Republicans to Repeal Laws of Physics

Republicans have decided that they can repeal the laws of physics with the laws of the USA.

First a bit of background.  In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the U.S. EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, if they meet the definition of "air pollutants".  In order to qualify as "air pollutants", the emissions must "reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare".  In 2009, the EPA issued an endangerment finding which referenced numerous scientific assessments including the IPCC report, and concluded that "greenhouse gases in the atmosphere may reasonably be anticipated both to endanger public health and to endanger public welfare".  This conclusion is strongly supported by the body of scientific evidence.

As a consequence of this endangerment finding, the EPA established a timeline to begin regulating greenhouse gas emissions, starting with the largest sources such as power plants and oil refineries in 2011.  There are now two ways to prevent the EPA's greenhouse gas regulations:

  1. Congress can pass legislation which establishes a different system to control greenhouse gas emissions, thus superceeding the EPA.
  2. The EPA endangerment finding can be overturned if it's determined that greenhouse gas emissions no longer endanger public health or welfare.

From an economic standpoint, it would be preferable if Congress implemented this first option, because systems which allow the free market to control greenhouse gas emissions, such as a carbon tax or cap and trade system, have less economic impact than government regulations.  In fact, studies have shown that carbon pricing mechanisms have little economic impact, and their benefits outweigh their costs several times over.  For this reason, cap and trade was originally a Republican proposal as an alternative to EPA regulation of sulfur dioxide in response to acid rain (also under the Clean Air Act).  That's right, as hard as it is to believe now, cap and trade was first proposed by Republicans.

U.S. Congress has attempted to pass climate legislation which includes a carbon pricing mechanism (cap and trade system) several times thus far, but such proposals have rarely gotten more than a couple of Republican votes, and have always failed.  Most recently in 2009, the House of Representatives managed to pass a climate bill.  Unfortunately we were reminded that the USA is a republic, not a democracy, as Republicans exploited archaic Senate rules and their 41% minority to filibuster (obstruct) similar legislation which was supported by the majority, and it never even made it to a vote in the Senate.

In short, Republicans aren't willing to implement a carbon pricing mechanism, but they also don't want the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.  So they're now pursuing the second option discussed above.  To accomplish this, Republicans in the House of Representatives have introduced H.R. 910, inaccurately named the "Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011".   H.R. 910 has two main components:

  1. It overturns the EPA's greenhouse gas endangerment finding.
  2. It prohibits the EPA from regulating or otherwise taking action regarding greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change.

In other words, we have politicians attempting to overturn a scientific finding whose purpose is to protect public health and welfare, for purely political reasons.  This is a rather disturbing turn of events from a scientific standpoint.  We cannot disregard a scientific finding, particularly one which has major consequences for public health and welfare, just because we don't want to believe it, or because doing so would be politically advantageous.

The House Republicans (and to be fair, there are a few Democrats from fossil fuel dependent regions which also support this bill) put very little effort into justifying this legislation.  They called two climate scientist "skeptics" to testify before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, and in a sign of the meaninglessness of the hearing, they also called on Donald Roberts to rant about DDT regulations.  The "skeptics'" testimony was little more than a litany of long-debunked climate myths, but the Congressmen in the hearing didn't seem very interested in hearing what the scientists had to say anyway.  At the end of the hearing, Democrat Congressman Markey wittily summed up the proceedings:

"Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to a bill that overturns the scientific finding that pollution is harming our people and our planet.

However, I won’t physically rise, because I’m worried that Republicans will overturn the law of gravity, sending us floating about the room..."

Markey's full comments are well worth reading.  Soon thereafter, the subcommittee passed the bill by voice vote, and the measure will next be sent to the full House Energy and Commerce Committee.  Fortunately, as Congressman Markey noted, even if the bill is passed by the House of Representatives, it has little chance of passing in the Democrat-controlled Senate, and if it were to pass there, President Obama would almost certainly veto this legislation.

Nevertheless, the mere existence of the bill is an ominous sign of the Republican war on climate science, in which they believe they can overturn scientific evidence based on nothing more than the ignorant opinions of a few politicians.  Similarly, Republicans in the Montana state legislature recently introduced a bill which stated, among other scientific falsehoods,

"global warming is a natural occurrence and human activity has not accelerated it."

It seems as though Republicans think that politics can dictate science.  Unfortunately, passing legislation saying that humans are not causing global warming, or that greenhouse gas emissions do not pose a threat to public health and welfare, does not change the physical reality that these statements are simply wrong.

The climate operates based on the laws of physics, not the laws of Montana or the United States of America.  Republicans may have declared war on science, but it's a war they cannot win.  By pretending that we can dictate how the climate will behave with a few simple words on a piece of paper, all we can accomplish is to bury our heads in the sand and doom ourselves to the catastrophic fate that awaits us in a business-as-usual scenario.  These politicians need to be reminded that they are supposed to be looking out for the American public's welfare and best interests, not prohibiting the EPA from doing just that.

Posted by dana1981 on Sunday, 13 March, 2011

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