Three executives from the largest coal companies in the U.S. appeared April 14 before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, defending their industry against greenhouse gas regulation and championing its role in a new energy economy.  While committee Republicans matched their complaints about President Obama’s “war on coal,” Chairman Edward Markey (D-MA) pressed the executives to affirm their positions on climate science and to stop supporting the spread of misinformation about climate change.

Climate Science Watch attended the hearing, “The Role of Coal in a New Energy Age.” Written testimonies and Chairman Markey’s opening statement are available here.

“Climate change is a serious problem, and yet some in the coal industry deny that the problem of global warming even exists and have contributed to organizations that spread doubt about science and policy,” Markey said. “That has led many to believe the industry is not committed to finding a solution to our pollution problems.”

Markey likened this stance to the plight of the auto industry, which ran itself into the ground while fighting new fuel efficiency standards.
He highlighted provisions of the Waxman-Markey bill designed to help the coal industry transition to a low carbon economy, saying that it was their intent to offer a lifeline to an industry threatened by a movement towards cleaner energy sources. 

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) was even more blunt.  “If you take the lifeline sent to the coal industry in this bill, the industry will have a future.  If you do not, it will not have a future.” 

These words contrasted sharply with the picture painted by Gregory Boyce, Chairman and CEO of Peabody Energy: “I have often heard coal called a ‘bridge to the future.’  To this, I say: Coal is the future,” Boyce testified. 

Joined by committee Republicans, Michael Carey of the Ohio Coal Association declared that a “war on coal” is being waged in the U.S.  He questioned the science underpinning EPA’s Endangerment Finding for greenhouse gases, and alleged inappropriate usage of the Clean Water Act to restrict surface mining. 

Chairman Markey pressed the executives on science of anthropogenic global warming, asking each whether he agreed with Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, who has referred to climate change as a “Ponzi scheme and a hoax.”  Each witness denied agreement with the statement, but none made an unequivocal statement about the dangers posed by climate change impacts.
Markey further pressed Boyce on Peabody Energy’s petition for reconsideration of the EPA Endangerment Finding for greenhouse gases, asking for a straight answer on the validity of the science. 

The petition reads: “Peabody’s petition is based primarily on the release of email and other information from the University of East Anglia (“UEA”) Climatic Research Unit (“CRU”) in November of last year.  The CRU information undermines a number of central pillars on which the Endangerment Finding rests, particularly the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”). 

Petition available here.

Markey asked whether, in light of the vindication of the scientists involved in the CRU e-mail hack (see links below), Boyce now accepts the scientific evidence for climate change.  Boyce repeated his view that EPA should “take a step back and do studies internal to the U.S. to put these issues to rest.”

Markey again attempted to elicit a straight answer from Boyce, who responded: “It is a known fact that atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen.  The scientific discussion—we leave that to the scientists.”

Despite Boyce’s insistence that the science be “left to the scientists,” Peabody Energy has attempted to do exactly the opposite, asking that EPA reconsider the Endangerment Finding based on its judgment that the e-mails exposed serious flaws in the underlying science.

Citing the CRU e-mails as a reason to reconsider the Endangerment Finding is a stalling tactic to ward off regulation.  Two independent investigations rejected the charge that the content of the e-mails revealed a false consensus on anthropogenic climate change, and cleared the scientists involved of any lack of integrity in the handling of data. 

Lord Oxburgh, who led the second investigation, said that many of the criticisms and claims of scientific misconduct were likely made by people “who do not like the implications of some of the conclusions” reached by the scientists in question. 

Any serious examination of the e-mails reveals the charges against climate scientists and their work as false and disingenuous, and it’s likely that industry executives like Boyce are well aware of that.  The coal industry acknowledges that developing carbon capture and storage technology is imperative for the survival of their industry as a bridge fuel, but many major players continue to duck behind these trumped up charges while avoiding serious discussion of the environmental impacts of burning coal. 

Chairman Markey attempted to bring out this disconnect in his questioning, asking Boyce to justify Peabody’s petition from a scientific standpoint, but Boyce squirmed around the issue. 

The idea that EPA should rely exclusively on its own studies for regulatory decisions is a misrepresentation of the role of the agency.  EPA is only one of numerous U.S. government agencies that conduct and support research related to climate change and is not designed to conduct, on its own, the vast body of scientific research that is reviewed in the IPCC Assessments, nor to carry out the massive assessment process embodied in the IPCC reports, which involves hundreds of authors and reviewers who make up most of the leadership of the international climate research community.  The agency acted appropriately in including this non-EPA climate research and assessment in its consideration of the impacts of greenhouse gases on public health and welfare. 

The suggestion that the scientifically based assessments carried out by the IPCC and the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which EPA used in reaching its greenhouse gas Endangerment Finding, should be set aside shows immense ignorance of the relationship between research, assessment of the state of scientific knowledge, and decision-making. More likely it is a knowing and disingenuous attempt to impede the regulatory process.  This narrative has been picked up by some Republican politicians to push an anti-regulatory ideology, and is a gross attempt to subordinate scientific integrity to political interests. 

For more information on the CRU e-mails:

Climate Science Watch: “House of Commons panel: Reputations of Phil Jones, CRU, climate science and data remain intact”

London Guardian:

Climate Progress: “Penn State inquiry finds no evidence for allegations against Michael Mann”

Climate Science Watch:

Climate Science Watch: “Setting the record straight on stolen e-mail: Nature, AAAS, AMS, Union of Concerned Scientists”