Climate Change Policy (1/5/11)
Climate change has become a more prominent issue for the U.S. Congress with the release of new reports and assessments, policy changes in other countries related to the Kyoto Protocol and other multi-national agreements and the development of carbon-reduction policies in the U.S. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007 detailing the present state of knowledge of global climate change, which stirred intense debate in the 110th Congress. In the 111th Congress climate policy will be at the forefront, with progressive environmentalists like Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) as the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) as the chairman of the new House Energy and Environment Subcommittee.
A general history of the climate change debate is available at the Congressional Research Service's Global Climate Change Briefing Book.
EPA Starts and Stalls on Climate Change Regulations
On January 2, 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rules on regulating greenhouse gas emissions from cars, light trucks, and large industrial facilities take effect. The regulations are only for new facilities, significant modifications to existing facilities and new vehicles, however, opposition is mounting. Seven states (Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Oregon and Wyoming) are not ready to implement the regulations and the EPA has taken over oversight in those states. Texas has refused to implement the regulations and EPA has taken over permitting and oversight in that state. Incoming House Energy and Natural Resources Chairman, Representative Fred Upton (R-MI), has suggested he may use a rare congressional tool, a resolution of disapproval, to attempt to overturn the regulations. President Obama would have to sign the resolution if Congress considered and passed it. Upton acknowledged that the President is unlikely to approve of such a measure.
The EPA will also begin to formulate rules for regulating greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants and refineries. The rules would be “modest” and their formulation and implementation would be delayed. The rules for power plants should be finalized by May 26, 2011 and the rules for refineries should be finalized by November 10, 2012. This plan is part of an agreement between EPA, states and environmental groups. EPA faces potential lawsuits from environmental groups over its failure to follow the Clean Air Act and intense opposition from industry over costs and the burdens of regulations.
United Nations Climate Change Meeting in Cancun
Negotiators from 194 countries met in Cancun Mexico for the 16th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 16) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from November 29 to December 10, 2010. The parties reached two major agreements (called the Cancun Agreements). First, nations agreed to keep the average global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and acknowledged that this efforts requires more than the emissions reduction pledges by the U.S., China and others at the Copenhagen meeting (COP 15). Second, nations pledge to establish a $100 billion annual fund to promote adaptation and clean energy in developing nations. A few details of particular interest to the geosciences include an agreement to establish a program to preserve forests (i.e., reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, REDD) and to establish guidelines for carbon capture and geological sequestration.
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NOAA Issues Report Card for the Arctic (11/10)
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a 2010 update to their Arctic Report Card in November. Of the six different metrics assessed, the atmosphere, sea ice, and Greenland, were found to have “consistent evidence of warming” and the other three, the ocean, land, and biology, were found to have “many indications of warming.” A combination of record high temperatures and reduced summer sea ice and snow cover all point to impacts of warming.
NASA Research Shows Lakes Warming Worldwide due to Climate Change (11/10)
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a 2010 update to their Arctic Report Card in November. Of the six different metrics assessed, the atmosphere, sea ice, and Greenland, were found to have “consistent evidence of warming” and the other three, the ocean, land, and biology, were found to have “many indications of warming.” A combination of record high temperatures and reduced summer sea ice and snow cover all point to impacts of warming.
NASA Starts New Center to Study Solar Intensity and Climate Links (11/10)
The University of Colorado at Boulder and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center have announced the creation of a new center to study how year-to-year variations in solar intensity affect climate. The Sun-Climate Research Center will take advantage of resources and expertise at both institutions. The partnership will allow for a scientist exchange program and opportunities for postdoctoral candidates and graduate students to work at either institution.
Report Identifies Severe Water Shortage Risks for U.S. and China (11/10)
The U.K.-based analysis firm Maplecroft released a report identifying “high risk” of water shortages for the U.S., Australia, India, and China in the next several decades. According to the study, those countries are currently consuming more than 80% of their renewable water resources. Those countries also show large areas where water consumption greatly exceeds renewable supply, including the U.S. West where aquifers are being depleted and river discharges are over-allocated.
Amidst Opposition EPA Advances Greenhouse Gas Regulation (10/10)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has received a lot of attention from Congress as of late. On January 2, 2011 the agency’s New Source Review (NSR) for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will take effect for the largest stationary sources. The initial rule will cover new facilities emitting more than 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, and it will require Best Available Control Technology (BACT) before construction permits can be granted. This implementation of the Clean Air Act to cover GHGs has not been well received in Congress. In June, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) sponsored a bill to strip the EPA of its ability to regulate GHGs under the Clean Air Act. The joint resolution (S.J. 26) made it to a full Senate vote, but was defeated 47-53.
More recently, Senator John Rockefeller (D-WV) has sponsored legislation to delay EPA rulemaking by two years, until the economy has more fully recovered from the current recession. That bill, the Stationary Sources Regulations Delay Act (S. 3072), has received support from 6 Democrats, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has promised Rockefeller that he would schedule a vote on the bill in the lame duck session. The bill itself is largely symbolic, given that President Obama has pledged to use his veto power. If the measure were attached to an appropriations bill, however, a veto would be more difficult. Understanding that opportunity, Murkowski has suggested she would add a rider for the EPA appropriations bill to be marked up on September 14. She indicated that four Democrats on the Appropriations Committee were considering supporting such a measure. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the Chair of the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies argued otherwise: that Democrats would defend the EPA, but she was forced to cancel the markup the day before as Democrats wavered and because the Administration sent a budget amendment regarding the reorganization of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE).
It is likely that additional challenges to the rulemaking will be raised in 2011, but barring further action, the NSR rules will take effect in January 2, with a second group of facilities to be covered starting July 2011. The January date and the rulemaking itself are legally required of the EPA as part of its responsibilities to follow the Clean Air Act (CAA). Under the act, the EPA is required to establish NSR standards for any pollutant regulated under another section of the act. Under Title II of the CAA the EPA currently regulates GHG standards for vehicles, and the first of those vehicles will be delivered from the assembly line on January 2, 2011, thus triggering requirements under other parts of the act.
These rulemakings are currently being challenged in several court cases, on the grounds that the EPA is overstepping its authority to regulate under the CAA. The EPA, in turn, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have argued in a brief that the EPA is bound by law to regulate carbon dioxide and other GHGs. They point to the Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA that charged the EPA with regulating GHGs if they found them to be a danger to public health. The EPA fulfilled that criterion when it released its endangerment finding in 2008. The finding referenced, for example, the link between hotter temperatures, higher ozone concentrations, and premature deaths, and the common increase in deaths associated with heat waves.
Not all stationary sources will be permitted under the rulemaking. Though the CAA typically covers sources that emit more than 100 tons per year, EPA completed a tailoring rule to cover only “major” sources that emit more than 75,000 tons per year. EPA made that decision under the legal premise that state regulatory agencies could not possibly permit all the facilities required by the law. That rulemaking significantly decreases the number of facilities covered in the first phases of the rulemaking. Under the strict requirements of the CAA, about 82,000 new facilities each year would be covered. The tailoring rule cuts that number to only 668.
Senators still object to what they view as a threat to manufacturing jobs and industrial development. Others have questioned the usefulness of BACT standards and object to the uncertainty inherent to those standards. BACT, by definition, is a site-specific metric that fails to adopt universal requirements. In general, the permits would cover things like what type of boilers are used, how leaks will be avoided, and what type of coal a power plant burns. In contrast, the EPA’s other permitting tool under the CAA, New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), offers much more standardized requirements. These regulations require a longer rulemaking process and likely will not be available until 2012.
