It’s the deadline for a big climate report. Agencies are mum

Source: Scott Waldman, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, August 21, 2017

Last week was the deadline for 13 federal agencies to respond to a sweeping climate science report that draws on extensive research to show that humans are warming the world at an unprecedented pace.

Some Trump administration Cabinet members, and the president himself, have contradicted the type of basic climate science contained throughout the 669-page report. U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Energy Secretary Rick Perry have claimed, incorrectly, that carbon dioxide is not the primary driving force behind climate change.

The report symbolizes what Pruitt and Perry claim doesn’t exist: scientific agreement on climate change. Drawing on dozens of studies from across the world, it demonstrates clearly that humans are warming the Earth at an unprecedented rate by burning fossil fuels and that some disastrous consequences can be expected as a result. The science has only gotten stronger in recent years, according to those who produced the report.

The congressionally mandated report requires responses from 13 federal agencies. Each one has someone in charge of coordinating the response, and there are people actively at work on those comments, said Katharine Hayhoe, a lead author of the report and a professor of political science at Texas Tech University.

The final signoff is not peer-reviewed because that has already been conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, she said. The agencies’ comments are meant to ensure that it meets federal government standards, she said. The draft version, on which agencies must comment, is the special science section of the National Climate Assessment.

“This report is one of, if not the most thoroughly peer-reviewed report on climate change ever produced in the United States,” Hayhoe said. “Not only has it been reviewed by peers, not only has it been reviewed by every relevant federal agency already once, not only has it been open for public review, it was reviewed by a committee convened by the National Academy of Sciences specifically for the purpose of reviewing this report.”

And yet it’s unclear how the Trump administration will respond, if it does at all. An unconditional approval of the draft is unlikely. There can be a conditional approval — which happened with the third draft under the Obama administration — with relatively minor changes.

The version now being drafted is the fourth iteration, and it’s no less clear on the science than the previous three versions. In fact, it’s stronger.

One of its findings is that global temperatures will continue to rise as a result of human-caused climate change and that a temperature spike since 1980 is the warmest period in 1,500 years. Yesterday, federal researchers revealed that July was one of the hottest months in 138 years of record keeping. July was the 391st consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th-century average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Thus far, 2017 is shaping up to be the second-warmest year on record.

EPA spokeswoman Amy Graham said the agency won’t comment publicly on the draft.

“EPA continues to discuss the best path forward for an honest, open dialogue in regard to climate science and will not comment on any draft report before its scheduled final release date,” she said.

Some conservatives are pushing the administration to not sign off on the report.

The administration should not issue an official document that is in conflict with its basic stance on climate science, said Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a former member of Trump’s EPA transition team. He said there is a “lot of leeway in the law” as to whether the document even needs to have a response and said it is typical of government to respond slowly.

“They let this get away from them by not paying attention to it,” Ebell said.

His advice to the administration is to delay the response until Pruitt can have a red team review its findings.

“If the assessment can be delayed, and I don’t think there is anything legally binding about putting it out on schedule, I think if it can be subjected to this back-and-forth analysis, I expect they will give a lot of ground on the assessment,” Ebell said.

Pruitt has already indicated that he favors that approach. He told a conservative radio interviewer last week that he wants to subject the science in the report to an extensive review.

“We’re going to review it like all the other 12 agencies and evaluate the merits and demerits and methodology and efficacy of the