Utah's House of Representatives passed a resolution on Tuesday that implies climate change science is a conspiracy and urges the EPA to stop all carbon dioxide reduction policies and programs.
As a resolution, it holds no legal weight, but it sends a message from — and about — Utah's lawmakers.
Among other things, the resolution claims there is "a well organized and ongoing effort to manipulate global temperature data in order to produce a global warming outcome."
A last-minute amendment removed the words "conspiracy," "gravy train" and "tricks," but the statements remaining are still inflammatory, echoing the claims of conservative groups such as the Heartland Institute, Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI), and Utah's Sutherland Institute.
A group of Brigham Young University scientists were so disturbed by the wording of the resolution, HJR 12, that they wrote to the legislature last week highlighting several inaccuracies and urging the legislature to reconsider.
"Even if all the political solutions proposed so far are flawed, this does not justify politicians in attacking the science that indicates there is almost certainly a serious problem," the scientists told lawmakers.
The Utah capitol has become a hostile venue for scientists when it comes to climate change, though.
Robert Davies, an associate physics professor from Utah State University, discovered the danger last fall when, answering a reporter's question about climate science, he said former NASA scientist Roy Spencer's conclusions from computer modeling on clouds had been discredited in the scientific community and his analysis deemed "fringe." Republican Rep. Mike Noel, who had invited Spencer to testify to the legislature, responded by calling the president of Utah State University, a state-funded school, to complain about Davies.
Eighteen BYU scientists wrote to the legislature then, expressing their concern about the treatment of science and scientists by lawmakers during that hearing.
"We feel it is irresponsible for some of our legislators to attempt to manipulate the scientific evidence in order to support a political agenda," they wrote.
More recently, Noel tried to twist the words of a University of Utah bioengineering professor who was the only person to publicly speak out against HJR 12 at last week's committee hearing. The professor, Joseph Andrade, said he worried that the legislature was encouraging fossil fuel use and slowing efforts to diversify the state's portfolio with clean energy sources. That led to this exchange:
Rep. Noel: "Are you stating on record that CO2 is a pollutant? Are you saying that CO2, carbon dioxide, is a pollutant, are you saying that?"
Professor Andrade: "I'm saying that carbon dioxide has a unique molecular structure which absorbs infrared radiation, and that that is in part responsible for the effects that you're concerned with, Representative Gibson is concerned with, and Representative ...."
Noel: "I want to get this on the record, ok? Are you saying that we have to rid the planet of carbon dioxide?"
Andrade: "Of course not!"
Noel: "It's not a pollutant then, it's not going to kill you. It's not going to kill plants. Is that correct? I also have a degree too, professor. So I want to get this straight. Is it a pollutant?"
(The conversation becomes a verbal skirmish, and the committee chairman breaks it up.)
Noel: "I'm sorry, I'm sorry ... It got out of hand."
The resolution begs the question, who's conspiring and why? At one point during last week's hearing, the only member to vote against the resolution in committee, Rep. Phil Riesen, asked that.
Noel's response involved a book from the 1970s about population co-authored by presidential science advisor John Holdren.
"If you can't see a connection to that, you're absolutely blind to what's going on," Noel said. "This is a conspiracy to limit population, not only in this country, but across the globe."
The resolution's sponsor, Rep. Kerry Gibson, responded to the conspiracy question:
"I'm not sure we even know the depths of it."
During the hearing, Kerry turned the microphone over to Utah Farm Bureau Federation CEO Randy Parker to explain the resolution item by item and its more inflammatory declarations.
Parker, who called on the BYU scientists to apologize for their letter, also went into economic issues, saying farmers would be forced out of business and the U.S. would be left relying on Mexico and China for food. The president of the Utah Mining Association and the executive director of the Utah Rural Electric Association also spoke in favor of the bill.
Coal's Hold on Utah
Agriculture and energy are powerful lobbies in Utah. Close to 90 percent of Utah's electricity comes from coal. The state's coal and gas production account for about 2 percent of the nation's total, and its oil accounts for about 1 percent.
That high rate of coal use is part of the reason cap-and trade is unpopular in Utah, explained Sarah Wright, executive director of Utah Clean Energy and a member of former Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr.,'s 2007 advisory council on climate change, a committee Parker also sat on.
"Many in Utah feel they will be paying double to reduce their carbon emission because they have to pay the allocations and change out our current electrical generation to non-carbon form. They feel it's a transfer of wealth from coal producing to states with hydro and nuclear," Wright explained.
Wright's group, which has been promoting a shifting to clean energy and greater energy efficiency in Utah for close to a decade, believes it is important for Utah to reduce its carbon emissions in ways that work for the state and to stay engaged in the Western Climate Initiative, a regional group of states and Canadian provinces that has been discussing climate change solutions.
"We are moving on clean energy and we are moving on energy efficiency," she said, noting the state's first wind farms were built in the last fews years and the state had added incentives for renewables. "But there is a sort of faction that will want to keep the status quo," she said.
House Minority Leader David Litvack, a Democrat, also noted the state's progress toward more clean energy with its renewable energy zones, UStar program, and Utah State University's work with algae as biofuel.
The language of the resolution was "unfortunate. It does nothing but shut the door to dialogue," he said, adding that the House minority whip was working behind the scenes to try to bring cooler heads to the issue.
