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Climate Science Controversy Flares in EPA Budget Hearing

WASHINGTON, DC, February 23, 2010 (ENS) – U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s appearance today before a Senate Committee to justify the agency’s $10 billion FY 2011 budget became a showcase for the split in the Senate over climate change and clean energy that has to date prevented approval of a climate bill. The House of Representatives passed a climate bill in June 2009.

In the absence of climate legislation that limits the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for the rising global average temperature observed by thousands of scientists across the United States and around the world, the Obama administration is taking steps to limit greenhouse gases by regulation.

EPA regulations would be based on Jackson’s finding in December that greenhouse gas pollution endangers the public health and welfare, and also on a 2007 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that greenhouse gases are pollutants under the definition of the Clean Air Act.

Several states and numerous industry groups filed petitions last week to overturn the EPA’s endangerment finding. Legislators in both chambers are debating efforts to strike the finding. Meanwhile 16 states have indicated their support for it.

Jackson told the Environment and Public Works Committee budget hearing today, “EPA continues to take meaningful, common sense steps to address climate change. Making the right choices now will allow the agency to improve health, drive technology innovation, and protect the environment; all without placing an undue burden on the nation’s economy.”

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson (Photos courtesy EPW)

“The budget includes a requested increase of more than $43 million for additional regulatory efforts aimed at taking action on climate change,” said Jackson, adding, “It includes $25 million for state grants focused on developing technical capacity to address greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.”

“It also includes $13.5 million in funding for implementing new emission standards that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from mobile sources such as passenger cars, light-duty trucks, and medium-duty passenger vehicles, developing potential standards for large transportation sources such as locomotives and aircraft engines, and analyzing the potential need for standards under petitions relating to major stationary sources,” Jackson said, “all through means that are flexible and manageable for business.”

“A request of $21 million will support continued implementation of the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule to ensure the collection of high quality data. This budget also requests an additional $3.1 million to promote work on current and future carbon capture and sequestration projects,” the administrator said.

Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Senator Barbara Boxer of California said, “While the world is going green, the one place where we can’t seem to address climate change directly is here in the Senate.”

Debunking those who say Washington’s big snow storm last week is evidence that climate change is not happening, Boxer said, “The way to evaluate climate trends is to look at look at scientific records over time.”

Senator Barbara Boxer

Boxer cited the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration finding that the 2000-2009 decade was the hottest in the last 130 years since recordkeeping began.

She quoted the U.S. Geological Survey’s report Monday that every ice front in the southern part of the Antarctic Peninsula has been retreating overall from 1947 to 2009, with the most dramatic changes occurring since 1990.

She quoted a NOAA report that the Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent last year was third lowest since satellite records began in 1979.

“These are the facts on the ground, not speculation,” Boxer said. “Scientists tell us that one of the marks of climate change is extreme weather events.”

Displaying a chart from the U.S. Global Change Research Program, Boxer pointed out that over the past 50 years heavy rain storms have increased, drought and wildfire frequency have also increased, and in the last 30 years, “annual sea surface temperatures in the main Atlantic hurricane development region increased 2°F, coinciding with an increase in the destructive energy of Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes.”

“One of the reasons I am so pleased EPA is addressing climate change is that when we do so, we create millions of jobs,” Boxer said, while warning that, “The efforts by some to bottle up clean energy and climate proposals in the Congress have caused firms to hold off on major investments, stifling job growth.”

Senator James Inhofe

Ranking Minority Member Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma is one of the legislators who have been trying to block a climate bill from becoming law.

Today, Senator Inhofe released a report backed by the Republicans on the committee that aims to force the EPA “to scrap the endangerment finding and start over again.”

“But that’s not what EPA is doing,” said Inhofe. “It wants $43.5 million in new funding to regulate greenhouse gases. This is seed money for the most economically destructive regulatory initiative in this nation’s history.”

“The nation is mired in an unemployment crisis; people need jobs,” Inhofe said. “Yet once this effort commences, those fortunate to work will be out of work, and those looking for jobs won’t find them.”

Inhofe and the committee Republicans say the entire basis of climate science is wrong because hacked emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit appear to indicate several researchers manipulated science to support their views and because of errors contained in a 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“EPA accepted the IPCC’s erroneous claims wholesale, without doing its own independent review,” said Inhofe. “So EPA’s endangerment finding rests on bad science.”

But many of America’s climate scientists say that the state of climate science is strong, despite possible errors in the IPCC report and apparent bias in the hacked emails, which are now under investigation by an independent panel in the UK.

Dr. Andrew Dessler (Photo courtesy Texas A&M)

Dr. Andrew Dessler, a professor at Texas A&M University Department of Atmospheric Sciences, told reporters on a teleconference Monday he is confident that individual errors do not overturn the overall conclusion that the global temperature is rising. “That’s not how science works,” he said.

“I have confidence that the climate is warming, it is due to human activities, the warming will amount to a few degrees this century, and it will carry catastrophic impacts,” said Dr. Dessler, a specialist in the science of water vapor and clouds. “The evidence includes a mountain of data.”

He said this confidence in the facts of global warming “springs from the power of replication in science.”

Dessler said he believes the results from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, CRU, are likely right because two other organizations – NOAA and NASA – studied the same data and came out with the same results.

“If the scientists at the CRU decided they would fabricate a warming trend, that result would not be replicated in the other institutions,” he said.

Dr. Paul Epstein, M.D., M.P.H., associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, told reporters on the teleconference that the facts back Jackson’s finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare.

Dr. Paul Epstein (Photo courtesy Harvard Medical School)

“This issue of climate change affects public health in the United States,” he said.

“Winters have gotten 20 days shorter,” Dr. Epstein said, “spring is earlier, fall more persistent, winters are more variable and more extreme. The allergy and asthma season is correspondingly longer.”

“Since the late 1950s the oceans have accumulated 22 times as much heat as has the atmosphere, according to data from NOAA,” he said. “This drives large hurricanes, large precipitation events, including snow. Rainfall has gone up since 1970 because warm atmosphere holds more water.
And nighttime and winter temperatures have gone up since 1970. Heat waves are clearly the first thing that comes to mind.”

“Warming and changing weather patterns are endangering the systems on which we depend,” Dr. Epstein warned. “We’ve underestimated the sensitivity of biological systems, creating problems for the systems of water, food and air that support and underlie our public health.”

“There is a well funded fossil fuel industry campaign to create doubt,” said Dr. Epstein. “Deep down we’d like to believe the science isn’t right, this isn’t true. It’s so frightening what’s going to happen to our weather, to our climate.

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