Politics & Policy

George W. Algore?

Reg-reform law falls victim to climate alarmism.

“George W. AlGore!” boomed Rush Limbaugh, responding to the Bush administration’s 2002 report on “global warming” to the United Nations, which concluded that consumption of fossil fuels is negatively altering the earth’s climate. The alarming conclusions were expressly drawn from the “National Assessment on Climate Change”–a Clinton-Gore document rushed out at the end of 2000–and represented official American “policies and positions” on climate change under the 1992 Rio Treaty. Though previously discredited by the Bush team in order to resolve litigation, the “National Assessment” and 2002 report are now apparently worth saving, even at the cost of gutting a major regulatory reform.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) recently sued over the Bush administration’s adoption of the thoroughly debunked National Assessment in the 2002 report to the U.N. The basis for the suit is the Federal Data Quality Act (FDQA), a new law intended to prevent the circulation of flawed data by government agencies. Thus far, the Bush administration has evaded every private-sector attempt to employ the FDQA. In its efforts to defend the indefensible National Assessment, the administration continues to fight against judicial enforcement of the FDQA, threatening to emasculate the law in the process.

The National Assessment is fatally flawed. It employs computer models that are proven to project climate less capably than a table of random numbers. Though the models also carry disclaimers admitting their futility at producing regional and even national results, the Assessment nonetheless purports that they detail dire calamities broken down with specificity even to the state level.

CEI’s suit challenging the Assessment’s junk science places “global-warming” alarmism before the courts. In response, the administration is not just protecting the National Assessment: The word is out on K Street that the White House will actively seek to eviscerate the FDQA and its troublesome requirement that data disseminated by the government be objective and have utility for its intended purpose. According to the Bush administration, regulators cannot be held to FDQA’s requirements. By implication, their position is that the sole regulatory reform achieved by the Republican Congress contains nothing but toothless exhortations of regulators to do the right thing.

There are numerous reasons for the White House to change its tune and require sound climate science. For one, the media routinely lambaste President Bush for “admitting” global warming yet eschewing the Kyoto Protocol. The National Assessment is exhibit A in this indictment. For another, the Assessment has been the basis for state action and lawsuits against the Bush administration itself. States have enacted new regulations based on the science fiction enshrined in the Assessment. In tandem with green pressure groups, a dozen states just this week sued the administration to force federal regulation of carbon dioxide. The Senate is about to vote on S. 139, the Lieberman-McCain Kyoto bill, and the National Assessment will once again be cited as a basis for action on climate change.

Should the administration follow through on its effort to gut the FDQA, it would be a thumb in the eye of Bush’s congressional allies and his party’s conservative base. Such a move is inexplicable given that the only reason to attack the FDQA is to preserve the National Assessment, a Gore “October Surprise” that continues to haunt the administration’s environmental policies. Word from inside the administration, however, is that the bureaucratic pressures to do away with the threat of data-quality standards eclipse the long-term ramifications of freeing agencies from their reliance on shoddy science.

Whispers from the Bush administration hint that they would rather not take on the FDQA but, well, the CEI litigation has forced their hand. This is simply not true. There is no substantive need to attack the FDQA and render it unenforceable solely to support the claims of climate alarmists. Of course, the administration’s gambit implicitly acknowledges CEI’s claims against the National Assessment. Were the report up to snuff, there would be no need to eviscerate one of the few regulatory reforms adopted by Congress. If the National Assessment is not junk science, there is no need to fear judicial review.

For whatever reason, the Bush administration is defending Al Gore’s climate alarmism, at a minimum stirring doubts about its resolve to fight oppressive climate-change policies. Adding insult to injury, the administration is willing to destroy the FDQA in the process. It is this sort of approach to environmental policy that led Rush Limbaugh to excoriate White House attempts at Green appeasement. Mr. Limbaugh, get well soon, and please pick up where you left off.

Christopher C. Horner is a counsel to and senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.


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