When HONESTy isn't the best policy: The Climate Minute Podcast

Our focus today is the HONEST act (a.k.a the disHONEST act) and Scott Pruitt – the invisible leader of the EPA. Guest host Regina McIntyre guided us through the climate news this week. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) introduced a bill called the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment (HONEST) Act. This is a misleading piece of legislation that has made its way through the House of Representatives and is now being considered in the Senate.

The bill (according to The Hill.com) would bar the EPA from considering in its regulatory activities any peer-reviewed scientific work unless raw data was available for anyone to repeat the study. Notably, the “raw data” that this bill requests could potentially be unattainable. For example, imagine a cancer cluster near a business. The townspeople suspect that the high incidence of cancer is related to pollution released by the business. The EPA will need the “raw data” to prove that the business is causing the cancer cluster. In this case, the “raw data” would be the medical records of all of the people affected by the pollution. How many of them would be willing to turn over their private medical records to the public sphere of government? Another example is sewage treatment plants. If they discharge in violation of their permit, they are penalized. But the water samples—the “raw data”—that prove that sewage was discharged are only viable for 48 hours. So there is no way to provide this “raw data” to the EPA—would this new act allow the sewage discharge to continue? Perhaps. Another bill of concern is the Science Advisory Board Reform Act. This bill prohibits a scientist who has received an EPA grant from serving on the board but allows an industry-sponsored expert to serve, as long as they disclose their direct interest in how the regulations will affect them.

These bills will put the brakes on any progress to regulate pollution and protect public health. It is worth noting that the scientific studies that the EPA bases its regulations on are peer-reviewed. The peer review process ensures that papers are only published after they have undergone rigorous review by scientists who have expertise in the subject matter and no conflicts of interest. These new bills are just obstacles to keep businesses from being regulated. We have seen this in previous administrations. There were various attempts by the Bush Administration to—in their minds—open up the science for scrutiny. Of course, the scrutiny was by the fossil fuel industry. Such efforts were resisted. Climategate played a critical role in killing the cap and trade legislation that was at that point making its way through the senate. These bills are designed to give climate deniers and their proponents in government—once again—the chance to confuse the gullible parts of the electorate.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is spending an awful lot of time traveling on the taxpayer’s dollar. Environmental Integrity Project—formed by former EPA officials—put out a report that Pruit traveled home 43 out of 92 days between March and May. On the one hand, perhaps he can do less damage to the EPA if he is not there with his sledgehammer; on the other, his absence makes it challenging for the EPA to be effective. Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was on WGBH describing how Pruitt is dismantling important regulations for clean water and air that took years to put in place. It is an American disgrace; it is an international disgrace. Sheldon Whitehouse is trying to have Pruitt investigated on ethics grounds and possibly disbarred as an attorney. It has been widely rumored that part of the reason Pruitt is going on this crusade to get rid of all science from the EPA is to build his political base in Oklahoma. There is speculation that he plans to run for Governor of Oklahoma or pick up James Inhofe’s seat in the Senate if it becomes available. Pruitt is putting politics before the planet and the people.

Pruitt and the Current Administration are putting together their “red team” to do a “red team-blue team” debate about climate science. Their red team is essentially Heartland Institute (HI). In the 1990s, Heartland Institute received $50,000 from Philip Morris to support pro-tobacco activities. Between 1987 and 2011, HI received $100,000 from the Koch Brothers—who have deep fossil fuel interests. John Holdren noted in an OpEd for the Boston Globe that climate science is already scrutinized by other scientists. There are already “red teams” and “blue teams” evaluating the data—in the aforementioned process called peer-reviewed scientific analysis. Additionally, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change performed massive assessments of all of the peer-reviewed science about climate change. The result of this analysis is that climate change is real and caused by humans burning fossil fuels. We are approaching the five-year anniversary of a preliminary version of this “red team-blue team” debate where the Koch Brothers funded Richard Muller who was tasked to scrutinize Michael Mann’s “hockey stick” temperature graph. Given that Richard Muller’s funding came from the Koch Brothers (who have given over $88 million to groups denying climate change), he was obviously expected to disprove the graph. But he could not disprove the hockey stick and confirmed that global warming is caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

If 97% of your doctors told you that you were sick and needed treatment immediately if you wanted to continue with your current quality of life, would you want a red-team-blue-team debate about whether you were truly sick? Most likely you would want to start treatment right away. Our home—the planet—is sick in a way that has been confirmed by 97% of the experts in climate science. It needs treatment, and yet we dither.

Because we recognize the necessity of personal accountability for our actions, because we accept responsibility for building a durable future and because we believe it is our patriotic duty as citizens to speak out, we must insist that the United States put a price on carbon.


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