Senate Panel Told Global Warming Natural

By Published On: July 25, 2008

A former Bush Administration Environmental Protection Agency official warned the Senate July 22 that regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act–while offering some advantages–would be cumbersome and could create some unintended consequences. “The Clean Air Act is structured such that one regulation often triggers additional regulation,” Jason Burnett, former EPA associate deputy administrator, told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. While regulating auto emissions under the law could be effective, doing so would trigger rules aimed at power plants, oil refineries, and other large facilities when they are built anew, modernized, or expanded. “Congress did not design the Act for greenhouse gases,” said Burnett, who resigned last month after concluding that the Bush Administration would not move forward to control greenhouse gas emissions. Burnett worked for the EPA to devise regulations on greenhouse gases in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Massachusetts v. EPA. The High Court found in that case that greenhouse gases are indeed pollutants eligible for regulation under the federal Clean Air Act. Burnett’s remarks came at a hearing intended to examine the latest scientific information about climate change. Some Republicans on the panel were clearly rankled. Senator Kitt Bond (R-MO), for instance, accused panel chair, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), of using the hearing to pursue “naked political goals.” Bond complained that rather than global warming, “the real threat to Americans” is higher energy costs. Imposing controls on greenhouse gases will only increase those costs, he said. That view drew some corroboration from one scientist who testified. “I predict that in the coming years there will be a growing realization among the global warming research community that most of the climate change we have observed is natural, and that mankind’s role is relatively minor,” said Roy Spencer, University of Alabama principal research scientist. CO2 levels have comparatively little effect on temperature, he continued. Even a one percent a year increase in the gas is likely to raise Earth’s average temperature by only 1 degree centigrade by 2100. Spencer’s unpublished projection differs sharply with the outlook from The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international scientific panel the United Nations charges with studying global warming. The panel projects the temperature could increase by more than 6 degrees centigrade by the end of the century. However, Spencer said the IPCC’s finding “has been guided by a desired policy outcome.” In response, Boxer dismissed Spencer as a recipient of the “Rush Limbaugh award for excellence in broadcasting.” . Editors’ note: For a more detailed version of this story, please see our sister publication E=MC2 – Energy Meets Climate Challenge. You can find it at

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