Climate change skeptic causes debate


Alan Carlin ignited the climate change discussions in Washington last month and the debate shows no signs of dying down.

The New York Times reports:

Alan Carlin, a 72-year-old analyst and economist, had labored in obscurity in a little-known office at the Environmental Protection Agency since the Nixon administration.

In June, however, he became a sudden celebrity with the surfacing of a few e-mail messages that seemed to show that his contrarian views on global warming had been suppressed by his superiors because they were inconvenient to the Obama administration’s climate change policy. Conservative commentators and Congressional Republicans said he had been muzzled because he did not toe the liberal line.

But a closer look at his case and a broader set of internal E.P.A. documents obtained by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act paint a more complicated picture.

It is true that Dr. Carlin’s supervisor refused to accept his comments on a proposed E.P.A. finding, since adopted, that greenhouse gases endangered health and the environment, and that he did so in a dismissive way.

But the newly obtained documents show that Dr. Carlin’s highly skeptical views on global warming, which have been known for more than a decade within the small unit where he works, have been repeatedly challenged by scientists inside and outside the E.P.A.; that he holds a doctorate in economics, not in atmospheric science or climatology; that he has never been assigned to work on climate change; and that his comments on the endangerment finding were a product of rushed and at times shoddy scholarship, as he acknowledged Thursday in an interview.

Dr. Carlin remains on the job and free to talk to the news media, and since the furor his comments on the finding have been posted on the E.P.A.’s Web site. Further, his supervisor, Al McGartland, also a career employee of the agency, received a reprimand in July for the way he had handled Dr. Carlin.

Dr. McGartland, also an economist, declined to comment on the matter. But top officials of the agency said his decision not to forward Dr. Carlin’s comments to the E.P.A. office that would be writing the final report had been his own and not directed by anyone higher up in the agency.

Adora Andy, the agency’s chief spokeswoman, called the accusation that Dr. Carlin had been muzzled for political reasons “ridiculous.”

“There was no predetermined position on endangerment, and Dr. Carlin’s work was not suppressed,” Ms. Andy said in an e-mail response to questions. “This administration has always welcomed varying scientific points of view, and we received much of it over this process.”

Dr. Carlin said he was concerned less about how he had been treated than about what he described as the agency’s unwillingness to hear the arguments of climate change skeptics. He said there was an obvious “imbalance” between the billions of dollars the government had spent building a case for dangerous climate change and the lack of attention to a handful of skeptics like him.

The affair began in March as the E.P.A. was rushing to document the scientific justification for its proposed finding that emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases endangered public health and the environment. The finding was largely an updated version of a similar report, prepared last year under the Bush administration, that came to the same conclusion. But the Bush administration never acted on the research or issued an actual finding.

The agency’s officials were acting in March under severe time constraints to prepare the finding for the E.P.A. administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, who was planning to issue it in mid-April, fulfilling a presidential campaign pledge by Barack Obama. The finding set the stage for the government to regulate greenhouse gases for the first time, an initiative that will resonate through the economy for decades.

Dr. Carlin, long known as a skeptic on global warming, was not invited to submit comments on the document. But he was determined that his views be heard.

He rushed out a 93-page report that cited a variety of sources in raising questions about global warming and the usefulness of government action to combat it. In an accompanying e-mail message to superiors, he said the belief in global warming was “more religion than science” and warned that regulating carbon dioxide would be “the worst mistake that E.P.A. has ever made.”

Agency officials and outside experts who reviewed his report as a result of the outcry over the episode have said they found it wanting in a number of ways. It included unverified information from blog posts, they found, quoted selectively from journal articles, failed to acknowledge contradictory information and may have borrowed passages verbatim from the blog of a well-known climate change doubter.

In the interview Thursday, Dr. Carlin admitted that his report had been poorly sourced and written. He blamed the tight deadline.

“There are numerous problems with it,” he said. “I wouldn’t dream of sending it to a journal in its current form. It is totally unacceptable for that type of thing. But it was either do it in four and a half days or don’t do it. I had to take some shortcuts.”

According to e-mail messages that were among the documents obtained this week under the Freedom of Information Act, Dr. McGartland had earlier tried to discourage Dr. Carlin from filing comments on the proposed finding and told him that whatever he submitted was not likely to affect the final report, implying that the decision had already been made. After receiving Dr. Carlin’s comments, Dr. McGartland told him that he would not forward them to the office preparing the final report.

“The time for such discussion of fundamental issues has passed for this round,” he wrote on March 17. “The administrator and the administration has decided to move forward on endangerment, and your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision.”

A few minutes later, he instructed Dr. Carlin to “move on to other issues and subjects.” He also told Dr. Carlin not to discuss climate change with anyone outside his immediate office.

The e-mail messages most embarrassing to the E.P.A. came to light in late June, when someone sympathetic to Dr. Carlin leaked them to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative group that regularly produces studies critical of research that advances a case for climate change and government actions to address it. The institute distributed the material widely, and a number of conservative commentators and Republican lawmakers seized on it as an example of what they called Democratic suppression of science.

Dr. McGartland was “counseled” by his superior “to assure that professional differences are expressed in appropriate and considered ways,” according to one of the newly released documents.

Dr. Carlin said he and Dr. McGartland had not spoken to each other since June.

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