “It is clear that an administrative agency properly awaits congressional direction on a fundamental policy issue such as global climate change, instead of searching for an existing statute that was not designed or enacted to deal with that issue.”  (New York Times, Aug. 28)

Pressure Grows for Separate Electricity Bill

Following the reaction to the August blackouts, senior congressional Democrats, led by House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member John Dingell (D-Mich.), are pushing for the energy bill conference to strip out electricity reliability provisions into a separate electricity bill.  The idea is reported to be gaining favor among Senate Democrats, who are considering adding electric reliability provisions as a rider to the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations bill currently being debated on the Senate floor.

Dingell has said his reliability proposal will address three issues: the reliability of the transmission system, the reliability of generating supply, and the adequacy of mechanical, human and electronic controls on the system. He told Greenwire (Sept. 3) that the particulars of his bill would be similar to the reliability language in the existing energy legislation, and that he might be able to accommodate other issues within the bill in order to get it through Congress. “But I can't tell you what those are,” Dingell added. “In a poker game, I never show my hole card.”

Congressional Republicans have so far resisted the calls, stating that the issue is better dealt with as part of a comprehensive energy bill.  Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R.-N.M.) has so far sent “mixed signals” as to his preferred route for ensuring electricity reliability according to a Schwab analyst quoted by Greenwire.

Economics

Economists Suggest Environmental False Alarms are Justified

Straying from hard science into the realm of economics, Science magazine published an article in its August 29th issue entitled “False Alarm over Environmental False Alarms.”  The authors, S.W. Pacala and S.A. Levin of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton, E. Bulte of the Department of Economics at Tilburg University, the Netherlands, and J.A. List of the Agricultural and Resource Economics Department at the University of Maryland (and the President’s Council of Economic Advisers), argued that the potential downside risks of environmental hazards are so great that the environmental community should continue to raise alarms on which policy might be based even in the knowledge that “some of them will turn out to be wrong.”  The authors conclude that, “Given the potential to save millions of additional lives, this is no time to turn down the sensitivity of our environmental alarm” (emphasis added).

The article appears to be little more than an economic justification of Stephen Schneider’s admission to Discover magazine in 1989 that, “To capture the public imagination, we have to offer up some scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements and little mention of any doubts one might have.  Each of us has to decide the right balance between being effective,and being honest.”  Schneider, along with Paul Ehrlich and Maurice Grubb, provided the authors with “helpful comments on an earlier draft.”

The article also contained disparaging remarks about Björn Lomborg’s book, The Skeptical Environmentalist.  An early draft called it “officially discredited,” although the published article softened that to a mention of the decision of the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard rejected a carbon trading scheme in the face of advice to pursue the policy from the Treasury and the Department of the Environment, according to the Melbourne newspaper, the Age (Sept. 1).  Other special interests advocating the scheme included the Business Council of Australia, which alleges in a report circulated to Australia’s top 100 companies that restricting greenhouse emissions would be less damaging to the economy than the "uncertainty" created by the Federal Government's current voluntary greenhouse reduction measures.

Howard’s cabinet rejected carbon trading primarily on the basis that it would drive existing industry abroad.  An official spokesman told the Age, “Australia remains opposed to adopting the whole Kyoto framework because that would impose penalties on Australian industry which would not be imposed on industries in competitor countries.”

Science

Scientists Play Historians

Stepping up the attack on the study by Willie Soon, et al. that demonstrates that there is nothing unusual about temperatures in this century, Michael Mann’s coauthor Philip Jones of the University of East Anglia played amateur historian when he tried to explain away common knowledge about past warm and cold spells in Northern Europe.  He pointed the Guardian (Sept. 1) towards the part of their paper (see last issue) that contends that many of the obvious indicators of past temperature variability do not mean what people suppose they mean.

Mann et al. contend that the medieval presence of vineyards in Britain is meaningless because there are 350 vineyards there now, compared to 50 or 60 in the Middle Ages.  In arguing thus, they ignore advances in technology that allow vineyards to prosper in colder climates as well as increases in population (there were 5-6 million people in England before the Black Death, making the rate of vineyards to people almost twice as high as it is today).

They also allege that the Viking colonization of Greenland was motivated by exile, not by a search for good climate.  This may be true, but has no bearing on the fact that evidence from insect habitats shows that Greenland was livable at that time but ceased to be afterwards.  The Viking settlers were forced to abandon Greenland when they were no longer able to grow hay to feed their livestock.

Finally, the researchers allege that the Little Ice Age-era “frost fairs” on the River Thames in London were possible only because the design of London Bridge dammed the tidal flow of salt water upstream.  This appears to ignore the fact that that particular design of London Bridge was first built in 1176, while frost fairs did not begin till much later.  Whatever the effects of the bridge, temperatures much colder than today would still have been necessary for the river to freeze.

A wealth of information on the Little Ice Age as a global phenomenon may be found in University of California archaeologist Brian Fagan’s book, The Little Ice Age, published by Basic Books in 2000.  The chapters on “The Great Hunger” and “The Specter of Hunger” are especially instructive.  Apparently, Mann and Jones have not had time to read it.

Satellite Wars

The attempts to discredit John Christy and Roy Spencer’s satellite data that show no appreciable warming in the atmosphere over recent years continue.  Ben Santer and his colleagues, who prefer the recalibration of the data from Remote Sensing Systems because it fits their climate model better, argue in a letter to Science (Aug. 22) in response to Christy’s criticisms of their data that the independent validation of Christy’s data by weather balloon measurements are “not an unambiguous ‘gold standard’ for the evaluation of satellite data.”

The Greening Earth Society comments (http://www.co2andclimate.org/co2report/int_0902.html), “Different agencies and researchers have put together several different compilations of the weather-balloon data records.  Each has been carefully scrutinized and corrected to the best ability of the respective researchers in order to account for the data problems Santer describes.  The methods used to make these corrections vary across research groups.  Yet, when the final data are combined and global trends examined, the trends fall very close to (and in most cases are slightly less than) the UAH satellite record.

“Santer and his co-authors would be in a much stronger position if the global trends from weather-balloon data were all over the board, with some closer to the RSS trend than to the UAH trend.  But that isn’t the case.  The consistency of results indicates that the weather-balloon record errors Santer is so worried about are not nearly as problematic as they lead the reader to believe they are.  This is because the errors are accounted for.  As a consequence, any claim that climate models are better than actual observations rings hollow.

“There remains a large discrepancy between the patterns of temperature change at the surface and those in the lower to middle atmosphere (especially in the tropics) that the model does not replicate.  This discrepancy indicates a fundamental weakness in the current generation of climate models.  Something in their internal workings fails to parameterize negative feedback loops that appear to be ridding the atmosphere of excess greenhouse heating.  As a result they overestimate future warming rates.  The controversy continues.”

Announcement

The Cato Insitute will hold a briefing on “McCain-Lieberman on Global Warming: a Journey to Nowhere,” at noon on Friday, September 12, in Room B-369, Rayburn House Office Building.  The speaker will be Patrick Michaels, Cato senior fellow and professor at the University of Virginia.  Lunch will be provided.  Reservations, which are required, may be made on the Cato web site at http://www.cato.org or by calling Krystal Brand at (202) 789-5229.  The briefing will also be broadcast live online.

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