PD Editorial: Climate science, climate politics

Talks aimed at international cooperation on climate change are wrapping up in Lima, Peru, with guarded optimism for an agreement by the end of 2015.|

Talks aimed at international cooperation on climate change are wrapping up in Lima, Peru, with guarded optimism for an agreement by the end of 2015, despite ongoing disagreements between industrialized and developing countries about apportioning the cost of emission programs.

Among the signs of progress are a recently concluded pact between the United States and China. Those nations still needing to be persuaded include India and Brazil, where carbon emissions are growing along with emerging economies. Then there’s the United States.

Wait a minute. What about the agreement with China?

Yes, it’s an important milestone, a step forward. Unfortunately, it’s a step into a stiff headwind.

It’s no secret that the Obama administration’s climate efforts aren’t universally popular. There may be no greater adversaries than the oil, coal and energy industries, whose fortunes are tied to carbon emissions. They have found some powerful allies. Republican attorneys general in several states have enlisted in an effort to upend federal climate policy.

The alliance was detailed last weekend in the New York Times, the latest in a series of articles about lobbying efforts targeting attorneys general.

Among the examples cited was a letter written by lawyers for Devon Energy accusing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of overstating the pollution caused by drilling new natural gas wells. The letter wasn’t signed by anyone from Devon nor was the company’s role in drafting it disclosed. It was ultimately signed by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

“When you use a public office, pretty shamelessly, to vouch for a private party with substantial financial interest without the disclosure of the true authorship, that is a dangerous practice,” David B. Frohnmayer, a Republican ex-attorney general in Oregon, told the Times. “The puppeteer behind the stage is pulling strings, and you can’t see. I don’t like that. And when it is exposed, it makes you feel used.” Pruitt didn’t seem troubled at all.

Other examples cited by the paper included legislation drafted by energy industry lobbyists to buttress the authority of state attorneys general to contest federal regulations. These efforts have extended beyond climate issues, including, for example, an attempt to stop endangered species listings that might complicate oil and gas drilling operations.

With the GOP preparing to assume control in the Senate next month, it may not be necessary for energy companies to resort to so much subterfuge in their efforts to block federal legislative and regulatory efforts .

When the new Congress convenes, Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, will relinquish the chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to Oklahoma Republican Jim Inhofe. During her eight-year tenure, Boxer made the committee a clearinghouse for climate change data and policy proposals. Inhofe insists climate change is a hoax, and he has pledged to use his new post to block Obama administration efforts, beginning with a proposed rule to restrict greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

If 2015 is, indeed, going to be the year of an international protocol for addressing climate change, it almost certainly will be produced over the objections of Congress - a reminder that politics is competing with science in setting climate policy. The danger is that politics might trump science.

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