In an attempt to head off a U.S. EPA finding that climate change endangers public health and welfare in the United States, the Chamber Tuesday petitioned the federal agency for a trial-like hearing of the scientific evidence before an administrative judge or EPA official.
"An endangerment finding would give rise to the most far-reaching rulemaking in American history," the Chamber said in its petition. "Before embarking on that long, costly process, EPA ought to do everything possible to assure the American people of the ultimate scientific accuracy of its decision."
"In short, an on-the-record proceeding is not only desirable, but in this instance it is necessary if EPA is serious about its proclaimed commitment to 'overwhelming transparency,' scientific integrity, and a resolution based solely on the record of the scientific evidence," the Chamber said.
What the Chamber called an "on-the-record" proceeding in its petition was given a more inflammatory name by William Kovacs, the Chamber's senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs, in an interview with the "Los Angeles Times."
Jury in the trial of John Scopes for teaching evolution in a Tennessee classroom (Photo by Underwood and Underwood collection of SFMOMA)
It would be "the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century," he said, "evolution versus creationism."
In 1925, Tennessee high school teacher John Scopes intentionally violated the Butler Act, a Tennessee law which made it illegal in any state-funded school, "to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals."
The American Civil Liberties Union financed the famous test case, which pitted two great orators against one another. Three-time presidential candidate, Congressman and former Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan led the prosecution, speaking on behalf of Divine Creation, while prominent trial attorney Clarence Darrow spoke in defense of teaching evolution.
Scopes was convicted, but the conviction was overturned on a technicality. The trial revealed a growing split in America between two standards of truth, the Bible and science.
On Tuesday, Republicans for Environmental Protection positioned itself on the scientific side of that divide.
Calling the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's demand for a Scopes monkey trial of climate change science "a crass attempt to exploit religious beliefs in order to stall actions necessary to protect the country from carbon pollution," the grassroots organization said the business lobby should get behind clean energy technology.
"The Scopes trial is a false comparison," said David Jenkins, REP's vice president for government and political affairs. "Regardless of what one believes about the Earth's origins, the facts about the global carbon cycle do not change. Excess carbon is stored away in coal and oil deposits. By burning large quantities of coal and oil, we release that excess carbon back into the atmosphere, upsetting the natural balance. The chamber's efforts are both imprudent and impious."
"By rubbing the raw nerve of religious belief, the chamber is transparently trying to sow confusion and polarize the public over climate change. The chamber is putting the health, economy, and security of our country at risk, in pursuit of a narrow, selfish, and shortsighted agenda," said Jim DiPeso, REP's vice president for policy and communications.
Like all coal-burning power plants, Pennsylvania's Conemaugh generating station emits greenhouse gases. (Photo by Stefan Schlohmer)
In April, the U.S. EPA issued a proposed endangerment finding that states, "In both magnitude and probability, climate change is an enormous problem. The greenhouse gases that are responsible for it endanger public health and welfare within the meaning of the Clean Air Act."
If finalized by the EPA, the endangerment finding sets the stage for regulation of greenhouse gases by the agency under the Clean Air Act.
That action could proceed without any action by Congress to control greenhouse gas emissions by a law such as the Waxman-Markey Act passed by the House in June.
The proposed endangerment finding identifies six greenhouse gases that pose a potential threat - carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. These are the same six gases governed by the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States signed during the Clinton administration but did not ratify under the Bush administration.
"This finding confirms that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations. Fortunately, it follows President Obama's call for a low carbon economy and strong leadership in Congress on clean energy and climate legislation," said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
After what Jackson called "rigorous, peer-reviewed scientific analysis" of the six gases, she said, "The science clearly shows that concentrations of these gases are at unprecedented levels as a result of human emissions, and these high levels are very likely the cause of the increase in average temperatures and other changes in our climate."
The Chamber of Commerce argues in its petition that rather than endangering public health, global warming would benefit Americans because, "the reduction of wintertime deaths from cold weather would be several times larger than the increase in summertime heat stress related deaths."
The Chamber faults Administrator Jackson for "ignoring analyses" that show that a warming of even 3º Celsius in the next 100 years would, on balance, be beneficial to Americans. Most scientists say warming must be held below 2º Celsius to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
"Holding on-the-record proceedings would enable EPA to hear and resolve conflicting scientific observations, allow for live testimony under oath subject to cross-examination, and result in a decision that could be fairly evaluated by the public without any concern about the politics and legitimacy of its conclusions," the Chamber argues.
The Chamber of Commerce represents three million large and small businesses across the United States and says an EPA finding of endangerment would "have far reaching consequences for every one of its members, likely subjecting them to a swath of new regulations and untold costs."
Many large businesses have gone on the record as supporting control of greenhouse gases, not by EPA regulation, but by legislation to create a cap-and-trade program that would set a limit on emissions and allow trading in emissions allowances.
AES, Alcoa, Alstom, Boston Scientific, BP America, Caterpillar, Chrysler, ConocoPhillips, Dow, Duke Energy, DuPont, Exelon, Ford, FPL Group, General Electric, General Motors, John Deere, Johnson & Johnson, NRG Energy, PepsiCo, PG&E, PNM Resources, Rio Tinto, Shell, and Siemens are members of the United States Climate Action Partnership.
USCAP supports national legislation to limit greenhouse gases but has not commented on potential EPA regulation of emissions.
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.