Pennsylvania is now poised to join a regional climate change agreement that is based on faulty assumptions about carbon dioxide, according to scientists and researchers who have testified before the state’s General Assembly over the past year.
In September, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, vetoed legislation that would have prohibited his administration from imposing new environmental regulations without the approval of elected representatives in the House and Senate.
Although the bill attracted bipartisan support in both chambers, Wolf made it clear in his veto message that he would move to bypass the General Assembly and act unliterally to have Pennsylvania join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a compact widely known as RGGI that currently includes 10 New England and Mid-Atlantic States. Virginia is set to join in 2021 and Wolf has Pennsylvania scheduled to join in 2022.
“Addressing the global climate crisis is one of the most important and critical challenges we face,” Wolf said in his veto message. “This legislation is extremely harmful to public health and welfare as it prevents the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection from taking any measure or action to abate, control or limit carbon dioxide emissions, a greenhouse gas and a major contributor to climate change impacts, without prior approval of the General Assembly.”
But in recent testimony before the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, Caleb Stewart Rossiter, executive director of the CO2 Coalition, a Virginia-based nonprofit, told committee members that science is not on the side of Wolf’s regulatory proposal.
“We are not in a CO2-driven climate crisis,” Rossiter said when he testified this past summer. “That is the scientific fact.” In fact, “there are benefits to Co2 emissions,” Rossiter explained, “since the molecule is a crucial plant and plankton food.”
Rossiter, a former professor of statistics, mathematics and public policy at American University, also described RGGI as “an act of economic, health, and environmental suicide” that “will raise electricity prices, increase health problems and mortality, and damage the environment.”
Cap and Trade
RGGI makes use of a “cap and trade” system among participating states where electric utilities that emit more greenhouse gases than their assigned cap must purchase allowances at an auction to offset their excess emissions.
Wolf’s Department of Environmental Protection estimates that his proposed regulation would reduce carbon emissions by about 188 million tons between 2022 and 2030. The environmental department also claims that RGGI will create more than 30,000 jobs while reducing air pollution.
“Changing climate patterns have caused and will continue to cause impacts to Pennsylvania’s public health, infrastructure, emergency services and also disrupt major economic contributors like agriculture, tourism and recreation,” Hayley L. Book, a senior advisor on energy and climate for the Wolf administration, warned state senators during testimony this past June.
While she anticipates that RGGI will produce “significant health and environmental benefits for Pennsylvania,” others are not so sure. Rossiter was just one of several witnesses who have challenged and questioned the arguments underpinning Wolf’s climate change regulations.
‘Greening’ of the Earth
Kevin Dayaratna, a research fellow and principal statistician at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington D.C., testified before the Pennsylvania House energy committee almost one year ago last October.
Dayaratna told committee members that it would be a mistake for Pennsylvania to implement new environmental regulations based on climate models that did not account for the benefits of CO2. As part of his testimony, the Heritage researcher cited a recent study that described how CO2 emissions led to a “greening” of the Earth between 1982 and 2009.
“It is fundamentally important for any of these models to take into account the benefits of these CO2 emissions, as well as the costs,” Dayaratna explained during his testimony. But since some of the models only include costs while excluding the benefits “they are completely disingenuous,” he said.
Dayaratna also drove home the point that the models are based on assumptions that are open to manipulation.
“The sheer fact that these models can be manipulated to get pretty much any result you want illustrates the danger of using them in regulatory policy,” he said.
Dayaratna elaborated on some of the key points from his testimony in an interview while also challenging the assumptions underpinning Wolf’s regulatory proposal.
“There has indeed been global warming, but much of it is caused by natural influences and much of the global warming occurred in the pre-industrial age and cannot be attributed to human emissions,” he explained.
“I like to refer to it as lukewarming. The climate models greatly overstate the amount of warming that has occurred and is likely to occur. Human CO2 emissions are definitely responsible for some warming, but much of it is also the result of natural influences and this lukewarming we have experienced, which is fairly mild, has benefits that are overlooked.”
Wolf first announced he was taking “executive action” to combat climate change just a few weeks before the House hearing in October 2019.
“Climate change is the most critical environmental threat confronting the world, and power generation is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions,” Wolf said in a press release.
“Given the urgency of the climate crisis facing Pennsylvania and the entire planet, the commonwealth must continue to take concrete, economically sound and immediate steps to reduce emissions. Joining RGGI will give us that opportunity to better protect the health and safety of our citizens.”
In his public statements Wolf points to a “scientific consensus” on climate change that calls out for drastic action in the form anti-emissions regulations. He also frequently describes CO2 a pollutant that must be curtailed and regulated.
But Dayaratna is not convinced there ever was a consensus on how much influence human activity has on the climate. He also does not view CO2 as a pollutant.
“Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring, colorless, odorless nontoxic gas and I do not believe it is a pollutant in the same way that soot and smog are pollutants,” he said.
“But even if you’re someone who views CO2 as a pollutant it would make more sense to let the free market work and allow the natural gas revolution in Pennsylvania to continue reducing emissions without introducing expensive new regulations that will only raise electricity prices.”
CO2 a ‘Minor Player’
David Legates, professor of climatology at the University of Delaware, was among the other witnesses who took issue with the notion of a “climate consensus” during the hearing.
In September, the Trump administration appointed Legates as the deputy assistant secretary of commerce for observation and prediction at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
While it’s evident that atmospheric CO2 has increased in response to human activity, the idea that CO2 is the primary driver of climate change has been overstated, Legates explained in his testimony.
“What underlies all attempts at climate stabilization is a belief that carbon dioxide is a magical control knob for the Earth’s climate, thus draconian measures are being suggested to achieve greenhouse gas reductions in a vain attempt to alleviate future disastrous weather events,” Legates said in his remarks to the House committee.
“As a climatologist who’s studied the Earth’s climate for nearly 40 years, I have learned that carbon dioxide does not dictate the climate. It is merely a minor player in climate change. Water vapor is the most important greenhouse gas and accounts for nearly 90 percent of the net warming of the planet due to the radiative impact of the Earth’s atmosphere.”
Legates also encouraged lawmakers to consider a larger historical view when addressing the implications of climate change. Human civilizations have “thrived under warmer conditions” but struggled under colder conditions, he noted.
“More vegetation and longer growing seasons are partly responsible, but, simply put, colder temperatures kill more people than warmer temperatures,” Legates said. “We have currently entered a warmer period in human history, but I do not believe humans are responsible for most of this warming as many other factors exist that cause climate to change.”