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BYU professor Barry Bickmore's letter to Utah legislators

From: Barry Bickmore

Date: February 4, 2010 1:50:05 PM MST

Subject: A Personal Note

Dear Representatives,

I listened to the audio file of today's committee meeting, and I wanted to send you a personal note (independent of my colleagues at BYU) to explain why I am disappointed that you recommended HJR 12 with only one dissenting vote.

I happen to agree with most of you that the EPA should not be regulating carbon dioxide emissions based on the Clean Air Act. And yet, I participated with my colleagues in urging you to table HJR 12. I did this because I believe something Henry B. Eyring told a group of BYU scholars. He said that "few things could harm truth more than to defend it with a bad argument." What you have effectively done by recommending HJR 12 is to take a serious policy issue that will be difficult to solve and make a farce out of your (and my) position on the question. In our letter to you, my colleagues and I pointed out that there were not only errors of fact in HJR12, but that some of the positions taken appear to be mutually contradictory. Recent climate change cannot have been dominantly driven both by CFCs and natural factors, for instance. When you put forward arguments like these, it gives those on the other side of the question license to dismiss all of the reasonable points you make.

I also noted that both the representative from the Farm Bureau and Rep. Noel called on the last group of BYU professors (which included me) to apologize for our personal attacks on both Roy Spencer and Rep. Noel. The fact is that we did no such thing. We carefully avoided personal attacks and only spoke about Roy Spencer's "fringe" positions. Clearly, if his positions diverge from 97 percent of his scientific community, they are not "mainstream."

However, I do have something to say personally to Rep. Noel. In the hearing today, he claimed that carbon dioxide cannot be classified as a pollutant because it is necessary to sustain plant life. I was shocked when I heard him say this, because Rep. Noel apparently has a M.S. degree in an ecology-related field. The fact is that we use phosphates and nitrates in fertilizers for plants — they are essential for plant life. And yet, it is well known that if too much nitrate and/or phosphate washes into lakes and oceans, large areas can become clogged with algae blooms that die and deplete the water of oxygen, killing other aquatic life. Therefore, the EPA regulates these chemicals, and nearly everyone agrees that this should be the case. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Rep. Noel's comment about carbon dioxide is another example of an argument the proponents of HJR12 are using that lacks any validity and harms their cause in the long run.

As I said, I do not support EPA regulation of carbon dioxide. But even though I support that view, I have decided that I will not be silent when my elected representatives make demonstrably bad arguments for it, because that would be dishonest.


Barry Bickmore

Associate Professor of Geological Sciences

Brigham Young University