New Science Endangers EPA’s “Endangerment Finding”
“If the EPA were to have done that with the regulations being proposed here … it is quite likely that their original Endangerment Finding would have to be revised and potentially overturned.”
The public comment period for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions for New Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units closed on June 25, 2012. A number of extensive comments were submitted arguing that the basis of the Endangerment Finding—that human greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) “threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations”—has become so outdated as to require a thorough re-assessment.
Strong cases were made that the EPA failed to completely consider new and influential scientific results which have a direct relevance to the impact that climate change as a result of human greenhouse gas emissions may have on the public health and welfare. Overwhelmingly, the “missing” science from the EPA’s support documents included evidence that either lessened the certainty that human GHG emissions were behind the observed changes in the climate, or provided examples of positive impacts resulting from climate change on human health and welfare.
It is a recipe for pure waste and unintented consequences if EPA continues to propose regulations based upon static, even outdated, science in a field where the scientific knowledge-base is rapidly evolving. In his public comment to the EPA, the Cato Institute’s Dr. Patrick Michaels neatly described this situation:
[N]o static report can provide long-term guidance as to the nature of climate change and its impacts as this field is constantly evolving under the weight of new scientific findings. Consequently, it is imperative EPA reassess the current scientific understanding on an annual basis, if not continuously. If the EPA were to have done that with the regulations being proposed here (consideration of my comments and Addendum would have been an appropriate place to start) it is quite likely that their original Endangerment Finding would have to be revised and potentially overturned.
Relying on dated and incomplete science in a rapidly evolving environment will almost certainly lead to poor regulations. In the name of science and in the spirit of responsible government, the EPA must revisit the Endangerment Finding before adopting sweeping regulations with potentially enormous economic and social implications.
As a demonstration that, indeed, new science (as well as overlooked or ignored science) can supplant existing science in many important topic areas related to climate change, Dr. Michaels included in his comments to the EPA a draft of a major report that he has been editing which serves as a re-evaluation of the potential impacts of climate change on the United States. Dr. Michaels views his report as an “Addendum” to the 2009 U.S. Global Change Research Program’s “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States”—a report which synthesizes some 21 reports issued by the USGCRP since the early 2000s.
The final version of Dr. Michaels’ Addendum is planned to be released in late summer or early fall, but in the meantime, the Fourth Order Draft is currently available from the Cato Institute’s Center for the Study of Public Science and Public Policy and is well worth a look. It is especially insightful to compare, side-by-side, Dr. Michaels’ Addendum to the original USGCRP report (available here).
In addition to Dr. Michaels’ comment on new science overlooked by the EPA, Peabody Energy Company (the world’s largest private-sector coal company) submitted an extensive and detailed set of comments which included a lot of focus on new science missed by the EPA—science which Peabody argues should require that the EPA reassess their Endangerment Finding.
The findings on new science, along with findings on the significance of the revelations within the Climategate 2.0 emails, the many benefits of carbon dioxide and fossil fuel-produced energy, the lack of climate influence of the EPA emissions restrictions, and a host of other deficiencies have led Peabody to this conclusion:
EPA has committed basic legal error by failing to justify its NSPS Proposal in a finding that CO2 emissions for new coal-fueled EGUs endanger the public health and welfare. And EPA has failed to consider the health and welfare benefits of coal-fueled electric generation that will be foregone under the proposal. The proposal is ill-conceived and should be withdrawn.
I include here an excerpt from Peabody’s Comment which summarizes their findings on new science to give you a flavor of the types of new findings that the EPA has not (yet?) considered and why the EPA Endangerment Finding should itself be considered endangered.