Much of the state's progress on clean energy and climate came under the leadership of Huntsman, the former Republican governor who resigned last year to become U.S. ambassador to China. In contrast, his successor, Gary Herbert, openly questions the science.
"The Utah Legislature was probably not ready for Gov. Jon Huntsman's stance on climate issues," said Utah Sierra Club's Mark Clemens.
The legislature is highly ideological and conservative, he explained, and the resolution "probably does reflect the state of mind of the Utah legislature, which is generally speaking completely influenced by fossil fuels."
With resolutions like HJR 12 and HJR 21, which urges the new governor to pull out of the Western Climate Initiative, they're "sending a message to the fossil fuels industry that we are behind you 100 percent," Clemens said.
Noel conveyed that message during last week's hearing, telling his committee colleagues,
"Sometimes we need to have the courage to do nothing."
He also made his allegiance with the anti-climate action think tanks clear when he went after the BYU professors. On March 23, British business and policy consultant Lord Christopher Monckton will be in Utah, Noel said, and "we" have challenged the BYU professors to a debate.
It was SPPI, which promotes Monckton and other climate "skeptics", that challenged the scientists, with a letter phrased in a way that made the scientists think twice about agreeing to step into that forum. Monckton is a regular commentator against climate science who in Copenhagen drew attention by calling young climate activists "Nazi youth."
Noel didn't stop there. Forget Exxon's lobbying, it is scientists, he said, who have a vested interest. (This was the alleged "gravy train" removed from the resolution.)
"It sometimes takes an Einstein to disprove thousands and thousands of scientists," he said.
Science and the Resolution
The resolution passed by the Utah House specifically urges the EPA to "immediately halt its carbon dioxide reduction policies and programs and withdraw its 'Endangerment Finding' and related regulations until a full and independent investigation of the climate data and global warming science can be substantiated." The amendment approved on the House floor deleted a word from the original version, which had read: "climate data conspiracy."
The reasoning for the resolution starts out with concerns about climate legislation resulting in "significantly higher energy costs to American consumers, business, and industry."
It then declares that the EPA's endangerment finding is "based on flawed climate data and would place significant regulatory and financial burdens on all sectors of the nation's economy at a time when the nation's unemployment rate exceeds 10%." (National unemployment was 9.7% in January, down from 10% in December; the bill was filed on Jan. 25, a week and a half before the January number was released. Utah's unemployment rate was 8.3% in December.)
The resolution goes on to claim that there is "a well organized and ongoing effort to manipulate global temperature data in order to produce a global warming outcome," and it cites the hacked emails between scientists at the Climate Research Unit at University of East Anglia and their colleagues.
The BYU scientists took on this point on in their latest letter.
"This is truly a case of a mountain made from a molehill," the scientists write.
"With regard to the entire 'Climategate' issue, if investigation reveals that serious scientific misconduct occurred, we expect that appropriate actions will be taken. However, the influence of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations on global climate is well substantiated by careful research outside the Climate Research Unit.
"It is unwise for the Legislature to disregard the work of these scientists on the basis of allegations made against unrelated workers."
The resolution also claims that "global temperatures have been level and declining in some areas over the past 12 years," and that "climate alarmists' carbon dioxide-related global warming hypothesis is unable to account for the current downturn in global temperatures."
"This claim belies a serious misconception about climate research," the BYU scientists write. "Scientists refer to 'weather' as the short-term swings in temperature, precipitation, etc., and it depends on so many random factors that it is very difficult to accurately predict over long periods. 'Climate' is the long-term average of weather, and is much easier to assess.
"Even on a year-to-year time scale, however, the weather deviates somewhat randomly from the average. That is why, when discussing trends in global average temperature, climate scientists typically average each data point over the surrounding 30-year period. "
The resolution also suggests that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) affect climate much more strongly than CO2. Yes, CFCs are powerful greenhouse gases — and they are easily measured, the scientists write. But "unless CFCs contribute to warming by some mechanism nobody has yet discovered, this assertion is physically impossible."
And the resolution claims that Michael Mann's "hockey stick" graph has been "discredited," to which the scientists note: "Although the 'hockey stick' has been challenged, it certainly has not been discredited. In fact, it has been essentially reproduced almost a dozen times by several independent groups, using a number of different types of proxy data."
They take issue with this statement in the resolution as well: The resolution states, "There has been a concerted effort by climate change alarmists to marginalize those in the scientific community who are skeptical of global warming by manipulating or pressuring peer-reviewed publications to keep contrary or competing scientific viewpoints and findings on global warming from being reviewed and published."
"Science, like many other fields, can be contentious," the BYU scientists write. "Personal biases may play a role, and it is sometimes easy to treat opponents in a debate unfairly. However, it is equally true that when your paper is rejected it is sometimes easier to ascribe the rejection to others' personal biases than to carefully consider potential flaws pointed out by the reviewers. In our experience, many of the positions taken by so-called 'climate skeptics' have had serious flaws.
"Sound scientific investigation, over many years and by many scientists, strongly supports the idea that emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere poses considerable risk to humans and their environment."
They add: "Debate is healthy, but since science never brings absolute certainty, debate about complex issues like climate change will likely never end. It is, therefore, irresponsible to expect absolute agreement among all climate scientists before addressing the risks that have been identified. And whatever society decides about how to address those risks, the decisions should be based on the most reliable information available."
The resolution was approved 56-17 by the House and sent to the Senate, where it was introduced this morning.