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Keith Baugues is assistant commissioner of the Office of Air Quality in the Indiana Department of Environmental Management / The Indianapolis Star

INDIANAPOLIS -- Keith Baugues is not a scientist, but that didn't stop him on a recent wintry day from expressing skepticism about global warming - something that is broadly accepted in the scientific community.

After weeks of heavy snow and freezing air, he had had enough. He took to a government message board one day in February, complaining that his normal 45-minute commute had turned into a painful three-hour slog. "Anyone who says global warming is obviously suffering from frostbite," he wrote.

Baugues would later say he was only joking. But he wasn't just any government bureaucrat. Baugues is assistant commissioner in the Office of Air Quality in the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the man in charge of cleaning up Indiana's air.

In a state that traditionally ranks near the top for pollution and coal production - both of which are thought to contribute to global warming - his words rubbed his own employees the wrong way.

Reaction was swift, according to remarks posted to the message board reviewed by The Indianapolis Star. Several Environmental Management staff members wrote that the comment flew in the face of nearly unanimous scientific consensus and offended and embarrassed them.

"Either support consensus science or please keep your opinions to yourself. The rest of us are embarrassed by your unwillingness to accept what is happening," one worker wrote.

Another said that Baugues "should not speak on such matters until he is better informed." Then that person, who was not named, took pains to point out that recent extremes of cold weather were caused by warming global temperatures. That resulted in more water being absorbed into the atmosphere, pushing the arctic jet stream farther south.

"The fact that (Baugues) disparages the exact kind of science that disproves his statement only further illustrates how out of touch this administration is with the current environmental crisis facing not only Hoosiers, but the entire world," the person wrote.

Baugues studied engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute and has spent six years at the Department of Environmental Management and nine years with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

He previously was a project manager at Keramida, an engineering firm whose clients include power plants, mines, foundries, factories and oil and gas facilities.

Baugues wrote to his staff on March 19 trying to tamp down the outcry. But he stuck by his position. "I am a skeptic on global warming," he declared.

"It seems silly to be talking about global warming at a time when we were having extremely cold unseasonable weather," he wrote.

He said if staff members thought they had "important facts about global warming," he would be willing to discuss it during lunch hours.

Baugues declined to talk to The Indianapolis Star. A spokesman said Thursday that the initial comments were meant "to add levity and spur discussion of global warming." Under Baugues, he said, the state has attained compliance with federal mandates for air quality.

But some scientists and environmentalists note that Baugues' comments are at such odds with overwhelming scientific opinion that they wonder whether he is the right person to lead Indiana's efforts to regulate air polluters.

Dick Van Frank, a former member of the Indiana Air Pollution Control Board, was momentarily speechless when he heard of Baugues' comments. "Is he kidding? Is that a joke?"

Although January was unusually cold across much of the United States, it was actually the fourth-warmest January on record worldwide, said Lonnie G. Thompson, an Ohio State University professor of earth sciences who has researched the climate for more than 30 years.

"People tend to look out their back door and think that is an indication of what's happening on the planet, which of course it's not," Thompson said.

The Hoosier Environmental Council called Baugues' remarks disturbing. "Simply because there's really cold weather in one part of the world doesn't in any way undermine the scientific concerns that climate change is real," said Kim Ferarro, a lawyer with the organization.

Eighteen major scientific associations - including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Chemical Society, the American Meteorological Society and the Geological Society of America - have stated that climate change is occurring and the major cause is greenhouse gases emitted by cars, trucks, jets, factories, power plants and other human activities.

More than 97 percent of the world's climate scientists agree that warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, according to several studies published on the NASA website.

Earlier this week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that ice caps are melting, droughts and floods are getting worse, and coral reefs are dying. It said that without swift action to limit greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and other sources, the world will face years of climbing temperatures that could raise sea levels, wipe out coastlines and imperil agriculture.

Yet in Indiana, which ranks in the top 10 among states for coal production, Baugues is just the latest to express skepticism about global warming and climate change.

In February, Gov. Mike Pence appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" and said he wasn't sure that climate change was caused by human activities.

"We haven't seen a lot of warming lately," Pence said. "I remember back in the '70s, we were talking about the emerging ice age. We'll leave the scientific debate to the future."

A spokeswoman for Pence declined to comment on Baugues' remarks.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Indiana official draws heat for global warming text

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