Shooting the Messenger — Denialism and the EPA Endangerment Finding

This is how it’s done, folks.

You don’t like the findings of science? It’s too ‘inconvenient’ to you for whatever reason — economic, political, ideological?

Too many billions of dollars in profits to make? Too many lush political contributions to garner? Too many ideological beliefs that threaten your identity if shattered?

Two options: like George W Bush, you can refuse to read the message. Or, like Tigranes in Plutarch’s The Life of Lucullus, if you don’t like the message, you kill the messenger.

You can’t deny the message? Kill the messenger any way you can, either by endlessly challenging the findings, the methods, the conclusions, the data, the character of the scientists themselves or the integrity of the scientific methods used.

Enough people will buy it because they simply don’t know better — or don’t want to.

As Carl Sagan said:

“We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”

I think Sagan was absolutely spot on in this. This ignorance about science and technology is what the denier relies on. Science is the enemy of those who would continue to pump greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere without regulation or controls. The strong reputation of science in general and the respect the public feels for scientists in particular is the target of those who want to destroy the message from this most inconvenient science.

The denialist attack on the EPA’s December 2009 finding that greenhouse gasses endangered human health is an exemplar of this strategy.

As background, the Supreme Court found in 2007 that greenhouse gasses are pollutants under the Clean Air Act, and as such, the EPA had to regulate GHGs if they were found to endanger human health. After an exhaustive analysis of the science and after receiving volumes of comments from the public and others, the EPA did in fact find that GHGs endangered human health and thus would have to be regulated.

How inconvenient!


The EPA was challenged by a number of petitioners from fossil fuel interests and denialist orgs like the Competitive Enterprise Institute, but rejected their claims.

It found the following:

The scientific evidence supporting EPA’s finding is robust, voluminous, and compelling. Climate change is happening now, and humans are contributing to it. Multiple lines of evidence show a global warming trend over the past 100 years. Beyond this, melting ice in the Arctic, melting glaciers around the world, increasing ocean temperatures, rising sea levels, altered precipitation patterns, and shifting patterns of ecosystems and wildlife habitats all confirm that our climate is changing.

The usual suspects got in on the act — here’s Steve McIntyre discussing his own reasons for becoming involved in the EPA bashing:

Here’s his submission:

Here’s an excerpt from his submission:

The Proposed Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases Under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act (the Finding) and its associated Technical Support Document (TSD) are “highly influential scientific assessments” and are therefore required to comply with section III of the OMB Peer Review Guidelines and accompanying Information Bulletin (OMB 2002; 2004) and the EPA Guidelines for Ensuring and Maximizing the Quality, Objectivity, Utility and Integrity of Information Disseminated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA 2002) (the “EPA Guidelines”), which include by reference other EPA policy manuals, including the EPA Quality Manual (EPA 2000) and the EPA Peer Review Handbook (EPA 2006a)

Interesting, isn’t it, how McIntyre’s tactic of questioning the process is the very same approach taken by Inhofe? I’m not sayin or anything…

Not willing to give in so easily, in April 2010, Sen. oil-and-gas Inhofe (R) sent a letter to the EPA IG challenging the way the EPA did its review. Inhofe is so infamous among denizens of the climate blogosphere he hardly needs introduction but suffice to say that he has 1,189,050 reasons to deny the science of global warming. He’s not only in denial of CO2 and GHG effects on the climate, but many other pollutants, which he brags about on his website.

So, the EPA’s IG spent $300K of taxpayer’s money to find that “EPA met statutory requirements for rulemaking and generally followed requirements and guidance related to ensuring the quality of the supporting technical information.”

Here’s what the EPA OIG did:

Our evaluation focused only on EPA’s process for developing the endangerment finding and ensuring information quality.

Here is the EPA OIG’s conclusion:

EPA met statutory requirements for rulemaking and generally followed requirements and guidance related to ensuring the quality of the supporting technical information.

This is what the EPA OIG did not do:

We did not evaluate the effectiveness of IPCC’s or other organizations’ information quality procedures. We did not test the validity of the scientific or technical information used by EPA to support its endangerment finding, nor did we evaluate the merit of the conclusions or analyses presented in EPA’s endangerment finding. We did not make conclusions regarding the impact that EPA’s information quality control systems may have had on the scientific information used to support the endangerment finding.

IOW, this finding has nothing to say about the science. It is solely about process and whether the EPA finding was a Technical Support Document (TSD) or a Highly Influential Scientific Assessment (HISA), which have different expectations for peer review.

All of the science used in its endangerment finding, whether it was IPCC, or NAS, or other sources, was exhaustively peer-reviewed. There is no question, except amongst denialists, about the general findings of the science. The EPA used extensively peer-reviewed science for its finding. That is not under question. But the deniers won’t let the facts — that are not under dispute — get in the way of a good spin. Already, many are misrepresenting the IG’s report and its implications, making outrageous claims about the cost of the EPA endangerment finding like this gem from Rep. Fred Upton (R) of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.  Inhofe himself is already spinning this as are other denialist / skeptic blogs and media.

This is the tactic of climate deniers. Deny, dispute, discredit and distort. Take the science and distort it all out of proportion, mislead and obfuscate. Use the friendly politically-aligned media to broadcast the denial. Use front groups with fancy sounding names to tout the denial. Buy off politicians with donations so that you have them in your pocket and they will do your bidding in order to stay in power. Have bogus experts, ideologically aligned experts and just plain purchased shills to spread the denial. Play up the public’s sense of outrage over various issues — privilege, tax funding, fraud. Insinuate but don’t ever come right out and make accusations that could result in a lawsuit. Just go so far. Then, attack climate scientists, making innuendo but never fully committing to slander or libel.

Those who pursue this denialist agenda probably know the science is sound, but have too many dollars and too much power at stake. That makes this all the more reprehensible. If they truly were self-deceived, they might be forgiven. But this cynical attempt to mislead and benefit from lies is beyond the pale. They want to milk fossil fuels for every stinking filthy destructive oil-covered penny for as long as possible and prevent regulation of industry for as long as possible.

When the science is too inconvenient? You resort to outright denial and when that doesn’t work, you simply shoot the messenger.

To hell with the future.

For more on this story, go here:

Scott Mandia

Union of Concerned Scientists

Shawn Lawrence Otto and Shawn Lawrence Otto 2

Think Progress’s Brad Johnson

Climate Science Watch

About Policy Lass

Exploring skeptic tales.

3 Responses to “Shooting the Messenger — Denialism and the EPA Endangerment Finding”

  1. I spent some time reading the OIG report and the whole thing boils down to whether the TSD constituted influential scientific information (ISI) or whether it constituted a highly influential scientific assessment (HISA). EPA maintains that it was only ISI because all of the material involved came from extensively reviewed prior assessments from the IPCC, NRC and USGCRP/CCSP and merely summarized those findings.

    OIG of course felt differently. Shades of the Monett investigation?

    • Norway rat,

      The brown rat is usually active at night and is a good swimmer, both on the surface and underwater, but unlike the related Black Rat (Rattus rattus) they are poor climbers. Brown rats dig well, and often excavate extensive burrow systems. A 2007 study found brown rats to possess metacognition, a mental ability previously only found in humans and some primates,[10] but further analysis suggested that they may have been following simple operant conditioning principles.

  2. Same tactic — attack the scientist or institution if you can’t attack the science.

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