If you’re going to set up a presidential panel to review federal climate research, say supporters, it should probably consist of people other than federal climate researchers.
Behind the scenes at the White House, however, the debate is playing out over whether to create a Presidential Committee on Climate Security stocked with independent scientific experts, or a working group of government scientists drawn from federal agencies.
Advocating for an independent panel is Princeton physicist Will Happer, National Security Council senior director for emerging technologies, who met two weeks ago with President Trump and National Security Advisor John Bolton in the Oval Office, according to two sources close to the discussions.
There is no timetable for a decision, but an announcement by the Trump administration could come as early as this month.
Roy Spencer, principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, described the idea of creating a review group comprised of federal researchers as redundant.
“Regarding the idea of only having government employees: The committee is a red team effort, which is by definition adversarial,” said Mr. Spencer, former NASA scientist and author of “Climate Confusion” and “An Inconvenient Deception.”
“There are few if any adversaries in the government, since government researchers are dependent upon climate alarmism for their programs to stay funded,” he said. “It would be like having only tobacco company executives on a committee to look into the connection between smoking and cancer. Or like the EPA (until recently) having their Science Advisory Committee made up of only researchers who received tens of millions of dollars in EPA grants.”
There are advantages to keeping such a panel in-house. Federal employees would not be subject to the same broad disclosure requirements as outsiders under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, including that they meet in public.
Using government researchers could also provide some political cover from attacks by Democrats and climate activists accusing the administration of trying to discredit federal reports on climate change, starting with the dire Fourth National Climate Assessment released in November.
House Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has already vowed to defund the “fake science panel,” while the Union of Concerned Scientists decried Mr. Happer, who holds a Ph.D. in physics, as “a climate denier with a longstanding history of ignoring scientific facts.”
One of those who co-authored the National Climate Assessment, UCS director of climate science Brenda Ekwurzel, said the report prepared by a dozen federal agencies and some outside experts had already been reviewed exhaustively by the National Academy of Sciences and undergone public comment.
“It seems completely superfluous to have another panel,” said Ms. Ekwurzel, who holds a Ph.D. in isotope geochemistry.
The call for an additional layer of scrutiny “really sounds like a disinformation playbook play called ‘the fix,’ where you manipulate a process to inappropriately influence policy,” she said. “Because there already is a process for getting the best information.”
Skeptics argue that federal research has become tainted by the involvement of activists and a grant process that rewards climate-disaster scenarios.
“The only way to get a truly independent review of climate science is to go outside the government and allow a truly independent review of climate science,” said Climate Depot’s Marc Morano, author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Climate Change.”
“When you have groups like the National Academy of Sciences, which are nearly 100 percent dependent on government funding, it is very difficult to ever expect unbiased reviews,” he said. “When you have reports like the National Climate Assessment that was coordinated by Obama’s lead UN Paris negotiator and activists from the Union of Concerned Scientists, you can’t expect unbiased reports on the science.”
James Taylor, senior fellow for environment and energy policy at the free-market Heartland Institute, said it was pointless to choose federal researchers in order to avoid the political blowback from critics, because “they’re going to say it regardless.”
“What we should be looking at first and foremost is scientific truth, and having greater participation and a greater universe of scientists to draw from will help us get closer to the truth,” Mr. Taylor said.