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Climate science in play as US Republicans commence attack on EPA

capitol_hill_power_plant.jpgPerhaps the most interesting thing to come out of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee meeting yesterday was a private letter from former EPA administrator Stephen Johnson to President George W. Bush. Written in January 2008, the letter makes the case that climate science is so strong as to require regulation.

The question facing Johnson at the time was whether to press forward with an “endangerment finding” formally declaring carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases a threat to public health and welfare. A year earlier the US Supreme Court had issued a ruling that EPA has such authority under the Clean Air Act and needed to make a formal decision on whether to use it.

“The state of the latest climate change science does not permit a negative finding, nor does it permit a credible finding that we need to wait for more research,” Johnson wrote.

Released by Democrats, the letter provides an interesting perspective on how the debate unfolded within the Bush administration, which ended up punting the issue into the next administration. Shortly after entering office under President Barack Obama, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson did what Johnson had sought to do and formally issued the endangerment finding; the agency has since issued regulations for vehicles and is now tackling major emitters such as power plants. Now that the Senate has halted work on climate legislation, the Clean Air Act is the only tool Obama has to go after industrial emissions.

Wednesday’s subcommittee hearing focused on a bill that would block those efforts, marking the beginning of what promises to be a prolonged effort to either strip the EPA of its climate authority or leave the agency hobbled and unable to fulfill its duties. A long string of witnesses testified at the day-long hearing about how EPA’s move to regulate greenhouse gases will hamper the economy and send jobs overseas. Republicans did not invite a single climate scientist, and Jackson herself only made it onto the roster as a Democratic witness.

Republicans made it abundantly clear that they are worried not about the climate but about cheap energy and jobs. Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan has endorsed climate science in the past but this week confirmed – after seeking to evade the question about a dozen times – that he is not convinced that greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global warming (see video here). At the hearing, he put in a good word for fossil fuels.

“They are the most affordable choice,” he said. “The EPA has sought to take away that choice by making them prohibitively expensive.”

Democrats countered that reducing emissions will create jobs and accused Republicans of advancing a fossil-fuel agenda paid for by the powerful brothers David and Charles Koch. Returning to the science itself, they used Johnson’s letter as evidence that scientists’ broad conclusions about anthropogenic global warming are inescapable.

“You and the new majority have a lot of power to rewrite the nation’s laws, but you do not have the power to rewrite the laws of nature,” ranking Democrat Henry Waxman of California told his Republican colleagues. He cited Johnson’s letter and said that the science hasn’t changed in the last three years. Unfortunately, he lamented, “belief in science has become another partisan battleground.”


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