Less controversial EPA measures have already started addressing GHG emissions. As mentioned above, the EPA has raised fuel economy standards as part of its CAA plan for GHG regulation. For 2011 to 2016, those standards will climb from 28.7 miles per gallon (mpg) to 32.7 mpg, as an average for light-duty trucks and passenger cars. Those standards will rise even further under the EPA’s proposed rulemaking, to levels as high as 47 to 62 mpg by model year 2025. A notice of intent was released by the EPA in September, outlining those goals and opening a public comment period.
Under a different regulation, the EPA has implemented a GHG reporting rule for major emitters with 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. Should a cap and trade program be adopted in the U.S., the GHG reporting would provide a baseline for emissions, and a means of measuring compliance with new rules. Some controversy has arisen over how GHG sources would be aggregated to constitute a major source. The oil and gas industry, in particular, has fought rulemakings that would sum the emissions for all the oil or gas wells in a single field.
The EPA is affecting energy production through traditional air quality regulations as well. Currently, the agency is revising the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for its criteria pollutants including mercury and ozone. These revisions are part of their 5-year review process; they would require retrofits for the most-polluting coal-fired power plants, and may force several of these to shut down. Portland General Electric’s coal-fired power plant, for example, has signaled that it will shorten its expected lifespan by 20 years and close in 2020 due to EPA regulations. By similar means, Colorado has begun transitioning from coal-fired power plants to natural gas and renewables. In 2010, Governor Bill Ritter signed the Clean Air/Clean Jobs Act (HB10-1365) that requires retrofits and incentivizes transitions to natural gas power plants.
Wood Mackenzie, a firm specializing in analysis and consulting, has predicted that 20 percent of coal-fired power plants in the U.S. will close in the next 10 years, due to stricter regulations. The EPA has come under fire for these rules, over concerns that closures will affect the reliability of electricity, but as with other rulemakings, EPA has held the line.
The EPA has been criticized for its new boiler rules as well, which would decrease emissions standards for industrial and commercial boilers. The Council of Industrial Boiler Operators, the American Forest & Paper Association, and the Manufacturers’ Alliance have released or commissioned reports warning of hundreds of thousands of job losses due to these rules. The EPA has been defended, however, by environmental groups and university economists on the grounds that these reports made incomplete analyses that over exaggerated job losses by a factor of ten or more. The response, released by the Natural Resources Defense Council, is available online.
Many of these measures, including the GHG regulations, are currently being challenged in court, and the legislative battles may grow more rancorous as Republicans take over the House in 2011. As the EPA prepares to release its final rulemakings, it will have to prepare its defense as well.
Rulemaking Docket’s for the greenhouse gas tailoring, greenhouse gas reporting, the NAAQS revisions, and fuel economy standards are available through EPA’s Rulemaking Gateway.
Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force Releases Report (10/10)
The Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force announced in a press release on October 14, 2010, the completion of their progress report, titled Recommended Actions in Support of a National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy. The Task Force is chaired by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and includes representatives from twenty different government agencies. While supporting efforts to mitigate climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions and promoting green industry, the Task Force acknowledges that average temperatures are already rising and some amount of climate change is unavoidable. In order to prevent disastrous consequences, the nation will require a coordinated plan to adapt to new climatic conditions.
The report emphasizes the need for the federal agencies to consider adaptation in all of their planning processes, ensuring that federal investments will have lasting value, and to integrate their efforts and decision-making with other federal, state, and local agencies. Planning and decision-making must be based on the best available science. The public should have ready access to accurate and comprehensible information on climate change and adaptation, both for community preparedness and to direct private investment. As coastal communities will be particularly affected as sea levels rise, the insurance industry will have to reassess risk and adjust its policies accordingly. The challenge of adaptation will have to be considered on an ecosystem scale, rather than as isolated effects.
Climate change adaptation also has international significance. Many developing countries benefitting from U.S. foreign aid will be significantly affected by climate change, and, according to the report, it is the responsibility of the U.S. and international aid agencies to direct funds towards programs that will make recipients less vulnerable to climate change. International collaboration will be critical, as many systems affected by climate change, such as the ocean and the atmosphere, do not respect national boundaries.
The Task Force’s Interim Report, released on March 16, 2010, is available here. The next report, documenting progress toward implementing these recommendations, will be available in October of 2011.
UN Convention on Biological Diversity Proposes Geoengineering Ban (10/10)
Delegates to the United Nations (UN) biodiversity conference in Nagoya, Japan, in October have taken aim at the growing field of geoengineering, which they say could harm ecosystems across the globe. The group has proposed a moratorium on carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and solar radiation management (SMR) projects, which had previously not been subject to significant rulemaking. Geoengineering involves such schemes as sending satellite mirrors into space to reflect solar radiation, fertilizing the oceans with iron to encourage plankton growth, and whitening clouds with aerosol sprays.
Back in Washington, DC, a mock congressional hearing at the Woodrow Wilson Institute on October 19 discussed cloud whitening, with students from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology serving as witnesses. Responding to the rising interest about geoengineering, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in October, highlighting the poor understanding of how geoengineering fits into federal laws and international agreements. The House Science and Technology Committee has also completed a report on geoengineering this October, urging that the benefits and potential harm of geoengineering be studied carefully.
Global Methane Initiative Launched (10/10)
On October 1, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with thirty-seven other countries, the European Commission, the Asian Development Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank, launched the Global Methane Initiative. The goal of the Initiative is to strengthen the fight against climate change internationally while developing clean energy and strengthening the economy. It expands on the Methane to Markets Partnership, launched in 2004, which advances cost-effective, near-term methane recovery and use to supply clean energy. The EPA estimates that the program could achieve an equivalent reduction of 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in methane. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and worth international efforts to reduce methane emissions. At the launch in Mexico City, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson and her Mexican counterpart requested that developed countries increase their funding for the fight against climate change.
Interior Announces Water Census and Climate Change Initiatives (10/10)
In a meeting of water leaders in Phoenix, AZ, on October 20, 2010, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the Colorado River Basin will be the first area analyzed as part of a new U.S. water census. The last water census was in 1978 and a new one is critically important for understanding water quality and quantity, especially in relation to climate change and ecosystem health. In a press release, Salazar stated that the Colorado River Basin Geographic Focus Study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is part of the WaterSMART initiative and will be conducted over three years at a total cost of $1.5 million.
Salazar also announced the fourth and fifth of eight Climate Science Centers, which will initially serve as hubs for the USGS’s National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center. The fourth center, the Southwest Climate Science Center, will be based at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and will study issues including drought, the impact of people on the desert environment, and the invasion of the pine bark beetle. The fifth center, the North Central Climate Science Center, led by Colorado State University in Fort Collins, will study the pine bark beetle invasion, forest fires, decreased agricultural productivity, and habitat loss for endangered species.
China and U.S. Spar over Climate Talks (10/10)
A preparatory conference for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) December meeting in Cancun, Mexico, was held October 4 to 9 in Tianjin, China. The host country took several opportunities to criticize the U.S. for insisting on greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions from developing countries while not making reductions of its own. China and the U.S. have agreed to the Copenhagen Accord, which states the severity of climate change and the importance of reducing GHG emissions but provides neither formal targets nor mechanisms for those reductions. The key point of disagreement between the two countries involves plans for measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) of GHG reductions. China did announce, at a side event, that it is working to develop a centralized database of GHG emissions that would be open to the public.
For a text of the Copenhagen Accord, press releases from the Tianjin meeting, and a schedule for the meeting, see the UNFCCC web site.
