EPA strongly reaffirms scientific basis for regulating greenhouse gas emissions that endanger public health

That’s the EPA today in its “Denial of Petitions for Reconsideration of the Endangerment.” See, there can be science-based denial after all! Nick Sundt has a good post on this, reprinted below: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today (29 July 2010) denied petitions challenging the scientific basis of its finding in December 2009 that greenhouse gases (GHGs) endanger the health and welfare of Americans. The EPA said the science was strong when it issued its finding late last year, and that it has “been reinforced by recent additional major science assessments and individual studies.” The agency announced its decision just a day after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released State of the Climate in 2009 , adding to the growing mountain of evidence that climate change is underway (see In “State of the Climate” Report, Scientists from All Continents Confirm that Climate Change is Underway ).

“The EPA’s response to the petitions is the strongest and most detailed rebuttal by the U.S. Government of specific arguments levied against climate change science — and scientists — since late 2009. We applaud the administration for taking on the denialists head on and clearly conveying the urgency of acting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and preparing ourselves immediately for the disruptive and potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change,said Keya Chatterjee, acting Director of WWF’s Climate Change Program.

Immediately after the EPA issued its Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act (its “Endangerment Finding”) on 7 December (see U.S. EPA: Greenhouse Gases “Threaten the Public Health and Welfare of the American People,” 7 Dec 2009), climate change denialists filed petitions requesting that EPA reconsider its finding. The EPA received petitions from the Coalition for Responsible Regulation, Commonwealth of Virginia (see our posting, Virginia Researchers and Planners Warn of Climate Change Impacts on Coastal Areas, As Attorney General Challenges the Science, 23 Feb 2010), Competitive Enterprise Institute, Ohio Coal Association, Pacific Legal Foundation, Peabody Energy Company, Southeastern Legal Foundation, State of Texas, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and one private citizen.

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According to the EPA, the petitioners “argued that the science underlying EPA’s determination is flawed or that the review process has been corrupted.” The agency formally announced today that it found “that the evidence provided does not support these claims.”

Here are a few highlights of the decision, as summarized in a fact sheet [PDF] issued by EPA today. References to the CRU are to the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom:

  • “Petitioners questioned the reliability of the global temperature record and the finding that observed recent warming is unusual and based on increasing levels of greenhouse gases. However, three global temperature records””including CRU’s””indicate increasing temperatures, and there are other lines of evidence, such as rising sea levels, linking recent global warming to human activities. Petitioners’ criticisms of the CRU record are unfounded and speculative. “
  • “Petitioners asserted that warming has slowed or stopped over the last decade, contrary to scientists’ expectations, and in spite of increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In reality, the last decade was warmer than the previous decade, and warming has not stopped. Climate change is a long-term phenomenon, unlike day-to-day variations in weather. Thus, climate change trends should be discussed over the long term, as opposed to on a year-by-year or even a decade-by-decade basis.”
  • “Petitioners claim that new studies not previously considered contradict key conclusions in the Endangerment Finding. EPA examined each of these new studies and documented that they neither undermine the key scientific findings nor change the scientific basis for the Endangerment Finding.”
  • “Petitioners claimed that recently found and alleged errors in IPCC’s [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] Fourth Assessment Report undermine IPCC’s credibility, and by extension, EPA’s use of the report as a reference document. EPA has carefully reviewed each of the alleged errors. Collectively, they are minor and have no bearing on the Endangerment Finding, are not relied on by EPA to support the Finding, or are actually not errors. The very few factual errors in a document the size of IPCC’s 3,000-page Fourth Assessment Report do not substantiate petitioners’ claim that IPCC science, as a whole, is not credible.
  • “Petitioners asserted that the IPCC has a policy agenda and is not an objective scientific body. EPA finds that this assertion is not backed up by credible evidence. The Agency has carefully examined the extensive process used by IPCC as well as the U.S. government’s approach to approving IPCC documents, and found that they are well grounded and based on science rather than policy considerations.
  • “Petitioners claimed that the scientific assessments of the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the National Academy of Sciences are not separate and independent assessments from IPCC. This is not correct. Each of these organizations is separately administered and relies on its own scientific processes and collaborating scientists. That similar and consistent conclusions are reached by each body does not substantiate the petitioners’ claim. To the contrary, when independent institutions reach similar findings, it strengthens confidence in those findings.
  • “Petitioners asserted that improper data sharing, peer review, and editorial practices biased the underlying scientific literature used by the major assessments. EPA finds that this assertion of an extensive, concerted effort to manipulate peer-reviewed literature is unsupported. The CRU e-mails, for example, show a small group of scientists privately discussing their scientific views of a handful of papers. The petitioners raised concerns that certain research papers were kept out of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, but these concerns are unfounded; the papers did appear in the IPCC assessment.”
  • “Several independent committees have examined many of the same allegations brought forward by the petitioners as a result of the disclosure of the private CRU e-mails. Their conclusions are consistent with EPA’s review and analysis. The independent inquiries have found no evidence of intentional data manipulation on the part of the climate researchers associated with the e-mails.

Congressional Efforts to Obstruct EPA’s Ability to Protect Americans’ Health and Welfare Under the Clean Air Act

As EPA was considering the petitions challenging its endangerment finding, some in Congress have sought to obstruct EPA through legislation. On 10 June the Senate debated and defeated S.J.Res.26 (Murkowski Resolution), a resolution that would have effectively vetoed EPA’s endangerment finding. Russell Train, WWF’s Founder and Chairman Emeritus, and EPA administrator during the Nixon and Ford administrations responded at the time:

“Today, the Senate rightly rejected a proposal to overturn science and replace it with politics. The resolution offered by Senator Murkowski would have undermined the authority of the EPA and its ability to protect the health and welfare of the American people. That the Senate would even consider taking such a step when the nation is facing the most destructive environmental disaster in its history, is nothing less than outrageous. The last thing the senators should be doing at this moment is attempting to weaken longstanding environmental laws. I commend those senators who voted to preserve the role of science in critically important environmental decisions, and I urge all senators to now refocus their time and energy on real solutions to our current challenges. In particular, the Senate should now work with vigor and urgency to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation that will break our oil addiction and place firm limits on fossil fuel pollution. In doing so, it should preserve the essential tools that are provided to the EPA under the Clean Air Act.”

“The defeat of the Murkowski resolution is a victory for sound science,” said Lou Leonard, WWF’s Director of US Climate Policy. “Only in Washington could the Senate waste precious time debating the basic science of climate change on the same day that NASA announced the warmest spring in recorded history. But this vote should finally allow us to move on from political attacks on science to creating solutions that break our addiction to oil and other dirty fuels and move America to a clean energy economy. “

Though the legislative effort to veto EPA’s endangerment finding failed, there are other efforts being made in both the House of Representatives and the Senate to impede EPA’s effort to execute the provisions of the Clean Air Act as they relate to greenhouse gas emissions. These include measures that would delay for years EPA action under the act. Given the current prospects of comprehensive energy and climate legislation in the Senate (see WWF Statement on Senate’s Failure to Pass Clean Energy & Climate Legislation, 27 July 2010), it will be especially important to maintain progress under the Clean Air Act to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“The EPA just reconfirmed that climate change is a danger to public health,” said Keya Chatterjee. “Despite the dangers of inaction, last week the Senate failed to act in the interests of the public and advance climate and clean energy legislation. It is now even more urgent that EPA continue to commit itself to acting on climate change and that Congress zealously protect EPA’s capacity to address the problem under the Clean Air Act.”

— This article is reposted from the World Wildlife Foundation Climate Blog.

Related Resources from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: