Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #259

By Ken Haapala, President, The Science and Environmental Policy Project

Brought to You by www.SEPP.org

Sea Level Rise: One disturbing activity by some government entities is using the highly speculative projections of future sea level rise to frighten the public The purpose appears to be to promote the false belief that humans can stop sea level rise by limiting or controlling carbon dioxide emissions. A common trick is using the widely ranging projections of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). These projections are based on global climate models that have not been validated, and use of a few highly questionable studies based on a small sample of occurrences that cannot be generalized, globally.

In his presentation at the Ninth International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC9), former NASA meteorologist Thomas Wysmuller highlighted some of the difficulties in arriving at accurate estimate of global sea level rise. Even satellite measurements have significant errors, containing significant noise from wave action near the coast lines.

Wysmuller states that we have three different metrics for estimating sea levels: 1) tidal gages with an average of 1.7 mm per year; 2) TopeX/Poseidon/Jason 1 & 2 satellites with a rise of 3.1 mm per year; and ENVISAT satellite with a rise of 0.5 to 2.5 mm per year. Importantly, all the sources indicate linear trends!

By selecting among the data, one could project a rise of 5 cm to 31 cm (2 inches to 12 inches) per century. Add to this the stunt that James Hansen used, claiming almost all the rise will occur in the last two decades of the century, and one can create almost any type of projection.

Adding to the problems, the satellite measurements have significant internal error. For example, the American-French satellites, TopeX/Poseidon 3.1, have low radar resolution with 23 mm at best resolution and an orbital tracking error of 20 to 40 mm. It is impossible to create precision from error.

Wysmuller discusses some of the problems with each type of measurements. Among them, tide gages measurements have difficulties with land subsidence or land rising. For example, the land in Norfolk-Newport News area of Virginia, with large naval facilities, is subsiding. A major reason is ground water extraction, compounded with some influence by the aftereffects of a meteor strike 35 million years ago.

Adding to the problems with accurate measurements of sea level rise, are wind influences such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) which cause the water in the Pacific pile up in the western Pacific (southeast Asia) and then recede when the wind dies down. This process is like making waves in a bathtub.

Additionally, Jo Nova discusses a new paper in Nature Communications that estimates that half meter (20 inch) fluctuations in sea levels were common in Southeast Asia 6,000 years ago. Clearly, these events are not new and not related to human carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Those who make 100 year projections, without emphasizing the uncertainty are greatly misleading the public. Government entities emphasizing such studies are jeopardizing their credibility. See links under Changing Seas and Changing Earth


Quote of the Week. “Sometimes there is no alternative to uncertainty except to await the arrival of more and better data.” C. Wunsch [H/t Donald Rapp]


Number of the Week: over 27 million vehicles


New EPA Administrator: On February 17, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt was sworn in as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Since his selection as Administrator, much has been written about him and what he will do. TWTW will not comment, except to recognize there is an important difference between rights of the people and powers of government.


Transparency: To have perspective on the bureaucratic thinking in a government agency, it is useful to review the justifications the agency has used on a controversial issue. A review of parts of the eleven volumes of the published public comments and EPA responses to the EPA’s finding that greenhouse gases, chiefly CO2, endanger public health and welfare reveals EPA’s views on transparency. For example, in rejecting the 2009 report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), the agency writes:

“EPA has reviewed and considered the NIPCC report and found that it lacks the rigorous procedures and transparency required to serve as a foundation for the endangerment analysis. A review of the NIPCC Web site indicates that the NIPCC report was developed by “two co-authors” and “35 contributors and reviewers” from “14 countries” (http://www.nipccreport.org/index.html). The organization does not appear to have established any procedures for author selection and provides no evidence that a transparent and open public or expert review was conducted. Thus, the NIPCC’s approach stands in sharp contrast to the clear, transparent, and open procedures of the IPCC, CCSP, USGCRP, and NRC. Relying on the work of the major assessment reports is a sound and reasonable approach. See Section III.A. (52 pp, 315 K, About PDF) of the Findings, “The Science on Which the Decisions Are Based,” for our response to comments on the use of the assessment literature and previous responses in this section regarding our treatment of new and additional scientific literature provided through the public comment process.” [Boldface added.]

The parts in boldface are remarkable. There is no validation of the models used by the IPCC, etc. The models are failing to correctly predict limited atmospheric warming, greatly overestimating it. There is no empirical evidence demonstrating that a doubling of CO2 will produce an increase in temperatures of 3 degrees C, plus or minus 1.5 degrees C. In declaring tiny particles (PM 2.5) are a category pollutant, the EPA relied on data that are unavailable for public, or even for Congressional review. EPA’s declaration that mercury from coal-fired power plants lower IQ is based on a questionable study from the Faroe Islands, and ignores a far more rigorous study from the Seychelles Islands.