Economists Question Studies Claiming EPA Regulations Would Harm Economy (10/10)
Several economists evaluated three industry-funded studies on the economic impacts of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new air pollution regulations. Their report, released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), criticizes the studies for failing to follow statistical and economics standards or to consider the economic impacts of new technology that would be developed in response to stricter regulations. The report is the latest release in a bitter debate between environmental groups and industry about the costs versus benefits of stricter air pollution regulations that EPA is in the final stages of implementing. More details about the tighter smog standards and the new industrial boiler regulations are available from EPA.
Virginia Attorney General Targets Climate Scientist Again(10/10)
Virginia’s Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli has renewed his case against Michael Mann, a climate change scientist who previously worked for the University of Virginia. Cuccinelli has filed a second subpoena against Mann, after a Virginia county judge ruled against the first one. The new subpoena demands that the University of Virginia turn over emails and other documents related to a state grant that Mann received. Cuccinelli, a well-known climate change denier, claims that Mann published two papers on global warming that have “come under significant criticism” and contained false information. The university has until the end of the month to comply with the request or return to court. Mann, now at Pennsylvania State University, has been supported by AAAS and many other scientific organizations against these subpoenas.
Chance for 2010 Climate Legislation Fizzles in Senate (10/10)
Analysts from the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the left of center Brookings Institute released a report, entitled Post-Partisan Power, on October 13 calling for large investments in climate and energy issues. In a rare show of collaboration, these two politically distant groups outlined plans for increased government spending on renewable energy development. What prompted the analysts to come together was more than just a mutual support for renewable energy, however, but a knowledge that climate change and energy legislation has ultimately failed in the U.S. Senate. In September 2010, Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-NV), pronounced that after several prolonged efforts, the Senate would not devote any more floor time to contentious climate change bills. Furthermore, with likely Republican gains in both the House and Senate, many are predicting that comprehensive climate legislation will be sidelined until 2013 or later. Such admissions alarm environmentalists and scientists who have warned that ever-rising carbon dioxide emissions represent significant threats to the ecosystems and natural resources that our society depends upon.
Climate inaction, however, was not a foregone conclusion of the 111th Congress. Before his inauguration in January 2009, President Barack Obama vowed that health care and climate and energy legislation would be the two highest priorities for his administration. Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate gave climate legislation a fighting chance, and in June 2009, the House passed the landmark American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454). The bill, introduced by Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Edward Markey (D-MA), contained provisions for a cap and trade plan that would reduce nationwide carbon emissions to 17 percent and 80 percent of 2005 levels by 2020 and 2050, respectively. The bill included incentives for low-carbon energy development, modernization of the electric grid, allowances for a smooth industry transition, and a refund program for low-income families affected by an expected rise in energy prices.
With 18 months to pass that bill or draft alternative legislation, Senate Democrats needed 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. With 57 Democrats and 2 left-leaning Independents, the Senate seemed to need only one Republican vote or perhaps a few Senators voting against their party’s platform. Getting those 60 votes, however, has proved extremely difficult due to the poor state of the U.S. economy, regional dissent from coal producing states, other regional energy interests, a generally cohesive Republican minority, and “democratic” Senate seats that were open for brief, but critical periods (i.e. Al Franken (D-MN) and Robert Byrd (D-WV)).
Two Senate bills received attention in early 2009: a cap and trade proposal by Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and a “cap and dividend” measure introduced by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME). The two bills offered contrasting approaches to climate legislation. The cap and dividend bill, formally the Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal (CLEAR) Act (S. 2877), was drafted to be a stand-alone measure to cap and sell carbon permits under an auction system, and would distribute the proceeds of that auction as a tax credit to consumers. Under this bill, carbon emissions would be capped at the same levels outlined in the Waxman-Markey bill. The Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill set those same carbon reduction standards through 2050, but it contained a slew of other measures as a means of drawing votes from coal-state Democrats and moderate Republicans. Chief among those measures were incentives for the natural gas industry, loans for new nuclear plants, and expansion of offshore drilling along the Atlantic coast.
In the spring of 2010, the still unreleased Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill drew considerable interest as a measure that might appeal to moderate Republicans such as Collins and her counterpart Senator Olympia Snow (R-ME). But the trio quickly found themselves making weighty concessions while failing to garner firm commitments from the center right. More significantly, Graham redrew his name from the bill in April, in response to a clash with Reid over an immigration reform bill that never emerged. Without a Republican co-sponsor, Kerry and Lieberman narrowed the carbon cap to exclusively cover public utilities, but the effort became buried in rising concern over the BP oil spill. The bill’s expansion for offshore drilling quickly became a liability as the spill progressed, and even the scaled-down package failed to reach the Senate floor when attached to an oil spill response measure in June. Reid later announced that climate legislation might be addressed after the August recess, but in September Reid and Kerry admitted that climate legislation would not pass the Senate in the 111th Congress.
After a year’s worth of compromises and missed opportunities, the climate legislation in the Senate failed for a number of reasons, but a few critical ones stand out. According to an October 4 article in the New Yorker, chief among these were a lack of communication between the White House and the Senate and the tight voting strategy of Republicans. In their pursuit of 60 votes, Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman had three strategic concessions to offer Republicans: expanded offshore drilling, nuclear power plant loans, and incentives for natural gas production. Without consulting the trio on this strategy, the White House made sweeping proposals for nuclear power plant loans and offshore drilling, effectively taking those bargaining points away before any Republican votes had been secured. The White House held a meeting regarding the bill in which a controversial “linked fee” on carbon was discussed, even though that language from the bill was dropped the day before. Parts of the discussion were leaked to the press, and the next day Foxnews.com posted the headline “W[hite] H[ouse] Opposes Higher Gas Taxes Floated by S.C. GOP Sen. Graham in Emerging Senate Energy Bill.” Graham had already endured sharp criticism from his constituents at town hall meetings, and the “gas tax” line was a label the sponsors had purposely avoided.
In line with Reid’s assertions, the Senate has so far declined to consider climate legislation in the fall session. On the international scene, the current lack of a carbon bill may hamper the U.S’s ability to negotiate in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Fall meetings of the UNFCCC include the October 4-9 meetings in Tianjin, China and the meetings in Cancun, Mexico scheduled for November 29 through December 10.
Before the Tianjin meetings, India had announced its plans for an observational satellite that would measure regional GHG emissions. That satellite should increase confidence in India’s ability to meet monitoring and verification requirements. China, on the other hand, has continued to dispute international monitoring arrangements. At the recent meetings in Tianjin, China repeatedly balked at the U.S. calls for international monitoring, review, and verification of emissions.
China did, however, announce a plan to test a carbon cap for a province or a large city, as a means of determining the validity of a regional or nation-wide carbon cap. In the U.S., similar arrangements have been made at the state level. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), for example, includes 10 states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic committed to reducing GHG emissions by about 10% from electric utilities by 2018. Likewise, California’s Global Warming Solutions Action (Assembly Bill 32) requires GHG reductions to 1990 levels by 2020. That bill has been threatened by Proposition 23 on California’s November 2 ballot, though recent polls have shown that Prop. 23 will likely be voted down with support from manufacturing and environmental groups.
In the absence of comprehensive climate legislation, President Obama has suggested that the energy-climate issue could be addressed in smaller pieces, and that the issue will remain a priority for his Administration in the 112th Congress. However, with the possibility of a Republican majority in either the House or the Senate, the fate of these proposals is ambiguous at best.
