The Week That Was
July 20-26, 1998

The White House was finally shamed into putting up Dr. Robert Watson to state the government’s case at the House Small Business Committee hearing, which after one postponement finally took place yesterday (Wednesday, July 29). Watson is known in scientific circles for having helped stage NASA’s phony "ozone hole over Kennebunkport" press briefing in February 1992, enabling then-Senator Al Gore to goad the Bush administration into advancing the CFC production ban by five years. Now with the World Bank Environment Program and newly installed as chairman of the IPCC, Watson’s role is to do for global warming what he did for ozone depletion.

But Watson didn’t fare well in his only other House debate with dissenting scientists, and there were strong indications that he would have preferred to pass on this one. Unfortunately, the White House last week was making righteous noises about Congress stifling public discussion of the global warming issue, so it was embarrassing when their "experts" backed out of the hearing one after the other. Watson finally got the assignment and Dan Lashoff of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) had to stick by his earlier commitment to appear.

It wasn’t pretty. Watson and Lashoff, while acknowledging little scientific evidence for "what is," went into lengthy recitations of the largely discredited "what ifs" and made the usual claim that without government action the future was too horrible to contemplate. Watson was forced to admit that the climate models that served as the basis for the Framework Convention on Climate Change were wrong and cannot account for any current weather patterns. He countered that while those models were no good, current climate models are right on the money. But satellite data expert Dr. John Christy demolished that argument, pointing out that current models predict more warming in the troposphere than at the surface, the opposite of what has been observed.

Christy also demonstrated that conclusions about human-induced climate change based on selective extremes in weather patterns is faulty and misleading, which effectively dismissed Dan Lashoff’s presentation. While reporters have focused their attention on heat and drought in Texas and Florida, they have overlooked the fact that the West has been cool. In fact, for the nation as a whole, he said, temperatures for June 1998 were below average.

The presentations by Dr. Christy, University of Virginia climatologist Dr. Patrick Michaels, atmospheric physicist Dr. S. Fred Singer, and, presenting an economic perspective, Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, covered much ground that was familiar to those following the global warming debate. Flood and drought patterns over the last century show no increasing trend. Surface data are not global and are affected by urban growth. Temperature fluctuations are well within the range of natural variations. Scientific understanding of climate is still insufficient to predict changes over time, natural or man-made.

It was a difficult week for proponents of global warming, and the debate only made it more so. Despite an orchestrated effort by Clinton and Gore to portray Congressional attacks on global warming science as anti-environmental, efforts by activists to move their agenda forward has not been the cake-walk they had hoped. Last Thursday, House members put a stop to the Administration’s efforts to implement the Global Climate Treaty without Senate ratification. As reported by the Washington Times, House sentiment against the Treaty was so strong—and suspicion of the Environmental Protection Agency so high—that the Administration’s supporters admitted they didn’t have the votes.

That was clear during the floor debate Thursday night. Few members, Republican or Democrat, expressed support for the Treaty or for attempts by the Administration to start carrying it out. Many noted that the Treaty has no chance of passing the Senate. Proponents did win narrow approval of an amendment allowing the EPA to continue conducting "informational seminars" on the global warming hypothesis, but the amendment’s author, Wisconsin Democrat David Obey, warned the Agency that if it crosses the line from education to advocacy, "it does so at its peril."

The stakes are high on this issue. Quite apart from the fact that developing countries want no part of any mandatory worldwide greenhouse gas abatement scheme, energy reality is making Kyoto’s emission reduction targets more fanciful by the day. In the United States, the motor vehicle fleet continues to tilt toward light trucks and sport utility vehicles, gasoline prices have cratered, and the auto industry is in the middle of a price war. Perhaps it wasn’t so surprising then that a front-page story in the July 27 Washington Times, which outlined the controversy over global warming science, was written not by the science/environment reporter but by the Times’ White House correspondent Paul Bedard, a reporter who has been hammering the Clinton Administration on a whole range of issues.

Trends like these, of course, make the alternative energy industry increasingly anxious over the fate of its subsidies and tax credits. Currently, utilities offering solar, wind, and biomass renewables can write off as much as a third of the cost of generating electricity from such sources; capital costs can be depreciated in five years instead of the standard twenty. Add in a generous helping of subsidies from the Department of Energy, and the cost of renewables can be lowered to the point where some eco-conscious buyers can sign-up. Toss out the tax breaks and subsidies—and there are rumblings of that—and you can toss out "green" electricity as well. This is why alternative energy lobbyists are pushing Congress to enact a "renewables portfolio standard," which, no matter how you slice it, is a quota.

After yesterday’s hearing, which was chaired by Rep. James Talent of Missouri, activists now have to be looking askance at their allies in Congress. Several Republican members of the House Small Business Committee, in response to the testimony, expressed strong opposition to funding the Clinton Administration’s $6.3 billion global warming request package. Minority party members had so little confidence in the government’s case that they largely boycotted the testimony rather than risk having it appear that attacking the Administration’s scientific credibility was a bipartisan effort.

It’s all for naught. The Congress, by setting the terms for any future "seminars" and public discussions conducted by the Clinton Administration, has paved the way for many such hearings, and the Democrats can’t boycott them all. What is more, in just the past month a major television outlet and a mainstream news magazine with national (and international) circulation have expressed strong interest in taking a critical look at both the EPA and the politics surrounding the global warming issue. Don’t look now, but those promoting sound science may actually be getting a foot in the door.

This issue of TW^2 was compiled by SEPP Research Associate Candace Crandall

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