A look at the policy process and budgeting: EPA Budget Hearings

Over the next couple of days, the Senate Environmental Public Works (EPW) committee will conduct hearings on the EPA’s budget for fiscal year (FY) 2011. What’s interesting from the hearings is that it provides an inside look at how policymakers are not only debating the issue, but also how they are constructing arguments on facts that best suite their existing positions on climate change. This is nothing new in terms of the political process, but does highlight some of the challenges where science and politics converge in developing public policy.

Highlights of the request include:

  • The overall request for FY2011 is approximately a $10B budget for the EPA.
  • The request includes a reduction to overall agency funding by about $300M from FY2010 while reallocating about $56M (includes new funding of $43M) for programs to regulate and control greenhouse gas emissions.
  • There have been concerted efforts led by Senator Linda Murkowski (R-AK) and Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) to introduce legislation to strip from the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.  The budget process for the EPA serves as a forum for these legislators to block, or water-down, regulatory efforts by the EPA.

Nevertheless, from watching the hearings there are many questions left unanswered:

  • Should the EPA regulate carbon dioxide or is it the role of Congress?
  • Why do EPW senators provide such differing causal arguments about climate change ?
  • How does the public perceive the arguments for or against climate change? Do public perceptions matter?
  • How can we redefine this issue beyond the current rhetoric (e.g. partisanship, personal attacks, binary divisions in the global context of “us versus them,” etc.)? Has the debate become too cavalier?
  • Do you feel the EPW and EPA are representing our interests or the interests of special groups who would benefit from this type of legislation?
  • Should government regulate industries over environmental issues or develop markets and provide subsidies for industries to compete in environmental markets?
  • What are some of the limits of environmentalism in shaping environmental policy?
  • Why does Senator Inofe have an issue with political scientists?
  • How important is using political arguments around scientific certainty in order to develop competing policies to regulate carbon dioxide?

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The Politics Over The Process of Scientific Consensus on Climate Change

Over the past few months, the politics surrounding climate change continues to heat up . Recent efforts by global warming opponents have sought to disclaim the work, and credibility, of groups like the IPCC and CRU.  Opponents have been successful in their efforts to disclaim the work by these institutions by shifting the debate towards claims of cover ups and the mishandling of data by prominent climate scientists as proof of malfeasance. The goal of these efforts by global warming opponents is to redefine the debate over climate change.

By attempting to reshape the public’s perceptions of this issue, climate change opponents are attempting to provide an alternative explanation about some of the problems with the scientific consensus on global warming. This is a shift from previous attempts by global warming opponents to claim that climate change is either not happening or not a result of human activity. This strategy focuses on creating doubt among the public over the entire process in which scientific consensus was reached on this issue. Thus far opponents have done this in two ways. First, opponents have been successful in disclaiming the CRU. This led to the resignation of its Director, Phil Jones, over  leaked email messages that global warming opponents claimed was evidence of a corrupt peer-reviewed system by which scientific evidence on climate change was based.  Second, opponents have begun to discredit the IPCC over glacier-gate. Opponents claim the process that resulted in glacier-gate (faulty predictions over the melting of Himalayian glaciers) typifies a flawed process by which the IPCC makes their assessment on climate change; namely the IPCC’s process is driven by a political agenda and bureaucratic incompetence.  So, where does this leave us? Well, we should expect to see  global warming opponents up the ante in their efforts to challenge the process by which scientific consensus is reached over climate change.