Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Peabody Coal's Contrarian Scientist Witnesses Lose Their Court Case

The Sierra Club's members and supporters are more than 2 million of your friends and neighbors. Inspired by nature, we work together to protect our communities and the planet. We’re America's oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization. The North Star Chapter is Minnesota’s leading grassroots voice to preserve and protect the state’s environment. Our members lead work on a breadth of issues all across Minnesota to protect our state’s natural places and address our most pressing environmental challenges. (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
In Minnesota, an administrative hearing resulted in a judicial recommendation that will have impacts across the country.  It was a case argued mainly between environmental groups (such as Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, and their clients Fresh Energy and the Sierra Club) and energy producers (such as the now-bankrupt coal company Peabody Energy) regarding what a reasonable social cost of carbon should be.

I was called as an expert witness in the case along with respected climate scientist Dr. Andrew Dessler.  We were opposed by the well-known contrarians Drs. Roy Spencer, Richard Lindzen, and William Happer (who has recently received attention related to his charged fees in the case). In full disclosure, Dr. Dessler and I were not paid for our work in the case.  I recently wrote about the testimony and provided links to the testimonies submitted for the case.  The judge’s recommendations and how they will impact energy decisions in the USA were the keys to this trial.

On April 15th, the Administrative Law Judge decided that the estimated cost of carbon pollution currently used in Minnesota is too low.  New knowledge about how fast the climate is changing, how much it will change, and how it will affect societies and economies would be reflected in a larger carbon cost.  This leads to a large increase in the estimated cost, from $0.44-4.53 per ton to $11-57 per ton.  A summary of the ruling can be found here and the full report is available here.

How was this case won?  Well certainly it helps to have science on your side.  Without that, even the most expensive expert witnesses struggle.  But Peabody’s scientists made errors that were easy to identify and point out to the Judge.  Furthermore, the Judge was smart, quickly able to see through nonsense non-science.
Perhaps the key findings are best articulated in the judicial conclusions, which begin on page 114.  Among the conclusions are
22. The Administrative Law Judge concludes that Peabody failed to demonstrate that an equilibrium climate sensitivity of 1 or 1.5°C is correct.

23. The Administrative Law Judge concludes that the climate sensitivity is reasonably considered to be in the 2-4.5°C range.

47. The Administrative Law Judge concludes that Peabody failed to demonstrate that the relied upon process is neither peer-reviewed nor transparent.
Read more at Peabody Coal's Contrarian Scientist Witnesses Lose Their Court Case

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