- EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt will launch a formal review of climate science that could culminate in a challenge to the agency's 2009 endangerment finding on greenhouse gas emissions, E&E News reports.
- The review will involve a "back-and-forth" evaluation of the causes of climate change using government-selected experts, the outlet reported, citing an unnamed administration official. Pruitt has expressed skepticism over mainstream climate science, particularly the degree of human causation.
- Some coal executives reportedly interpret the move as a first step toward challenging the endangerment finding, which compels the EPA to regulate GHG emissions. But other sources told E&E Pruitt has not committed to that campaign, and unraveling the finding would be a heavy legal lift.
After days of news that the EPA would use "red team, blue team" exercises to evaluate climate science, E&E reports those efforts will take the form of a formal review of climate literature by government-selected officials.
The term refers to a military exercise used to evaluate vulnerabilities in which teams with opposing perspectives critique each other's proposals. But many climate scientists bristle at its application in the global warming debate, saying the basic question of human causation has been litigated many times over by the community.
“The system they describe is precisely what scientific peer-review is,” Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, told news outlet ThinkProgress.
Scientists and environmentalists worry the red team exercises could give undue influence to the small minority of climate scientists who question whether humans are the dominant cause of planetary warming over the last century. A 2016 review of decades of climate literature found 97% of scientists say humans are the primary cause.
Pruitt reportedly told a group of coal executives on Thursday that he would establish the review, leaving some of them under the impression that the move was a first step to contesting the GHG endangerment finding. The administrator has so far resisted calls from conservatives to challenge the finding outright, but he did sign on to a legal challenge against it in 2012.
Legal experts say overturning the 2009 finding would be a tough task, as Pruitt's EPA would have to prove in court that climate change is not a threat or that humans are not the primary cause. But establishing a review could be a first step in that direction, potentially allowing the EPA to point to a formal evaluation of climate science in legal proceedings.
It remains unclear whether the EPA will opt for that route, but Republicans could also affect the EPA's ability to regulate carbon by amending the Clean Air Act to remove its jurisdiction over the pollutant. A scientific review could potentially factor into a legislative push as well.
Power companies have cautioned the Trump administration against challenging the finding, E&E noted last week, with executives telling President Trump they want the EPA to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan with another set of climate regulations, rather than scrapping them altogether.
Regardless of the EPA's stance on climate change, the nation's utilities are expected to continue transitioning from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas and renewables. Executives at the Edison Electric Institute, the trade group for U.S. investor-owned utilities, told Utility Dive this month they see decarbonization and electrification of other industries as the central drivers of sector revenues in the 21st century.
“Our ability to deliver on environmental outcomes is really the thing that's going to drive growth in our industry in a time when underlying [power] uses right now are declining,” said Gerry Anderson, CEO of Michigan utility DTE Energy.