The Environmental Protection Agency has been accused of everything from running this country to waging an economy-destroying war on coal. But it turns out the GOP's prime target isn't that big after all.
The agency's budget represents an almost invisible slice of the federal pie—less than a quarter of a percent of Obama's proposed $4 trillion budget for the 2016 fiscal year. If approved, the EPA's budget next year would be 16.5 percent smaller than it was in 2010.
Since the Obama administration announced its plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions and combat climate change last year, many states have been on the offensive. Some have sued the Environmental Protection Agency, arguing that the agency has overstepped its authority. Republican leaders in Congress have vowed to dismantle carbon emission regulations. And state legislatures have set up numerous blockades to delay the Clean Power Plan.
Given the current political climate, it seems inevitable that at least a handful of states will continue to fight the EPA over the Clean Power Plan. Here's a rundown of what might happen if states refuse to cooperate––and why it might be in their best interest to comply with the EPA’s rules.
In a week when the Willie Soon scandal broke and revealed the fossil fuel industry's footprint on contrarian climate research, embattled denialists went back on the offensive.
Critics are again trying to discredit the leading international scientific body on climate change after the organization's leader resigned over allegations he sexually harassed female coworkers at his research institute in India.
Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, stepped down Tuesday, eight months before his planned departure. In his resignation letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Pachauri wrote that “the protection of Planet Earth, the survival of all species and sustainability of our ecosystems is more than a mission. It is my religion and my dharma."
Critics of the IPCC seized on his comment to paint the scientific body as biased. The panel is "led by an environmentalist on a mission...for whom protecting the planet is a religious calling,” wrote Donna Laframboise, a vocal climate denier, on her website, NoFrakkingConsensus. Marc Morano of Climate Depot asserted that the allegations of sexual harassment are the latest sign the IPCC was being led by a "political and ethical cancer."
President Obama on Tuesday briskly vetoed legislation to approve construction of the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. The bill, which had easily passed the Republican-controlled House and Senate last month, was rejected within hours of its official delivery to the Oval Office.
The White House said Obama rejected the bill because it would have short-circuited his administration's prolonged review of the pipeline, a project that over the years has become a litmus test of his commitment to fighting climate change.
"Too much ice is really bad for polar bears," climate skeptic Willie Soon said in a 2008 speech titled, "Endangering the Polar Bear: How Environmentalists Kill."
Soon later cited the talk as a "deliverable" in return for a research grant from Southern Company Services, one of the largest U.S. coal companies. Under the same grant the contrarian scientist also published two papers questioning whether climate change was dangerous for polar bears and whether the Arctic was warming, without disclosing the fossil fuel companies that funded his work.
The polar bear theories advanced by Soon in these and other works have been discredited by scientists worldwide. Even so, the ideas have sowed confusion about the fate of an iconic species that biologists expect to experience widespread devastation as climate change worsens.
"It plants doubt in the minds of people because of the complex nature of the science," said Juscelino Colares, a professor of law and associate director of the Frederick K. Cox International Law Center at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland. "That's all the industry needs is doubt to delay action."
Soon works at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. The center houses the Harvard College Observatory and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, which employs Soon. The polar bear papers were among 11 he published in research journals that failed to disclose Southern Co.'s funding, according to documents made public Saturday. All the papers question the extent, severity, cause or existence of man-made climate change.
The information comes from a trove of public emails and documents obtained by Greenpeace through Freedom of Information Act requests. They were released by the Climate Investigations Center, a watchdog group that tracks the activities of companies and organizations that fight climate action.
Munroe Falls became the nation's latest community to lose a protracted legal battle over local control of oil-and-gas drilling, as the result of a recent Ohio Supreme Court ruling.
But there's a silver lining: Buried in the 31-page court decision is guidance for Munroe Falls and other Ohio towns trying to flex some muscle over the industry in the future.
On Tuesday, Feb. 17, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that Munroe Falls lacks the authority to regulate permitting, location and spacing of oil-and-gas wells and related development.
Siding with Beck Energy Corporation, a company that has pursued drilling in this northeastern Ohio town of around 5,000 people, the court decision says that "sole and exclusive authority" falls to the state.
