Representatives Question Science Behind CFC Phaseout

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Publication date: 
26 September 1995
Number: 
132

One item on the agenda of the congressional majority is reducing
federal regulations, including some related to environmental
protection.  House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX), and fellow
Representative John Doolittle (R-CA), have recently introduced
bills that would attempt to slow down or eliminate the planned
phaseout of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) set for the end of this
year, as dictated by the Copenhagen amendment to the Montreal
Protocol.  The two bills were discussed at a September 20 hearing
of the House Science Subcommittee on Energy and Environment.  The
hearing was chaired by Dana Rohrabacher (R-FL), who has called the
theory of global warming "at worst...liberal clap trap."  It was
the first in a series of oversight hearings to examine how
scientific research is used to formulate federal policies and
regulations.

Supporting Rohrabacher's intention to "hear from both sides
equally," the hearing featured both proponents and opponents of the
1995 CFC ban, and included representatives of atmospheric and
environmental sciences, astrophysics, immunology, and biophysics,
as well as industry and government agencies.  Witnesses reviewed
the scientific evidence for causal relationships between
anthropogenic increases of CFCs, stratospheric ozone depletion,
increased ultraviolet-B radiation reaching the Earth's surface, and
adverse health effects. 

Rohrabacher focused mainly on the scientific justification for the
U.S.'s 1992 decision to speed up the date of the phaseout from
January 1, 2000, as dictated by the original Montreal Protocol, to
the end of 1995.  The international community followed the U.S. by
agreeing in November of 1992 to move up the phaseout date.
Rohrabacher charged, as did DeLay and Doolittle, that the impetus
for the U.S.'s accelerated deadline was a February 1992 NASA press
release that predicted a possible ozone hole over the Northern
Hemisphere.  They claimed the warning was faulty and based on
environmentalist scare tactics.  They also considered the evidence
for the ban questionable, discounted the scientific consensus
behind the policy, and expressed concerns that opposing views were
being suppressed.  Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) noted, though, that
policy-makers had to "go with the best available science at the
time," and John Olver (D-MA) added that if Congress waited until
the evidence was certain, "we may be left with something
irreversible."

Witness Fred Singer of the Science and Environmental Policy Project
asserted that "there is no scientific consensus on ozone depletion"
and charged that the international scientific community ignored
"contrary evidence and dissenting views."  He argued that the
accelerated phaseout was based "on nothing more than a highly
questionable and widely criticized NASA press conference," and
called it deplorable that "policy is being made by press release."

Robert Watson, OSTP Associate Director of Environment and a
co-chair of the International Ozone Assessment Science Panel,
defended the science underlying the policy:  "Hundreds of
scientists, from developed and developing countries, some of whom
were at one time skeptics, have been involved in the preparation
and peer-review of each of a series of international scientific
assessments conducted under the auspices of the World
Meteorological Organization [WMO] and the United Nations
Environment Programme."  Watson refuted claims that the phaseout
was accelerated primarily because of media hype surrounding the
NASA press release.  He pointed out that the release was not in
error, and added that the international scientific community was
unlikely to be swayed by such a media event.

Watson also countered the charge that contradictory data was
ignored.  He reported that many participants, including industry
representatives and the then-Soviet Union, were originally
skeptical of the issue, but evolved into "key players" after their
scientists became involved in the assessments.  Watson's contention
was supported by Kevin Fay of the 250-member industry Alliance for
Responsible Atmospheric Policy.  Fay admitted that "in 1980 we
believed that rigorous scientific analysis would eventually
disprove" the theory, but on the basis of participation in the 1986
WMO assessment, "industry representatives came to the conclusion
that the potential existed for serious and unacceptable future
environmental risks, if CFC growth continued..."  However, Sallie
Baliunas of the George C. Marshall Institute testified that she had
personally been discouraged from working in areas that might
contradict the accepted theory.  Rohrabacher called that the "most
serious thing" to come out of the hearing, and promised further
investigation of the issue.

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