Written by: Anatole Ashraf
The Environmental Protection Agency continues to face challenges as another election year begins with 2012. On Dec. 29, Texas filed a motion in federal appeals court to block the Obama Administration’s attempts to regulate the emissions of greenhouse gases. Another federal court rejected the state’s petition one day before on Dec. 28.
The move by Texas is merely the latest in what continues to be a difficult period for the Environmental Protection Agency. The Jan. 1 implementation of the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which places stricter federal limits on pollution from coal-fired plants was delayed at the last minute by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit on Dec. 31.
“Texas law does not currently deem greenhouse gases to be pollutants,” said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has previously claimed that the state was determined to fight the EPA’s intentions. “Once again, the federal government is overreaching, and improperly intruding upon the state of Texas and its legal rights.”
Greg Abbott’s comments reflect one of the greatest challenges facing the EPA—climate change denial. With the 2012 presidential election, doubts and gaps in the science regarding global warming and rising temperatures stand to be frequently highlighted by candidates and politicians to gain favor with deniers.
The increasing fervor of charges against climate change can be traced back to a 2009 incident regarding personal emails circulating between researchers at the Climatic Research Unit of the U.K.’s University of East Anglia, the leading institution focused on climate change. Dubbed a scandal called “Climategate,” the emails revealed increasing frustration on the part of climate scientists, with one admitting that he was “tempted to beat” a skeptic at the libertarian Cato institute. The impact on public opinion was almost immediate, with a poll conducted five weeks later by Yale and George Mason University finding 57 percent of respondents believing that the planet is warming. A similar poll conducted in 2008 found 71 percent believers.
Some say climate change denial stems from negative reactions to new findings. According to political scientist Charles Taber of Stony Brook University, a person hearing about a discovery that challenges deeply held beliefs will have a negative subconscious response which in turn will guide the type of conscious memories and associations. “They retrieve thoughts that are consistent with their previous beliefs, and that will lead them to build an argument and challenge what they’re hearing,” Taber said. (On a humorous note, Mother Jones has compiled a “Field Guide to Climate Change Skeptics”.)
In the face of opposition from climate change deniers and a complicated relationship with lawmakers and politicians, the EPA’s mandate to regulate environmental crime and enforce environmental justice seems to be a challenge. Current administrator Lisa P. Jackson, however, announced at a speech at Power Shift 2011, an annual conference on climate change policy, that she was more energized than ever to “keep America on a path towards a more green and environmentally sustainable future.”