Bad science, worse policy

Fossil-fuel emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, will result in “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people, species and 27 ecosystems,” warns a new report from the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. World leaders, therefore, must take immediate action to decarbonize the economy, even at significant cost. But a growing body of evidence suggests that the human influence is far more benign, and the climate much less fragile, than climate campaigners and taxpayer-dependent scientists contend.

This matters because false science translates into bad policy, which takes a tangible toll on an already struggling American economy.

The UN has specifically concluded that “dangerous human interference” would occur if the global temperature rose 3.6 degrees above pre-industrial (and Little Ice Age) levels, which could happen by 2040.

But leading climate scientist Judith Curry, pointing to “more than a dozen other observation-based studies,” in addition to her own research, disagrees. The climate is much less sensitive to carbon dioxide emissions than once assumed, she recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

Tweaking the sensitivity assumption, UN-defined “dangerous” climate change would be a century away, she found. Or later.

Bad climate science spills over to economic models that calculate a “social cost of carbon” to justify pernicious regulation. Exaggerated cost, coupled with a failure to assign benefits to the human influence on climate, inflates the energy mission of the Obama bureaucracies, beginning with the Environmental Protection Agency and continuing with the Department of Energy and the Department of Interior.

In particular, the Obama administration has proposed regulations to reduce power plant emissions by 30 percent by 2030 from their 2005 levels, which many states are now fighting.

“As currently drafted,” stated the Virginia State Corporation Commission, “the carbon emission rates that EPA proposes for Virginia are arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful.” The nine-state Southwest Power Pool warned EPA about “voltage collapse and blackout conditions” from premature capacity retirements.

A study by the National Economic Research Associates concluded that the private sector could see annual compliance costs around $73 billion, while utility bills in all but 7 states would rise by double-digits.

Such sweeping regulation would also deter investment in energy exploration and production, hindering the industry at exactly the time it shows the most potential. With falling prices for oil and gas, new, unfounded burdens are particularly inopportune.

Energy is one of the top three sectors in the entire country, and the potential for growth is even greater, as long as overregulation doesn’t hold back progress. The current energy boom is expected to last at least a generation, and oil and gas could pay more than $125 billion in taxes by 2020. Meanwhile, unconventional oil and gas production alone could easily support an additional million jobs in the next five years.

Parenthetically, American companies have been the world leader in reducing CO2 emissions and methane releases into the atmosphere. Such emissions have fallen to their lowest level since 1994. Even the Energy Information Administration has noted that this development is directly related to the way in which natural gas is crowding out dirtier alternatives.

It’s sweet, clean science that’s making these gains possible -- and it’s that same sweet, clean science that should be informing our environmental policy. Groundless alarmism from faulty assumptions poses a demonstrable risk to our economic climate. And the climate risks of carbon grow more questionable by the day.

Robert L. Bradley Jr. is CEO and founder of the Institute for Energy Research and the author of seven books on energy history and public policy.

 

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Published: Dec. 11, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 35