By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
As President Obama was busily traveling by greenhouse gas-emitting jumbo jet to Copenhagen for an international conference on the weather, Lisa Jackson, his administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was busy telling the world that the United States government now officially believes carbon dioxide is a threat to public health and welfare.
Jackson's issuance of an endangerment finding, according to Capital Alpha Partners' James Lucier, provides federal regulators "with the basis they need to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act." And, following up on Nobel laureate Al Gore's thesis in his book Earth in the Balance, Jackson also seconded the idea that the internal combustion engine is the greatest threat to mankind's continued existence: "The Administrator finds that the combined emissions of these well-mixed greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles and now motor vehicle engines contribute to the greenhouse gas pollution which threatens public health and welfare."
The potential costs to personal liberty, not to mention the U.S. economy, that could flow from Jackson's finding are enormous. They are also potentially without check, as Jackson is now free to propose through administrative rule-making what Congress is thus far unwilling to pass as legislation.
The effort to now prove the United States is serious about climate change comes at a bad time for its supporters. Unwilling to acknowledge that the output of carbon emissions actually fell during the Bush years, they are pressing ahead at the same time their basic thesis has been called into question. Far from being the "settled science" that Gore and others have proclaimed over the past few years, the manipulation of certain global temperature data points by scientists working on the issue, also known as CRU-Climategate, means the world may in fact not be getting hotter—not that Jackson minds, apparently, telling reporters that the climate data set that has fallen into disrepute as the result of leaked E- mails is just one of several.
Actually, say those who follow the issue closely, it's one of three. And the veracity of the second, which was also produced in the United Kingdom, is no longer attested to by those who developed it. No, they have pulled it back to scrub the data and make sure it is correct, a process that may take as long as two years.
How serious is the Climategate scandal? Well, we've all seen the cop shows where the bad guy walks because all the evidence against him is tainted fruit from a poisoned tree. It's the same thing with the CRU data set. It's tainted—and it's one of three specific data sets that EPA is using to justify its new finding, which could lead to new regulations that could raise costs and prohibit activities we now enjoy, having an impact on everything from backyard barbecues and motor vehicles to the production of electric power.
As the supporters of climate change—like my bloleague Bonnie Erbe—have argued, the fact that the data is now tainted does not disprove the idea of global warming. But it does mean the data in support of the idea is now unreliable, and what Obama and Jackson may try to do through regulation at the EPA is so big—and so expensive—that it should not be based on a maybe, on questionable data. Either way, the stakes are too high to get it wrong.