For further discussion of climate legislation in the House and Senate, please see AGI’s Climate Change Policy page and summaries of climate hearings. Text of the draft Kerry-Lieberman bill, the American Power Act, is available at Kerry’s web site, while text of the Cantwell-Collins bill (S. 2877), and the Waxman-Markey bill (H.R. 2454) are available on Thomas.
Report Calls for More Federal Research to Predict and Prevent Hypoxia (9/10)
A report from the National Science and Technology Council’s (NSTC) was released in September of 2010, detailing the federal government’s response to hypoxia in major U.S. water bodies. The report, Scientific Assessment of Hypoxia in U.S. Coastal Waters, was released by the Interagency Working Group on Harmful Algal Blooms, Hypoxia, and Human Health. It identifies the scale and effects of hypoxia in the U.S. and outlines the legislative action to date, as well as the current federal research addressing the hypoxia issue. Among other things, the report calls for expanded monitoring of dissolved oxygen in vulnerable waters, the development and increased use of predictive hypoxia models, and the monitoring and source-identification of nutrient loads in streams.
The report makes clear that hypoxia is a large and growing problem, contributing to fish kills and ecological degradation that have large economic costs. Despite established point source regulation and increased concern for soil and water conservation practices, hypoxia incidence has increased 30-fold in U.S. waters since 1960. In response, the federal government has attempted to decrease nutrient pollution and hypoxia with several pieces of legislation. The Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act (HABHRCA) of 1998, and the Coastal Zone Management Act address hypoxia directly, while portions of the Clean Water Act and the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 authorize regulation of activities that influence hypoxia-inducing conditions.
As hypoxia sustains further fish kills and compromises coastal and lacustrine ecosystems, the Interagency Working Group has recognized a need to tackle the issue with new research and adaptive management. In particular, the progress to date calls for the use of adaptive management as a means of addressing uncertainty in future hypoxia trends, and for more basic research on the watershed scale impacts and causes of hypoxia.
This report complements a review from the Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology entitled Charting the Course for Ocean Science for the United States in the Next Decade: An Ocean Research Priorities Plan and Implementation Strategy.
USDA Report: Agriculture Can Reduce GHG Emissions (9/10)
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released a report, The Role of Agriculture in Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions, which reviews the contributions that agriculture can make to climate change mitigation within, and in addition, to the preexisting Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) framework. The report concludes that well-known management strategies – namely conservation tillage, reduction of nitrogen fertilizer use, changing livestock management, and planting trees and grasses – can increase carbon sequestration and decrease greenhouse gas emissions from most farms. Actions taken under the CRP, that is planting trees and grasses, would be profitable for many farms under cap and trade legislation, according to the report. The USDA estimates that farmers would require compensation of $7 to $32 per ton of CO2 for planting trees and $29 to $82 per acre for planting grasses. These price ranges intersect those of proposed cap and trade legislation, as estimated by the EPA. The report indicates that actions taken under Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) could be candidates for offset credits as well, provided there is no double counting under the programs.
The USGS plays a role in measuring soil-carbon storage and the affects of agriculture and forestry management on carbon sequestration. Soils are, according to the USGS, “the most stable long-term surface reservoir for carbon,” and the agency is committed to mapping carbon across the U.S., calculating carbon storage, and identifying areas with the greatest potential for carbon sequestration. Read about the National Soil Carbon Network, in which the USGS participates. The network is presenting its database at the Fall AGU meeting this December.
This report is the second in a series released by the USDA, regarding climate change and agriculture. The first report, entitled Agricultural Land Tenure and Carbon Offsets, EB-14, is available here.
Open Access to Climate Codes (9/10)
Two British software engineers, David Jones and Nick Barnes, and a British administrator for the British National Park Authority, Philippa Davey, have founded a new non-profit organization called the Climate Code Foundation in August of 2010. The foundation hopes to promote the public understanding of climate science, improve the clarity of source code for climate science software and encourage the publication of more source code in climate science, according to their website description.
There are two projects associated with the foundation, the Clear Climate Code to provide clarity of computer codes and the Open Climate Code to encourage access to source codes. So far the Open Climate Code page only lists the founders’ ideas, while the Clear Climate Code offers a “simplified” version of the GISTEMP analysis software used by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
InterAcademy Recommends Reform of IPCC; Pachauri and Mann Cleared (8/10)
The InterAcademy Council (IAC), an Amsterdam-based organization of the world’s science academies charged with providing evidence-based advice to international bodies, has released a review of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) management structure. The report found that while the process used by the IPCC has been successful overall, the panel needs to fundamentally reform its management structure.
As climate assessments grow increasingly more complex and public scrutiny grows, the IPCC structure will need to be able to respond. The IAC report recommends the creation of a communications strategy in order to emphasize transparency and allow for rapid responses to crises. The report also recommends that the IPCC establish an executive committee and an executive director in order to act on the IPCC’s behalf and ensure that an ongoing decision-making capability is maintained. The IAC report examined the IPCC’s review process, and concluded that the process is thorough but stronger enforcement of existing procedures could help minimize errors. The IAC also called for more consistency in how the working groups within the IPCC characterize uncertainty, and recommended that future reports use a probability scale of likelihood.
Simultaneous to the release of the IAC report, the London Guardian, a British newspaper, reported that an independent review by KPMG has cleared Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, of allegations that he personally profited from his position. The Sunday Telegraph, another British newspaper, reported in December 2009 that Pachauri was “making a fortune from his links with ‘carbon trading’ companies.” The Sunday Telegraph has removed the December article from their website and apologized to Pachauri following the independent audit of his personal finances.
The Virginia State Attorney General's administrative subpeonas for the records of researcher, Michael E. Mann, were turned away by Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. on August 31.The judge ruled that the attorney general failed to indicate what alleged wrongdoing the researcher is being charged with. Michael Mann is a climate scientist, who is well known for research in the early 1990s that shows a rise in global temperatures. The attorney general was seeking documents and information related to research grants that Mann received while a professor at the University of Virginia from 1999-2005. A news report in the Chronicle of Higher Education quoted the attorney general as suggesting he may file new subpoenas with the University of Virginia.
Task Force Gives EPA Recommendations on Carbon Capture (8/10)
On August 12, the Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage delivered a series of recommendations to the President on overcoming any barriers to widespread deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) within ten years. Specifically, the government would like to see five to ten commercial demonstration projects online by 2016. The report found that there are no insurmountable technological, legal, institutional or other barriers to CCS development, but deployment will not occur until policy is developed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The task force recommended the establishment of a roundtable, increased coordination in applying drivers and incentives for CCS development, completion and implementation of CCS regulations, efforts to improve long-term liability and stewardship frameworks and enhancing public awareness of CCS.
More information is available at the Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage website.
Ad Campaign to Portray Climate Scientists in a New Way (7/10)
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) announced a new ad campaign to give the public a broader image of the lives of climate scientists. The ads will run in the New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Portland Press Herald, on other newspapers’ websites, and on the Washington, DC metro transport system. The campaign is an effort “to educate the public about climate science in a new way in light of the baseless attacks on climate scientists over the last few years” according to a UCS press release.
The ads will feature David Inouye, a researcher from the University of Maryland studying climate change’s effects on wildflowers, insects and birds; Cameron Wake, a University of New Hampshire scientist studying glaciers and ice core samples; and Julia Cole, a geologist from the University of Arizona studying past climate change from evidence found in caves. To see the ads, visit the UCS web site.
