Thursday, March 27, 2008

Bush: we're going to run out the clock on global warming

Today the Bush administration FINALLY responded to the Supreme Court case on global warming -- a case the Bush crowd lost nearly a year ago. Unfortunately, this plan appears to put EPA’s response on a very slow track.

EPA is going to issue an “advanced notice of proposed rulemaking.” (ANPRM in the high jargon of the government.)

Translation: any real action has been punted to the next administration.

Consider, for example, that EPA issued a similar notice in 2004 regarding pollution standards for diesel trains and ships. It took nearly four years for the agency to come out with actual standards, and that issue was relatively simple compared to this one.

So this is a pretty blatant delaying tactic. (Some conservative groups had urged EPA to do exactly what it has announced it will do here.)

This underscores the need for Congress to step up and deal with global warming.

Here is some of what Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts had to say about it:

“The ‘A’ in this document should stand for ‘absurd”

“This is the latest quack from a lame-duck EPA intent on running out the clock on the entire Bush Presidency without doing a thing to combat global warming. The planet is sick, and instead of rushing to provide emergency medical attention, the Bush Administration has said ‘take 2 aspirin and call me after I leave office’.”

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

March madness: little-told stories of how Bush and other bad guys juke the stats

This is a somewhat calmer week in DC on the environmental front, so perhaps it is a good time to remind one and all of little-told stories that can have a big impact on the air we breathe – and even see.

We offer three for your consideration – all of them involve what cops on HBO’s “The Wire” call “juking the stats” – that is, playing little accounting tricks to alter the outcome of various analysis. And all of them could lead to more pollution than if things were reckoned honestly.

Cost-benefit baloney: Last week, EPA chief Stephen Johnson renewed an often-repeated industry pitch to require that national clean air standards be based in part on an assessment of the projected costs and benefits. There are a lot of reasons why this is a pretty dumb idea, but let’s consider just one: that the bean counters at the White House Office of Management and Budget can juke the stats.

And, in fact, they’ve done exactly that. During the past several years behind the scenes they have ordered the EPA to radically revise – and lower – the projected benefits of cleaning up the air. Some of this stuff is really dense, but the bottom line is that OMB ordered EPA to change a whole series of assumptions used to calculate benefits, with the result that projected benefits are relatively much lower than they would have been under the method EPA used in prior years, even in the early years of the Bush administration.

Want to see an example? Let’s take the pollution standards for diesel trains and ships announced last week. Two years ago, our friends with the state and local clean-air regulators performed an analysis of the benefits that would be achieved by applying pollution standards comparable to that required for diesel trucks or off-road engines.

They used the exact same methodology that EPA had used in its 2004 off-road diesel rule.
http://www.4cleanair.org/Loco-Marine/Loco-MarineAnalysis.pdf

And they found that setting tougher standards for trains and ships would prevent nearly 4,000 premature deaths a year by 2030.

But the official EPA cost-benefit analysis for this rule now projects that it would prevent only 1,400 premature deaths a year by 2030. Still attention-getting, but much lower benefits from cleanup.

http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/7ebdf4d0b217978b852573590040443a/2f8d4b77c0bbad3f8525740c0057376e!OpenDocument

Where did all the other bodies go? I guess into the delete file of some OMB computer.

**
Polluted parks: Another story I haven’t seen enough of is the effort by the Bush administration to juke the stats to permit more air pollution in national parks.

Here’s the story in a nutshell: one of the key principles of the Clean Air Act is that relatively pristine areas – such as national parks and wilderness areas – should remain relatively unsullied by air pollution. To achieve this, big new potential sources of pollution (such as a coal-fired power plant) must project the impact of their emissions on any possibly affected national park or wilderness area, and make sure any impact is minimal.

To permit more coal plants to be built, the Bush EPA has proposed accounting changes that would permit more pollution in these pristine areas.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) has called EPA on this http://oversight.house.gov/story.asp?id=1731 , but I haven’t seen anywhere near the media coverage that this outrage deserves.

