- - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

States that rely on coal-fired electricity must take full advantage of the legal stay that the Supreme Court placed on implementation of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) last week. The ruling was close, 5-4, but the message was clear: The plan was viewed skeptically by the conservative majority of the court. The left-leaning District of Columbia U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that will rule on the merits of the CPP later this year would have had to be careful in their judgment, knowing that a strong decision in support of the regulation would likely be struck down by the high court.

But with the death of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Saturday, things have changed. Since anyone that Mr. Obama nominates to replace Justice Scalia will likely be blocked by the Republican-dominated Senate, an appeal will almost certainly result in a 4-4 tie, leaving the Circuit Court’s judgment in place. Consequently, it is now virtually certain that the lower court will quickly rule in favor of the CPP.

It is therefore more important than ever that legislators from coal-dependent states use every means possible to help create a situation in which the next president will be politically able, or even compelled, to dump the plan. While continuing to highlight the damaging economic and employment consequences of the CPP, state leaders must also ensure that the public gets another message: The fundamental premise of Mr. Obama’s climate rules is wrong.

The science is too immature to know whether the future of climate and climate control through carbon-dioxide emission reduction is science fiction. Closing coal-fired power plants, the country’s cheapest source of electricity, in a vain attempt to stop global warming is irresponsible.

Most state legislators are too afraid of climate activists to question the science themselves. But they can easily do something else that is far more effective — invite scientists from both sides of the debate to testify in public hearings about the science the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says backs the plan.

The message in support of this strategy is simple: “No responsible government should continue to spend billions of dollars on any issue without regularly reviewing the underlying reasons for the expenditures,” state representatives could say. “We are therefore convening open, unbiased hearings into the current status of today’s climate science.”

By arranging for qualified scientists from all sides of the debate to testify in well-publicized sessions, coal states could easily expose the public to the intense controversies in the field. The anti-coal campaign would then lose its most powerful weapon — the supposedly settled science of climate change. Without legislators even committing to a position on what is arguably the most complex science ever tackled, support for Mr. Obama’s climate plans would quickly fade.

To get an idea of what state governments and the public would hear were such hearings to be held, consider the two most recent congressional testimonies of University of Alabama in Huntsville atmospheric science professor John R. Christy.

On Dec. 8, Mr. Christy told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness:

• “Climate science is a murky science with large uncertainties on many critical components such as cloud distributions and surface heat exchanges.”

• “The claims about increases in frequency and intensity of extreme events are generally not supported by actual observations .”

• “It is not only clear that hot days have not increased, but in the most recent years there has been a relative dearth of them.”

• “There has not been any change in frequency of wildfires.”

• “Moisture conditions have not shown a tendency to have decreased (more drought) or increased (more large-scale wetness).”

On Feb. 2, Mr. Christy testified before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology:

• “The theory of how climate changes occur, and the associated impact of extra greenhouse gases, is not understood well enough to even reproduce the past climate. Indeed, the models clearly overcook the atmosphere. The issue for Congress here is that such demonstrably deficient model projections are being used to make policy.”

• “Regulations already enforced or being proposed, such as those from the Paris Agreement, will have virtually no impact on whatever the climate is going to do.”

Mr. Christy explained that even if the United States ceased to exist (and its emissions went to zero), the impact after 50 years as determined by climate models would be only 0.05 to 0.08 degrees Celsius — “an amount less than that which the global temperature fluctuates from month to month.”

Supporters of the Clean Power Plan will do everything in their power to prevent experts such as Mr. Christy from testifying before state committees. This is exactly why coal-dependent states must hold such hearings to help fend off EPA regulations that are ruining America’s most important source of electric power. Besides setting the stage for the next president to direct the agency to back off on the CPP, and on carbon-dioxide regulations in general, a better public understanding of the science could provide a supportive environment for petitions asking the EPA to reconsider its endangerment finding that is at the root of the issue.

That open, unbiased science hearings were not convened years ago by coal states is a travesty. But now, with the Supreme Court’s temporary stay in implementation of the plan, state legislators have one last chance to right this wrong.

Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition.

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