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William O'Keefe
CEO, George C. Marshall Institute

William O'Keefe

William O'Keefe is CEO at the George C. Marshall Institute, a think tank that promotes better use of science in public policy. He is a former COO at the American Petroleum Institute. ALL POSTS

A prescription for an economic disaster

Q: Given the gridlock in Congress over the climate bill, is the Obama administration's fallback strategy to let EPA regulate greenhouse gas emissions a good idea?

It is a horrible idea and EPA, given the recent comments by Administrator Lisa Jackson, may be coming to the same conclusion. Since greenhouse gas emissions are the byproduct of energy use to fuel economic growth and raise our standard of living, EPA regulation would inevitably involve attempting to regulate and manage the economy. That is a prescription for political and economic disaster.

Although the Supreme Court ruled, erroneously in my opinion, that EPA had the authority to declare CO2 a pollutant under Section 202 of the Clean Air Act, in reaching its conclusion the Court ignored its 1993 decision -- Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals -- establishing rules of scientific evidence. No one who has experience with the Clean Air Act could seriously conclude that it was intended to cover CO2 without torturing the Act's language and legislative history. EPA could have declined to declare CO2 a pollutant and to issue its Endangerment Finding. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration seems to relish having another tool to regulate and control the economy.

Federal action that will affect the entire economy, impact capital-investment decisions and job creation, and impose significant costs on every household should be the domain of elected representatives; not appointed bureaucrats. Decisions involving emission reductions and their timing involve trade-offs of costs, benefits, incidence, and a host of economic and political considerations. EPA by design is not equipped for such tasks and the Clean Air Act severely constrains EPA's ability to consider costs in setting standards.

The fact that Congress has struggled unsuccessfully to develop climate legislation that reduces the growth in emissions without inflicting unnecessary damage on the economy should be a source of caution to EPA and not a justification for it to step into the breach. There are many actions, like CAFE standards and incentives to accelerate capital stock turnover and natural gas use, the Obama Administration can take that would slow the growth in CO2 emissions without putting our economic well being at additional risk. If the EPA continues down its current path, lawyers will get richer because there will be unending litigation and the law of unintended consequences will overwhelm whatever good intentions it thinks that it is pursuing.

The delay in the regulatory schedule just announced by Jackson and prospective legislative initiatives by five Democratic senators and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) may be signs that sound judgment is beginning to constrain overzealous emotions to control the economy from Washington. Senior officials in the Obama Administration would do well to read Friedrich Hayek's Fatal Conceit. If fashioning an approach to manage greenhouse emissions was viewed as a marathon and not a sprint we would all be better off.

By William O'Keefe  |  February 23, 2010; 2:44 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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This guy is making his decisions based on money, which will be of no use when our environment, our Life-Support System, is awry.

Do not these folk have educations? Do they not understand the implications of their disastrous decisions? Have they not yet learned the folly of their decisions?

Those of us with graduate degrees in Environmental Management continually have to correct those who guide their lives by political prejudice, unhindered by actual education or knowledge in the field.

Posted by: gkam | March 4, 2010 10:19 AM
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It really doesn't matter what they do, it is too late...

Posted by: bromisky | February 28, 2010 8:14 PM
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The measured data shows that the global temperature changed between 1970 and 2010 virtually identically with the way it changed between 1910 and 1950, a growth of about 0.65C in each. In the recent period there were massive CO2 emissions, in the early one very few.

An independent site which aggregates most databases is for instance

and you can also check the ground and satellite temperature data from each source.

The data shows clearly no correlation between CO2 levels and global temperatures - this is a matter of measurements, not of opinion. I am a mathematical physicist, but all one needs to compare the two portions of the graph is an eighth grade graphs reading skill.

Phil Jones of CRU has admitted that much to the BBC.

The 2007 Arctic ice cap melt (the ice has since almost returned) was similar to a well documented one in 1922. The Nov 2, 1922 Washington Post had the headline

Arctic Ocean Getting Warm; Seals Vanish and Icebergs Melt

(check the archives for ice melt 1922).

While CO2 levels have not shown any sign of changing the measured temperatures of the real world, they have pushed the temperatures within models way way up. The site
has live links to about 600 published projections due to 1-2 degrees in climate change, from acne, barbarization, brains smaller, through Earth to explode, melt, tilt, spin faster, spin slower, extinction of half of all animal and plant species by 2050 (this one from the journal Nature), fish bigger, fish smaller, fashion disappearing, all the way to witchcraft executions, world in bankruptcy, crisis, flames, war.

If one spends the current $2 billion/year on climate change study, one is bound to get in return lots of models and lots of predictions.

You shouldn't take anyone's word for any of this - please check each line by yourself. If you do that, you are part of science rather than just invoking its name.

All of that shows to any unbiased person what the climate did in response to higher CO2 levels (not much) and what the models are worth (also not much).

Posted by: adrianoc | February 28, 2010 1:42 PM
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Mr. O'Keefe, no matter your former (and most likely loyal) relationship to the API, the concern you have for our economic health in the face of sure disaster due to climate change, is akin to worrying about the water bill when one's family is dying inside the burning house . . .

Posted by: kayakcatmike | February 28, 2010 6:34 AM
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Let's face it, if the EPA really tries this, there will be court challenges well past 2012, and by that time the current administration will be out of office at which time this silliness will end.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | February 28, 2010 3:23 AM
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Gee, your middling-right-wing court (would never happen with the current bozo majority) an actual sensible extensive interpretation of the law was made. So sorry, but we live in a nation where the tax code weighs more than an NFL lineman and a health care reform that took the Canadian 8 pages to get right, takes 2400 pages to get wrong.

Given that kind of slop, we are left with the court to make sense of the mess that our profoundly dysfunctional legislature gives us.

The current status of our CO2 emissions are foolish - let's see your 10-page bill to remediate the problem and still protect your fat-assed buds.

Posted by: fr3dmars | February 28, 2010 12:53 AM
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