Inhofe Brews Tempest in Teapot While Global Warming Rages On

Long-time climate denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) thinks he’s really got the goods this time.  He is trumpeting a “procedural review” by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Inspector General asserting that – depending on how you read a definition in an obscure procedural guideline – EPA may have skipped one process step in reaching its landmark 2009 finding that greenhouse gas pollution endangers public health and welfare. 

The laughable premise of Sen. Inhofe’s charges is that there hasn’t been enough peer review of climate science.  It’s also dishonest.

The truth is that endangerment finding stands atop an enormous, multi-layered pyramid of peer-reviewed scientific research and assessment developed over decades.  And its conclusions are unassailable.

Here are the facts:

At the base of the pyramid are tens of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific publications, each one peer-reviewed before acceptance in a scientific journal. 

This immense body of climate change research was then synthesized in three separate scientific assessments by the Nobel prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.S. Global Climate Research Program, and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.  Those assessments involved thousands of scientists trained in pertinent fields.  Each assessment was subject to rigorous peer-review. 

On this base, EPA prepared a detailed summary of these peer-reviewed assessments and the underlying peer-reviewed scientific literature.  EPA then subjected its own summary to review by a dozen top federal climate science experts – not once, not twice, but three times. 

The final endangerment finding, at the very top of the pyramid, relies on this summary.   

In addition to all this peer and expert review, members of the public had multiple chances to offer views in many rounds of public comment – over IPCC and GCRP drafts, over EPA’s scientific summary, and over EPA’s proposed endangerment finding itself.

In this thorough scientific process, no alternative theory – from sunspots, to clouds, to cosmic rays – has gone uninvestigated.  And every wild charge of scientific fraud – aka, Climategate – has been examined and refuted.

The Inspector General’s report pointedly takes no issue with the science of climate change or the catalogue of dangers to our health, our environment, and our economy in EPA’s endangerment finding.  Instead, the IG report picks a procedural nit, asserting that EPA failed to properly classify its own summary of the IPCC, GCRP, and NAS scientific assessments as itself being another “scientific assessment.” 

Here’s the angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin question:  Is EPA’s document a “summary” of previous scientific assessments that were already peer reviewed (and thus does not need further review), or is it EPA’s document a new “scientific assessment,” needing yet another round of peer review. 

EPA and the Office of Management and Budget (which supervises executive branch peer review and is no pushover for EPA) both agreed that EPA’s document is a summary, not a new assessment, and that there’s already been more than enough peer review.  The IG disagrees. 

Sen. Inhofe’s trumped up outrage about “serious flaws” in EPA’s endangerment finding and the “violation” of peer review procedures hinges on this arcane definitional disagreement:  “summary” or “scientific assessment”?  EPA and OMB on one side.  The Inspector General and Sen. Inhofe on the other.  That’s all Sen. Inhofe’s got. 

By the way, what peer review procedures does Sen. Inhofe follow before he posts his “climate hoax” theories?  Teapot calling the kettle black?

About the Authors

David Doniger

Director, Climate & Clean Air program

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