Physicist S. Fred Singer is well known for his efforts to undermine the science of global warming, and his longstanding ties to industry-backed efforts to thwart large-scale reduction of global-warming pollution. Our friends over at Desmogblog have a useful summary of his scientific hackery and funding in their Denier Database, and Newsweek wrote about his role in corporate-funded public relations campaigns in an August 2007 cover story on the denialist machine.
Singer, however, isn't content to remain infamous in the scientific arena-- he's now giving
free legal advice to the courts and to the Bush administration. In today's Detroit News, Singer argues that November's unanimous 9th Circuit ruling invalidating CAFE standards for light trucks and minivans should be overturned using his "independent" scientific efforts to counter the Nobel-laureate IPCC as a foundation. His legal ambitions go even further than that, however:
In view of these findings, the Department of Justice should appeal the Ninth Circuit's ruling to the Supreme Court. Doing so would also provide an opportunity for the high court to revisit its April 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA -- in which it ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant.
This time around, the White House should be better prepared to argue its case. Science is on its side.
In other words, if only the Bush administration did a better job of using Fred Singer's arguments, it could convince the Supreme Court-- which hasn't changed in composition since last April-- to fundamentally reverse itself and set aside its earlier textual reading of the Clean Air Act. We'd probably laugh this aside and not waste valuable blogging time if it weren't for the source's history suggesting that when he speaks, more powerful and deep-pocketed political actors might well be pulling the strings.
Singer's legal assessment of the NHTSA ruling is also fundamentally flawed in ways that go beyond his lack of strategic acumen:
--First and foremost, he writes that, "Central to the court's ruling was the claim that the federal agency, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, had ignored the benefits of reducing emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide." Actually, Singer is hopelessly confused regarding the court's ruling on the plaintiffs' NEPA claims-- it had nothing to do with cost-benefits analysis, and everything to do with NHTSA's failure to even consider (let alone actively account for) carbon impacts in its environmental impact statement.
And while we agree that this portion of the ruling may have a significant impact in the long term, it was by no means central to the decision. The judges also found that NHTSA violated the Energy Policy and Conservation Act in four separate ways, including the cost-benefits evaluation that Singer refers to.
--As Mass v. EPA demonstrated, Singer's core arguments are fundamentally flawed not only in terms of science, but in terms of how government agencies can and should mitigate global warming pollution. The law is clear, and the courts have become even clearer, that the global scope of climate change and supposed minimal impact of regulations are simply not sufficient grounds for thwarting regulation. The EPA is empowered to address the global warming problem step-by-step, and its global nature does not free EPA (or NHTSA) from the duty to do what it can now.
We'd suggest that Singer stick to science, where he at least has a PhD, if not for the disreputable nature of his professional efforts there. Maybe, since he's pretty much asking the administration to pull a rabbit out of its hat (in a legal sense), he might have some luck with a career in magic...