Excerpt of the Comment from Peabody Energy Company to the EPA concerning their proposed Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions for New Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units:
New Climate Science Undermines EPA’s 2009 Endangerment Finding
The heart of EPA’s 2009 motor vehicle endangerment finding, its discussion of science in the preamble to its NSPS Proposal, and its discussion of science in the Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) accompanying that proposal is that anthropogenic emissions of GHGs will lead to a warmer climate which will in turn produce a host of consequences impairing public health and welfare. Yet in virtually every area of public health and welfare concern that EPA discusses, new science weakens EPA’s conclusions. None of this science is examined by EPA. As a few examples:
· Hurricanes. New research on past tropical cyclone behavior sheds uncertainty on future changes in tropical cyclone intensity and the influence that human greenhouse gas emissions may have (Landsea et al., 2010; Vecchi et al., 2011; Villarini et al., 2011; Hagen and Landsea, 2012); new research on hurricane modeling lessens the certainty of the direction of future changes in intensity and establishes that intensity and frequency are interrelated (Knutson et al., 2010, Zhao and Held, 2010); and new research on the tracking behavior of tropical cyclones calls into question whether projections of future storm intensity are alone sufficient to threaten public health and welfare (Murakami and Wang, 2010; Wang et al., 2011, Murakami et al., 2012; Raible et al., 2012). Additionally, research shows that changing demographics of coastal communities makes disentangling the impacts of human greenhouse gas emissions from other sources of impacts on the future evolution of vulnerabilities to tropical cyclones exceedingly difficult if not impossible prior to at least the late 21st century (Compton et al., 2011; Willoughby, 2012). Together, this collection of new and influential scientific research undermines the EPA’s conclusions regarding future hurricanes and their impacts and requires a re-evaluation of the best available science.
· Tornados and storms. The IPCC 2012 (Special Report on Weather Extremes “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation” SREX) concludes, “There is low confidence in observed trends in small spatial-scale phenomena such as tornadoes and hail because of data inhomogeneities and inadequacies in monitoring systems” (p. 112). And, regarding projections,“[t]here is low confidence in projections of smallscale phenomena such as tornadoes because competing physical processes may affect future trends and because climate models do not simulate such phenomena (p. 113).
· Major precipitation events. New research has detected a significant influence on major precipitation events from water impoundments (Degu et al., 2011), irrigation (DeAngelis et al., 2010), and changes in land use (Groisman et al., 2012). Additionally, evidence continues to mount that urban areas have a significant and large-scale influence on precipitation characteristics, including increasing the frequency and magnitude of intense precipitation events. Specific demonstrations of this have been made for Atlanta (Shem and Shepherd, 2008), Indianapolis (Nyogi et al., 2011), Houston (Shepherd, 2010), Oklahoma City (Hand and Shepherd, 2009), multiple cities across the Southeastern United States (Mitra et al., 2011, Ashley et al, 2011). New research also discloses the increasing role of aerosols on major precipitation (Koren et al., 2012).
· Storm surges. For nor’easters along the U.S. East Coast, storm surges and damage to coastal property are enhanced by slow moving storm systems. However, long-term studies indicate that there has been no overall change in the average speed of movement of these storms since at least the 1950s (Bernhardt and DeGaetano, 2012). Nor has there been any increases in wave height associated with these storms since at least the mid-1970s (Komar and Allan, 2008). There has been no change in the number of storm surge events along the East Coast once local sea level rise has been accounted for (Sweet and Zervas, 2011). Multiple studies identify ENSO and the NAO as being strong drivers in the natural variability of many characteristics of nor’easters (Sweet and Zervas, 2011; Bernhardt and DeGaetano, 2012).
· Wildfires. The expectation for increases in wildfires in the Southwestern U.S. are driven by climate models which project warmer and drier conditions in the future. However, there is mounting evidence that wildfire regimes are more complex than the warmer/ drier conditions equates to more fires hypothesis. Roos and Swetnam (2012) reconstructed wildfire frequency in Ponderosa pine forests across Arizona and New Mexico back more than 1,400 years. They found that the frequency of major fires was unchanged between the warm/dry conditions associated with the Medieval Warm Period (a period from about 800 to 1300 A.D) and the cooler/wetter conditions of the Little Ice Age (1400 to 1850 A.D), and noted that rather than long-period climate shifts fire frequency was more related to decadal variability in precipitation regimes with large fires being associated with pluvial conditions (which lead to an accumulation of the fuel load) followed by several dry years. They note that the fire suppression policies put in place during the late 19th and continuing through the 20th century resulted in a “a duration of time with little to no local or regional fire activity [that] was truly anomalous in the entirety of the 1416 year record” and that the recent increase in large fires is a direct result of the increased fuel-load associated with the fire suppression policies. Had such policies not been put in place, the natural wildfire history of the 20th century would have looked much different, with large fires occurring throughout the period, rather than clumped in recent decades. And as to climate model projections themselves, research results indicate that as climate models become better refined, the model-projected declines in Southwestern precipitation become less, with the net result that the hydroclimate of the Southwest does not become as much drier as has been projected previously. The new results indicate a lessening of the threat for an increase in future wildfire occurrence. Litschert et al. (2012).
