Cooler Heads Digest 23 May 2014

23 May 2014


  • On Thursday May 29th, at 9:45 AM, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on “Examining the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Process.” Watch live here.
  • Registration is now open for the Heartland Institute’s 9th International Conference on Climate Change, July 7-9, at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Click here to learn more.

In the News

The Hard Sell on Climate Change
John Fund, National Review, 23 May 2014

Secretary of State Kerry Needs a Personal Fact-Checker
Patrick Goodenough, CNS News, 23 May 2014

EPA Administrator Travels in Carbon-Emitting Style, But Says We Shouldn’t
Scott Blakeman, The Foundry, 23 May 2014

Joe Romm: Climate “Disinformers” Now Holocaust Deniers
Robert Bradley, Jr., Master Resource, 22 May 2014

Tom Steyer’s Targets Fire Back
Valerie Richardson, Washington Times, 22 May 2014

Federalism Red Alert: President’s Reported Climate Plan Would Subject State Energy Planning to EPA Control
William Yeatman, Global, 19 May 2014

Lefty Scientist: Jail Pols Who Deny Global Warming; PBS Host Worries There’s a Lack of Prison Space
Paul Bremmer, NewsBusters, 19 May 2014

Watergate Don’t Bother Me, Does EPA Bother You?
Lawson Bader & William Yeatman, Human Events, 19 May 2014

News You Can Use
James O’Keefe Stings Enviros

James O’Keefe this week released a twenty-minute video at the Cannes Film Festival that shows Hollywood environmental activists Ed Begley, Jr., and Mariel Hemingway and environmental propaganda documentary producers Josh and Rebecca Tickell talking about getting $9 million in funding from a phony Middle Eastern oil sheikh to produce an anti-fracking documentary.The Hollywood Reporter ran an exclusive on O’Keefe’s sting, and the video has been posted on YouTube.

Inside the Beltway
Myron Ebell

House Passes Amendment To Curb Use of Junk Science

The House of Representatives on Thursday, 22nd May, passed an amendment offered by Representative David McKinley (R-WV) that if enacted into law would prevent the federal government from basing regulations and other policies on junk science.  The 231 to 192 vote was almost straight down party lines.  Four Democrats joined 227 Republicans in voting Yes, while three Republicans joined 189 Democrats in voting No. Rep. McKinley plans to offer an improved version of his amendment to the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill when it comes to the House floor next week. 

Rep. McKinley’s amendment would prohibit expenditures that involve the use of the third National Climate Assessment, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, the Social Cost of Carbon guidance document, or Agenda 21.  It was attached to the annual National Defense Authorization Act, H. R. 4435.   

The chances that this amendment will be accepted by the Senate are close to nil, but it was a good test vote.  It reveals that the two parties are united on opposite sides of the global warming debate.  Democrats are close to unanimous in supporting the use of junk climate science to make public policy, while Republicans are close to unanimously opposed. 

On roll call vote 231, Democrats voting Yes were: John Barrow of Georgia, Nick Joe Rahall of West Virginia, Henry Cuellar of Texas, and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina.  Republicans voting No were: Scott Garrett of New Jersey, Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey, and Chris Gibson of New York.  Those not voting were: Republicans Sean Duffy of Wisconsin and Gary Miller of California; and Democrats Karen Bass of California, Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, Bobby Rush of Illinois, Allyson Schwartz of Pennsylvania, and Louise Slaughter of New York.

EPA Promulgates Cooling Water Intake Standards

On Monday, EPA issued Clean Water Act standards to protect larvae and minnows from cooling water intake systems at nuclear, coal, and natural gas power plants. The cost would be about $250 million per year, and these expenses would fall disproportionately on nuclear power plants, which require greater volumes of water for cooling purposes. According to the North American Electric Reliability Council, an electric reliability watchdog, EPA’s rule was a major reason that utilities and independent power producers decided to retire almost 4,000 megawatts of nuclear powered electricity.

Across the States
William Yeatman

EPA’s Reported Climate Plan Would Facilitate Carbon Taxes and Cap-and-Trade

Details are leaking out about EPA’s impending climate plan for existing power plants pursuant to section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. In the past, EPA has interpreted Clean Air Act section 111(d) such that it applied on a source-by-source basis. However, Bloomberg and Reuters recently reported that EPA’s climate plan would require “beyond the fence” or “mass emissions” approach—i.e., states would be required to regulate beyond a power plant’s smokestack. EPA’s plan thus represents a radical change from past practice, one that gives the agency the authority to require green energy production quotas or even curtailments of electricity demand.

Environmental special interests were quick to support EPA’s approach and offer ideas for what the agency could impose. Yesterday, for example, David Bookbinder, co-founder of the climate consulting firm Element VI, endorsed state carbon taxes at a briefing held by Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. And David Doniger, policy director for the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Reuters that EPA’s reported plan would facilitate regional cap-and-trades.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt this week presented the alternative viewpoint. On Tuesday at the National Press Club, AG Pruitt released his plan for compliance with EPA’s carbon rules that prohibited a “beyond the fence” approach, in line with what the agency has always done to date when it implements Clean Air Act section 111(d).

