INSIGHT: US Senate climate change advocates on thin ice

04 December 2009 17:10  [Source: ICIS news]

By Joe Kamalick

Earth climate science furor weakens US Senate prospectsWASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US Senate advocates of climate change legislation are standing on increasingly thin ice, not from global warming but because of the heated controversy over scientists’ e-mails that have undermined atmospheric research and data.

On the eve of the Copenhagen climate treaty meeting, the scandal over e-mails and other documents hacked from online computers at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the UK make passage of substantive climate change legislation by the US Congress even more unlikely.

The climate change legislation was already in trouble in the Senate, facing total opposition by the chamber’s Republican members and deep scepticism among a dozen or more Democrat senators.

Senate Republicans have charged that climate change legislation - which at its core would impose a federal cap-and-trade emissions mandate on US utilities and industry - would burden American consumers and business with huge energy cost increases and drive still more US manufacturing jobs offshore.

Although generally supportive of the need for climate change legislation - the belief that man-made global warming threatens dire consequences unless reversed - a significant number of Democrat senators were nonetheless very troubled by the potential for huge energy increases and job losses among their constituents.

Ten Senate Democrats, representing states heavily dependent on coal as an utility fuel or for mining jobs, sent a letter to President Barack Obama earlier this year saying they “would find it extremely difficult to support” a climate bill unless it provided protections for coal-fired power generation and manufacturing jobs in their states.

They want a climate change bill to include, among other things, a so-called border adjustment - actually a tariff - on US imports of goods from foreign countries that do not impose on their industries emissions reductions similar to those sought by the Senate bill.

Such a tariff, designed to offset in part the competitive disadvantage that emissions cuts would impose on US manufacturing industries, almost certainly would be ruled illegal under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules and is not thought likely to survive in a final Senate climate bill.

So, with at least half of the Senate members - 40 Republicans and ten or more Democrats - already opposed to the climate bill or deeply worried about its heavy cost burden on voters, senators are now confronted with the possibility that the very science underlying the climate change legislation is suspect or even bogus.

Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the Senate’s leading global warming sceptic, immediately pounced on the e-mails controversy, urging committee chairwoman Barbara Boxer (Democrat-California) to hold hearings on the matter.

Inhofe also urged Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Lisa Jackson to suspend EPA’s pending “endangerment finding” on carbon dioxide, which also would impose major energy costs on US industry and consumers.

In the House this week, a committee hearing to examine the status of climate science - scheduled long before the e-mails controversy broke - could not help but deal with the serious challenge that the scientific furor has raised.

Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the ranking Republican member of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, said that the disclosed e-mails between climate scientists “show a pattern of suppression, manipulation and secrecy” that “read more like scientific fascism than the scientific process”.

Sensenbrenner said the e-mails indicate that climate scientists engaged in “manipulation of data and models, and possible criminal activity to evade legitimate requests for data and underlying computer codes”.

He quoted some of the e-mails in which climate scientists discuss an inability to account for the “lack of warming at the moment” and using computation tricks to “hide the decline” in global temperatures, among other things.

“While the e-mails don’t undermine everything we know about climate change, their contents are shocking,” Sensenbrenner said, adding that they betray intellectual corruption.

Sensenbrenner and other House members have joined with Senator Inhofe in firing off letters to the EPA, the Energy Department, Commerce Department and to top White House science advisors demanding reports and explanations on whether and how their climate policies were based on what now may be suspect science underlying the global warming issue.

The Obama administration is not likely to respond to these various Republican demands, and Democrat majority leaders in Congress also are unlikely to convene hearings on the e-mails controversy.

But that doesn’t matter. The suspicion of manipulated research results and doctored climate data is already awash in the Senate and likely making still more members uneasy about tying their names - and their re-election prospects - to climate legislation that will raise energy costs on the strength of the now suspect science of global warming.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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