In short, EPA applies standards to others it is unwilling to meet itself. Such is the nature of Bureaucratic Science. See links under Defending the Orthodoxy.


Sodium Anyone? On his web site, Meteorologist Cliff Mass addresses the concern some have expressed on the use of salt on highways to make them safer in “How much salt falls naturally out of the sky?” He uses a map on “Sodium ion wet deposition, 2015” found on the National Atmospheric Deposition Program Web site. The map is revealing. The heaviest concentrations of sodium (Na) are along the Gulf Coast, the Atlantic Coast from South Carolina to New Hampshire, the Pacific North West, and a bit of Utah. Few of these areas are noted for salting highways to remove ice and snow. The main culprit appears to be salt water evaporation, particularly during storms.

Searching the maps for “Total Mercury Wet Deposition, 2015” shows that the most affected general area is southern Florida with the southern Great Plains and Southeastern US also affected. These hardly represent the intercity neighborhoods that former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson claimed were greatly affected.


California Rains: Central and Southern California are being hit by an atmospheric river, totally ending the drought. When the emergency spillway of the Oroville Dam was used, the earth in the spillway eroded, below the spillway weir. An emergency evacuation of the area downstream was declared, without clear explanation, prompting TWTW to search for the construction drawings to find if the 30-foot high concrete weir (smooth barrier) of the spillway is anchored in bedrock. The search was futile. Oroville is the second largest reservoir in California and the highest dam in the US. The lip of the spillway is 20 feet below the height of the dam, so there was no danger of the dam breaching.

Roy Spencer followed events and reported that the bedrock on which the spillway weir sits is highly fractured. This may have prompted officials to declare the evacuation. But the event illustrates that a great deal of confusion and fear can be created by officials not properly informing the public.

Ever the spoiler of false fears, Tony Heller referenced an article in Scientific American on the great California floods of 1860-61, which devastated the Central Valley, long before the fear of CO2-caused climate change. Apparently, native Americans recognized what was about to happen, and followed tradition by taking to the hills. See links under Changing Weather and California Dreaming


Additions and Corrections: Commenting on the January 28 TWTW, meteorologist William Kininmonth of Australia brought up a very important distinction between weather models and climate models. Weather models “require accurate initial conditions of temperature, moisture, and wind fields.” Thus, they improve with improving knowledge of the initial conditions – measurements.

“In contrast, climate model projections are fundamentally reliant on energy exchange processes, both within the model atmosphere and exchanges with each of the underlying surface and space.” Very small errors in the processes involved can accumulate into large errors, resulting in significant temperature bias.

He disagreed with a statement in the TWTW, which needs to be improved and will be discussed next time. TWTW deeply appreciates additions and corrections from such learned readers.


Number of the Week: Over 27 million vehicles. Business Insider of Australia reports that in 2016 there were over 27 million vehicles sold in China, about one-third were SUVs. The total number includes commercial vehicles and trucks, not clearly differentiated. By comparison, the Los Angeles Times reports that 2016 was a record sales year in the US with 17.55 million new vehicles sold, about 63% SUVs and light trucks. There were about 10 million more vehicles sold in China than in the US.

In developing countries, a high percentage of vehicles sales become new vehicles on the road. In developed countries, most are replacement vehicles. According to Hedges & Company, there were 261.8 million cars and light trucks registered in the US, up from 257.9 million in 2015, an increase of about 3.9 million or 1.5%. Recent data for total registered vehicles in China are not available. See links under After Paris! and




1. Scott Pruitt’s Back-to-Basics Agenda for the EPA

The new administrator plans to follow his statutory mandate—clean air and water—and to respect states’ rights.

By Kimberley A. Strassel, WSJ, Feb 17, 2017


SUMMARY: The journalist states:

Republican presidents tend to nominate one of two types of administrator to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. The first is the centrist—think Christie Todd Whitman (2001-03)—who might be equally at home in a Democratic administration. The other is the fierce conservative—think Anne Gorsuch (1981-83)—who views the agency in a hostile light.

Scott Pruitt, whom the Senate confirmed Friday, 52-46, doesn’t fit either mold. His focus is neither expanding nor reducing regulation. “There is no reason why EPA’s role should ebb or flow based on a particular administration, or a particular administrator,” he says. “Agencies exist to administer the law. Congress passes statutes, and those statutes are very clear on the job EPA has to do. We’re going to do that job.” You might call him an EPA originalist.

Not that environmentalists and Democrats saw it that way. His was one of President Trump’s most contentious cabinet nominations. Opponents objected that as Oklahoma’s attorney general Mr. Pruitt had sued the EPA at least 14 times. Detractors labeled him a “climate denier” and an oil-and-gas shill, intent on gutting the agency and destroying the planet. For his confirmation hearing, Mr. Pruitt sat through six theatrical hours of questions and submitted more than 1,000 written responses.

