News: CJ Exclusives

Critics: Climate Panel Not Balanced

Commission devoid of global-warming skeptics

A commission to study the effects of global climate change, established by the General Assembly this year, could be constituted to arrive at a foregone conclusion because of its makeup, some critics say.

Environmental groups, which have constantly issued dire threats about the dangers of global warming, are amply represented on the panel. A few others on the commission are also affiliated with, or have contributed funding to, the groups.

In contrast, the commission is devoid of any obvious skeptics of the dangers of global warming. And even though the stated purpose of the commission is to determine costs, benefits, and economic impact of any actions taken in response to potential climate change, no economists were named to the board. That may change since state Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight will appoint nine of the members.

“It does … appear that we will appoint at least one economist to the commission,” Basnight spokesman Tony Caravano said in an e-mail response to questions.

But State Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Mocksville, said that adding someone who might not automatically buy the global-warming assumption still leaves the commission far short of the ideological balance it needs.

“You’re still looking at a stacked deck,” said Brock, who was critical earlier this year of the legislation that created the commission. “You’re looking at one, versus 30.”

The commission will actually consist of 34 members, including nine appointees each by Basnight and by Speaker of the House Jim Black. Black’s office did not respond to questions about the commission or his potential appointees.

“We’ve got to see what the president pro tem and the speaker do in terms of their appointments,” said Ed Erickson, an economics professor at North Carolina State University who specializes in research of global-oil and global-warming issues. “My concern is that they will have been gotten to by the environmental lobby.”

Brock sponsored a press conference in July at the Legislative Building in which the John Locke Foundation sponsored Dr. S. Fred Singer, a physicist who specializes in studying global-climate trends. Singer is president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, a nonprofit research organization, who disputes the claims of environmentalists who think global warming is unique and a threat to the world.

Brock is concerned that organizations having established beliefs in the perceived dangers of global warming are well-represented on the commission, but that no critics of the global-warming theory have been appointed. That may be because environmentalists pushed the legislation that created the commission in the first place. Leaders or designees of Environmental Defense, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the North Carolina Coastal Federation, and the Conservation Council of North Carolina are among global-warming theorists who will be on the panel.

“Global warming is the most profound environmental challenge of our time,” Environmental Defense’s website says. “Strong government action is needed to combat this most urgent environmental problem, and we are leading this effort.”

“Catastrophic storms like hurricanes and intense thunder storms are more likely as the climate changes and will contribute to excessive erosion, flooding, loss of human life, devastating losses to property and increases in insurance costs,” says the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “North Carolina already experiences more hurricanes than any other state except Florida.”

Groups that consider global warming a threat have called for dramatic reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, which are mostly caused by the burning of fossil fuels. That would impose steep regulatory costs on large industries and energy companies.

Opponents of the theory say the earth has always undergone prolonged periods of warming and cooling. The current trend is just part of the alternating cycle, they say. They warn that if irrational policies in response to a normal, natural phenomenon are enacted, it could do severe harm to the economy.

Other representatives on the commission have ties to the environmental groups, or themselves represent liberal positions on the environment. Also participating will be an appointee of Dr. William Schlesinger, dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Duke University. He is a regional board member and advisor for Environmental Defense.

In August, Schlesinger wrote an opinion article for The News & Observer of Raleigh, in which he promoted the idea of a carbon tax as an incentive to lower the use of fossil fuels.

“The United States needs to get real with the interconnected issues of energy and climate,” he wrote. “We can address both simultaneously by adopting policies that increase the cost (and thus discourage the use) of traditional carbon-based fossil fuels, and with provisions that promote the use of alternative energies.”

Also on the commission will be someone chosen by Douglas Crawford-Brown, director of the Carolina Environmental Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and another advocate for limiting carbon emissions. He teaches a summer program in Europe on International Environmental Assessment and Energy Policy, some years in Cambridge and other years in Salzburg, Austria. In June a British organization’s website, the Community Carbon Reduction Program, quoted Crawford-Brown about his work.

