Endangered Science: Why Global Warming Emissions Are Covered by the Clean Air Act

, lead economist and climate policy manager | December 12, 2016, 1:40 pm EDT
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Signs are clear that climate science is going to come under attack in a Trump Administration—and scientists are ready and willing to fight back and speak up for the facts. One major cause for concern: the nomination of Scott Pruitt for EPA Administrator, despite his questioning of the facts about climate science. Mr. Pruitt should know that the agency he has been nominated to lead has in fact clearly articulated the scientific basis for climate change, and the role of carbon emissions from fossil fuels as a major driver.

The EPA’s Endangerment and Cause and Contribute Findings, signed by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson seven years ago, were a prerequisite to the regulation of global warming emissions under the Clean Air Act. (An important and astonishing piece of history: the finding that global warming emissions harmed human health was in fact reached in 2007 under the Bush Administration EPA, under Administrator Stephen Johnson, but the White House refused to open the email and read it! Talk about burying your head in the sand. Only after the Obama administration came to power was the EPA finally able to release a robust finding.)

Establishing the EPA’s authority to regulate global warming emissions under the Clean Air Act

In all the hyperbole about regulatory overreach, people tend to forget the slow, painstaking, science-based, stakeholder-informed, legal process it took to arrive at the Clean Power Plan, vehicle efficiency standards and other standards to limit global warming emissions.

In 1999, a number of private organizations filed a petition with the EPA asking that it move to regulate global warming emissions from vehicles under the Clean Air Act, based on the clear scientific evidence that those emissions were harmful to human health and welfare. The EPA denied the petition and the case was eventually appealed all the way to the Supreme Court—now with an expanded list of states, local governments and private organizations as petitioners, including my own organization the Union of Concerned Scientists.*

In 2007, the Supreme Court reached a landmark judgment in Massachusetts et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency et.al that mandated that, under the Clean Air Act, the EPA must set standards to reduce global warming emissions if the agency found them to be harmful to human health and welfare.

In December 2009, the EPA concluded that a vast body of scientific evidence showed that such emissions do indeed harm our health and welfare. (The final Endangerment Finding was signed after the release of a proposal in April 2009, and an extensive public comment process.)

The agency also found that emissions from new vehicles were a contributor (the Cause and Contribute Finding) to global warming pollution and subsequently made similar determinations about other major sources of emissions including power plants.

These findings, together with the Supreme Court ruling, firmly establish the EPA’s obligation and authority to issue Clean Air Act standards for major sources of carbon pollution, including vehicles and power plants.

Revisiting the Endangerment Finding

There has been some talk about a Trump administration EPA revisiting the endangerment finding and overturning it, thus reversing the basis for any Clean Air Act regulation of global warming emissions.

If Mr. Pruitt were confirmed, and were he to revisit the Endangerment Finding in a fact-based manner, he will find that the scientific basis for climate change, its human-caused drivers, and its impacts on human health and welfare have only become stronger in the intervening years since the finding was issued in 2009.

Yes, the science has advanced and, yes, the message has become even more urgent: The steady trend of global average temperature increase is unequivocal (2016 is on track to be yet another record-breaking year). We must make deep cuts in carbon emissions to help limit some of the worst impacts of climate change.

What has also become clearer is that the impacts of climate change are already upon us in the form of droughts, wildfires, heat waves, rising sea levels and coastal flooding, increased heavy precipitation events and more. The risks of these types of events will only increase if our emissions continue unabated.

That’s why a majority of Americans are concerned about climate change, and they specifically support a shift to renewable energy which can help cut carbon emissions. Cutting emissions and fostering a shift to clean energy is what the Clean Power Plan and vehicle efficiency standards are designed to do.

Other policies may also be necessary and important. Congress should also step up and get engaged in addressing climate change. The point is that doing nothing is not an option.

The Senate should vote ‘no’ on Pruitt for the EPA

To be clear: the science of climate change is not an “unsettled debate.” Mr. Trump’s statement in a recent interview that “Nobody really knows” is patently untrue.

In fact, 97 percent of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is real. Scientists and scientific bodies here in the US and around the world are overwhelmingly in agreement about what is happening (excess carbon emissions in the atmosphere are causing our planet to heat up at an alarming rate) and what the major causes are (primarily, our burning of fossil fuels and cutting down tropical forests).

By nominating Scott Pruitt for the position of EPA Administrator, President-Elect Trump is showing a dangerous dismissiveness of science and science-based policy making. Thankfully, our democracy is founded on a system of checks and balances. The Senate should now reject this completely inappropriate candidate and ask President-Elect Trump to put forward a more suitable choice.

Please add your voice and ask your Senators to vote no on Scott Pruitt.

