Clinton Backs EPA’s Tough New Air Quality Standards

Published August 1, 1997

Lest anyone think that President Clinton would listen to the labor wing of the Democratic Party and urge EPA Administrator Carol Browner to back away from her agency’s hard-line proposals to curb ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter, the President on June 25 made it clear that he strongly supports the costly controls as vital to his position as a world leader still unwilling to sign off on the most drastic cuts in carbon dioxide emissions being demanded by the European Union and by small, third-world United Nations members. Senator John Chafee, who chairs the Senate Environment Committee, has added his own blessing to the ozone and fine particulates standards, virtually assuring that Congress will not be able to overturn the EPA regulations.

A day later, President Clinton told the United Nations that concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are at their highest levels in more than 200,000 years and climbing sharply. Without drastic cutbacks in fossil fuel usage, he continued, sea levels will rise two feet or more in the next 100 years, flooding over 9,000 square miles of Florida, Louisiana, and other coastal areas (probably including Galveston, South Padre Island, and other parts of Texas as well). Those climate changes–brought on by America’s gluttonous usage of fossil fuels for transportation, heating, and cooling, will “disrupt agriculture, cause severe droughts and floods and the spread of infectious diseases”–including 50 million cases of malaria every year.

Notwithstanding the President’s scientific expertise (and that of Vice President Al Gore, who a few days ago told the United Nations that forest loss is occurring at dramatic levels), at least one scientist disagrees with this analysis: Dr. Bert Bolin, chairman of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In a debate in Stockholm with Dr. Fred Singer of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, Bolin publicly refuted claims by President Clinton and other environmental activists that any floods, droughts, hurricanes, or other extreme weather patterns are the result of rising global temperatures.

At the event, Dr. Singer provided considerable evidence that the scientific questions surrounding global warming are far from being “resolved,” and that fast-tracked government action to reduce fossil fuel emissions may well be premature. For example, Singer demonstrated:

  • a negative correlation between global temperature over the last century, and sea level: when temperatures rise, sea levels have fallen;
  • new evidence of regional climate warming at northern mid-latitudes that show a startling correlation to patterns of commercial airline traffic.
  • large and rapid natural variations in the temperature and carbon dioxide record unrelated to human activities over the entire history of earth;
  • the impact of the heat-island effect on land-based temperature stations: California studies show large increases in high-population counties and no increase at all in small-population counties;
  • the continued unreliability of computer climate models, even three-dimensional models; and
  • the impact of solar radiation.

At the meeting, one Swedish scientist remarked that, “I cannot be convinced that man is so important as to affect the climate,” and the moderator concluded that “There seems to be agreement among our scientific colleagues that there is so much disagreement that much more research is needed.”

In the United States, however, the nation’s top political leaders have pronounced the scientific debate over and forged ahead with new controls (which will not take effect until after President Clinton leaves office, by the way). Edison Electric Institute president Thomas Kuhn called those controls “a noose around the neck of American business.” One possible reason for the administration’s apparent urgency on the issue: Tony Blair, the Clintonesque new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, had just days earlier chastised the U.S. for dragging its feet on international environmental issues of importance of Europeans.