By Alan Carlin | November 30, 2018
Last Friday the Trump Administration published the latest in a series of reports mandated by Congress called the National Climate Assessment. Like most anything concerning climate change, the report was primarily political in intent. The report emphasized all the allegedly adverse effects that climate change would supposedly result in and did not examine whether the cost of reducing warming would exceed the benefits of doing so. It was prepared by 13 Federal agencies and was set in motion during the Obama Administration. The Trump Administration claims that it never reviewed the report before it was published and that it represented the views of its bureaucratic authors from 13 different departments and recruited from the outside world. The report has been unusually strongly criticized by climate skeptics as highly inaccurate with false conclusions. This is highly unusual since major reports are normally reviewed with great care before being published for political and other viewpoints. President Trump has since said that he did not believe the report.
There is some indication that the report was not exactly an honest description of what the bureaucracy thought since the staff that prepared it included some climate activists and featured some research that was funded by noted activists like Tom Steyer. This suggests that a significant part of the problem was inattention by the Trump Administration. For this the Trump Administration itself bears the responsibility.
The Administration now has a problem since some Democrats say they will use the report to oppose a number of the Trump Administration’s attempts to weaken a number of the Obama climate regulations that they have proposed, including using the report to persuade courts to reinstate the original Obama Administration regulations. All this was quite foreseeable. So why did the Administration publish the report without reviewing it? Was it because it was not paying attention to what the bureaucracy was doing? This is hard to believe, but appears now to be the case. One obvious possibility is that they wanted to avoid the charge that they had “corrupted” the report writing process. But the costs are likely to be high. Another possibility is that Acting Administrator Wheeler did not want to endure questions about possible intervention at his confirmation hearing. But the evidence appears to suggest inattention by the Trump Administration was the major problem.
The more normal process is for an administration to make sure that major reports exactly correspond to its policy and technical views before publishing it. This is a far better approach in my view. Then there is no confusion as to whether the report really represents the Administration’s views and cannot be used against it. And it does not later have to disown it, as they have already started to do. It clearly would have been worth the extra effort in this case. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Trump Administration blew it.