British Report Clears Climate Scientists in Email Hacking Case (7/10)
An inquiry by Muir Russell, chairman of the Judicial Appointments Board of Scotland and a former U.K. civil servant, vindicated the scientists that participated in the emails that were leaked last November, a scandal that was termed “climategate.” The investigation into the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit is the third to be conducted. Russell’s report, The Independent Climate Change E-mails Review (pdf), found no indication of corruption or dishonesty in the emails, saying the scientists are only at fault for not fully disclosing all data and findings to critics. Russell’s review asserts the scientists did not ignore the peer review process. He found that the graph detailed in the now infamous email exchange referring to “a trick used to hide the decline” in variables tracking global temperatures was not intentionally misleading. The report has completely exonerated Phil Jones, the research center’s director who had stepped down during the investigation, and who will return as the director of research, a new position without administrative duties. More information can be found on the Independent Review’s web page.
Dutch Environmental Agency Issues Report About IPCC Errors (7/10)
The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency issued a review of errors in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group 1 report, The Physical Science Bias. The Dutch agency concludes that although errors appeared in the IPCC report, the errors did not change the fundamental conclusion of the report—that climate change caused by humans is occurring and having negative effects on society and ecosystems. The mistakes resulted from a consolidation of data and poor editing and proofreading. The report stated that 55 percent of the Netherlands is under sea level, when in fact only 26 percent of the country is. The statement should have indicated that 55 percent of the country is susceptible to flooding. The Dutch agency cautioned the IPCC to tighten its reviewing process to ensure that such errors are caught before reports are released.
USGS Announces New Assessment Method for Carbon Sequestration (7/10)
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) recently announced a new methodology which is able to assess the mass of CO2 that can potentially be injected into underground rock units. This new method will allow the USGS to perform a national assessment of CO2 storage potential.
The methodology was developed in accordance with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which authorized the USGS to develop the methods necessary to conduct a nationwide assessment. The methodology allows for assessments at scales ranging from regional to sub-basinal. While many reports have previously calculated subsurface pore volume for potential CO2 storage (i.e. Bachu et al., 2007, and van der Meer and Egberts, 2008), this is the first methodology to use fully probabilistic methods to incorporate geologic uncertainty in calculations of storage potential. For more information, visit the carbon sequestration page of the USGS Energy Resource Program.
Senate Unable to Progress on Energy or Climate Legislation (7/10)
The Senate was unable to consider any substantial legislation regarding climate change, energy or oil spill response in the waning days before their August recess. The Kerry-Lieberman, American Power Act, considered the most likely of the climate change bills, seemed to be dead on arrival as soon as it was introduced and senators immediately began discussing paring down parts of the legislation. No alternative to Kerry-Lieberman emerged and no actions were taken to bring the measure to a vote. The Bingaman-Murkowski, American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 (S.1462), considered the most likely of the energy bills, remains in play but will probably be revised and delayed for consideration until the lame duck session in November.
While the House passed their oil spill response measure, the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act (H.R. 3534), by a vote of 209-193 on July 30, the Senate was unable to bring forward any oil spill response bill of their own. The House bill included an amendment that would allow the Interior Department to lift the ban on deepwater drilling for companies that can show that they are meeting stricter safety requirements. According to an August 5th E&E Daily story, “A Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection poll conducted last week found that 69 percent of those surveyed said they favored including stronger regulation of offshore drilling…” It remains uncertain though what specific regulations might be favored enough by the Senate and the House to secure passage.
Congressional Budget Office Estimates Cost of Climate Bill (7/10)
According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the American Power Act, the bill introduced by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) by 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, will cut the federal deficit by $19 billion over the next 10 years. The CBO report estimates that the act would increase federal revenues by about $751 billion from 2011 to 2020. It would increase spending by about $232 billion over that same time frame.
Following the release of the CBO report, Kerry and Lieberman issued a joint statement asking senators to pass their legislation, stating that the benefit of reducing the deficit left “no more room for excuses” and that climate and energy legislation needs to be passed this year. However, industry argues that the CBO’s assessments involve uncertainties, since many numbers—including emission rates, availability of new technology and other factors—are projected and cannot be one hundred percent accurate. It is expected that a compromise will be necessary to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation. Kerry and Lieberman have indicated they will support a less stringent bill that includes a price on carbon.
Penn State Clears Climate Scientist, Michael Mann, of Misconduct (6/10)
A panel of tenured professors at Pennsylvania State University (PSU) completed a four month internal investigation of PSU Professor Michael Mann. Mann, a noted climate scientist, was under investigation for alleged research impropriety after thousands of hacked emails from the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in England were posted online. The press release, background and full report are available from PSU.
Murkowski’s EPA Resolution Fails (6/10)
The Senate failed to pass the resolution introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The 47-53 vote gives Democrats hope that comprehensive climate and energy legislation can pass this year.
The EPA independently ruled in December 2009 that GHGs are a danger to human health and therefore could be regulated by the EPA under the Clean Air Act. This followed a 2007 Supreme Court mandate that EPA regulate GHG emissions if they found them harmful to human health. Most Democrats see the EPA ruling and subsequent failure of the Murkowski resolution as a forward push for clean energy in Congress, while Republicans are still worried allowing EPA to regulate GHGs will bog down industry with regulations and hurt the economy. Murkowski did not believe the resolution could become law, but used the vote to make it clear that she felt the EPA was inappropriately forcing the Senate to rush into a comprehensive climate bill.
Group Tries to Block Teaching of Global Warming in Colorado (5/10)
Balanced Education for Everyone (BEE), a non-profit devoted to ensuring public schools take a balanced approach to teaching global warming and creators of the video Not Evil Just Wrong to “confront the erroneous claims of environmental extremists,” is partnering with former school board candidate Rose Pugliese to bring “balanced” education to Mesa County Schools in Colorado. Pugliese presented two petitions to the school board: one asking for science teachers to stop giving lessons on global warming, and another asking that political views be kept out of the classroom.
BEE is making Mesa County a test case for a national movement to keep teaching the human influence on global warming out of science classes. Local scientists and college professors have spoken up against BEE, saying the petitions amount to censoring science. Other communities in Colorado as well as in Las Vegas, Nevada have started petition campaigns of their own.
See a news article in the Denver Post for more information.
University of Virginia Files Petition to Dismiss Climate Scientist Investigation (5/10)
The University of Virginia filed a petition with the state circuit court in Albermarle County, VA asking the court to set aside Virginia’s Attorney General (AG) Ken Cuccinelli’s fraud investigation demand. Cuccinelli is investigating whether climate scientist, Dr. Michael Mann, committed fraud while he was a professor at the University of Virginia. The university states the AG has failed to satisfy the requirements of the Virginia fraud law, primarily by failing to state what potential fraud violation(s) have possibly been committed.
The university letter states, “[The law] does not authorize the attorney general to engage in scientific debate or advance the commonwealth’s positions in unrelated litigation about federal environmental policy and regulation … This is particularly true where, as here, the information requested goes to the core of academic research otherwise protected by law.”
Cuccinelli issued a public statement on May 19, indicating his investigation is not motivated by a disagreement with the scientific findings of Dr. Mann.
New Ecological Report on the Science of Storing Carbon in Forests (5/10)
In their article “A Synthesis of the Science on Forests and Carbon for U.S. Forests,” published in the Spring 2010 publication of Issues in Ecology, Mike Ryan et al. review proposed methods of using forests to store carbon, and their cost benefits and tradeoffs. They stress that relying on forests to offset carbon emissions is not as simple as it sounds. For example, to offset 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions with tree planting requires planting trees on one-third of U.S. agricultural land. This alone is not cost-effective, and would require a price on carbon or other incentives to be feasible. The authors note that climate change may increase the occurrence of fire, drought, and insect outbreaks, which can devastate forests. Ryan et al. recommend making “sure we focus on retaining the forests we have by making sure we get tree regeneration after these disturbances.” A more in depth summary of this article is available from the Ecological Society of America here.
