Democrats slam EPA head, want to understand his climate inquiry

Democrats slam EPA head, want to understand his climate inquiry
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Democrats slam EPA head, want to understand his climate inquiry

Enlarge / Texas’ Eddie Bernice Johnson.

Lamar Smith, head of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, has a penchant for releasing letters in which he complains about issues related to climate change. He has targeted everyone from state attorneys general who are investigating fossil fuel companies to NOAA scientists (and their e-mails).

But Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), the ranking Democrat on the committee, has released a letter or two herself, including one in which she sharply questioned whether Smith was appropriately overseeing scientific research. Now, Johnson and two other Democrats on the committee have turned their attention to Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The subject? Pruitt’s plan to have the EPA engage in a show debate over our understanding of climate science.

For the letter, Johnson was joined by Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), fellow members of the Science Committee. The letter cites a Reuters report about Pruitt’s idea of creating a “red team” with the goal of poking holes in our current scientific understanding of climate change. The letter notes that Pruitt has claimed that “there are lots of questions that have not been asked and answered” about climate change, though he hasn’t clearly specified what those are.

The Democrats’ letter helpfully notes that lots of questions regarding the climate have been asked and answered by the reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It and many scientific academies have examined the extensive scientific record and concluded that the evidence for a human influence on the climate is unequivocal.

“In the face of this overwhelming agreement on the basic fact of human-caused climate change by the world’s scientists, your efforts seem to be divorced from reality and reason,” the Representatives wrote. “This only reinforces our skepticism of your motives in engaging in a clearly unnecessary, and quite possibly unscientific, red-team-blue-team exercise to review climate science.”

Still, as part of their function in governmental oversight, the representatives would like to know what the exercise would look like. So, they’re asking Pruitt to specify what the procedure will be, how long it will take, and what the end product will look like, as well as how the members of the two teams will be selected. Finally, they ask that Pruitt specify what the purpose of revisiting the IPCC reports is and how the results will be used. They would like Pruitt to provide the details by mid-August.

The questions Representative Johnson and her colleagues are asking are not unreasonable. The EPA has made no official statement on whether the red-team-blue-team debate is actually being considered. Instead, Pruitt has said that planning has started in an interview with Reuters, inspired by (of all things) Op-Ed pieces in major newspapers. He even suggested that the debate might be broadcast on TV. During the interview, he did lay out a number of questions that presumably fell into his “not been asked or answered” category (three of the four had been answered; the fourth is an opinion).

While dismissing the idea of a debate as political posturing might be tempting, it could have significant consequences. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is committed to an Obama-era endangerment finding regarding greenhouse gases. Unless that endangerment finding is reversed, the EPA will be compelled to formulate some form of emissions regulations. A show debate may signal that Pruitt is ready to attempt the process of formally rejecting the scientific evidence behind the finding.

Democrats slam EPA head, want to understand his climate inquiry

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