“We are coming here (to Cambridge) to learn lessons from the UK on how a responsible nation responds to climate change,” he said, “lessons to be brought back to the States as examples of best practice to which our own country and towns might aspire.”

Crawford-Brown brought those lessons back home and helped get them implemented in Chapel Hill. The Town Council voted to join the project in September, voluntarily agreeing to cut carbon emissions with a goal of 60 percent in reduction by the year 2050.

Although Brock said opponents of the theory are not on the panel, Caravano said there are.

“This commission has balanced representation from entities across the state and will be further balanced by the appointments made by Senator Basnight and Speaker Black,” Caravano said.

The business interests on the panel will consist of appointees made by Duke Power, Progress Energy, North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry, and the Manufacturers and Chemical Industry Council of North Carolina. A. Preston Howard, president of MCIC, said his group got involved in the development of the legislation and helped swing the overall balance of the commission.

“There were some issues with the bill we wanted to have addressed,” Howard said. “It’s certainly more balanced than the original bill.”

He said the commission needed to have representation to counter “those who view this as a near-term catastrophic issue,” because dramatic policy changes would likely cost members of his organization, which represents large industries, a great deal more. Howard’s own views appeared to somewhat temper the alarmist viewpoint.

“I believe in the near term, the globe is warming,” Howard said. “I also believe it’s not the first cycle in our history where we’ve seen the globe warmed or cooled.”

Howard said he isn’t sure whether global warming is a problem that needs to be addressed. But, he said, businesses in the state shouldn’t be put at an economic disadvantage for a potential problem that can be addressed only nationally, if not internationally.

“There is absolutely nothing any individual state can do to address this problem,” he said.

Howard wasn’t concerned that global-warming skeptics weren’t represented on the panel, because those experts “are accessible if we need them.”

As for Duke Energy and Progress Energy, their positions on the issue are clearly not as doubters.

“It is clear that the United States needs cohesive environmental and energy policies that break the continuing logjam, and we intend to take a leadership role in developing and advancing those policies,” Duke CEO Paul M. Anderson wrote to shareholders in March. “For example, we will be proactive on the issue of global climate change…Ideally, U.S. public policy should encourage a transition to a lower-carbon-intensive economy through a broad-based approach, such as a carbon tax or other mechanism which addresses all sectors of the economy.”

Duke also made a $2.5 million donation to Duke University’s Climate Change Policy Partnership, which will fund research fellowships at state universities. Graduate students in the program will study economic issues related to emissions regulations.

In May the Charlotte Business Journal reported some surprised reactions to Anderson’s comments, including a U.S. senator’s.

“Duke Energy has fallen victim today to the scare tactics of the extreme environmental left on the issue of climate change,” said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla.

Besides Duke, a foundation established by Progress Energy has also donated to environmental causes, including the N.C. Coastal Federation. However, Progress has not taken a clear public position on the global-warming theory.

Among the last of the additions to the commission were a North Carolina State climatologist, Dr. Sethu Raman, and a research professor at East Carolina University who specializes in sea-level change, Dr. Stanley Riggs. They should have been among the first placed on the commission, Brock said.

“If we have a commission to study the climate,” Brock said, “we should have people on the commission who study the climate.”

A spokesman for one of the participating environmental groups promised that credible scientists would represent them.

“It’s very likely we will ask a member of our board to represent us on the commission, who is a scientist who has considerable background in this area,” said Jim Stephenson, a program analyst for the N.C. Coastal Federation. He suggested that one board member would be Dr. Raymond Burby, a professor of city and regional planning at UNC-Chapel Hill. He holds a doctorate in planning from the university.

Stephenson said his organization welcomed the additions of Raman and Riggs. “We think that makes a lot of sense,” he said.

He also said he thinks that the business representatives on the commission strike a reasonable counterbalance to the environmental groups.

“It’s my sense that the business and environmental communities aren’t starting off at the same place,” he said. “We will find common ground.”

Editorial intern Paul Messino contributed reporting to this article.

Paul Chesser is associate editor of Carolina Journal>i>. Contact him at [email protected].