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In the coming weeks, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is expected to announce a proposal that would limit the type of scientific studies and data the agency can use in crafting public health and environmental regulations.
The planned policy shift, first reported by E&E News, would require the EPA to only use scientific findings whose data and methodologies are made public and can be replicated.
By Steve Horn
Geoengineering, hailed in some circles as a potential techno-fix to the climate change crisis, has taken a step closer to going mainstream.
The U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology held a rare joint subcommittee hearing on Nov. 8, only the second ever congressional hearing of its kind on the topic (the first was held in 2009). The committee invited expert witnesses to discuss the status of geoengineering research and development. Geoengineering is a broad term encompassing sophisticated scientific techniques meant to reverse the impacts of climate change or pull greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.
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No one thought that Lamar "my career has been funded by fossil fuels" Smith was going to put on an unbiased hearing on climate science. After all, the minority Democrats on Smith's House Committee on Science, Space, & Technology published a report this month, Much Ado About Nothing, which details Smith's "crusade to attempt to undermine and invalidate" Tom Karl's pause-buster study. (Yet Smith still can't get NOAA's name right)!
Despite a line-up of three industry voices against a lone voice of reason in Dr. Rush Holt of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the hearing failed to land any substantial blows against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Instead, Holt and the pro-science members of the committee explained the many ways in which Smith's "sound science" fixation sounds stupid to those who know science.
While Smith did his best to use this weekend's fake news about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to stir up drama, the fact that the "whistleblower" told E&E there was no data manipulation took the wind right out of his sails. Instead of problems with the conclusion of the study, the concern Bates had was that the data wasn't archived properly because the paper was rushed, which isn't true. So when Smith asked if Science would retract the paper, Holt reiterated these points. He added, "This is not the making of a big scandal" and "there is nothing in the Karl paper that, in our current analysis, suggests retraction." Score one for science!
The industry speakers, on the other hand, made relatively drab and inconsequential statements in the form of vague platitudes about the need for "sound science" instead of "secret science." For those who missed it, The Intercept had a great piece the other day on this Orwellian term and its tobacco industry-origins (which the ever-awesome Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson entered into the record to close the hearing). Because while Smith claims it will make science at the EPA better, what it would really do is prevent the EPA from using studies that rely on confidential health records or studies of individual events, which by definition can't be replicated.
Dr. Holt made it clear that, "The Secret Science Act, as it has been previously introduced, has been based on a misunderstanding of how science works." Though, given its design as a vehicle for the tobacco (and now fossil fuel) industry to prevent regulation, one might believe that it is less a misunderstanding of science than a deliberate attempt to cripple it.
The second aspect of "making the EPA great again" was proposed reform to the EPA's Scientific Advisory Boards. This idea was deceptively described by the industry speakers as an effort to increase "diversity" and "balance" and provide more "perspective" to these review boards. What they really do is give industry a seat at the table so they can do what industry wants- fight regulation. That Smith called on Jeffrey Holmstead, who was once disqualified as an expert witness by a judge due to his multiple conflicts of interest, namely lobbying for coal and other energy companies, tells you everything you need to know.
The third witness was Dr. Richard Belzer, an economist and president of "Regulatory Checkbook," who seems to be in the outer orbit of the Koch universe and whose Twitter feed appears to be a bizarre advertisement for a wine website. His main contribution was that cost-benefit analyses should be called benefit-cost Analyses because ... benefits are better? It wasn't really clear.
The last witness on Smith's side was Dr. Kimberly White of the American Chemistry Council. She made a valiant effort to portray the injection of biased industry voices into the federal peer review process as a matter of balance and perspective, which one would expect from someone representing an industry group.
Our favorite part of the hearing, though, came not from any of the witnesses but from Rep. Don Beyer, who donned a red "Keep The EPA Great" hat after saying that, "We will not help anyone by disputing climate science with stories from white nationalist websites like Breitbart.com or tabloids like the Daily Mail."
Given Rep. Smith's history of writing op-eds for Breitbart and reliance on the Mail to attack NOAA, we couldn't have put it better ourselves.
Watch the hearing here:
Ocean buoy (green) and satellite data (orange) measuring sea surface temperatures compared to updated NOAA predictions concluded in 2015 (red) after adjusting for a cold bias in buoy temperature measurements. NOAA's earlier assessment (blue) underestimated sea surface temperature changes. Zeke Hausfather/ UC Berkeley
In July of 2015, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a paper correcting some of its data on ocean temperatures and suggesting a larger range of warming since 2000. Deniers seized the opportunity to accuse the agency of altering data for political purposes, and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, led by the famously science-averse Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), filed a subpoena for all communications on the study.
However, a new analysis published yesterday in Science Advances independently confirms the "cool bias" in NOAA's previous data and supports the assertion that the planet is warming consistently.
"We pretty robustly showed that NOAA got it right," said study author Zeke Hausfather, a Ph.D. student at the University of California-Berkeley and a researcher with Berkeley Earth, a nonprofit consortium that has reanalyzed the Earth's temperatures. "There was no cooking of the books, there's no politically motivated twisting of the data."
For a deeper dive:
In a bluntly titled blog post, Note to Breitbart: Earth Is Not Cooling, Climate Change Is Real and Please Stop Using Our Video to Mislead Americans, The Weather Channel took Breitbart to task for using a Weather.com video in an article about "global cooling."
The post lays out the misleading science behind the Breitbart piece and tells the outlet to "please call" the Weather Channel the next time they need a fact check on a climate-related piece.
The Breitbart article—a prime example of cherry picking, or pulling a single item out of context to build a misleading case—includes this statement: "The last three years may eventually come to be seen as the final death rattle of the global warming scare."