For the ugly details, check with Mark Wenzler at the National Parks and Conservation Association, mwenzler@npca.org

**

Malarkey made in the USA: Finally, let us consider the latest effort by the National Association of Manufacturers to scare policy makers in the name of protecting industry from cleaning up its emissions.

Partially thwarted in its effort to block any changes in EPA’s national smog standards, NAM has turned its attention to Congress – and global warming. Always ready to twist the truth, NAM is touting what it calls an “independent” study (that NAM paid for along with the American Council for Capital Formation, or ACCF) by the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). It should not come as a shock that this “analysis” predicts that global warming legislation would cost more than official government assessments predict.

Because NAM juked the stats.

Indeed, in a footnote to the report (page 3 – let us know if you need this), the authors of the report concede that

SAIC executed the NEMS model in this project using input assumptions provided by ACCF and NAM. Analysis provided in this report is based on the output from the NEMS model as a result of the ACCF/NAM input assumptions. The input assumptions, opinions and recommendations in this report are those of ACCF and NAM, and do not necessarily represent the views of SAIC.

In other words, don’t blame us for this fiction. We just took the money and ran their bogus assumptions through our computers.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

EPA Chief Floats Radical Plan to Weaken Clean Air Act

The head of EPA wants Congress to weaken the Clean Air Act to factor costs into the process for setting national clean air standards.


More on this at http://cleanairwatchpressroom.blogspot.com/2008/03/epa-smog-plan-compromises-public-health.html

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Smog squeeze: industry escalates pressure at the White House

Industry is escalating its political pressure against any effort by EPA to toughen ozone standards. It’s a smog squeeze play.

The latest documented meeting took place Wednesday, as groups including the Edison Electric Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers met with the Office of Management and Budget. (See below.)


http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/oira/2000/meetings/703.html

Meeting Record Regarding: Ozone NAAQS
Date: 2/27/2008
-->
Name
Affiliation
Client (if applicable) -->
Art Fraas
OMB/OIRA

John Knepper
OMB

Bryan Brendle
Nat'l Assoc. of Manufacturers

Tyrone P. Wilson
Portland Cement Associate

Paul Noe
GMA

John Hopewell
Nat'l Paint & Coating Assoc.

Joseph Stanko
Hunton and Williams
NAM
Bob Shepher
National Association of Manufactures

John Kinsmen
Edison Electric Institute

Steve McMillin
OMB

Harvey Richmond
EPA

Susan Stone
EPA

A meeting of the Flat Earth Society? Or simply Broadway bombast?

Flat Earth Firsters? Just when you think the science of global warming is pretty much settled, with even big companies saying something ought to be done about it, here comes the voice of opposition! A meeting, starting Sunday in New York, the “2008 International Conference on Climate Change” – subtitled “Global Warming is Not a Crisis!”

The meeting is under the aegis of the Heartland Society, a corporate-funded outfit that, among other things, funnels “free-enterprise” baloney to malleable state lawmakers. http://www.heartland.org/NewYork08/newyork08.cfm The folks attending this meeting are often referred to as “global warming deniers.”

It’s like a gathering of the Flat Earth Society. Or – since this meeting literally is taking place on Broadway -- it recalls the great Preston Jones play, “The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia,” which did run briefly on Broadway.

Although the sponsors reportedly contend the energy industries are not footing the bill for this celebration of hot air, many of the speakers are known to be on the polluter dole. (Note the wonderful articles below by AP’s Seth Borenstein on keynoter Pat Michaels, and by now-retired Cox News Service’s Jeff Nesmith on several of the other conference speakers, Willie Soon and Craig Idso.)

Heartland makes much of the fact that this meeting has dozens of co-sponsors – as if to suggest that doubt about global warming is both widespread and international in nature. But when you examine the list (and, frankly, we spent only a brief time digging), it’s easy to find numerous co-sponsors with known past financial associations to companies such as Exxon Mobil. (For example, Center for Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, Frontiers of Freedom Institute, National Center for Policy Analysis, Pacific Research Institute, George C. Marshall Institute, the Congress of Racial Equality. And, of course, the Heartland Institute itself.)

