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EPA on climate change: Gotta hear both sides

by Alex Lubben
Jun 30 2017, 12:38pm

EPA chief Scott Pruitt will launch an initiative to challenge accepted climate science using “red team, blue team” exercises developed by the military to identify weak points in his agency’s field operations.

Pruitt hopes to recruit scientists who are skeptical of the role of greenhouse gases in global warming to provide a critique of mainstream reports on climate change, E&E News reports.

The idea isn’t new — in March, a panel of skeptical climate scientists, called on to testify by Republican senators, advocated for the creation of “red team” to challenge the validity of the widely accepted conclusion that humans are contributing to the warming of the earth.

In April, Steven Koonin, a theoretical physicist who is the director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress at New York University, also called for red team, blue team exercises in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, saying they would “allow the public and decision-makers a better understanding of certainties and uncertainties.”

But climate scientists and other experts worry that the exercises will politicize science and give undue weight to the opinions of a very small minority of climate scientists.

“Such calls for special teams of investigators are not about honest scientific debate,” wrote atmospheric scientists Benjamin Santer and Kerry Emanuel, and Harvard professor of history of science Naomi Oreskes in the Washington Post. “They are dangerous attempts to elevate the status of minority opinions, and to undercut the legitimacy, objectivity, and transparency of existing climate science.”

And Pruitt has shown an unusual willingness to sideline his own agency’s scientists. This week, he ignored reports produced by EPA scientists that indicated a pesticide is bad for kids’ brains. Called on to ban its use, he didn’t. (Pruitt also met with the CEO of Dow Chemical, the company that produces the pesticide, in March before making his decision on whether to ban the pesticide.)

The revelation that Pruitt’s EPA will start to actively challenge climate science — science on which, again, there is virtually no disagreement in the scientific community — is prompting industry high-ups and legislators to speculate as to whether Pruitt will try do away with the EPA’s “endangerment finding.” This Obama-era ruling, issued by the EPA in 2009, determined that greenhouse gases are pollutants under the Clean Air Act. If Pruitt succeeded in rolling it back, the EPA — and, by extension, the federal government — would not be required to regulate the emission of greenhouse gases at all.

The process to roll back the endangerment finding is legally dubious. Energy company CEOs told Pruitt that pursuing the rollback of the finding is very likely to fail, and are encouraging the EPA chief to instead focus on repealing the Clean Air Act and putting into place lax regulations that industry can work around. But Pruitt, who is under pressure from the far right, has hinted that he might be interested in trying to do away with the finding, nevertheless.

In an interview with Breitbart News Daily host Joel Pollak, Pruitt expressed his skepticism over the EPA’s mandate to regulate greenhouse gases. “What’s not discussed at all is, has Congress ever responded or acted upon this matter, this issue of CO2, with respect to power generation?” he said. “I will tell you, they clearly have not.”

“The only power that agencies have, executive agencies have, is the power given to them by Congress,” he added. “We can’t reimagine authority. We can’t make up authority.”

Coal baron Robert Murray, a major Republican donor, has reportedly said that Pruitt told him the EPA will begin reviewing the endangerment finding within months. (Murray, by the way, is the coal exec suing John Oliver for defamation for saying that there is no evidence that an earthquake caused a collapse at a mine Murray owned in Colorado in 2007.)

“We talked about that, and they’re going to start addressing it later this year,” Murray told E&E News. “They’re going to start getting a lot of scientific people in to give both sides of the issue.”

But others have said that Pruitt has not yet committed to trying to scrap the endangerment finding. So far, Pruitt hasn’t stated his position publicly.

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