Around the World
Myron Ebell

Australia Slashes Renewable and Climate Funding

Australia’s Liberal-National Coalition government announced last week that it would cut spending on renewable energy and all climate-related programs from A$5.75 billion in the current fiscal year to A$1.25 billion in the 2014-15 fiscal year  and to A$500 million by 2017-18. Under the previous Labor Party government’s budget plan last year, spending on climate and renewable was set to rise to A$23 billion in the same period, an amount similar to Australia’s spending on defense. 

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government is still fully committed to repealing the carbon tax, which is projected to raise A$13 billion next year.  The Senate defeated the carbon tax repeal bill by a 33 to 29 vote earlier this year.  However, the new Senators elected in the general election last September will assume office on 1st July, and the more favorable balance of power should make it possible to get the bill passed in the Senate.     

Science Update
Marlo Lewis

West Antarctic Ice Sheet Is Doomed – but don’t sell the beach house!

Three recent studies on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) are making waves in the media, re-stoking fears of catastrophic sea-level rise, and putting a spring in the step of many a carbon-taxer.

Thomas Sumner summarizes two of the studies in a commentary in Science magazine titled “No Stopping the Collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.” Joughin et al., published in Science, and Rignot et al., published in Geophysical Research Letters (GRL), find, in Sumner’s words, that “Thwaites Glacier, a keystone holding the massive West Antarctic Ice Sheet together, is starting to collapse. In the long run, they say, the entire ice sheet is doomed. Its meltwater would raise sea levels by more than 3 meters.”

In addition, McMillan et al., also published in GRL, reports that Antarctica as a whole is losing about 159 billion tons of ice per year. That’s an amount larger than previous estimates and translates to an overall sea-level rise contribution of 0.45 mm/year.

The first two studies expressly conclude that the Thwaites and neighboring outlet glaciers have retreated to a point of no return and that, once gone, nothing can prevent the rest of the WAIS from flowing into the sea.

My initial reaction was: What’s really new here?

Conway et al. (1999), a study of the relentless retreat of WAIS grounding line retreat since the early Holocene (i.e. 9,000 years ago or more), and Bindschadler (2006), a study of the inexorable melting of submarine glaciers in contact with warm ocean currents, both concluded that the WAIS is doomed.

We can also infer as much from Dahl-Jensen et al. (2013), who found that in the last interglacial period, Greenland retained about 75% ofits mass despite enduring temperatures 4°C-8°C warmer than the present for 6,000 years. Sea levels were 4-8 meters higher at the end of the last interglacial than at present, so much of that extra water must have come from Antarctica.

Thus, it is reasonable to assume that, anthropogenic global warming or no, the WAIS will someday be gone and sea levels will be several meters higher.

What’s new in the recent studies, apparently, is improved accuracy in estimating ice mass loss rates, and a shorter timetable than previously estimated for the demise of the WAIS. Joughin et al. expect the onset of rapid collapse to begin in 2 to 9 centuries.

There is no new insight for policy, though. If WAIS disintegration is unstoppable, regulating or taxing carbon is not going to save it. As Cato Institute Chip Knappenberger points out, using EPA climate sensitivity assumptions, even if the U.S. shut down its entire economy tomorrow, that would avert less than 0.2°C of warming by 2100 – not enough to detectably slow WAIS ice loss rates much less stop the unstoppable.

Joughin et al. estimate that sea-level rise from Thwaites glacier retreat and thinning will be “moderate” over the course of the 21st century – less than 0.25 mm/year. That translates to 0.9 inches of additional sea-level rise. To be sure, the current rate of ice loss from Antarctica could increase during the decades to come. But at present, according to McMillan et al., all of Antarctica is contributing 1.7 inches per century to global sea level rise. That’s not a good reason to sell the beach house! For perspective, sea levels rose about 8 inches in the 20th century.

The “crisis” spin on these studies is a trick of the imagination. People tend to imagine cities as immovable entities, stuck in harm’s way. But cities move continually in terms of where people build and live. If sea level rise from Antarctica noticeably accelerates (whether in coming decades or after 2100), urban planners and real estate markets will alter development patterns accordingly.

The appropriate policy response remains adaptation. Indeed, as my colleague William Yeatman reminds us, although much of Holland is at and below sea level, the Dutch built a flourishing society in the 16th and 17th centuries with pre-modern technology. How much better will sea defenses be in century of Captain James Tiberius Kirk, or those of his great, great, great grandchildren?

The Cooler Heads Digest is the weekly e-mail publication of the Cooler Heads Coalition. For the latest news and commentary, check out the Coalition’s website,