In fact, thousands of researchers and scientific societies are in agreement that greenhouse gases produced by human activity are warming the planet's climate and will keep doing so.
The Breitbart article was tweeted out from the official U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology account last week, leading to furious backlash from the scientific community.
For a deeper dive:
By Gretchen Goldman
Last week the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology tweeted some good ole fashioned climate denial—you know, the old tired long discredited nonsensical claim that cold weather negates the global consensus of scientists that climate change is happening (It doesn't.). The scientific community and the news media did not let this go unnoticed and that's a good thing for our continuing to hold decision makers accountable for respecting science under a Trump administration.
Here was the tweet:
It was quickly followed by a multitude of responses from other decision makers, scientists and others. Think Progress has a nice summary of responses. I especially liked this one from House Science Committee member Representative Don Beyer:
Another Day, Another Lamar Smith Attack on Science
I saw the House Science tweet and didn't think much of it. Perhaps I'm cynical. Perhaps I've been following science in Washington, DC for too long. But it didn't seem notable to me. This is because the House Science Committee and particularly its Chairman Lamar Smith, now have a broad and consistent record of denying climate science, bullying scientists across disciplines and otherwise disparaging the scientific enterprise it's supposed to be supporting.
Not that I'm keeping a running list (I am actually), but here are some highlights:
- The committee attacked scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for producing policy relevant climate science, demanding to see their email communications.
- Currently, the committee is targeting this scientist, well, the Union of Concerned Scientists, for having spoken with state attorneys general about the role of ExxonMobil selling a product they knew to be harmful due to the risks of climate change.
- Chairman Smith previously attempted to interfere in the National Science Foundation's grant process, ridiculing scientists' work that he found silly.
- Chairman Smith tried to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from doing its job of science-based public health and environmental protections via the Secret Science Act.
And last Thursday's climate-denying tweet was not even its first science-attacking tweet of the week. The day prior, the committee's handle had trolled Yale Climate Connections.
We Cannot Normalize Science Denial
Despite this pervasive record of science-slamming, the House Science Committee was still taken to task for the recent climate-denying tweet and this is a good thing. We cannot normalize science denial. It is entirely inappropriate for members of Congress to be peddling misinformation on climate science—especially when they are in charge of the House Science Committee. The world noticed this and called them on it.
We need to do more of this. When science is denied by our decision makers, this cannot stand. We must persist in calling out such misinformation when we see it, whether it will come from the House Science Committee, the Trump administration or other decision makers in the future. Americans deserve leaders who respect science and scientists. I promise to be a little less cynical moving forward and I hope you will too.
By Deirdre Fulton
The Republican-led House Science Committee on Wednesday held an "unusual" hearing, alleged to have been "orchestrated on behalf of ExxonMobil" and criticized as an abuse of congressional power.
Environmentalists and elected officials alike decried the sideshow event, called by committee chair Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) in an attempt to justify subpoenas he recently issued to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and eight organizations and foundations regarding their investigations into whether Exxon deceived on the public and its investors on the issue of climate change. All of the entities that have been subpoenaed have refused to comply.
Members of Congress, including Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), spoke out in Washington, DC, on Wednesday against the House Science Committee's hearing. 350.org
Ahead of the hearing on Wednesday morning, climate action group 350.org noted that at least two of Smith's witnesses, law professors Ronald Rotunda and Elizabeth Price Foley, have significant ties to fossil fuel industry-funded groups such as the Heartland Institute and the Koch-funded Cato Institute.
What's more, 350.org and others pointed out, Smith himself has received hundreds of thousands in donations from the fossil fuel industry over the years—including $24,770 directly from ExxonMobil—"making oil and gas his most generous industry contributor throughout his career."
That's why it's "no surprise he's willing to trample our First Amendment rights in his mad dash to their defense," 350.org executive director May Boeve said Wednesday. "The bottom line is that this hearing is nothing but Smith's attempt to distract us from the real issue: Exxon knew the truth about climate change and Exxon lied."
"This hearing, orchestrated on behalf of ExxonMobil, is a perversion of this important congressional procedure and a complete distraction," added Tamar Lawrence-Samuel of the group Corporate Accountability International.
"The only thing this hearing will prove is that Rep. Smith is capable of cherry-picking a panel of witnesses that validate his views," Lawrence-Samuel said. "Mr. Smith and his denialist colleagues on the House Science Committee are once again using our government to carry out the head-in-sand agenda of their Big Oil campaign funders and it needs to stop. It's time for Rep. Smith to end this charade and let AGs do what they were elected to do."
Watch the hearing below (starting at minute 26:00):
People were tweeting about the hearing and its implications under the hashtag #ExxonKnew, which itself grew out of dual investigations that showed the oil giant spent decades and millions of dollars misleading the public about the threat posed by global warming.
"But instead of investigating ExxonMobil's decades-long deception on climate change, Republicans in charge of the House Science Committee are attacking attorneys general and nonprofits who are trying to protect the public by holding ExxonMobil accountable for their fraud and deceit," Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said on Wednesday. "The American people—who are facing the toll of climate change every single day—deserve leaders in Congress who believe in science. We deserve leaders who will protect the people, rather than ExxonMobil."
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Science Committee, has subpoenaed two state attorneys general to obtain records of their investigations into whether ExxonMobil misled investors and the public on climate change risks.
Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Science Committee
Smith is among a group of GOP lawmakers who say the oil giant's statements on climate change—regardless of whether they were known to be factually inaccurate—should be regarded as "free speech" and therefore free of any accountability.
Smith also subpoenaed eight environmental and legal groups.
"Chairman Smith's subpoena is an abuse of power that goes way beyond the House Science Committee's jurisdiction and amounts to nothing more than harassment," Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement.