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“Science’s role is to inform, not dictate, policy.” Right, So Overturn EPA’s Policy-Dictating Endangerment Rule!

by Marlo Lewis on March 11, 2011

in Blog, Features

Earlier this week, the House Energy & Commerce Committee held its third hearing on the Energy Tax Prevention Act, a bill to stop EPA from determining national policy on climate change through the Clean Air Act, a statute enacted in 1970, years before global warming was even a gleam in Al Gore’s eye. The hearing, requested by ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), was entitled Climate Science and EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Regulations.

Although Democrats are now the minority party in the House, they got more witnesses (4) than did the majority (3). I don’t know how Rep. Waxman pulled that off. Did he ever let Republicans have more witnesses when he was in the chair? No. Would he return the favor if Dems regain control of the House? Doubtful.

The most effective minority witness, IMO, was Dr. Richard Somerville, whose testimony updates the continual — and predictable — refrain that ‘climate change is even worse than we previously predicted.’ Much of Somerville’s testimony is drawn from a report he co-authored called the Copenhagen Diagnosis.

It’s not my purpose here to provide an alternative assessment of climate science, though if you’re looking for one, check out Drs. Shirwood and Craig Idso’s Carbon Dioxide and Earth’s Future: Pursuing the Prudent Path

My beef, rather, is with Somerville’s claim that he’s simply a spokesman for science, not for an agenda. It’s amazing he can say this with a straight face and in the same testimony spout partisan cant about the Climategate scandal. He writes:

In late November 2009 . . . a crime was committed in which thousands of emails of prominent climate scientists were illegally obtained from a server at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. . . .The short answer is that the hacked emails do not undermine the science in any way [emphasis added].

Now, I always thought scientists deal with facts and evidence. Where’s the evidence that the Climategate emails were hacked rather than leaked by a whistle blower fed up with the Climatic Research Unit’s stonewalling and refusal to comply with the UK Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)? Somerville provides none. Whether the person who leaked the CRU emails was a hacker or a whistle blower remains an open question. For Somerville to assert as a fact what is actually conjecture casts doubt on everything else he purports to say as a “scientist.”

Let’s delve into this a bit further. Somerville says:

The Copenhagen Diagnosis is about climate change science, not policy. For example, we summarize recent research underpinning the scientific rationale for large and rapid reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, in order to reduce the likelihood of dangerous man-made climate change. However, we have no political or policy agenda, and we do not speak to the issue of formulating policies to achieve such reductions in emissions. As scientists, when climate change research is relevant to public policy, we consider it important to bring that research to the attention of the wider world. We are convinced that sound science can and should inform wise policy. This conviction led us to write The Copenhagen Diagnosis. In this testimony, I also have no political or policy agenda. I am simply summarizing my view of the current state of scientific understanding.

 And again:

Like IPCC, we insisted on being policy-relevant but policy-neutral.

Who does he think he’s fooling? Cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, EPA regulation of greenhouse gases through the Clean Air Act, and President Obama’s “clean energy standard” proposal are all part and parcel of one and the same agenda. They are all means to the same objective, and in public policy, the choice of objective is the most important choice.

How governments choose to ration, restrict, or penalize the carbon-based fuels that supply 85% of U.S. and global energy — or, in Somerville’s words, how governments compel “large and rapid reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions” — is a subordinate issue. The fundamental policy issue is whether governments should coercively limit the production and use of greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels. Somerville is emphatically a spokesman for a political and policy agenda — the Kyoto agenda of coercive de-carbonization.

It’s a very old rhetorical trick. Throughout history, partisans of one stripe or another have claimed to speak on behalf of some trans-political moral authority. In antiquity it was the gods. In the Middle Ages it was Holy Writ. Today it’s the “Consensus of Scientists.” Thus we have the spectacle of Al Gore, in An Inconvenient Truth, portraying himself as a non-political Mr. Science while lambasting G.W. Bush and other political opponents. Gore even insinuates as the film begins that Bush appointees on the Supreme Court stole the 2000 year presidential election from him. How very scientifical!

