Commentary

The New EPA—Same as the Old EPA

For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has based its environmental regulations on a poor understanding of contemporary science. The new EPA administrator, Christine Whitman, is the latest victim.

Appearing recently on CNN’s “Crossfire,” Whitman said correctly that “global warming is a real phenomenon,” a statement that should have no policy implication. But she went further, announcing that the Bush administration was going to put a lid on carbon dioxide emissions. Even Al Gore knew better than to mention emissions curbs in the campaign because it means—no equivocation please—energy rationing. Californians are especially touchy on that subject these days.

Whitman’s science advisers at the EPA neglected to tell her that what really matters is how, and how much, the planet warms, not whether it does. Despite the gloom-saying of the media, which is trumpeting the hottest of the 245 global-warming forecasts recently concocted by the United Nations, science indicates that warming this century will be modest.

Whitman also needs to know that no viable policy can reduce that warming in a meaningful fashion. Even assuming the United Nations’ more extreme fantasies, the amount of warming prevented by raising the price of gasoline to, say, $5 a gallon—which would make her new job a four-year affair—would be 0.07ºC over the next 50 years.

>From there, Whitman’s science became even worse. She argued that warming will produce increased floods and droughts, adding that “the science is strong there.” It is not. Not one shred of evidence points to a worldwide increase in drought. It is as obvious as the price of corn, which for years has been hovering at century lows. We can’t have an overabundance of food and significantly increasing drought at the same time. What is truly embarrassing, though, is how far behind the power curve EPA scientists are. They should have at least briefed Whitman about the contemporary scientific literature. Two recent items are of paramount importance and prove that the “skeptics” (those who think warming is an overblown issue) were right all along.

The big-warming crowd has always been at a loss to explain why the planet has warmed less than earlier forecasts predicted it would. The fashionable theory is that sulfate particles in the atmosphere are “hiding” global warming. But the Feb. 8 issue of Nature featured an article by Mark Jacobsen of Stanford University demonstrating that removing sulfate particles from the atmosphere would do little to accelerate warming. The one U.N. forecasts that is blazingly hot assumes that sulfates suddenly drop out of the atmosphere, unmasking the warming. Jacobsen’s result shows that this effect is largely cancelled by another emission—soot—that would automatically be removed along with sulfates.

The March issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society contains another stunner for the hot-planet mob. Scientists at MIT and NASA have shown that when the tropics heat up—a central feature of any big warming scenario—the sky literally opens and the heat is exhausted into space. Upper level clouds, which would normally keep the excess heat in, were found to evaporate under warming conditions. This was proven by a meticulous study of satellite images, and it is the polar opposite of what is predicted by the global warming models that the EPA wants to base policy on.

Why did EPA scientists advise Whitman so poorly? In the interests of “continuity,” the new administration has kept on Clinton’s staff to bring the newcomers up to speed on negotiations over the infamous Kyoto Protocol, which requires major reductions in U.S. energy use. Any credentialed scientist who could demonstrate the scientific flaws in the disastrous warming theory has been brusquely turned away. But given recent scientific findings, the EPA, Whitman and the administration ignore these people at their peril.

Not surprisingly, logical inconsistencies are creeping into the administration’s proposals, namely the notion of opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for oil and gas drilling while proposing a cap on greenhouse emissions. Either you want more fossil fuel from ANWR, or you want to cut use, which is required to meet Kyoto. The administration and the EPA must choose one of these courses, but they need to know that cutting energy use will have no effect on warming.

I hope that degree of understanding is not beyond the agency’s grasp. If it is, Whitman would do well to clean the EPA’s scientific house before it embarrasses her again.

Patrick J. Michaels is the senior fellow in environmental studies at Cato Institute, a research professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and author of The Satanic Gases.