Breakdancer spinning.Dizzy by now?Courtesy katiew via FlickrThe peculiar story of a “suppressed” report at the Environmental Protection Agency continues to grow, despite the fact that the agency appears to have done nothing worse than holding its employees to professional standards.

The charge spreading through the news media is that the EPA quashed an internal report because it didn’t fit with the agency’s official position that climate change endangers public health. Al Carlin and John Davidson of the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics wrote the report, disputing the scientific consensus that human activities are driving global climate change and calling on the EPA to halt its plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

“We have become increasingly concerned that EPA and many other agencies and countries have paid too little attention to the science of global warming,” says their report [PDF].

The story was first advanced by the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, which opposes addressing climate change and has run a scientifically laughable hooray-for-CO2 campaign in the past. Last week CEI released internal emails between Carlin and his boss that it claimed proved political meddling inside the EPA.

“It [the report] was an inconvenient study,” Sam Kazman, CEI general counsel, told me in an interview last Wednesday. “The administration had already decided on a certain course of action, and this would not help.”

But the emails reveal little more than a rather tedious employee-management dispute. Carlin’s boss, Al McGartland, tells Carlin that his report won’t be included in the EPA’s official findings and asks him to get back to work on other issues. EPA Press Secretary Adora Andy noted that Carlin’s education and work expertise are largely in economics, not climatology. That’s why his comments on climate science were not included.

“Certain opinions were expressed by an individual [Carlin] who is not a scientist and was not part of the working group dealing with this issue,” she said.

“Nevertheless, several of the opinions and ideas proposed by this individual were submitted to those responsible for developing the proposed endangerment finding.  Additionally, his manager allowed his general views on the subject of climate change to be heard and considered inside and outside the EPA and presented at conferences and at an agency seminar.  The individual was also granted a request to join a committee that organizes an ongoing climate seminar series, open to both agency and outside experts, where he has been able to invite speakers with a full range of views on climate science.  The claims that his opinions were not considered or studied are entirely false.”

The next day the CEI released a draft of the actual report—an odd move because it contradicts the think tank’s version of the story. For one, the document shows that the two economists were not working in their native field. And as for the report’s scientific merits, consider this evaluation from NASA’s Gavin Schmidt, an actual climatologist. He writes on RealClimate.org:

Their main points are nicely summarised thus: a) the science is so rapidly evolving that IPCC (2007) and CCSP (2009) reports are already out of date, b) the globe is cooling!, c) the consensus on hurricane/global warming connections has moved from uncertain to ambiguous, d) Greenland is not losing mass, no sirree…, e) the recession will save us!, f) water vapour feedback is negative!, and g) Scafetta and West’s statistical fit of temperature to an obsolete solar forcing curve means that all other detection and attribution work is wrong. From this “evidence”, they then claim that all variations in climate are internal variability, except for the warming trend which is caused by the sun, oh and by the way the globe is cooling…

… what solid peer reviewed science do they cite for support? A heavily-criticised blog posting showing that there are bi-decadal periods in climate data and that this proves it was the sun wot done it. The work of an award-winning astrologer (one Theodor Landscheidt, who also thought that the rise of Hitler and Stalin were due to cosmic cycles), a classic Courtillot paper we’ve discussed before, the aforementioned FoS web page, another web page run by Doug Hoyt, a paper by Garth Paltridge reporting on artifacts in the NCEP reanalysis of water vapour that are in contradiction to every other reanalysis, direct observations and satellite data, a complete reprint of another un-peer reviewed paper by William Gray, a nonsense paper by Miskolczi etc. etc. I’m not quite sure how this is supposed to compete with the four rounds of international scientific and governmental review of the IPCC or the rounds of review of the CCSP reports …

… Finally, they end up with the oddest claim in the submission: That because human welfare has increased over the twentieth century at a time when CO2 was increasing, this somehow implies that no amount of CO2 increases can ever cause a danger to human society. This is just boneheadly stupid.

So in summary, what we have is a ragbag collection of un-peer reviewed web pages, an unhealthy dose of sunstroke, a dash of astrology and more cherries than you can poke a cocktail stick at. Seriously, if that’s the best they can do, the EPA’s ruling is on pretty safe ground.

