The Clinton Administration moved quickly to put the best possible spin on the Senate's 95-0 endorsement of Senate Resolution 98, cosponsored by Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) and Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska). The vote--on Friday the 25th--was a clear warning to the Administration that the Senate would not ratify a climate treaty that limits the industrial world's emissions of greenhouse gases while letting developing countries--whose emissions will surpass industrialized countries within a decade--off the hook, even temporarily. After the vote, Tim Wirth, Undersecretary of State for global environmental affairs, claimed to support the resolution, saying the Senate vote "strengthens our hand" going into the final treaty negotiations in December in Kyoto, Japan. The Administration, however, plans more global warming tutorials for reporters, part of Clinton's strategy to "convince the American people and the Congress that the climate change problem is real and imminent."
on Monday, July 28, in a letter to the journal Science, researchers at Tulane University withdrew their controversial study linking chemicals to hormone disruption. This study, released with great fanfare in June 1996, was used to support inclusion of a provision in the Food Quality Protection Act, mandating that the Environmental Protection Agency develop a screening program for pesticides that may have so-called "estrogenic properties." The status of that provision is now unclear; not only were other scientists unable to replicate the Tulane results, the Tulane scientists themselves couldn't reproduce them. In their letter to Science, the Tulane scientists said: "...despite the enthusiasm it generated, it is clear that any conclusions drawn from this paper must be suspended until such time, if ever, the data can be substantiated." Sometimes even peer review cannot guarantee that you're really onto something.
on Tuesday, July 29, The Science & Environmental Policy Project received a laudatory e-mail from Austrian television newsman Robert Hochner, the "Ted Koppel of Austria." Hochner tapped into SEPP's new web site just as he was preparing to interview a German meteorologist on climate change and its possible relationship to recent flooding in Germany. Said Hochner, "Your new web site is excellent." (Always good to get feedback.)
on Wednesday, July 31, the Senate passed by 99-0 a measure that would lift the U.S. embargo on tuna caught with encircling nets in the eastern tropical Pacific and require a government study to determine if dolphins are being adequately protected by procedures that release inadvertently ensnared animals. Whether the dolphins were actually "safe" under the embargo has been a matter of some conjecture. Three years ago, Teresa Platt of the Fishermen's Coalition, speaking at a SEPP conference on marine fisheries, said that as a result of the U.S. embargo, tuna fishermen in the eastern Pacific had turned from hunting the large tuna that associate with dolphins to catching immature tuna before spawning age, thus depleting the stock and making the fishery unsustainable. She added that because "dolphin-safe" applies only to the eastern tropical Pacific, it had intensified tuna fishing in non-U.S. fisheries where tuna are not as abundant, resulting in higher dolphin mortality. With the Senate vote, grocery stores will soon be able to stock tuna with and without the "dolphin-safe" label, leaving expressions of political correctness up to U.S. consumers.
Also on Wednesday, Senator Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) made it clear that Senate Resolution 98 (the Byrd-Hagel Resolution), while focusing on the economic damage of emission controls, did not concede that global warming was a scientifically proven threat. Murkowski underscored the lack of scientific consensus and slammed Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt for suggesting that scientists critical of the Administration's global warming proposals were "un-American." In remarks entered into the Senate record, Murkowski cited comments by IPCC Chairman Bert Bolin, IPCC scientist Benjamin Santer, and others in making the case that global warming is still very much open to debate. See Murkowski defends the GHW debate.
on Thursday, August 1, Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) and Senator John Breaux (D-Louisiana) introduced Senate Bill 1084, which would overturn the Environmental Protection Agency's revised air quality standards on urban ozone and particulates and place a four-year moratorium on setting new ones. Congressman John Dingell (D-Michigan) is gathering support in the House for a similar measure.
on Friday, August 2, Congress wrapped up its business. They go home for August; we, unfortunately, stay in Washington.