Some of the “international” co-sponsors also receive money that may have started flowing at the corporate level. For instance, the Cathay Institute, which receives money from the Cato Institute, which has received money from Exxon Mobil. And how about the Alternate Solutions Institute of Pakistan [an obscure outfit in Pakistan is a sponsor?] and the Instituto de Libre Empresa of Peru, which receive money from the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, which has received money from – you guessed it, Exxon Mobil, as well as other corporations and corporate-funded foundations.

No, you could not make this up. We are waiting to see if they attack Galileo also.

[Here are the stories I mentioned above:]

Utilities giving big bucks to global warming skeptic

By SETH BORENSTEIN27 July 2006WASHINGTON (AP) - Coal-burning utilities are passing the hat for one of the few remaining scientists skeptical of the global warming harm caused by industries that burn fossil fuels.
Pat Michaels -- Virginia's state climatologist, a University of Virginia professor and senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute -- told Western business leaders last year that he was running out of money for his analyses of other scientists' global warming research. So last week, a Colorado utility organized a collection campaign to help him out, raising at least $150,000 in donations and pledges.
The Intermountain Rural Electric Association of Sedalia, Colo., gave Michaels $100,000 and started the fund-raising drive, said Stanley Lewandowski, IREA's general manager. He said one company planned to give $50,000 and a third plans to give Michaels money next year.
"We cannot allow the discussion to be monopolized by the alarmists," Lewandowski wrote in a July 17 letter to 50 other utilities. He also called on other electric cooperatives to launch a counterattack on "alarmist" scientists and specifically Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth."
Michaels and Lewandowski are open about the money and see no problem with it. Some top scientists and environmental advocates call it a clear conflict of interest. Others view it as the type of lobbying that goes along with many divisive issues.
"These people are just spitting into the wind," said John Holdren, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "The fact is that the drumbeat of science and people's perspectives are in line that the climate is changing."
Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a Washington advocacy group, said: "This is a classic case of industry buying science to back up its anti-environmental agenda."
Donald Kennedy, an environmental scientist who is former president of Stanford University and current editor-in-chief of the peer-reviewed journal Science, said skeptics such as Michaels are lobbyists more than researchers.
"I don't think it's unethical any more than most lobbying is unethical," he said. He said donations to skeptics amounts to "trying to get a political message across."
Michaels is best known for his newspaper opinion columns and books, including "Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians and the Media." However, he also writes research articles published in scientific journals.
In 1998, Michaels blasted NASA scientist James Hansen, accusing the godfather of global warming science of being way off on his key 1988 prediction of warming over the next 10 years. But Hansen and other scientists said Michaels misrepresented the facts by cherry-picking the worst (and least likely) of three possible outcomes Hansen presented to Congress. The temperature rise that Hansen said was most likely to happen back then was actually slightly lower than what has occurred.
Michaels has been quoted by major newspapers more than 150 times in the past two years, according to a Lexis-Nexis database search. He and Lewandowski told The Associated Press that their side of global warming isn't getting out and that the donations resulted from a speech Michaels gave to the Western Business Roundtable last fall. Michaels said the money will help pay his staff.
Holdren, a Harvard environmental science and technology professor, said skeptics such as Michaels "have had attention all out of proportion to the merits of their arguments."
"Last I heard, anybody can ask a scientific question," said Michaels, who holds a Ph.D. in ecological climatology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "It is a very spirited discussion that requires technical response and expertise."
Other scientific fields, such as medicine, are more careful about potential conflicts of interests than the energy, environmental and chemical fields, where it doesn't raise much of an eyebrow, said Penn State University bioethicist Arthur Caplan.
Earlier this month, the Journal of the American Medical Association announced a crackdown on researchers who do not disclose drug company ties related to their research. Yet days later, the journal's editor said she had been misled because the authors of a new study had not revealed industry money they got that posed a conflict.
Three top climate scientists said they don't accept money from private groups. The same goes for the Web site realclimate.org, which has long criticized Michaels. "We don't get any money; we do this in our free time," said Realclimate.org contributor Stefan Rahmstorf, an ocean physics scientist at Potsdam University in Germany.
Lewandowski, who said he believes global warming is real just not as big a problem as scientists claim, acknowledged this is a special interest issue. He said the bigger concern is his 130,000 customers, who want to keep rates low, so coal-dependent utilities need to prevent any taxes or programs that penalize fossil fuel use. He said his effort is more aimed at stopping carbon dioxide emission taxes and limits from Congress, something he believes won't happen during the Bush administration.
**
Energy industry touts dubious climate study Effort attacks belief in global warming

