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Climate Change Family Feuds a Coming?

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Tolstoy opened his novel Anna Karenina with the truism: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” If we peek in the back door of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we see a family in unique discord.

EPA is supposed to be open, transparent, in public service – a glass house where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average. But, harmonious dialogue leading to a wise policy consensus, maybe not so much.


EPA is not merely a house of science; it’s a home for regulation. The tensions between the two are always the cause of considerable discord and even a fair amount of schizophrenia. Consider the disconnected comments of EPA’s new Administrator, Lisa Jackson. First she stated: “Science must be the backbone of what EPA does. If I am confirmed, I will administer with science as my guide.” She added: “Political appointees will not compromise the integrity of EPA’s technical experts to advance particular regulatory outcomes.” Then, when asked whether she would support a carbon tax which Agency policy wonks admit is the most efficient way to ensure reductions in carbon emissions, Jackson said she would consult with the president and stood by her support for cap-and-trade.

It isn’t just the Administrator’s bi-polar problem that makes EPA’s technical experts walk around on tiptoes. Ms. Jackson has installed Lisa Heinzerling as EPA’s climate change legal guru. Heinzerling wrote the winning brief against the Bush EPA convincing the Supreme Court that CO2 is a pollutant and subject to control by the Clean Air Act. She also wrote Priceless: On Knowing the Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing, a screed against EPA’s economic analysts and their use of economic principles to explain the costs regulations impose, but which Heinzerling views as little more than political manipulation.

The Agency’s policy shop, the source of so much of Heinzerling’s ire, has been looking for ways to reopen the core scientific debate about global warming. Under Jackson, one wonders if these technical experts will even get a place at the dinner table.

And how skeptical are these bright lights. They are smart enough to not openly oppose the alarmists within the agency. They simply point out inconvenient facts. For example, they took a look at EPA’s staffing and found that the Agency had just one employee capable of building and using the complex circulation models upon which the IPCC relies. One. Yep, just one, and he is assigned to do so only half-time.

Then there is the Climate Change Seminar series these analysts have established. They bring in world class scientists to discuss the science behind the climate change debate. Nearly to a person, each eminent scholar has undercut some portion of the IPCC belief system. Most recent to appear: Duke University’s Nicola Scafetta.

Nicola Scafetta is a research scientist in the Department of Physics at Duke. While Heinzerling claims we are facing a climate catastrophe that demands immediate attention, Scafetta directly rebuts that, raising the question: how is it possible to address a problem such as climate change where several crucial physical ingredients are still severely uncertain? According the IPCC and Heinzerling’s fellow travelers, if we do not reduce carbon emissions to zero, we will see from 3 to 6 degrees Celsius (C) increases in temperature by 2100, and life as we know it will end.  According to Scafetta, temperatures will rise by about 1 degree C in 100 years due to natural causes, and we may be entering an ice age with significantly lower temperatures regardless of CO2 emissions.

John Christy, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and IPCC lead author, agrees with Scafetta. In part, so does David Rind, a physicist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who specializes in the study of the variability of solar radiation. And, in part, so does Judith Lean, a solar physicist at U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.  Lean, too, is alumnus of the Policy shop’s Climate Change Seminar series.

It will be interesting to see whether Administrator Jackson even accesses the brain bank in her policy shop, or whether she compromises the integrity of EPA’s technical experts to advance President Obama’s particular regulatory goals. If her performance at EPA followers her track record as head of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, we might expect to see her “employing a highly politicized approach to decision-making that resulted in suppression of scientific information, issuance of gag orders and threats against professional staff members who dared to voice concerns,” as the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) suggests she will. EPA is heading for a white-hot family argument that won’t end at the dining room table. Kids are going to be sent to their rooms.

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