Dr. Paul Anastas, EPA Assistant Administrator for Research and Development, faced pointed global warming “skeptic” questions from House Science and Technology Committee members on the science behind the EPA Endangerment Finding, which requires the agency to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Post by Alexa Jay, with Rick Piltz

At a March 10 hearing on the EPA and NOAA Fiscal Year 2011 budget requests, Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) raised the issue of the “undermining of public trust in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” since the Endangerment Finding was made, and asked whether a new formal review of the science would be appropriate in these circumstances.

Dr. Anastas responded that the finding drew from a body of knowledge across many sources, including the National Academies and the U.S. Global Change Research Program, and said that “nothing in the individual questions that were raised changes my perspective on the overwhelming science.”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who has repeatedly stated for the past two decades that he doesn’t believe in human-induced climate change, asked Dr. Anastas to name another major ruling EPA has made that was not based on its own research but relied instead on “foreign” data.

Dr. Anastas responded that, with all due respect, he could not accept the premise of the question.  He said that EPA science did play a role, but that any time EPA considers a major question, it is not going to rely solely on the research done in its labs.

Mr. Rohrabacher then claimed that EPA was ignoring specific instances that “undermine the validity of the overall science.”

Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), an outspoken global warming denier, had still harsher criticism.  “You have endorsed something that is not scientific,” he said. “Anthropogenic global warming is not real; you and this administration are drinking the [global warming] Kool-aid.”

On Mr. Broun’s views, see earlier CSW post here and Paul Krugman New York Times column here.

Rep. Broun also brought up the case of Alan Carlin, an economist employed by the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics.  Alan Carlin authored a March 16, 2009 document questioning the science behind EPA’s Endangerment Finding for greenhouses gases under the Clean Air Act, suggesting that in the Draft Technical Support Document, EPA improperly accepted findings of other bodies like the IPCC and the Climate Change Science Program, and that recent developments in climate science had rendered the science used in the report obsolete.

Carlin alleged that his comments on the draft Technical Support Document were suppressed by his superiors, and this accusation was touted by members of Congress claiming evidence that the Obama administration used strong-arm tactics to quiet dissenters and move forward with the Endangerment Finding and climate and energy legislation in the House.

EPA spokeswoman Adora Andy said at the time that Carlin is not a scientist but rather an economist, and was not part of the working group that dealt with the endangerment issue.  “Nevertheless,” she said, “several of the opinions and ideas proposed by this individual were submitted to those responsible for developing the proposed endangerment finding.  Additionally, his manager allowed his general views on the subject of climate change to be heard and considered inside and outside of the EPA and presented at conferences and at an agency seminar.”

NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt reviewed the Carlin document in a post on RealClimate, concluding that it was a re-hash of old, scientifically dubious arguments, drawn heavily from cherry-picked, non-peer-reviewed literature by authors whose views have been addressed and rejected by most of their colleagues in the community.  Substantial chunks of the document were lifted directly, in some cases without attribution, from well-known contrarian and pseudo-scientific sources. 

This accusation represented yet another attempt to discredit the entire weight of IPCC assessment science using trivial, scientifically unsubstantiated claims.  This tactic allows attackers to avoid engaging with the science in any substantive way, because they simply do not have a valid scientific case to make.  It is unsurprising that Rep. Broun should resurrect these claims in his attempt to block the EPA’s Endangerment Finding.

For more information, see Climate Science Watch’s July 14, 2009 postings on Alan Carlin:

“Denialist attack on EPA handling of Carlin global warming contrarian document—Part 1: The document

“Denialist attack on EPA handling of Carlin global warming contrarian document—Part 2: the e-mails

“Denialist attack on EPA handling of Carlin document—Part 3: Government Accountability Project statement

Other Republican members of the committee similarly referred to mistakes in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report that do not fundamentally challenge the overwhelming consensus on anthropogenic climate change, using a technique of distraction with no real interest in engaging with the substance of the science.  Rather than having any real scientific position, their objections are clearly motivated by political opposition to EPA regulation.
For his part, Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), a member with considerable seniority and one of the few in Congress with a science degree, said that the controversy over the science supporting the Endangerment Finding stems from worry about the economic consequences of regulation.  He said that most of the allegedly thousands of scientists disputing mainstream climate science findings are little known and are not experts in atmospheric science.  “I have heard a lot of debate on this in this chamber that is beside the point,” Dr. Ehlers said.

For a committee charged with overseeing much of the federal government’s civilian research and development, this is a sorry state of affairs.