JEFF NESMITHCox Washington Bureau 1 June 2003The Atlanta Journal - ConstitutionCopyright (c) 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, All Rights Reserved
Washington --- Nonprofit organizations with ties to energy interests are promoting a controversial climate study as proof that prevailing views of global warming are wrong.
The scientists who authored the new study contend that the global warming of recent decades is not without precedent during the past 1,000 years, as other scientists have claimed. In fact, they say the Earth was even warmer during what is known as the ''medieval warm period'' between 900 and 1300 A.D.
The paper has touched off a worldwide storm of e-mail among climate scientists, some of whom have proposed organizing a research boycott of two journals that published the study.
The links among authors of the new study, the nonprofit groups and the energy interests illustrate a three-way intersection of money, science and policy. Energy interests underwrote the study and help finance the groups that are promoting it.
The study also illustrates a strategy adopted by some energy companies in the late 1980s to attack the credibility of climate science, said John Topping, president of the Climate Institute.
''They saw early on that what they had to do was keep the science at issue,'' said Topping, a former Republican congressional staffer who founded the institute in 1986.
By relying on the news media's inclination to include both sides of a story, the industries were able to create the impression that scientists were deeply divided over climate change, Topping said.
''It was all very shrewdly done,'' he added.
The Climate Institute takes the position that climate change threatens the global environment and promotes international cooperation on the issue. Less than 1 percent of its funding has come from oil industry sources, Topping said, with the rest coming from foundations.
To measure long-term climate patterns, scientists rely on ''proxy'' indicators, such as the content of air bubbles trapped centuries ago under ice packs in Greenland and Antarctica, the chemical makeup of ancient ocean sediments, and the relative widths of old tree rings.
These natural records have been used to portray a global climate that has been largely stable until the late 1980s, when temperatures started rising sharply.
A millennium of these temperature records presents what has been called a ''hockey stick'' graph, depicting centuries with little relative change, then a sharp and sudden rise during the past two decades.
Most climate scientists think the rise results from the atmospheric buildup of heat-trapping ''greenhouse gases,'' especially carbon dioxide released by the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum.
Industry-backed groups claim the new study challenges the validity of this view by presenting evidence of global warming at a time when fossil fuels were not being burned in appreciable quantities.
The new study, ''Reconstructing Climatic and Environmental Changes of the Past 1,000 Years: A Reappraisal,'' was published several weeks ago in a British scientific journal, Energy and Environment.
The authors contend in the 65-page paper that their reanalysis of data from more than 200 previous climate studies provides evidence of global temperature shifts that are more dramatic than the current one, including during the ''medieval warm period.''
The research was underwritten by the American Petroleum Institute, the trade association of the world's biggest oil companies.
Two of the five authors are scientists who have been linked to the coal industry and have received support from the ExxonMobil Foundation.
Two others, who are affiliated with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, also have the title of ''senior scientists'' with a Washington-based organization supported by conservative foundations and ExxonMobil Corp.
The organization, the George T. Marshall Institute, is headed by William O'Keefe, a former executive of the American Petroleum Institute.
O'Keefe also was at one time the president of the Global Climate Coalition, a now-defunct organization created by oil and coal interests to lobby against U.S. participation in climate treaties, such as the Kyoto Protocol.
''Statements made about the warming trend of the 20th century and the 1990s do not withstand close scrutiny,'' O'Keefe declared at a recent luncheon held in the Dirksen Senate Office Building here.
The purpose of the luncheon was for Willie Soon, a physicist and astronomer with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center, to present a summary of the new research.