During an interview, Pruitt said:

“We’ve made extraordinary progress on the environment over the decades, and that’s something we should celebrate,” he says. “But there is real work to be done.” What kind of work? Hitting air-quality targets, for one: “Under current measurements, some 40% of the country is still in nonattainment.” There’s also toxic waste to clean up: “We’ve got 1,300 Superfund sites and some of them have been on the list for more than three decades.”

Such work is where Washington can make a real difference. “These are issues that go directly to the health of our citizens that should be the absolute focus of this agency,” Mr. Pruitt says. “This president is a fixer, he’s an action-oriented leader, and a refocused EPA is in a great position to get results.”

“That, he adds, marks a change in direction from his predecessor at the EPA, Gina McCarthy. ‘This past administration didn’t bother with statutes,’ he says. ‘They displaced Congress, disregarded the law, and in general said they would act in their own way. That now ends.’

“Mr. Pruitt says he expects to quickly withdraw both the Clean Power Plan (President Obama’s premier climate regulation) and the 2015 Waters of the United States rule (which asserts EPA power over every creek, pond or prairie pothole with a ‘significant nexus’ to a ‘navigable waterway’). ‘There’s a very simple reason why this needs to happen: Because the courts have seriously called into question the legality of those rules,’ Mr. Pruitt says. He would know, since his state was a party to the lawsuits that led to both the Supreme Court’s stay of the Clean Power Plan and an appeals court’s hold on the water rule.

“Will the EPA regulate carbon dioxide? Mr. Pruitt says he won’t prejudge the question. ‘There will be a rule-making process to withdraw those rules, and that will kick off a process,’ he says. ‘And part of that process is a very careful review of a fundamental question: Does EPA even possess the tools, under the Clean Air Act, to address this? It’s a fair question to ask if we do, or whether there in fact needs to be a congressional response to the climate issue.’ Some might remember that even President Obama believed the executive branch needed express congressional authorization to regulate CO 2 —that is, until Congress said ‘no’ and Mr. Obama turbocharged the EPA.

“Among Mr. Pruitt’s top priorities is improving America’s water infrastructure. ‘I’m going to be advancing this with the president, this idea that when we talk about investing in infrastructure, we need to look more broadly than bridges and roads,’ he says. ‘Look at what happened in Flint,’ the Michigan town where lead was found in the water supply. ‘Look at what is happening in California,’ where the Oroville Dam’s failure endangers tens of thousands of homes.

“Mr. Pruitt defies the stereotype of the fierce conservative who wants to destroy the agency he runs. Nonetheless, he is likely to encounter considerable hostility. The union that represents the EPA’s 15,000-strong bureaucracy urged its members to besiege their senators with calls this week asking them to reject Mr. Pruitt’s appointment. (The effort didn’t have much effect: The vote was nearly along party lines, with only two Democrats and one Republican breaking ranks.) These bureaucrats have the ability to sabotage his leadership. That’s what happened to Mrs. Gorsuch. She went to war with the bureaucracy, and the bureaucracy won.

“Mr. Pruitt wants progress… ‘

“Mr. Pruitt has read those laws his agency is charged with enforcing, and they guide another major change: a rebalancing of power between Washington and the states. ‘Every statute makes clear this is supposed to be a cooperative relationship,’ he explains, ‘that Congress understood that a one-size-fits-all model doesn’t work for environmental regulation, and that the state departments of environmental quality have an enormous role to play.’

“He faults President Obama’s EPA for its ‘attitude that the states are a vessel of federal will. They were aggressive about dictating to the states and displacing their authority and letting it be known they didn’t trust the states.’ Mr. Pruitt has numbers to back up the claim: During the combined presidencies of George H.W. Bush,Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the EPA imposed five federal air-quality implementation plans on states. Mr. Obama’s EPA imposed 56.

The author cites a coalition for the Chesapeake Bay as one the example of the ability of the affected states and the federal working together. Then he writes:

“Mr. Pruitt argues that his renewed focus on statutes and federalism will help produce regulatory certainty, which will be good for business: ‘The greatest threat we’ve had to economic growth has been that those in industry don’t know what is expected of them. Rules come that are outside of statutes. Rules get changed midway. It creates vast uncertainty and paralysis, and re-establishing a vigorous commitment to rule of law is going to help a lot.’

“His focus on jobs and the economy sets him apart from some past EPA administrators. ‘I reject this paradigm that says we can’t be both pro-environment and pro-energy,’ he says several times during the interview. ‘We are blessed with great national resources, and we should be good stewards of those. But we’ve been the best in the world at showing you do that while also growing jobs and the economy. Too many people put on a jersey in this fight. I want to send the message that we can and will do both.’

