The science behind EPA standards is clear

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In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Rep. Lamar Smith, Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology attacks the Environmental Protection Agency for lack of transparency and suggests that more scientific information is needed to develop standards for air quality and climate change. In his attacks, Rep. Smith nitpicks the details of modeling systems while ignoring the public, widely available and overwhelming evidence of the high costs to public health and the economy of inaction on climate change and air quality.

The following is a guest post by Climate Nexus (PDF version here):

The science behind EPA standards is clear

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Rep. Lamar Smith, Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology attacks the transparency of the EPA and claims that more scientific information is needed for the EPA to develop standards for air quality and climate change. The health and financial costs of inaction if we don’t pursue cleaner air will only go up, and experts agree that acting now to reduce emissions is the most cost-effective way to protect ourselves from climate change.

The claim: Rep. Lamar Smith attacks the EPA, portraying it as secretive about the science behind its decisions, including its regulation of airborne particulates, ozone and its estimation of the social cost of carbon (SCC). Smith implies that the release of more scientific information would offer new revelations about whether the decisions are justified.

The facts: The science documenting the need for action on ozone and particulate matter is extensive, and the EPA’s research and links to peer-reviewed literature are documented on its own website. In addition, the social cost of carbon -- an economic estimate taken into account when developing carbon pollution standards -- relies on peer-reviewed research from many scientific disciplines, including physics, biology, economics, oceanography, atmospheric science, medicine, and more. Accumulated peer-reviewed research from these fields tells us that carbon pollution is already costly to humans. Costs of carbon pollution take many forms:

  • Health impacts of infectious diseases, extreme heat, and ozone smog, and more. One study of six climate-related events since 2000 estimated the health costs alone at $14 billion.
  • Lost property and businesses due to extreme weather, which included $107.2 billion worth of damage in the U.S in 2012 according to reinsurer Munich Re. Furthermore, Munich Re says, “The climatic changes detected are in line with the modeled changes due to human-made climate change.”
  • Infrastructure overhauls to accommodate sea level rise, for example a proposed $206 million renovation to Miami’s Beach’s water system to forestall the influx of salt water. Projected infrastructure costs for Florida reach into the billions.

Every major scientific authority, including the IPCC, the National Climate Assessment, and the National Academy of Sciences has verified that carbon pollution causes warming and warming worsens these costly and dangerous impacts.

The EPA estimates the social cost of carbon to be $36 per ton by using a set of economic models, including three called FUND, PAGE and DICE. Rather than overestimating the SCC (as Smith suggests by seeking more information about the work behind the models), these models have come under criticism from economists for underestimating it. Other estimates of the social cost of carbon clock in at:

  • $83 per ton as calculated in 2009 by the U.K. government
  • Over $100 per ton according to a peer-reviewed study by economists Chris and Mat Hope.
  • Up to $900 per ton according to a report by the E3 Network, which concluded that despite uncertainty over the exact cost of carbon, “it is unequivocally less expensive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than to suffer climate damages.”

In his attacks on the transparency of the EPA, Rep. Smith is seeking to nitpick over the details of modeling systems while persistently ignoring the public, widely available and overwhelming evidence of the high costs of inaction on climate change and air quality to our public health and the economy.

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Earlier guest posts by Climate Nexus:

The Economist zeroes in on climate sensitivity but misses bigger picture

The CO2 “fertilization” effect won’t deter climate change

Qing-Bin Lu revives debunked claims about cosmic rays and CFCs

(Response by Qing-Bin Lu to “Qing-Bin Lu revives debunked claims about cosmic rays and CFCs”)

House Science Committee chair twists climate science in Washington Post

Global warming misconceptions on BBC radio

Tired, disproven argument on “benefits” of CO2 resurfaces in Wall Street Journal

Drought study misses underlying climate connections

Setting the Temperature Record Straight: The Last 11,300 Years Explained

Pielke Jr. implies conspiracy over routine journal procedure

James Taylor misinterprets study by 180 degrees

James Taylor's deceptive attempt to discredit National Climate Assessment experts

In Wall Street Journal op-ed, Bjorn Lomborg urges delay with misleading stats

On floods and climate change

Scientists respond to the Wall Street Journal's latest junk-science climate predictions

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