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Clash over science in center ring as House panel weighs EPA regs

[Reprint from E&E Greenwire — March 8, 2011]

Clash over science in center ring as House panel weighs EPA regs (03/08/2011)
By Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter (Subscription required – LINK)

Scientists and committee members faced off today on the quality of the evidence for man-made climate change, in what may be the final hearing before the House Energy and Power Subcommittee’s vote later this week to prevent U.S. EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

The hearing took place at the insistence of Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and subcommittee ranking member Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), and they invited more than half of the scientists who addressed the panel.

Waxman said the bill (H.R. 910) by committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), which will receive a subcommittee vote Thursday, would seek to address climate change by declaring it does not exist.

“The bill would legislate a scientific finding out of existence, and it would remove the administration’s main tools to address one of the most critical problems facing the world today,” he said.

But subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) said the Upton bill is not a response to climate science, but a way to eliminate one of the worst strategies for curbing emissions — allowing unelected bureaucrats to set standards for emitters.

“Whether one thinks the science tells us that global warming is a serious problem, a minor problem, or hardly a problem at all, the real question before this committee is whether EPA’s regulations under the Clean Air Act are a wise solution to that problem,” he said. “Clearly, they are not.”

The panel heard from several scientists who testified that if global emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions do not peak and begin to decline in the next years, atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping emissions could reach a tipping point at which catastrophic changes to climate would become irreversible.

Richard Somerville, a climate scientist and professor emeritus at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, told the panel in his statements and in written testimony that atmospheric CO2 is already at levels that will lead to a 2-degree-Celsius increase in global temperatures.

He said “drastic” changes to emissions would be needed to hold global warming to the 2-degree target, the level scientists have said must not be exceeded if Earth is to avoid catastrophic climate effects.

“It will be governments that will decide, by actions or inactions, what levels of climate change they regard as tolerable,” Somerville said.

“Some further climate change is inevitable, but how much is up to us,” Somerville added. “The road forks now.”

Knute Nadelhoffer, an ecologist and the director of the University of Michigan’s Biological Station, said that Lake Superior’s temperature is rising at a surprising level and changes in the overall environment reflect the existence of global warming.

“We know the climate is changing,” he said. “It is real, it is happening, and the impacts are becoming clearer the more we observe and study plant and animal distributions, nutrient cycles, atmospheric chemistry and long-term, large-scale weather and climate patterns.”

But John Christy, a climatologist and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said that U.S. industrial emissions had a “minuscule” effect on climate change, and EPA’s current and planned regulations would have no effect on climate change.

Further, Christy said that climate change advocates are wrong to point to extreme weather events to prove that climate change is occurring.

“The Earth is very large, the weather is very dynamic, and extreme events will happen several times per year,” he said. “Natural, unforced climate variability explains these trends,” he said — not human emissions.