According to Pruitt,

“‘Most lawsuits against the EPA historically have come either because of the agency’s lack of regard for a statute, or because the EPA failed in an obligation or deadline,’ he says. ‘But we protect ourselves by hewing to the statutes. It will prove very difficult for environmental groups to sue on the grounds that they think one priority is more important than another—because that is something that really is at the discretion of agency.’

“Speaking of lawsuits, Mr. Pruitt says he plans to end the practice known as ‘sue and settle.’ That’s when a federal agency invites a lawsuit from an ideologically sympathetic group, with the intent to immediately settle. The goal is to hand the litigators a policy victory through the courts—thereby avoiding the rule-making process, transparency and public criticism. The Obama administration used lawsuits over carbon emissions as its pretext to create climate regulations.

“‘There is a time and place to sometimes resolve litigation,’ Mr. Pruitt allows. ‘But don’t use the judicial process to bypass accountability.’ Some conservatives have suggested the same tactic “might be useful now that Republicans are in charge. ‘That’s not going to happen,’ he insists. ‘Regulation through litigation is simply wrong.’ Instead, Mr. Pruitt says, the EPA will return to a rule-making by the book. ‘We need to end this practice of issuing guidance, to get around the rule-making procedure. Or rushing things through, playing games on the timing.’

“For similar reasons, Mr. Pruitt plans to overhaul the agency’s procedure for producing scientific studies and cost-benefit analyses. ‘The citizens just don’t trust that EPA is honest with these numbers,’ he says. ‘Let’s get real, objective data, not just do modeling. Let’s vigorously publish and peer-review science. Let’s do honest cost-benefit work. We need to restore the trust.’’


2. If You Kill a Migratory Duck, Your Goose May Be Cooked

A century-old law stymies development to protect common fowl like crows and hummingbirds.

By Allysia Finley, WSJ, Feb 15, 2017


SUMMARY: Arguing that the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act has outlived its usefulness the reporter gives specific examples of absurd enforcement. The examples include a hummingbird’s nest stopping renovations on the Richmond-San Rafael bridge north of San Francisco, nesting cormorants stopping demolition of Oakland’s Bay bridge.

“The 1918 migratory-bird law was originally crafted as a treaty with Canada—Mexico, Japan and Russia later signed—to protect migratory birds from poachers who made a bundle selling their feathers. Recall the ornate feathered hats worn by actresses in the 1913 play ‘Pygmalion.’

“Under the act, it’s a federal crime to ‘pursue, hunt, take, capture or kill’ migratory birds. The list of protected species has soared to 1,026, including common fowl like crows, ducks and finches. President Obama alone extended protections to nearly 200 species.

“Meanwhile, what constitutes criminal conduct has become decidedly fuzzy. Taking an egg is blatantly illegal. Prosecutors have argued that the law also covers subtler activities that inadvertently cause harm to birds.

“The legal ambiguity has businesses and contractors walking on eggshells. When five black-crowned night herons were injured after a contractor trimmed trees outside of an Oakland post office in 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched an investigation. A public outcry rescued the worker from prosecution.”

“Other, less sympathetic defendants haven’t been so fortunate. In 2011 federal prosecutors charged seven oil companies in North Dakota after 28 birds, mainly ducks, flew into their tar pits. Fish and Wildlife argued that the waste pits should have been covered. A U.S. district judge in 2012 dismissed the charges, holding that the 1918 law did not apply to “incidental and unintended” deaths that occur during “legal, commercially-useful activity.”

“The judge also wondered why prosecutors hadn’t targeted windmills, which kill about a half million birds each year. Rather than accept the rebuke, they declared open season on wind farms. In 2013 prosecutors charged Duke Energy Renewables after its wind turbines in Wyoming were found to have mauled 163 birds. Duke pleaded guilty and paid a $1 million penalty. In 2015 PacifiCorp Energy was charged and fined $2.5 million after 38 golden eagles and 336 other protected birds were killed at its wind farms.’

The journalist gives examples that some federal appeals courts consider accidental avian deaths a crime, others do not.

“Prosecuting inadvertent activity has no limiting principle. A 2014 study performed for the Fish and Wildlife Service found that communication towers kill an estimated 6.6 million birds each year. Building collisions cause between 365 million and 988 million bird deaths annually. Should building owners be charged when a bird flies into a window or wall?

“Government agencies, businesses and contractors have been taking legal precautions to avoid disturbing migratory birds, which has delayed and increased costs for hundreds of infrastructure projects. In 2010 TransCanada delayed construction of a pipeline in Wyoming until migratory birds cleared the construction zone. Ospreys stalled 700 Sprint cell sites in 2012. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has even ordered all state buildings to turn off inessential outdoor lighting after 11 p.m. during peak migratory season for birds.

“The Migratory Bird Treaty Act has outlived its purpose and been superseded by the Endangered Species Act. Let it go the way of the dodo.”


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