EPA Releases Final Rule on GHG Emissions (5/10)
On May 13 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a final rule to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from large stationary source emitters. Under the rule, starting in January 2011, facilities currently regulated by the Clean Air Act will be required to include GHG emissions in their permits if they increase emissions by 75,000 tons per year (tpy). Starting July 2010, the rule will expand to cover all new facilities with GHG emissions over 100,000 tpy, and will require the facilities to use the “best available control technologies” to limit emissions.
The final rule comes after the EPA reviewed comments on the proposed thresholds released in October 2009, which proposed requiring facilities that emit 25,000 tons of GHG per year to obtain permits. The significantly higher threshold would exempt farms, schools and other small facilities from having to obtain permits.
The final rule has received criticism from industry representatives, who maintain that the EPA is overstepping its legal bounds and the final rule is expected to be challenged in court.
EPA Resolution Set for June Vote (5/10)
The Senate will vote in early June on a resolution introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The EPA has proposed mandating permits, starting in July 2011, for existing plants that emit 100,000 tons of GHGs a year, or that increase their emissions by 75,000 tons annually. Murkowski has tentatively agreed with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on a June 10 vote.
The EPA independently ruled in December 2009 that GHGs are a danger to human health and therefore EPA could regulate them under the Clean Air Act. This followed a 2007 Supreme Court mandate that EPA regulate GHG emissions if they found them to be harmful to human health. However, Murkowski and many others feel the EPA is wrong in circumventing Congress to make this decision and that the Clean Air Act is ill suited to properly handle a regulation of this kind. Murkowski foresees job loss and negative implications for small business if EPA is allowed to proceed. Climate advocates are worried Murkowski’s resolution will be another set-back to moving forward with comprehensive climate change legislation. The Union of Concerned Scientists submitted a letter to Congress, signed by over 1,800 scientists, urging them not to support Murkowski's resolution. The measure needs a simple majority to pass and Murkowski already has 41 co-sponsors on the bill. If it passes, the resolution will still face scrutiny in the House before reaching President Obama’s desk for his consideration.
Kerry and Lieberman Release Climate and Energy Bill Draft (5/10)
Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joseph Liebermann (I-CT) released a draft of their climate and energy bill, called the American Power Act, on May 12, 2010. Their colleague, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who worked with them on the draft for many months, withdrew his support over immigration reform legislation—though he indicates he supports the measure in spirit.
The measure sets up a cap for the largest greenhouse gas emitters, which will include 7,500 factories and power plants according to the senators. It sets a floor ($12 per ton) and ceiling price ($25 per ton) for emissions that exceed reduction targets. The revenues from the cap will go to a “universal refund” that will be used to reduce the federal deficit and as refunds to consumers. The bill includes funding and tax incentives for research and innovations for renewable energy and clean energy technologies. An additional $6 billion annually would go toward improving transportation infrastructure and other incentives to help improve the efficiency and reduce the emissions from the nation’s transportation fleet.
Given the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster, the senators added new protections for coastal states by allowing them to opt-out of drilling up to 75 miles from their shores and allows nearby states to veto any drilling that might cause adverse impacts to their shores. States that pursue drilling will receive 37.5 percent of royalty revenues, adding for the first time an important incentive for states interested in offshore drilling in federal waters.
To deal with the difficult issue of the coal industry, the measure provides $2 billion annually for research and development of carbon capture and sequestration plus incentives for the commercial deployment of such technologies.
For all of the details of the draft and comments, visit Kerry’s American Power Act site.
House Climate Change Bill and Senate Energy Bill Stifled in April (4/10)
Plans by Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) to introduce a compromise climate change and energy bill on Earth Day (April 22) fell through. Senator Graham dropped out of the effort because the Senate announced plans to consider an immigration bill before climate and energy. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster is also complicating efforts to compromise because likely legislation is thought to involve incentives for offshore oil and gas drilling.
Kerry and Lieberman recently announced that they do plan to unveil their legislation in May without the public support of Graham. Meanwhile the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee completed work on their energy bill, the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 (S.1462). They approved nine amendments on May 5 including research and development funding for efficient lighting, wind energy, and hydropower efficiency. One amendment creates an award for carbon capture and sequestration technological innovation.
The House-approved climate change bill (H.R. 2454) still awaits a comparable Senate bill for conferencing to work out compromise legislation. The Senate energy bill (S.1462) and the possible Kerry-Liebermann bill are the most likely measures the Senate may consider. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Chair of the Senate Energy Committee has called for the Senate to consider S.1462 on its own with possible floor amendments to address climate change issues, however, several other senators indicate an energy-only bill is not workable.
Administration’s Task Force Begins Discussion of Carbon Capture and Storage (4/10)
The President’s Interagency Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Task Force held its first public meeting on May 6, 2010. The task force is suppose to provide a plan for developing 5 to 10 commercial CCS projects by 2016. Some called this goal too ambitious, while others indicated more optimism and stated that the various technologies already existed in part and just need to be put together. CCS is considered essential for coal-fired power plants. Coal accounts for about 51 percent of U.S. electricity generation and about 30 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.
There are no coal-fired power plants with fully operational CCS systems even though the federal government has spent $4 billion on the technology and the private industry has invested about $7 billion. Some experts at the meeting suggested that another $3 - $4 billion needs to be invested in CCS development. Deploying the technology will also have costs with a price as high as $110 per metric ton of carbon dioxide called for at the meeting. Current legislation in Congress is considering a price closer to $20 per metric ton. In addition, a recent research paper (see summary below) questions the feasibility of geologic sequestration for mitigating climate change on a national or global scale.
The task force has a massive task ahead of them trying to understand the research, development and deployment needs and then trying to plan a practical, economical and feasible plan for commercial scale CCS. The task force will accept public comments until July 2, 2010.
Research Paper Claims Carbon Capture and Geologic Storage Is Not Feasible (4/10)
A research paper by Christine Ehlig-Economides (Texas A&M University) and Michael Economides (University of Houston) and published in the Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering is causing controversy among scientists, policymakers and other stakeholders. The research suggests that carbon capture and geologic sequestration is not a practical solution to substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions and mitigate climate change.
The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the American Petroleum Institute, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Natural Resources Defense Council, other organizations, geoscientists and engineers have issued public responses disagreeing with the methods, analyses and/or conclusions of the research.
More study and discussion is certainly warranted. Federal agencies with a major role in carbon capture and geologic sequestration with web pages that contain more information, include Carbon Sequestration-Department of Energy, Geologic CO2 Sequestration-U.S. Geological Survey and Underground Injection Control Program-Environmental Protection Agency.
Senate Grapples with Carbon Capture and Storage (4/10)
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee considered three measures on carbon capture and storage (CCS) in public hearings. One measure would provide $20 billion in incentives for CCS deployment, a second measure (S.1134) would authorize $3.8 billion in spending for CCS research and demonstration and a third measure (S.1856) would establish that subsurface pore space below federal lands belongs to the U.S. government. Over in the House, the climate change bill (H.R. 2454) provides $60 billion in incentives for CCS deployment and additional spending for CCS research and demonstration. Congress like the President’s Interagency Task Force (see summary #3) is trying to advance CCS as a major tool to mitigate climate change, especially from coal-fired power plants.
EPA Reports on Climate Change Indicators (4/10)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report on April 27 on environmental indicators that show measurable signs of climate change. Some of the key findings listed in an EPA press release include:
- Greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are increasing. Between 1990 and 2008, there has been about a 14 percent increase in emissions in the United States.