· Sea level rise. Wenzel et al (2010) confirms other studies of tide gauge records which show that there has been no statistically significant acceleration in sea level rise over the past 100+ years, in contrast to statements of the IPCC. Sea levels have been rising naturally since the end of the last major ice age 20,000 years ago, and the rate of rise began to decelerate about 8,000 years ago. The oscillations noted in this study correspond to the typical full and half-cycle lengths of the natural Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the natural 60-year climate cycle. The Pacific Decadal Oscillation warm phase has been shown to produce a marked temporary rise in global mean sea levels. Meyssignac et al (2012) concluded that, “Results suggest that in the tropical Pacific, sea level trend fluctuations are dominated by the internal variability of the ocean–atmosphere coupled system. While our analysis cannot rule out any influence of anthropogenic forcing, it concludes that the latter effect in that particular region is still hardly detectable.” In Morner (2010), Morner, an IPCC reviewer, said he was “astonished to find that not one of their 22 contributing authors on sea levels was a sea level specialist: not one.” Morner examined the Maldives, which some reports claim will be submerged in the next fifty years, and concluded that the sea level around the Maldives has been much higher before and actually fell 20 centimeters (7.8 inches) during the 1970s. He also asserted that sea levels have been stable for the past three decades. As to Tuvalu, the other prominent example given of the effects of purportedly disastrous sea level rise, Morner (2010) found no recent trends. “Over and over again, I have tried to demonstrate (Mörner, 2007; 2010, 2011) that sea is not at all in a rising mode in Tuvalu judging from the only information there is; i.e. the tide gauge records.”
· Heat-related mortality. Even assuming rising temperatures as EPA predicts, all heat related mortality is preventable (Ebi, 2012). The measures to do so are not overly complicated, nor are they particularly expensive. Simple heat wave awareness programs stressing proper clothing, proper hydration, and other behavioral modification have shown to be successful in reducing heat-related mortality (Das, 2011). Earlier studies, such as Davis et al., 2002; 2003a, 2003b, showed that heat-related deaths in the United States were declining. This decline has continued beyond the 1990s (the end of the period examined in the Davis et al. series of studies) and into the 21st century. Kalkstein et al. (2010) examined trends in heat-related mortality from extreme heat events (EHE) in 40 major U.S. cities using data extending to 2004 and reported that, “Our results generally show a reduction in EHE-attributable mortality rates since 1996. Indeed, in a recent study specifically designed to analyze the impacts of migration from extreme weather events, Deschênes and Moretti (2009) find that people are actively moving away from the cold and into the heat—inducing, by choice, a change in their personal thermal climate similar in character to that projected to occur due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
· Ozone-related health issues. The evidence of temperature rise that EPA relies on says that U.S. temperatures have risen by 2º F since 1970, yet EPA’s own AirTrends website continues to shows that domestic ozone levels are decreasing. From 1980-2010, average peak ozone levels decreased by 28 percent. The 90th percentile ozone level declined from about 125 ppb in 1980 down to about 80 ppb in 2010, a 36 percent decrease. Average peak annual 8-hour ozone declined more than 30 percent from 1975 to 2010, while the maximum 8-hour ozone level declined more than 65 percent. Not only did peak levels of ozone decline, but Summer-average ozone levels declined also; June-August average ozone declined about 18 percent from 1975-2010, while June-August average ozone at the worst location in the country declined about 35 percent. EPA never explains why we should expect the future to be the opposite of the past or even mention that past ozone levels declined dramatically despite warming of similar magnitude to what it predicts between now and 2050.