- - Wednesday, July 20, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The masterminds who put their heads together to “improve” the planet sometimes only bump those heads together. Environmentalists have confidently — and arrogantly — declared that their “green” policies are based on “settled science,” but evidence continues to trickle in to dispute that. On paper, saving the world is as elementary as ridding it of fossil fuels. Experience, however, teaches that “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

New data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency demonstrates that President Obama’s war on coal has been more devastating than first thought. The Environmental Protection Agency had expected its air-quality rule, termed the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, to result in the loss of 4.7 gigawatts of electricity from the suspension of coal-fired power plants. Instead, the agency says generating capacity fell by 23 gigawatts between the end of 2014 and April 2016. That’s an 11 percent decline, or as the agency calls it, “the highest annual percentage decrease of any fossil fuel in the past 50 years.”

Fortunately, Americans have not had to put out candles or retrieve kerosene lamps from the attics of their grandparents. Natural gas has made up the difference. The agency reports that electricity produced by natural gas first surpassed electricity from coal in April 2015, and is expected to surpass coal for the remainder of 2016.

Though cleaner than coal, natural gas still falls into the category of environmentalist-despised fossil fuel. Mr. Obama’s 2015 Clean Power Plan calls for a 32 percent reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions from the nation’s power plants to 2005 levels by the year 2030. Hundreds of towns and cities cite public health concerns for restricting or banning hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the new drilling technique that has produced a new abundance of natural gas.

One scientific paper presenting evidence that fracking violates EPA air quality standards has been retracted after its authors admitting to errors in tabulating their data. The original study published a year ago by researchers at Oregon State University and the University of Cincinnati suggests that chemicals used in fracking waft into the air to expose nearby residents to elevated risk for cancer and respiratory diseases. However, the authors now say their calculations of the chemical concentrations, when corrected, places them well within EPA limits. “It is important that we stand up and correct the record,” writes researcher Kim Anderson. “This of course is hard … but it is the right thing to do.”

Scientists are human and Alexander Pope reminded one and all that “to err is human.” The authors of the fracking study have demonstrated integrity by admitting their flub, a reminder that science is a continuous learning process and is rarely “settled.”

Environmentalists are human, too, but some think error is only for others. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, last year urged Attorney General Loretta Lynch to investigate fossil fuel companies and their backers to see whether they were responsible for global warming. Taken aback by the backlash against his recommendation, he now urges media outlets to quit printing opinion pieces that express honest skepticism that human activity is responsible for global warming. His suggestion that “phony science” supports skepticism is not likely to persuade anyone, including us.

Questioning is the best way to course correction. When the wiseheads refuse to listen to the skeptics, they lose the opportunity to make it to port and have no one to blame but themselves. Colliding with inconvenient facts can be painful.

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