- Average temperatures are rising. Seven of the top 10 warmest years on record for the continental United States have occurred since 1990.
- Tropical cyclone intensity has increased in recent decades. Six of the 10 most active hurricane seasons have occurred since the mid-1990s.
- Sea levels are rising. From 1993 to 2008, sea level rose twice as fast as the long-term trend.
- Glaciers are melting. Loss of glacier volume appears to have accelerated over the last decade.
- The frequency of heat waves has risen steadily since the 1960s. The percentage of the U.S. population impacted by heat waves has also increased.
Science Academies Name Committee to Review IPCC (4/10)
The InterAcademy Council, a federation of the world’s science academies, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, has named a committee to review the procedures and processes of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The committee and other announcements about the review are available from the IPCC Review web page.
Virginia Attorney General Request Records of Climate Scientist Michael Mann (4/10)
Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II has requested the University of Virginia to provide information on any grants that climate scientist Michael Mann received or applied for that were funded by Virginia state agencies, as well as "any data, materials and communications that Dr. Mann created, presented or made in connection with" five grants he received from the university totaling $484,875. Cuccinelli is requesting the information as part of an investigation of whether Mann violated the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act.
Dr. Mann is noted for publishing a paper in Nature in 1998 that showed a rise in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere (the so called “hockey stick” diagram) and interpreted the rise to be caused by human activities. He gained further attention, when his name and private communications turned up in stolen e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. Mann was a professor at the University of Virginia from 1999 to 2005 and then moved to Penn State University. A Penn State investigative panel and two United Kingdom probes cleared Mann of any scientific misconduct earlier this year.
The Union of Concerned Scientists sent a letter to Cuccinelli urging him to rescind his request and calling it "an attempt to harass and cast doubt on a good scientist for political reasons." See the Union of Concerned Scientist related press release for more comments and a copy of their letter.
Cuccinelli’s subpoena has garnered local and national attention as have many of his other actions in his first four months in office. In the past, he has sued the federal government over attempts to regulate greenhouse gases and to challenge the health care reform legislation.
House Climate Change Bill and Senate Energy Bill Still in Play (3/10)
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was planning to add some amendments to their key energy bill, the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 (S.1462), in March, but the hearing was canceled because of health care reform acrimony. Look for possible amendments related to energy efficiency and other topics to be considered in April.
The House-approved climate change bill (H.R. 2454) remains in limbo as the Senate struggles to prepare their own bill. Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) remain the leading authors of an unfinished draft that is suppose to become the main Senate climate change bill. Media reports suggest the senators will drop cap and trade, allow oil and gas drilling in more areas offshore, restrict the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating hydraulic fracturing and enhance incentives for nuclear power plant development.
Separately, Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and George Voinovich (R-OH) have proposed draft legislation to promote carbon capture and storage research followed by incentives for development and deployment. Their draft is similar to the House bill and previous Senate climate change legislation (S.1733), but it would not put a price on carbon dioxide emissions thus protecting the coal industry from increased costs.
Meanwhile Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) continue to advocate for their bill, Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal (CLEAR) (S.2877), which revolves around a “cap and dividend” approach. The bill requires producers and importers of fossil fuels to pay for their carbon contribution and for 75 percent of these revenues to be returned to consumers. Kerry, Graham and Lieberman, who need all of the votes they can find, are likely to consider both proposals as they finish their draft.
The latest media reports suggest that the three senators are working on a “reduction and refund” approach that would target every industrial sector, but will involve different allocations, different emission limits and different target dates. The senators may try to link the transportation fuel sector with the industrial sector by tying a transportation fuel fee to an industrial carbon market fee. The senators hope to introduce their legislation in the Senate around Earth Day, which is April 22.
EPA Will Not Regulate Stationary Source GHG Emissions until 2011 (3/10)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final ruling today that no stationary sources will be required to get Clean Air Act permits that cover greenhouse gases (GHGs) before January 2011. This provides time for large industrial facilities and the government to implement technologies to control and reduce carbon emissions. This ruling follows EPA’s reconsideration of the Bush Administration memorandum from former EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson on when the government should regulate carbon dioxide from stationary sources sent to the Office of Management and Budget earlier in March.
The “Johnson memorandum” says facilities should get permits only for pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act. In her final reconsideration, current EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson follows that recommendation. Currently, however, it is being debated whether GHGs will be regulated by the Clean Air Act (see February article). This is the first step in EPA’s phased in approach to addressing GHG emissions laid out by Jackson in a letter last February.
EPA Seeks Public Comment on the 15th Annual U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory (3/10)
The Environmental Protection Agency has opened a public comment period for the annual release of the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2008 report. The public comment period began on March 15, 2010 and closes 30 days following (April 14, 2010). The report calculates annual emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, and perfluorocarbons on a national level. Calculations account for carbon dioxide sinks such as vegetation and soils.
Total GHG emissions for the U.S. in 2008 were about 7,000 metric carbon dioxide equivalent tons, a 2.9 percent decrease from the previous year. However, GHG emissions show an overall growth of 13.6 percent during the time period of 1990-2008.
More information on the draft report and how to submit public comments is available here.
First DOI Regional Climate Center Established in Alaska (3/10)
Late last year the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced it would establish regional Climate Science Centers to study the impacts of climate change. The University of Alaska was officially selected to host the first center, which will be located in Anchorage. The center should be operational within six to eight weeks. DOI Secretary Ken Salazar calls Alaska “ground zero for climate change” because melting sea ice and permafrost already affect local communities.
The centers will study the impacts of climate change, and use information to aid land managers in developing adaptation plans and regional education initiatives. Centers will be staffed by researchers and scientists from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), partner organizations, and outside experts.
The DOI is seeking further grant proposals for regional centers in the northwest, southeast, southwest and north central regions.
Congressman Calls for Investigation of Messaging to Meteorologists (2/10)
Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has written letters to the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking about federal funding going towards what he calls a “one-sided message to meteorologists on global warming.” The letters specifically ask about federal funds for Earth Gauge, an initiative of the American Meteorological Society and the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF). On their webpage Earth Gauge states their purpose is to “facilitate the evolution of broadcast meteorologists – highly trusted public figures – into ‘station scientists’ who can expertly cover and relate basic environmental information to their viewers.”
NEEF President Diane Wood, responding to the letters in an E&E Daily story, stated "Earth Gauge employs a science-based approach relying on observed data. The data is derived from government agencies -- including NOAA, EPA and NSF -- as well as peer-reviewed literature, including scientific publications such as Science, Nature and the Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union."
Congressman Sensenbrenner is the ranking member of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. More information about his letters and his concerns are available from the committee web site.
Obama Announces an Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage (2/10)
On February 3, 2010 President Obama called for an Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) to define a coordinated federal strategy to fast-track the development of clean coal technologies. The 14-member task force will be comprised of a senior officials designated to represent their respective cabinet level offices or executive office of the president. It will be co-chaired by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency representatives.
The task force will be named within 180 days of this announcement and then begin developing a comprehensive plan to develop cost-effective CCS within 10 years, with 5-10 commercial demonstration projects online by 2016. The task force will look at coordinating existing administrative authorities and programs, including building international collaboration on CCS. Obama named comprehensive energy and climate legislation as the largest incentive for CCS, and this task force will prepare for the low carbon energy transition and spur investments into CCS in the near future.