Here’s a reprint of Grist’s original story, followed by a short update from last week:

Wouldn’t it be terrible if the Obama administration turned out to be manipulating science to fit its own ideology? Especially after Obama declared, to much fanfare, that “the days of science taking a back seat to ideology are over”?

Yeah, that would make a helluva story: “Look, the new guy is just like the old guy!”

Well yeah, but it hasn’t happened yet, at least not in the way the Competitive Enterprise Institute claims in a release it sent this morning under the headline “BREAKING: EPA Suppresses Internal Global Warming Study.”

The free-market think tank, which has a history of intellectually hi-larious denialism, says the “Environment (sic) Protection Agency” silenced an internal dissenter in the course of its endangerment finding, a process that concluded in April that greenhouse-gases threaten public health and can be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

According to CEI, the dissenter wanted to include “a significant internal critique of the agency’s global warming position” but was stifled because the report didn’t fit the political conclusion the EPA had already reached. The group published four EPA emails as evidence of political maneuvering within the agency.

And what do the emails reveal? That there’s nothing to this story. An EPA economist wanted to give scientific opinion, which wasn’t accepted—most likely because it’s outside his area of expertise and training.
 
The dissenter, Alan Carlin, works as a research analyst in Washington at the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics (NCEE), which conducts a variety of economic analysis, including cost-benefit studies, risk assessment, and economic impact modeling. In short, it does number crunching, not scientific research.

Carlin’s personal website, Carlin Economics, reports that he received a B.S. in physics and a Ph.D. in economics and joined the EPA in 1971. It also includes links to his publications, the most recent of which support solar radiation management—a form of geoengineering—and oppose reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

If Carlin wanted to comment on the scientific causes of climate change, there’s little in his work experience or education to suggest it’s within his expertise. In an email, his supervisor at the EPA told him to stick to his own work [PDF].

The EPA said Carlin has had plenty of opportunities to present his thoughts—on both science and economics.

“Certain opinions were expressed by an individual [Carlin] who is not a scientist and was not part of the working group dealing with this issue,” said EPA spokesperson Adora Andy.

“Nevertheless, several of the opinions and ideas proposed by this individual were submitted to those responsible for developing the proposed endangerment finding.  Additionally, his manager allowed his general views on the subject of climate change to be heard and considered inside and outside the EPA and presented at conferences and at an agency seminar.  The individual was also granted a request to join a committee that organizes an ongoing climate seminar series, open to both agency and outside experts, where he has been able to invite speakers with a full range of views on climate science.  The claims that his opinions were not considered or studied are entirely false.”

But what was it that Carlin wanted to attach to the endangerment ruling? Sam Kazman, the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s general counsel, told me Carlin’s work cites research showing global warming has been caused by ocean and solar cycles, not by human-caused emissions. Kazman refused to share the document.

“On the question of whether we have a copy of any version of the report—sorry, but at this time all I can say is no comment,” Kazman wrote in an email.

So there’s your nothingburger of a story. The CEI tried to seed this false controversy in hopes that it would grow into a media kerfuffle that would slow down the EPA’s climate work or the energy and climate bill advancing toward a vote in the House this week.

One gullible blogger already took the bait. Any others who make the same error shall have their blogging license suspended for 90 days and their Twittering privileges permanently revoked. It is hereby declared.

 

UPDATE 6/26: The Competitive Enterprise Institute released a draft of the “suppressed” report, which confirms the EPA’s explanation: The agency didn’t think much of the report because it’s authored by an economist claiming to be a climatologist.

“We have become increasingly concerned that EPA and many other agencies and countries have paid too little attention to the science of global warming,” write authors Al Carlin and John Davidson of the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics. They go on to criticize the EPA’s reliance on climate science from the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Surprising absolutely no one, opponents of emissions regulation have pounced on the supposed scandal, saying it’s reason to reject the Waxman-Markey climate bill. Leading bill opponent Joe Barton (R-Texas) mentioned the report during floor debate on Friday and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), at a press conference, called it “a case of the American public denied the right to know this contrary scientific evidence.”