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Smith: Overheated climate rhetoric hurts economy

Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Climate change is an issue that needs to be discussed thoughtfully and objectively. Unfortunately, claims that distort the facts hinder the legitimate evaluation of policy options. The rhetoric has driven some policymakers toward costly regulations and policies that will harm hardworking American families and do little to decrease global carbon emissions. The Obama administration’s decision to delay, and possibly deny, the Keystone XL pipeline is a prime example.

The State Department has found that the pipeline will have minimal impact on the surrounding environment and no significant effect on the climate. Recent expert testimony before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology confirms this finding. In fact, even if the pipeline is approved and is used at maximum capacity, the resulting increase in carbon dioxide emissions would be negligible.

There is scant scientific or environmental justification for refusing to approve the pipeline, a project the State Department has also found would generate more than 40,000 U.S. jobs.

Contrary to the claims of those who want to strictly regulate carbon dioxide emissions and increase the cost of energy for all Americans, there is a great amount of uncertainty associated with climate science.

These uncertainties undermine our ability to accurately determine how carbon dioxide has affected the climate in the past. They also limit our understanding of how anthropogenic emissions will affect future warming trends. Further confusing the policy debate, the models that scientists have come to rely on to make climate predictions have greatly overestimated warming.

Contrary to model predictions, data released in October from Britain’s University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit show global temperatures have held steady over the past 15 years, despite rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Among the facts that are clear, however, are that U.S. emissions contribute very little to global concentrations of greenhouse gas, and that even substantial cuts in these emissions are likely to have no effect on temperature. Data from the Energy Information Administration show, for example, that the U.S. cut carbon dioxide emissions by 12 percent between 2005 and 2012 while global emissions increased 15 percent over the same period.

Using data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a Science and Public Policy Institute paper published last month found if the U.S. eliminated all carbon dioxide emissions, the overall impact on global temperature rise would be only 0.08 degrees Celsius by 2050.

Last spring, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed emissions standards that virtually prohibit new coal-fired power plants. As we await implementation of these strict new rules, additional regulations that will affect existing power plants, refineries and other manufacturers are sure to follow.

Analyses of these measures by the American Council for Capital Formation, which studies economic and environmental policy, show that they will raise both electricity rates and gas prices – costing jobs and hurting the economy – even as the EPA admits that these choices will have an insignificant impact on global climate change (a point former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson confessed during a Senate hearing in 2009).

Instead of pursuing heavy-handed regulations that imperil U.S. jobs and send jobs (and their emissions) overseas, we should take a step back from the unfounded claims of impending catastrophe and think critically about the challenge before us.

Designing an appropriate public policy response to this challenge will require that we fully assess the facts and the uncertainties surrounding this issue, and that we set aside the hyped rhetoric.

• Lamar Smith, a Republican, represents Texas’s 21st District in the U.S. House and is chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

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