*For the record, the full list of petitioners in the Massachusetts et al. v EPA et al. case included twelve states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) the District of Columbia, and local governments from American Samoa, New York City, and Baltimore. It also included 13 private organizations (Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Conservation Law Foundation, Environmental Advocates, Environmental Defense, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, International Center for Technology Assessment, National Environmental Trust, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, and U. S. Public Interest Research Group. On the opposing side was the EPA, 10 states (Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah) and 6 trade associations (Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, National Automobile Dealers Association, Engine Manufacturers Association, Truck Manufacturers Association, CO2 Litigation Group, and Utility Air Regulatory Group.)


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  • DiogenesDespairs

    Climate will do what climate will do as it has for hundreds of millions of years. Meanwhile, it is wise to base decisions and policy on hard fact.

    Here are some crucial, verifiable facts – with citations – about human-generated carbon dioxide and its effect on global warming people need to know and understand. I recommend following the links in the citations; some of them are very educational. And please feel free to copy/paste this comment wherever you think it will do the most good.

    The fact is, there has been global warming, but the contribution of human-generated carbon dioxide is necessarily so minuscule as to be nearly undetectable. Here’s why:

    Carbon dioxide, considered the main vector for human-caused global warming, is some 0.038% of the atmosphere[1]- a trace gas. Water vapor varies from 0% to 4%[2], and should easily average 1% or more[3] near the Earth’s surface, where the greenhouse effect would be most important, and is about three times more effective[4] a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So water vapor is at least 25 times more prevalent and three times more effective; that makes it at least 75 times more important to the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide[5]. The TOTAL contribution of carbon dioxide to the greenhouse effect is therefore 0.013 or less. The total human contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide since the start of the industrial revolution has been estimated at about 25%[6]. So humans’ carbon dioxide greenhouse effect is a quarter of 0.013, works out to about 0.00325. Total warming of the Earth by the greenhouse effect is widely accepted as about 33 degrees Centigrade, raising average temperature to 59 degrees Fahrenheit. So the contribution of anthropogenic carbon dioxide is less than 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit, or under 0.1 degree Centigrade. Global warming over the last century is thought by many to be 0.6 to 0.8 degrees Centigrade.

    But that’s only the beginning. We’ve had global warming for more than 10,000 years, since the end of the last Ice Age, and there is evidence temperatures were actually somewhat warmer 9,000 years ago and again 4,500 to 8,000 years ago than they are today[7]. Whatever caused that, it was not human activity. It was not all those power plants and factories and SUVs being operated by Stone Age cavemen while chipping arrowheads out of bits of flint. Whatever the cause was, it melted the glaciers that in North America once extended south to Long Island and parts of New York City[8] into virtually complete disappearance (except for a few mountain remnants). That’s one big greenhouse effect! If we are still having global warming – and I suppose we could presume we are, given this 10,000 year history – it seems highly likely that it is still the overwhelmingly primary cause of continued warming, rather than our piddling 0.00325 contribution to the greenhouse effect.

    Yet even that trend-continuation today needs to be proved. Evidence is that the Medieval Warm Period centered on the 1200s was somewhat warmer than we are now[9], and the climate was clearly colder in the Little Ice Age in the 1600s than it is now[10]. So we are within the range of normal up-and-down fluctuations without human greenhouse contributions that could be significant, or even measurable.

    The principal scientists arguing for human-caused global warming have been demonstrably disingenuous[11], and now you can see why. They have proved they should not be trusted.

    The idea that we should be spending hundreds of billions of dollars and hamstringing the economy of the entire world to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is beyond ludicrous in light of the facts above; it is insane. Furthermore, it sucks attention and resources from seeking the other sources of warming and from coping with climate change and its effects in realistic ways. The true motivation underlying the global warming movement is almost certainly ideological and political in nature, and I predict that

    Anthropogenic Global Warming, as currently presented, will go down as the greatest fraud of all time. It makes Ponzi and Madoff look like pikers by comparison.

    [1] Fundamentals of Physical Geography, 2nd Edition

    by Michael Pidwirny Concentration varies slightly with the growing season in the northern hemisphere. HYPERLINK “http://www.physicalgeography.net/fundamentals/7a.html” http://www.physicalgeography.net/fundamentals/7a.html

    [2] ibid.

