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The Vindication of Alan Carlin

Remember all the fuss made when the Hitler Bush Administration supposedly put a gag on NASA’s chief climate wacko James Hansen?  And this gag consisted of . . . having a low-level political appointee listen in on Hansen’s press calls.  Wow, that’s some kind of gag.  Especially for a public employee who has endorsed civil disobedience (that is, vandalism) against coal-fired power plants, which he calls “death trains to Auschwitz.”  Hmm, instead of having a political appointee listen in, the Bush Administration might have been better advised to assign a psychiatrist.  I’ve debated Hansen twice; he is clearly a manic depressive.  The first time, in New York in 2006, he let fly with how his treatment by the Bush Administration was the kind of thing you’d expect from Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.  Sure, Dr. Hansen, I replied, having a low-level flunkie listen in on your press calls is just like being gassed in a death camp or sent to Siberia.  And you wonder why people call you an “alarmist” on climate change?

Well, the Obama Administration’s Dept. of Health and Human Services has just announced a new policy whereby no one may speak to the media without prior approval from the HHS press office (run by political appointees, of course).  HHS staffers may not even speak to reporters off the record or on background.  I’m sure NPR and “60 Minutes” will be all over this gag order on public employees, just as they were on the Hansen non-story.  And just like they were all over the Alan Carlin story at EPA.

Wait—what?  You don’t remember all the outraged press coverage of the Carlin story?  Come to think of it, neither do I.  Here’s a refresher: in 2009, when the EPA announced its “endangerment” finding to justify its planned regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, Alan Carlin, a 35-year veteran EPA employee who ran the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics, produced a 98-page critique of the climate science the EPA used in its finding.  Carlin’s report concluded, “We believe our concerns and reservations are sufficiently important to warrant a serious review of the science by the EPA.”

You can guess what happened next.  The Obama Administration, the one supposedly dedicated to transparency and “restoring science” in public policy making, squashed Carlin’s report and told him to cease and desist any further analysis on climate change issues.  Carlin’s supervisor (a political appointee) emailed his: “I don’t want you to spend any additional EPA time on climate change.  No papers, no research, etc.”  Shortly after this episode Carlin left EPA.  (By the way, Carlin was the chairman of the Los Angeles chapter of the Sierra Club in California at one time, and helped with the Sierra Club’s campaign to stop two dam projects back in the 1960s.  In other words, he’s no right-wing ideologue, as the smears of the climate campaigners would have you think.)

This story is relevant again this week not simply for the obvious hypocrisy and double standard (insert the old joke about liberals and double-standards here), but because the issue of the EPA’s climate science has resurfaced in the form of an EPA inspector general’s report that essentially says that Carlin was right about the EPA’s shoddy scientific review.  Here’s the New York Times account from Wednesday:

In a report with wide-reaching political implications, U.S. EPA’s inspector general has found that the scientific assessment backing U.S. EPA’s finding that greenhouse gases are dangerous did not go through sufficient peer review for a document of its importance. . .

According to the IG report, EPA failed to follow the Office of Management and Budget’s peer review procedures for a “highly influential scientific assessment,” which is defined as an assessment that could have an impact of more than $500 million in one year and is “novel, controversial, or precedent setting.”

In particular, the document was reviewed by a 12-member panel that included an EPA employee, violating rules on neutrality. EPA also did not make the review results public, as required, or certify whether it complied with internal or OMB requirements.

In a statement, IG Arthur Elkins Jr. emphasized that his office “did not test the validity of the scientific or technical information used to support the endangerment finding.”

“While it may be debatable what impact, if any, this had on EPA’s finding, it is clear that EPA did not follow all required steps for a highly influential scientific assessment,” he said.

Roger Pielke Jr. observes how the climate campaigners are all circling the wagons, saying “move along, nothing to see here,” and noting that “I’d speculate that these observers would have had different reactions had this report been requested by Henry Waxman in 2006 about the last administration’s EPA. . .   during the Bush Administration concern about processes to ensure scientific integrity were all the rage. At that time it was generally understood that process matters, not simply because it helps to improve the quality of scientific assessments, but also because it helps to establish their legitimacy in the political process.  One sneers at process at some risk.”

At the very least, everyone owes Carlin an apology.  And maybe he ought to get his job back if he wants it.  (Carlin’s own website and blog can be found here.)

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