Daily Archives: June 29, 2011

The State of the Climate in Dispute: Who to Believe

Like many in a profession involving climate science, my head begins to spin when I see claims made in the press by dueling “experts.” I’m sure my colleagues in the water and wastewater field are sometimes equally confused.  And some seem reluctant to jump in and make judgments in this area because they are not experts. But judgment and discernment must be done if good decisions are to be made. Having lived in Colorado for most of my career, I can detect a snow job when I see it, even though I am not an expert on snow flakes.  And so can others.

There are several ways to assess credibility, which by the way I must also use on my own work.  One is to not say or claim more than the science can support (this is a big temptation for all academics), making a distinction between what I know as a scientist and engineer and what I think may be true. Another is to examine the data analysis behind a scientific claim, and if no data is provided, then regardless of what is claimed, the claim cannot be considered seriously from a scientific perspective. (It may be worth considering for other reasons, but not for any scientific basis.)   

With regard to climate and the state of the climate, The Heartland Institute is hosting their annual conference on climate change (click here) June 30 to July 1. Attendance is open to anyone and I believe it can also be viewed on line.

The Heartland Institute conference is in Washington, DC.  So it is probably no surprise that an article was published in the Washington Post today (click here) with a provocative headline suggesting that global warming is indeed occurring. This article makes serious claims that, as I read it, are not substantiated with any data.  Government-funded sources are quoted making statements that look to me beyond the science or based on selective data. Yes, the earth does bulge. Don’t forget that the earth rotates as well with the pull of the silvery moon, so the oceans slosh back and forth like big bath tubs. Without a firm fixed reference point even the idea of sea level rising becomes meaningless. If post modern science is used, sea level could be made to do just about whatever we want it to do, even rise and fall in the same place at the same time.

In contrast to the Washington Post article, the analysis presented here (click here) presents data, analysis, and a reasoned explanation on the state of the climate system. Readers may agree or disagree with any part of this analysis, but the reasoning is there.

So which is more credible? As food for thought, I am reminded of a lesson I learned from a legislative representative my first year working in Washington, DC in 1988:  “Facts Talk; B*ll Sh*t Walks” The lesson: Without good data and analysis, all that remains to make an argument is hand-waving.

If underlying data and models are not made available for independent review and scrutiny (or withheld for political purposes), then those scientists and experts can only make hand waving arguments which will not be taken seriously as scientific arguments.

Lastly, I find it rather remarkable that underlying data and model code is not being provided by some climate researchers. Even more perplexing, is that Freedom of Information Act Requests (FOIA) are needed.  FOIA requests should not even be necessary in the first place if data and models are transparent and peer-review processes are properly managed.

And now AAAS appears to equate data disclosure and transparency with personal attacks (click here).  Scientists are certainly entitled to their views and must not be threatened with personal attacks in any way.  But open disclosure and transparency of data and analysis is a necessity and will go along way to restoring the trust necessary for the scientific endeavor to function at all.  For another perspective on the AAAS statement click here.


“Waters of the United States” Comment Period Extended until July 31, 2011

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) have extended the public comment period by 30 days for the Draft Guidance on Identifying Waters Protected by the Clean Water Act.

Additional public comment will be taken until July 31, 2011. A notice of this extension will be published in the Federal Register. The agency’s have stated that this change in the public comment period will not impact the schedule for finalizing the guidance or alter the intent to proceed with a rulemaking. 

The guidance (click here) is not binding and does not have the force of law. However, these agencies intend to prepare a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking as well.  This guidance has been criticized as another attempt by government to over reach by taking over more control of water and private lands (click here).

For my prior discussion of CWA jurisdicational issues click here (membership or fee).

Email comments to the docket at ow-docket@epa.gov.




Examiner: Big Green Salaries Enriching

The Washington Examiner has tabulated the salaries of leaders of environmental groups, as well as their opposing groups. 

Leaders of 15 top Big Green environmental groups are paid more than $300,000 in annual compensation.  At $584,232, the Conservation Fund’s Richard L. Erdmann, the group’s executive vice president and general counsel, is the most highly paid official of the 15 organizations examined.  Leaders of their opposition groups are paid substantially less.

Click here for the full article.



SBAR Lead Rule Panel Nominations Requested by July 12, 2011

 The US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA ) is asking small businesses, governments, and non-profit organizations to participate as Small Entity Representatives ( SERs ) for a Small Business Advocacy Review ( SBAR ) Panel. The panel will focus on the agency’s development of a rule that proposes revisions to the lead and copper rule.

The Regulatory Flexibility Act requires USEPA to establish an SBAR Panel for rules that may have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities (small communities; small water systems). The panel includes federal representatives from the Small Business Administration, the Office of Management and Budget, and USEPA.

The panel asks a selected group of SERs to provide advice and recommendations on behalf of their company, community, or organization to inform the panel about the potential impacts of the proposed rule on small entities. These panels essentially function as political entities — input of SERs may or may not be considered or adopted by the SBAR….

A small entity may be a small buisness, small government, or small organization. In this case a “small government” is any jurisdiction serving a population of 50,000 residents or fewer.  Click here for a fact sheet on what small entities should know if they plan to participate.

Small entities that may be subject to the rule requirements may self-nominate through the following link. Nominations must be received by July 12, 2011: 

Self-nominate online at: http://www.epa.gov/sbrefa/leadandcopper.htm 

Click here for more information about the lead and copper rule: http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/rulesregs/sdwa/lcr/index.cfm

Gao et al 2011: Graphite Oxide Coated Sand

This paper has recieved a lot of press coverage (e.g., click here) in recent days……eventhough GO coated sand is still very much in the research stages. Perhaps this is a result of good marketing by Rice University or perhaps a slow news cycle? In any case, look for more of these types of materials to be developed in the future:

Gao, W., M. Majumder, Alemany, L.B., Narayanan, T.N., Ibarra, M.A., Pradhan, B.K., and P.M. Ajayan. 2011. Engineered Graphite Oxide Materials for Application in Water Purification. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 2011, 3 (6), pp 1821–1826. DOI: 10.1021/am200300u

Department of Chemistry, Rice University, Houston, TX-77005, USA

Source: American Chemical Society Applied Materials and Interfaces, 2011, 3 (6), pp 1821–1826

Abstract: Retaining the inherent hydrophilic character of GO (graphite-oxide) nanosheets, sp2 domains on GO are covalently modified with thiol groups by diazonium chemistry. The surface modified GO adsorbs 6-fold higher concentration of aqueous mercuric ions than the unmodified GO. “Core–shell” adsorbent granules, readily useable in filtration columns, are synthesized by assembling aqueous GO over sand granules. The nanostructured GO-coated sand retains at least 5-fold higher concentration of heavy metal and organic dye than pure sand. The research results could open avenues for developing low-cost water purification materials for the developing economies.