    [3] HALOE v2.0 Upper Tropospheric Water Vapor Climatology Claudette Ojo, Hampton University; et al.. HYPERLINK “http://vsgc.odu.edu/src/Conf09/UnderGrad%20Papers/Ojo%20-%20Paper.pdf” http://vsgc.odu.edu/src/Conf09/UnderGrad%20Papers/Ojo%20-%20Paper.pdf. See p. 4.The 0 – 4% range is widely accepted among most sources. This source is listed for its good discussion of the phenomena determining that range. An examination of a globe will show that tropical oceans (near high end of range) are far more extensive than the sum of the earth’s arctic and antarctic regions and tropical-zone deserts (all near the low end). Temperate zone oceans are far more extensive than temperate-zone desert. This author’s guess of an average of 2% or more seems plausible. I have used “1% or more” in an effort to err on the side of understatement.

    [4 NIST Chemistry Webbook, Please compare the IR absorption spectra of water and carbon dioxide. ] HYPERLINK “http://webbook.nist.gov/” http://webbook.nist.gov/

    [5] Three quarters of the atmosphere and virtually all water vapor are in the troposphere. Including all the atmosphere would change the ratios to about 20 times more prevalent and 60 times more effective. However, the greenhouse effect of high-altitude carbon dioxide on lower-altitude weather and the earth’s surface seems likely to be small if not nil.

    [6] National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. HYPERLINK “http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/gases.html” http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/gases.html. The estimated 90ppm increase in carbon dioxide, 30% above the base of 280 ppm, to a recent reading of 370 ppm, equates to just under 25% of present concentration, the relevant factor in estimating present contribution to the greenhouse effect.

    [7] Oak Ridge National Laboratory http://www.esd.ornl.gov/projects/qen/nerc130k.html

    [8] New York Nature – The nature and natural history of the New York City region. Betsy McCully http://www.newyorknature.net/IceAge.html

    [9] Global Warming: A Geological Perspective John P. Bluemle HYPERLINK “https://www.dmr.nd.gov/ndgs/Newsletter/NL99W/PDF/globlwrmw99.pdf” http://www.azgs.az.gov/arizona_geology/archived_issues/Winter_1999.pdf This article, published by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency, is drawn from a paper by the author in Environmental Geosciences, 1999, Volume 6, Number 2, pp. 63-75. Note particularly the chart on p.4.

    [10] Ibid.

    [11] Wikileaks: Climatic Research Unit emails, data, models, 1996-2009 HYPERLINK “http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Climatic_Research_Unit_emails,_data,_models,_1996-2009” http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Climatic_Research_Unit_emails,_data,_models,_1996-2009.

    See also HYPERLINK “http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1246661/New-scandal-Climate-Gate-scientists-accused-hiding-data-global-warming-sceptics.html” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1246661/New-scandal-Climate-Gate-scientists-accused-hiding-data-global-warming-sceptics.html and

    HYPERLINK “http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704075604575356611173414140.html” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704075604575356611173414140.html and, more diplomatically: HYPERLINK “http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/science/01tier.html” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/science/01tier.html. Et al.


    What initially troubled me was the aberrant behavior of the climate research unit at East Anglia University, which had been the main data source for AGW arguments. They initially refused (!) to reveal their algorithms and data on the grounds that they were proprietary(!!). They responded to critics with ad hominem attacks and efforts to block their publication in scientific journals. Now, as I am sure you know, this is not how one does honest science, in which you PUBLISH your data and methodology and invite critical comment to ferret out error or oversights. It took the now-famous Wikileaks “Climategate” to pry loose the data and expose their machinations. Yet despite the devastating blow these revelations should have to their credibility, the AGW “cause” has taken on a life of its own.

    Fundamentally, the argument seems to rest on a logical fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc – after this, therefore because of this. We see a rise in temperature and a rise in (principally) carbon dioxide, and therefore conclude one must have caused the other. It does not necessarily follow at all. There can be other causes entirely behind both phenomena, and as you see above, almost certainly there are. Beyond that, I have encountered numerous assertions of fact that cannot add up given the physical properties of water vapor and carbon dioxide that go unchallenged. One-sided arguments proliferate and people arguing the other side are frequently denounced as being employed by business interests rather than rebutted on the merits.

    In sum, I have not come lightly to the conclusion that the AGW argument as it applies to carbon dioxide is largely untrue and certainly does not account for more than a very small, nearly negligible part of the phenomena we are seeing. The implications of widespread assertions of and belief in such an untruth are staggering, and potentially enormously destructive. It is unwise indeed to let oneself be stampeded in this matter, and stampede is clearly what many have been and are trying to induce.

    I can understand politicians behaving this way; a carbon tax or carbon trading regime would allow enormous revenues to fall into their hands. I can understand “Progressive” ideologues; it logically leads to enormous expansion of government power over industry, the economy, and the daily life of individuals, which they regard as a good thing. I understand the environmentalists; they want to shrink the size and impact on the environment of modern civilization. But responsible citizens need to put aside such considerations.