Surely one objective of the Copenhagen Diagnosis report was to buck up those at the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference advocating “large and rapid” greenhouse gas reductions. That’s “policy neutral” only if you think the Kyoto-inspired campaign to restrict mankind’s access to fossil energy is policy neutral. Somerville’s post-mortem on the Copenhagen conference leaves no doubt that the Copenhagen Diagnosis was designed to drive the negotiations in a specific direction: 

Thus, it is profoundly regrettable that what I must characterize as dithering and procrastination at COP15 in Copenhagen continued a year later in December 2010 at COP16 in Cancun, Mexico.  

Just how “large and rapid” does Somerville think greenhouse gas reductions should be? He says:

To stabilize climate, a decarbonized global society – with near-zero emissions of CO2 and other long-lived greenhouse gases – needs to be reached well within this century. More specifically, the average annual per-capita emissions will have to shrink to well below 1 metric ton CO2 by 2050. This is 80 to 95% below the per-capita emissions in developed nations in 2000.

To be sure, Somerville acknowledges that policymakers, not scientists, get to decide “how much climate change is tolerable”: 

This choice by governments may be affected by risk tolerance, priorities, economics, and other considerations, but in the end it is a choice that humanity as a whole, acting through national governments, will make. Science and scientists will not and should not make that choice.

But his message is obvious even if not explicit: ‘Morally you have no choice but to adopt my agenda and mandate large and rapid greenhouse gas reductions.’

The irony is that EPA is doing exactly what Somerville professes to believe scientists should not do — presume to determine, rather than merely inform, the direction and even the content of public policy. EPA is now ‘legislating’ climate policy through the Clean Air Act, issuing regulations to control greenhouse gas emissions from both mobile and stationary sources. On what authority? The authority EPA conferred on itself by issuing its “Endangerment Rule.”

By issuing an assessment that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare, EPA obligated itself to promulgate greenhouse gas emission standards for new motor vehicles. That, in turn, obligated EPA to apply Clean Air Act permitting programs to stationary sources of greenhouse gases. In addition, the Endangerment Rule authorizes or obligates EPA to establish: (1) greenhouse gas emission standards for heavy trucks, marine vessels, aircraft, locomotives, and other non-road vehicles and engines; (2) greenhouse gas performance standards for potentially dozens of industrial source categories; and, (3) national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for greenhouse gases set below current atmospheric concentrations. In short, the Endangerment Rule not only sets the stage for a very rapid transition to what Somerville calls a “decarbonized” society, it also predetermines the options for advancing that agenda.

Even if EPA were an honest broker of climate science, the agency’s greenhouse gas regulations would still amount to a usurpation of legislative power, since, as Somerville says, the job of science is to inform policy choices, not dictate them.

EPA, however, is not an honest broker; it is a stakeholder, a dog in the fight. The scientific assessment EPA made in its Endangerment Rule directly advances the agency’s interest in expanding its power, prestige, and budget. 

An elementary principle of justice is that no one should be judge in his own cause.  Implication: One and the same agency should not have the power to make the scientific assessments that authorize regulation and the power to promulgate rules based on such assessments. Otherwise, the agency has an inescapable conflict of interest. It will always be tempted to assess the science in ways that expand its power.

More importantly, though, an assessment should only inform policy, not dictate it. A good example is the famous 1964 Surgeon General’s Report  detailing the evidence that cigarette smoking causes cancer. A purely scientific assessment, the Surgeon General’s Report did not even offer policy recommendations. How different from EPA’s Endangerment Rule, which triggers a cascade of policy decisions Congress never approved!

If Somerville really believes science should only inform policy, not dictate it, then he should support the Energy Tax Prevention Act! Contrary to the bill’s detractors, the Energy Tax Prevention Act takes no position on climate science. It neither affirms nor denies the reasoning or conclusions EPA sets forth in its Endangerment Rule.

Rather, the bill aims to overturn the legal force and effect of the Endangerment Rule, ensuring that Congress, not bureaucrats posing as custodians of policy-neutral science, make public policy.

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