Promotion of the scientists' arguments began with a news release issued by the public affairs office of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center shortly after the paper was published. Headlined ''20th Century Climate Not So Hot,'' the release declared that the scientists had ''determined'' that the current warming trend is neither the hottest nor the most dramatic change in the past 1,000 years.
Didn't publish release
Major news organizations failed to publish the news release. However, it was picked up by the Discovery Channel Online, which declared that the 20th century may have been ''just another bump in the climate road.''
The Discovery Channel Online article was immediately copied and distributed by the staff of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, headed by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), an outspoken skeptic about climate change.
The committee also circulated a statement by the Competitive Enterprise Institute declaring that ''the hockey stick theory has effectively been dismantled'' and ''the margin of error is so large that nearly any temperature trend could be drawn to fit within it.''
The principal target of the paper by Soon and his co-authors was Michael Mann of the University of Virginia, whose landmark compilation of thousands of ''proxy'' indicators led to the conclusion that the last two decades have been unusually warm and to the first depiction of the ''hockey stick'' graph.
Mann said last week that the Soon study does not even attempt to reconstruct global average temperatures but simply highlights anecdotal evidence of isolated warming trends.
In a statement issued jointly with environmental scientist Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University, Mann said that when all of these indicators are compiled and averaged, the ''medieval warming period'' fits within the long-range global trend. He said this was done not only in his study but also in nearly a dozen that have followed it.
Soon acknowledged during a question period at the Senate luncheon that his research does not provide such a comprehensive picture of the Earth's temperature record. He questioned whether that is even possible, and said he did not see how Mann and the others could ''calibrate'' the various proxy records for comparison.
''Then he needs to educate himself on several decades of very careful, painstaking research,'' Mann snapped.
The energy industry provides significant funding for groups that employ some of the authors or promote their new study.
Soon's four co-authors were Sallie Baliunas, also from the Harvard-Smithsonian center; Sherwood Idso and his son, Craig Idso, both of Tempe, Ariz., who are the past president and the current president of an organization called the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change; and David R. Legates, a climate researcher at the University of Delaware.
The Idsos, who have previously been linked to Western coal interests, do not reveal the sources of financial support for their center, which on its Web site presents summaries of scientific studies purporting to raise questions about prevailing climate change theories.
The center had a budget of nearly $400,000 in 2001, the most recent year for which nonprofit statements to the Internal Revenue Service are available.
It operates from a post office box and offices in the homes of Craig and Sherwood Idso and a second son of Sherwood Idso, Keith Idso.
Identities of the four donors who provided the organization's $397,000 contributions in 2001 are blanked out of the Internal Revenue Service filing, and Sherwood Idso declined to name them.
''We generally do not say anything about our funding,'' he said. ''The feeling is that what we produce there should be evaluated on its own merit, not where any funding comes from.''
Records filed with the IRS by ExxonMobil Foundation show that it provided a grant of $15,000 to the Arizona center in 2000. These records and others show that ExxonMobil Foundation and ExxonMobil Corp. also have contributed $160,000 to the George T. Marshall Institute in the past three years and more than $900,000 to the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
In a telephone interview, Soon declined to say how much he is paid to serve as a ''senior scientist'' with the George T. Marshall Institute. Both he and Baliunas have that title.
The institute was organized in the 1980s and is chaired by Robert Jastrow, a retired scientist from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration who was an early and vocal supporter of former President Reagan's ''Star Wars'' missile defense initiative. Photo A scientist examines an ice core from a glacier in Antarctica. Ice cores contain tiny trapped bubbles that can tell researchers about atmospheric conditions thousands of years ago./ University of Nevada Photo The studies by Michael Mann of the University of Virginia, which used ancient tree rings and other data, were attacked in the latest study./ University of Virginia