A University of Oregon study widely cited by Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration in promoting climate-change policies is the subject of a blistering attack from the Washington Policy Center, and Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler calls the indictment “disturbing reading.”
“It is chilling to think our state is considering policies based on a study that so seriously distorts the true picture,” Schoesler said. “These policies will impose billions of dollars in costs on Washington taxpayers, yet it appears the scientific calculations were scribbled in crayon.”
The Oregon study figured prominently in Inslee’s April 29 executive order launching the Carbon Emissions Reduction Taskforce, which is considering a raft of ambitious policies aimed at clamping down on carbon emissions. These include cap-and-trade, low-carbon fuel standards, and an effort to ban the import of electricity generated by coal from other states. CERT members, hand-picked by the governor, will meet Tuesday in Seattle to discuss a draft report of their recommendations and advice.
Inslee’s office has used the Oregon study to claim the effects of climate change will cost Washington a whopping $10 billion annually by 2020. But the analysis authored by the WPC’s Todd Myers traces footnotes back to their sources, finding Oregon researchers exaggerated those effects and misinterpreted the studies they cite. Since the study was released in 2010, real-world data has contradicted its findings.
“This is a classic case of the misuse of science for political ends,” said Schoesler, a wheat farmer from Ritzville. “Can we really expect rational policymaking when this kind of scaremongering is taking place?”
Inslee’s executive order said “Studies conducted by the University of Oregon found that the effects of climate change on water supplies, public health, coastal and storm damage, wildfires and other impacts, will cost the state of Washington almost $10 billion a year after 2020, unless we take additional actions to mitigate these effects.”
That $10 billion figure has become a major talking point in the effort to promote climate-change policies. However, the WPC report identifies serious flaws in the study. Among them:
- The study is based on an outdated worst-case scenario laid out by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007. The latest report from that agency backs away from those numbers. Authors of the Oregon study had trouble finding research backing up those old predictions of high temperatures, so they took other studies and adjusted the numbers upward to compensate.
- The study manipulated data on human health effects, citing high-end projections from other research rather than a range – potentially exaggerating results by nearly 250 percent.
- The study fails to explain its methodology or show how its conclusions were reached – offering no way to check the work.
In his report, Myers outlines exaggerations he calls unusually brazen. And he observes that if more recent U.N. climate data had been used, estimates of potential harm would have had to be dramatically reduced. An estimate of premature deaths would have to be cut by 90 percent, for instance, yet even that number is suspect.
“Climate change is a subject that deserves serious consideration, but the Oregon study can’t be considered reliable,” Schoesler said. “We should be very nervous about the way sloppy science is being used to promote political aims.”
Schoesler noted the governor’s order directs the state Office of Financial Management to consider the costs of inaction.
“I sure hope they won’t use the Oregon report,” Schoesler said. “That would be appalling. At the very least, we ought to be able to check the work.”