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Maryland’s Climate Policy: Politics Posing as Science

Maryland’s plan to address global warming is based on a flawed process, which produced unreliable science. 
The Greenhouse gas Reduction Act of 2009 requires Maryland to reduce GHG emissions 20% from a 2006 baseline by 2020.  Both the GGRA draft plan report and the Maryland Commission on Climate Change—the report on which the General Assembly approved the GGRA—base their assessments and recommendations on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The final plan is due to the General Assembly in December.
However, The InterAcademcy Council, a multinational organization of science organizations, reviewed the IPCC’s process and procedures* and found serious flaws and problems, which cast serious doubt on the soundness and reliability of “science” of the IPCC, and therefore the conclusions of the Maryland’s climate commission and GGRA process.
The IAC found such problems as a lack of a formal process or criteria for selecting authors, lack of a conflict of interest disclosure policy, and problems with transparency. 
Scientists from developing nations reported “frustration” that their governments did not always appoint the best scientists and that “political considerations are given more weight than scientific qualifications.” 
Reviewer comments were not adequately addressed by lead authors, in particular the fallacious statement in the IPCC’s 4thAssessment Report stating that the Himalayan Glaciers could melt by 2035.  It turns out the IPCC relied on a 2005 report from the World Wildlife Fund, not peer-reviewed science.  Alternative views were not cited in a chapter, if “the Lead author does not agree with them.”   The IAC also found severe flaws with how the IPCC handled issues of uncertainty and probability.  For example, the IAC found:

Many of the 71 conclusions in the ‘Current Knowledge about Future Impacts’ section of the Working Group II Summary for Policy Makers are imprecise statements made without reference to the time period under consideration or to a climate scenario under which the conclusions would be true… In the Committee’s view, assigning probabilities to imprecise statements is not an appropriate way to characterize uncertainty. If the confidence scale is used in this way, conclusions will likely be stated so vaguely as to make them impossible to refute, and therefore statements of “very high confidence” will have little substantive value [emphasis mine].

The report also noted that the Summary for Policy Makers, the report widely cited by the media and climate activists, drew “more concerns and suggestions for improvement…than any other part of the IPCC assessment process.”  Many respondents to the IAC survey noted concern that reinterpretations of the scientific assessment report in the Summary for Policy Makers “might be politically motivated.”  Nor is the the Summary for Policy Makers written and approved in a transparent manner.  The report is approved in a marathon session lasting several days, ending with an all night session, “Thus, the individuals with the most endurance or the countries that have large delegations can end up having the most influence on the report.”
The IAC also noted the variance in content between the Summary for Policy Makers and the underlying scientific assessment reports, and the political reasons for that variance.

Another concern of respondents to the Committee’s questionnaire was the difference in content between the Summary for Policy Makers and the underlying report. The distillation of the many findings of a massive report into the relatively brief, high-level messages that characterize the Summary for Policy Makers necessarily results in the loss of important nuances and caveats that appear in the Working Group report. Moreover, the choice of messages and description of topics may be influenced in subtle ways by political considerations. Some respondents thought that the Summary for Policy Makers places more emphasis on what is known, sensational, or popular among Lead Authors than one would find in the body of the report. A recent review by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, for example, observed that the Working Group II Summary for Policy Makers in the fourth assessment is more focused on the negative impacts of climate change than the underlying report, an approach agreed to by participating governments (PBL, 2010) [emphasis mine].

