It was trial of evolution in the 1920's. Now it is the turn of global warming. In a desperate attempt to fend off any cap on emission of greenhouse gases, the US Chamber of Commerce is pushing for a public hearing on the concept.
If the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) doesn't give in, the Chamber is threatening to move the court against the EPA's endangerment finding, relating to greenhouse gases. The endangerment finding will be a cornerstone of the Obama administration's plan to set strict new emissions standards on cars and trucks.
On April 2, 2007, in Massachusetts v. EPA
, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), the Supreme Court found that greenhouse gases are air pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act. The Court held that the Administrator must determine whether or not emissions of greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles cause or contribute to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare, or whether the science is too uncertain to make a reasoned decision.
It was in that context The Proposed Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases under the Clean Air Act was signed on April 17, 2009.
It said, "Today the Administrator is proposing to find that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere endanger the public health and welfare of current and future generations. Concentrations of greenhouse gases are at unprecedented levels compared to the recent and distant past. These high atmospheric levels are the unambiguous result of human emissions, and are very likely the cause of the observed increase in average temperatures and other climatic changes. The effects of climate change observed to date and projected to occur in the future—including but not limited to the increased likelihood of more frequent and intense heat waves, more wildfires, degraded air quality, more heavy downpours and flooding, increased drought, greater sea level rise, more intense storms, harm to water resources, harm to agriculture, and harm to wildlife and ecosystems—are effects on public health and welfare within the meaning of the Clean Air Act.
''In light of the likelihood that greenhouse gases cause these effects, and the magnitude of the effects that are occurring and are very likely to occur in the future, the Administrator proposes to find that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare within the meaning of Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act.
''The Administrator, Ms. Lisa Jackson proposes to make this finding specifically with respect to six greenhouse gases that together constitute the root of the climate change problem: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride.
She is also proposing to find that the combined emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons from new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle engines are contributing to this mix of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Thus, she proposes to find that the emissions of these substances from new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle engines are contributing to air pollution which is endangering public health and welfare under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act, the finding said.
In the coming weeks, the EPA is set to formally declare that the heat-trapping gases scientists blame for climate change endanger human health, and are thus subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.
Critics of the finding say it's far from certain that warming will cause any harm at all. The Chamber of Commerce cites studies that predict higher temperatures will reduce mortality rates in the United States.
The proposed finding has drawn more than 300,000 public comments. Many of them question scientists' projections that rising temperatures will lead to increased mortality rates, harmful pollution and extreme weather events such as hurricanes.
By questioning the very concept of global warming, the industrial lobby seems to be hoping to any hold off any costly restructuring of the manufacturing sector, whereas the Obama administration seems committed to moving forward on capping emissions.
In order to ensure that regulations which reengineer our economy are needed and would ultimately be effective, we are pushing the EPA to reveal the data they used to justify their endangerment proposal, the Chamber said.
"We need to drop the articles of faith and use the entirety of scientific study on the effects of climate change not a sub-set, chosen by the EPA, not for its validity but rather on its ability to forward their policy goal -- the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, the Chamber has asserted.
"No, the agency used secondary scientific sources, studies that largely weren't adequately peer-reviewed and the selective use of scientific studies to justify a policy decision they wanted to make. And in terms of trials based on myth, exactly the opposite -- we DON'T want decades of publicly accessible evidence to be ignored.
There are many questions to be asked of the EPA, and forgive the Chamber for not accepting ''Trust Us'' as an answer. To enact effective policy we need transparency and scientific data which is beyond question, not data deemed beyond questioning."
Environmentalists say the chamber's strategy is an attempt to sow political discord by challenging settled science -- and note that in the famed 1925 Scopes trial, which pitted lawyers Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan in a courtroom battle over a Tennessee science teacher accused of teaching evolution illegally, the scientists won in the end.
Industrialists most likely to be affected by capping seem to be betting on the insecurities in the minds of the public over the cost implications of a greener economy.
They should feel emboldened by the way the insurance lobby is successfully playing on such fears in torpedoing healthcare reforms.