At first glance, the decision appears a major win for the oil-and-gas industry, which has challenged several towns over local control of fracking, from New Mexico to New York.
Industry trade groups such as the Ohio Oil and Gas Association and American Petroleum Institute have hailed the decision in recent days.
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith Lanzinger sharply disagreed with the ruling. She wrote in her dissent: "There is no need for the state to act as the thousand-pound gorilla, gobbling up exclusive authority over the oil and gas industry, leaving not even a banana peel of home rule for municipalities." Home rule is a town’s ability to self-govern, within limits set by the state.
The Smithsonian has opened an investigation into the ethical conduct of Willie Soon, one of its part time scientists and a climate-change skeptic who is facing scrutiny for failing to properly disclose his work was funded by fossil fuel interests.
The Smithsonian probe follows disclosures this weekend—through the release of public documents—that Soon failed to divulge industry funding for 11 studies that were published in nine scientific journals.
"The Smithsonian is greatly concerned about the allegations surrounding Dr. Willie Soon's failure to disclose funding sources for his climate change research," according to a statement released by Smithsonian.
A watchdog group alerted nine scientific journals Monday that studies they published most likely breached conflict-of-interest protocols. The studies in question were co-authored by a prominent climate-change skeptic whose work was funded by fossil fuel interests.
A watchdog group called the Climate Investigations Center alerted nine scientific journals Monday that studies they published most likely breached conflict-of-interest protocols. The studies in question were co-authored by Willlie Soon, a prominent climate-change skeptic whose work was funded by fossil fuel interests.
The letters grew out of the release Saturday of public records showing that Soon failed to disclose industry funding in 11 studies published by those journals.
Soon's 11 papers show a spectrum of perspectives, from full-fledged denial of human-caused global warming to articles that downplay the role of climate change in ecological impacts. Many of the studies argue that changes in solar activity are responsible for rising global temperatures. Without exception, they question the extent, severity, cause or existence of man-made climate change.
Summaries of the 11 studies are listed in the chart and detailed further below:
After finishing a study contending that solar activity is increasing global warming, scientist Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics reported his news to a utility company that was a major funder of his work.
"I have a big super-duper paper soon to be accepted on how the sun affects the climate system," Soon wrote in a 2009 email to Robert Gehri, a research specialist with Southern Company Services, a mega utility company in the southeastern U.S. that generates power largely from coal.
Soon, one of few skeptics in the climate science community, described the paper that was published in the journal Physical Geography as "fairly significant scientifically in that this is the first successful formulation of a sun-climate connection." He was writing a follow-up note to Gehri, whose company has provided more than $400,000 from 2006 through 2015 to fund Soon’s research—and part of his salary.
The emails and related documents were obtained by Greenpeace through Freedom of Information Act requests. They were made public today by Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center, an environmental watchdog organization based in Virginia.
The communications show that Soon called his peer-reviewed research papers "deliverables" in return for funding from fossil fuel companies. In addition, the documents reveal that Soon and Harvard-Smithsonian gave the coal utility company the right to review his scientific papers and make suggestions before they were published. Soon and Harvard-Smithsonian also pledged not to disclose Southern’s role as a funder without permission.
Although the emails don’t show a response from Gehri, an industry executive with a long track record of working behind the scenes to downplay the significance of global warming, they do show Soon sharing a collegial familiarity with industry executives, media skeptics and organizations dedicated to undermining prevailing climate science.
The theory advanced by Soon that the sun is a contributor to recent climate change has been widely discredited by scientists worldwide as well as by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading international body on climate science. Nevertheless, the theory has stoked long-simmering public confusion about the sun’s role in global warming that continues to this day.
For decades, the industry has latched on to controversial findings like those advanced by Soon and a small group of contrarian scientists to create the impression that researchers are divided about the cause of climate change. It has pumped millions of dollars into research projects to cast doubt on mainstream climate science showing that the primary driver of global warming is the burning of fossil fuels.
The trove of documents released today offers one of the starkest glimpses yet into the workings of this strategy of peddling scientific doubt. Scientists, academics and policymakers say the strategy has helped the industry in delaying or thwarting decisive steps toward curbing global warming.