Similar problems were noted with the Synthesis Report, which is intended to synthesize the finding of three different working groups.  “Scientists” the IAC wrote, found the Synthesis Report “too political.”
The IAC report confirms what many concluded way back in 2007, The IPCC was was politics posing as science.
The disturbing problems noted by the IAC mirror the flawed, opaque process I’ve been following in Maryland over the last five years. 
The process started in 2007 when Governor O’Malley signed and executive order creating the Maryland Commission on Climate Change. O’Malley’s order outsourced climate policy to an outside advocacy group Center for Climate Strategies.   From day one, the O’Malley administration tried to keep details of the process hidden from public scrutiny.  The Maryland Department of the Environment withheld documents from my colleague Paul Chesser’s Public Information Act request seeking documents pertaining to the state’s dealing with CCS.  The process was clearly slanted from the beginning.  One of the documents Chesser did obtain, a memo from CCS to MDE stated, “participants will not debate the science of climate change.” 
I followed up with my own PIA request and MDE told me I could have the documents Chesser wanted, now ballooning to 3,700 pages from the original 11 it withheld from him …for a hefty fee of $1,381.  After the legislature passed the GGRA, Environment Maryland, chief Brad Heaver boasted about being “lead policy/lobbying group” to get it passed.  I submitted another PIA request to MDE to find out if Heavner and any other environmental advocacy groups were involved in writing the regulations.  All I got was another bill, this time for $1,353. 
Perhaps O’Malley’s MDE doesn’t want the public to know that his climate commission and climate law were paid for and written by the radical environmentalists at The Town Creek Foundation located in Easton, MD.  According to its latest IRS tax return Town Creek has investments in several oil and gas companies, including Exxon-Mobil. 
The Town Creek Foundation gave CCS $100,000 to facilitate the work of Maryland’s climate commission, and another $350,000 to influence GGRA regulations.  Town Creek also funded Environment Maryland and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, two of those “lead policy/lobbying groups” $225,00and $325,00respectively to agitate and lobby for the GGRA and its regulations.

Town Creek even got one its own board members, Donald Boesch, on the commission.  Boesch led the commission’s Scientific and Technical Working Group. Town Creek also funds Boesch’s employer the University Center for Environmental Sciences.  Town Creek’s board approves all grant funding.  Did Boesch approve his own funding?

What did Town Creek get for its $1.2 million investment?  A 360 page set of proposed taxes, fees, regulations, and mandates that will undoubtedly harm the state’s already fragile economy. 
The Commission findings were received with much fanfare, and minimal scrutiny.  However, the Beacon Hill Institute analyzed CCS’ underlying economic assumptions in the commission report and found:

1. CCS failed to quantify benefits in a way that they can be meaningfully compared to costs;2. When estimating economic impacts, CCS often misinterpreted costs to be benefits;3. The estimates of costs left out important factors, causing CCS to understate the true costs of its recommendations…For policymakers, the CAP report offers no worthwhile guidance. The report fails to quantify the monetary benefits of reduced GHG emissions rendering its cost savings estimates implausible if not downright unbelievable. The faulty analysis contained in the CAP report leaves policymakers with no basis on which to judge the merits of the CAP report’s recommendations for action on the mitigation of GHG emissions [emphasis mine].

Nor did lawmakers heed the skeptical analysis of the non-partisan Department of Legislative Services.
DLS found that the commission’s recommendations were “largely command-and-control policies rather than incentive-based policies.” Like the Beacon Hill report, DLS also found similar flaws in the commission’s economic analysis such as omitted costs, improper benefit-cost valuation, and forecast errors.

However, despite a significant amount of research, considerable uncertainty remains over the ultimate economic impacts of such a policy. In addition, the choice and design of the specific mitigation programs implemented will affect the magnitude and distribution of GHG mitigation costs. Policies that are not incentive-based (i.e., command-and-control) and/or do not implement economy-wide regulations will be much more costly. The distribution of costs within the economy will depend on several key factors, including the energy- and carbon-intensity of energy consumed by each sector.In Maryland, the manufacturing sector will likely experience a greater amount of employment and output losses relative to the rest of the economy as a result of GHG reduction policies. However, policies that attempt to mitigate these losses and exempt the manufacturing sector will only increase the total cost of GHG mitigation and shift the burden to other economic sectors. Ultimately, the cost of GHG mitigation policies, even those imposed on businesses, will be borne by individuals[emphasis mine].

Like the IPCC, the Maryland Commission on Climate Change represents the creation of a political consensus through a non-transparent process based on shaky science, and even shoddier economics.  
*The IAC revisedits original report watering down the severity of its initial conclusions.  Why? That question has never been answered.  Still, even the watered down findings cast serious doubt on the process. 

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