In April of 2007, The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with Massachussetts in the state’s suit against the EPA, finding that greenhouse gases were a danger to Massachussetts, largely because of sea level rise. The EPA was compelled to regulate greenhouse gases. They lost the suit.
The EPA somewhat reluctantly took on its new responsibilities and has begun to enforce a number of regulations to limit or reduce CO2 emissions from power plants and vehicles, and to require states to develop action plans to fight emissions. A lot of legal to-ing and fro-ing has occurred in the country’s courtrooms since then and we should expect even more in the future.
However, some of what the EPA would like to do in President Obama’s remaining two years in office requires that certain benchmarks be met. That means the foundation has to be laid now so they can cite certain things as justification for regulations.
Levels of scientific agreement must be clear–dissent from respected scientists makes some regulatory actions challenge-able in court.
Some threat from global warming must constitute a clear and present danger to the health and safety of the country’s citizens. Extreme weather could constitute such a danger and actually it is the only postulated effect that could conceivably be related to the present day. Again, scientific challenges to the immediacy of the impacts of Xtreme Weather make the EPA’s task more daunting.
So when John Holdren attacks Roger Pielke Jr. regarding Pielke’s straightforward assessment that extreme weather events are not in fact detectable at present, it isn’t because of petulance or even malice. Pielke’s statements represent a potential obstacle to what the EPA has already decided to do. At a minimum, Holdren needs to get his challenge in the media so the EPA can refer to it. At a maximum, Holdren would like Pielke to either recant or retire. And given Pielke’s recent statement that he may withdraw from research on climate issues, Holdren may be able to claim at least a partial victory.
Representative Grijalva’s witch hunt against 7 scientists who have published non-consensus findings on climate science is not just because of his beliefs or political stance. Again, the work done by folk like Judith Curry on uncertainty threatens the legal standing for EPA findings and future regulations.
Finally, the EPA’s need for legal ‘facts on the ground’ to support further actions is apparent in the recent revival of questions about Willie Soon’s funding. These questions are not new–the were revealed in 2011 and discussed for years before that. Showing political funding for Soon’s science will allow them to ask a court to disregard it without examination. (For the record, I don’t believe Soon’s work would survive scientific examination–but that’s hardly the point.)
The EPA has been in a number of legal battles regarding the regulation of greenhouse gases. Their lawyers understand the value of having their arguments validated by people like John Holdren and having reputable opponents dissed in the media by those who support further EPA regulation.
One of those supporters of EPA regulation is myself. I believe strong regulation of coal power plants is in our best interest. I believe that good emission regulations for vehicles, especially commercial trucks, is also good for our health now and in the future.
However, the demonization of dissent is unconscionable. Holding a modern day witch hunt to further a bureaucracy’s attempts to advance an agenda (an agenda I broadly support) is not just Kafka-esque. It is an affront to the principles of democratic organization of the country’s affairs.
President Obama (who I strongly support–much more than I do EPA regulations) is constrained in his course of actions by the loss of both houses of Congress. Executive actions are the main instrument he can wield to advance his policy agenda. To a limited agree they can be a force for good. This is obviously not one of those cases.
To tear down the reputations of respectable scientists just to have a footnote in the records of the inevitable court actions regarding future regulations is unconscionable. The fact that these seven dissenters have a body of evidence to support their resistance to a rush to climate judgment isn’t a political inconvenience. It is something that the EPA, the administration and John Holdren should carefully consider.