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Peabody coal's contrarian scientist witnesses lose their court case

Posted on 2 May 2016 by John Abraham

In Minnesota, an administrative hearing resulted in a judicial recommendation that will have impacts across the country. It was a case argued mainly between environmental groups (such as Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, and their clients Fresh Energy and the Sierra Club) and energy producers (such as the now-bankrupt coal company Peabody Energy) regarding what a reasonable social cost of carbon should be.

I was called as an expert witness in the case along with respected climate scientistDr. Andrew Dessler. We were opposed by the well-known contrarians Drs. Roy SpencerRichard Lindzen, and William Happer (who has recently received attention related to his charged fees in the case). In full disclosure, Dr. Dessler and I were not paid for our work in the case. I recently wrote about the testimony and provided links to the testimonies submitted for the case. The judge’s recommendations and how they will impact energy decisions in the USA were the keys to this trial.

On April 15th, the Administrative Law Judge decided that the estimated cost of carbon pollution currently used in Minnesota is too low. New knowledge about how fast the climate is changing, how much it will change, and how it will affect societies and economies would be reflected in a larger carbon cost. This leads to a large increase in the estimated cost, from $0.44-4.53 per ton to $11-57 per ton. A summary of the ruling can be found here and the full report is available here.

How was this case won? Well certainly it helps to have science on your side. Without that, even the most expensive expert witnesses struggle. But Peabody’s scientists made errors that were easy to identify and point out to the Judge. Furthermore, the Judge was smart, quickly able to see through nonsense non-science.

For those of you that read the report, you’ll notice that the Peabody side made claims about the natural variability of Earth’s climate, about Earth temperature changes, and about extreme weather events. The environmental group’s side rebutted these viewpoints (see pages 15-19). 

We also showed that the experts for Peabody relied extensively on non-peer-reviewed reports, blog sites, and think tanks to support their conclusions (paragraph 359 in the report). The peer-reviewed scientific literature is the best source for accurate climate science information. In other areas, the Peabody experts used scientific papers that we showed were incorrect (paragraph 360 in the report, for example).

Perhaps the key findings are best articulated in the judicial conclusions, which begin on page 114. Among the conclusions are:

Click here to read the rest

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Comments 1 to 5:

  1. When will these guys ever learn.

    You go before a judge - you have to drop the BS. If you don't have solid arguments and evidence, the steely eyed gaze of the judge will wither your soul.

    Sometimes a legal judgement is a long-winded thing of beauty.

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  2. Glenn,

    Many conservative judges in the USA do not care about the facts.  Look at the Supreme Court and its election of Bush for President.  Peabody was hoping to get a sympathetic judge and they didn't.  

    Obama's clean power plan got a judge sympathetic to polluters.

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  3. michael,

    The action by the current US Government to have existing rules that would have reduced the burning of coal actually enforced was thwarted by a 5 to 4 Supreme Court unprecedented directive stating that the lower courts are not to enforce the established laws prior to the Supreme Court hearing of a coal lobby funded challenge.

    The challenge is scheduled in 2017. And it involves the support from 27 states that are in the grip of the callous greedy minority who have effectively taken control of the Republican Party (a group with a clear history of trying to get what they want any way they can get away with).

    And that challenge would have been heard by the same 5-4 Supreme Court that refused to allow established laws to actually be enforced. However, that unprecedented Supreme Court directive was finalized only days before the passing away of one of the 5 judges that supported it.

    So it is very likely that the group behind the challenge of the enforcement of existing laws will fight to get their type of judge to be the replacement on the Supreme Court. Actually, that is exactly what has been happening. And if that group succeed in getting their type of judge onto the Supreme Court then the decision of the 27 state appeal is likely to be contrary to the advancement of humanity to a lasting better future for all with a very weak justification.

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  4. California uses a baseline of SCC that was $12.00 and then adjusted for inflation in 2007 to slightly over $13.00.  This value was the mean reported value by Richard Tol in a 2005 published report review.  In it he gave equal weight to the 9 papers published on the social cost of carbon, some published as early as 1994, 3 published by Nordhaus and 2 published by Tol.  Without regard to the evolution of the IAM models over time, the changing inputs provided by the development of climate science over the previous 10 years, or the fact that the climate science projected impacts from 2005 have been heavily revised, and considered to be much more impactful in the AR5 published in 2013, AND that even these results understate the impacts.  

    Clearly the application of social welfare to the realm of fossil fuels and economics is still verboten in the halls of power and corruption that our political and business leaders frequent.

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  5. A very useful table, thank you. So it is easier to read, please could the writing be in black, and the backgrounds made less dense so they are very pale green, orange and blue .

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