The Obama administration has made a great show of appointing scientifically trained people to the leadership positions of federal agencies such as EPA, the Department of Energy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The president issued memos aimed at guaranteeing that the federal government use only the best scientific information and personnel available in making decisions regarding environmental policy. Science, the administration says, is back in its proper position, having been, it was claimed, politically suppressed by the Bush administration. Rep. Henry Waxman, in particular, was a regular critic of how the Bush administration dealt with science-related issues in climate change and other environmental policy-making.
Strange then, that Congressman Waxman would agree to slap a muzzle on EPA regarding the question of whether or not corn ethanol qualifies as a renewable fuel. EPA has proposed a regulation that would hold corn ethanol producers responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that are produced when land is cleared in other countries in order to grow crops to make up for reduced corn exports. As various studies have shown, when you do count the effect of land-clearing, ethanol doesn’t turn out to be better than gasoline when it comes to greenhouse gas reductions. Yet, in order to buy off Congressman Collin Peterson, Chairman of the powerful House Committee on Agriculture, the sponsors of Waxman-Markey have added a provision that would sideline the proposed EPA rule for 5 years, while they conduct “further study” on the question of land clearance, and have raised the bar for the implementation of such a rule to an astronomical level, making it contingent on the agreement of three regulatory agencies. Even then, Congress reserves to itself the right to veto a rule if they don’t like it.
Waxman-Markey will give us an early demonstration of whether the Obama administration’s commitment to sound science is real, or if they’re willing to let politics suppress science at EPA in order to fulfill a campaign promise to enact climate legislation. We will also learn whether Lisa Jackson, the administrator of EPA, is dedicated to real environmental protection. Corn ethanol has been shown to be an environmental disaster, increasing air and water pollution, increasing contamination of fish in rivers, increasing consumption of scarce fresh water supplies, causing expansion of oceanic dead zones, and, yes, increasing rather than decreasing greenhouse gas emissions when compared to gasoline. Cellulosic ethanol, the promised fuel of the future, doesn’t fare much better.
As analysts have predicted, the Waxman-Markey energy bill has turned into an obscene pile of special-interest giveaways, slanted toward favored Democratic constituents, and socking it to people in those red states who have conservative leanings. Emissions are expected to continue to rise under the scheme, as will energy prices.
If President Obama was in any way serious about wanting sound science and rational climate policy, he’ll send Waxman-Markey back to the drawing board.