New NEPA Guidelines Draft Includes Greenhouse Gases (2/10)
The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) proposed new guidelines for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), including guidance on when and how federal agencies must consider greenhouse gases. In addition, CEQ proposed three other areas for modernization: clarifying the appropriate use of “Findings of No Significant Impact” or FONSI, clarifying use of categorical exclusions, and enhancing the public tools for reporting NEPA activities. The guidelines are open for public comment for 45-90 days after their release on February 18, 2010. Read the draft guidance and submit your comments on the CEQ site.
The new draft comes as part of the 40th anniversary celebrations of NEPA. Enacted in 1970, NEPA recognizes that many federal activities affect the environment and mandates that federal agencies consider the environmental impacts of their proposed actions. NEPA emphasizes public involvement in governmental decisions relating to the environment by increasing transparency and ease of implementation.
IPCC Regrets Himalayan Glacier Error (1/10)
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a statement (PDF copy) expressing their regret for an error in its Fourth Assessment released in 2007. The report stated that the Himalayan glaciers were likely to melt by 2035 in error. The IPCC chairs and co-chairs regret the misrepresentation and explained that the conclusion was based on “poorly substantiated estimates of rate of recession and date for the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers. In drafting the paragraph in question, the clear and well-established standards of evidence, required by the IPCC procedures, were not applied properly.” However, the IPCC maintains that the overall conclusion that glaciers will melt at an accelerating rate through the 21st century, reducing seasonal freshwater availability from glacial melt, is still valid and substantiated by robust science.
CIA Will Share Satellite Data with Select Scientists (1/10)
An old environmental surveillance program has been reopened for the benefit of science. The Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis (Medea) program at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been reopened after unexpectedly being shut down by President George W. Bush in 2001 after nine years of operation. Medea gives 60 of the nation’s top scientists access to classified reconnaissance satellite data and other spy sensors. The scientists, mainly from academia with a few representatives from industry and federal agencies, conduct scientific research under the guidance of the National Academy of Sciences.
CIA Director Leon Paneta strongly supports the program, believing the national security implications of desertification, sea level rise, and population shifts justify this collaboration. However the program has come under scrutiny in Congress, particularly by Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) who thinks the CIA should spend more time fighting terrorists, “not spying on sea lions.”
The Medea program has little to no impact on regular intelligence gathering and is more or less free. What is does is release information already collected or utilizes already deployed sensors to gather environmental data while passing over wilderness areas. The images that have been declassified are released at a lower resolution to mask the true abilities of CIA satellites. So far the data scientists have received has allowed them to analyze Arctic sea ice to help with summer melt records. In addition to sea ice data, scientists hope to gather information on clouds, glaciers, deserts, and tropical forests.
Murkowski Formalizes Disapproval of EPA Ruling (1/10)
On January 21, 2010 Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced a disapproval resolution to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from being able to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The EPA independently ruled last December that GHGs are a danger to human health and therefore EPA could regulate them under the Clean Air Act. Murkowski and many others feel the EPA is wrong in circumventing Congress to make this decision, and that the Clean Air Act is ill suited to properly handle a regulation of this kind. Murkowski hoped to vote on her resolution in February, but a March vote is more likely given scheduling difficulties.
The resolution has 36 Republican co-sponsors and endorsement from 3 Democrats. An additional two Democrats—Senators Byron Dorgan (ND) and Jim Webb (VA)—and two Republicans—Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins—are considering co-sponsorship.
Once a disapproval resolution is placed on the Senate calendar, it is then subject to expedited consideration on the Senate floor, and not subject to filibuster. It only takes 51 votes to pass a disapproval resolution as opposed to the 60 needed in Murkowski’s original plan of introducing an amendment.
Read the full press release from Murkowski here.
Interim Climate Accord Emerges From Copenhagen (12/09)
President Obama and a large contingent of federal agency and congressional representatives made the trip to the U.N. Climate Summit in Copenhagen at the beginning of December to negotiate an international climate accord. A total of 193 countries were present to negotiate the interim treaty over the two-week conference, but only about 30 countries have signed on so far. The major accomplishment was to get the U.S., China, and India to sign the interim agreement setting limits on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for developed and developing countries. This Copenhagen Accord is not yet a legally binding treaty, but it indicates a commitment to reducing GHG emissions.
While it may not be the replacement for the Kyoto Treaty that some leaders had hoped for, the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon still considered it a “significant achievement.” Many countries were frustrated that the U.S. would not set higher reduction targets, but Obama was adamant about adhering to the 17 percent reduction below 2005 levels by 2020 and ultimately 42 percent below by 2030 set by the House-passed climate bill (H.R. 2454) because he did not wish to supersede ongoing congressional considerations.
The U.S. entourage included heads of many key federal agencies; including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Jane Lubchenco, U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) led a House delegation of 14 democrats and 6 republicans to Copenhagen, including several authors of the Waxman-Markey climate bill (H.R. 2454) passed in the House. From the Senate, only the lead author of the Senate climate bill John Kerry (D-MA) and climate skeptic James Inhofe (R-OK) attended.
The DOI presentations from Copenhagen are available to download as PDFs: http://www.doi.gov/climatechange/
A more complete summary of the Copenhagen Accord and resulting domestic policy implications is available from the NY Times.
Climate Legislation in the Wake of Copenhagen (12/09)
At Copenhagen, President Obama staunchly adhered to greenhouse gas emission reduction targets from the House climate bill (H.R. 2454). This is the only legislation formally approved by the House or the Senate and Obama has made it clear that the Administration will follow the lead from Congress in any international negotiations dealing with climate change.
In the Senate, work is continuing on compromise climate legislation with Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) taking the lead on drafting new language, after earlier measures failed to garner support. The three senators sent the framework for a new climate change bill to President Obama on December 10, 2009, as the Copenhagen Climate Summit was underway. The framework is a broad document that outlines 11 vision areas and a goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by about 17 percent of the 2005 levels by 2020. The reduction target is the same as the 2020 target in the House bill.
The framework’s vision areas ask to reach significant and achievable emission targets through investments in clean energy technology, strive for energy independence, set national emission standards by Congress not by federal agencies or states, provide monetary assistance and protection to consumers, encourage new nuclear power plants and a nuclear workforce, promote clean coal technology and rapid deployment of carbon capture and sequestration systems, create American jobs through the clean technology industry, make it beneficial for farmers to reduce emissions without regulations, have vigilant oversight of the carbon market, get a strong global commitment to addressing climate change and protecting intellectual property rights, and build climate legislation consensus in the Senate.
Though the lack of details is frustrating to some, the authors say it sends a clear signal to the international community that the Senate is actively working on legislation. Kerry explains that the lack of specifics allows the committees with jurisdiction over the various vision areas to provide input. He plans on taking language from the Kerry-Boxer climate bill (S. 1733), passed by the Environment and Public Works Committee in November, and the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 (S. 1462) passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee in July.
A formal bill will not be introduced until at least the end of January. Agriculture Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-AK) plans on holding climate hearings in late January before submitting her committee’s input and a bill is not expected until the Finance and Commerce Committees have had a chance to do the same.
A day after the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham framework announcement, Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) released a “cap and refund” bill called the Carbon Limits and Energy for America's Renewal (CLEAR) Act (S. 2877) as an alternative to the current cap and trade climate legislation model. It auctions off carbon credits and gives the revenues to low- and middle-income families to offset the increased cost of meeting a 20 percent emission reduction by 2020 proposed in the measure. Kerry and the others said they are open to incorporating any idea the will satisfy their vision areas.
As Congress tries to finalize some sort of climate legislation, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has submitted its final endangerment rule that will become effective January 14, 2010. This rule says that GHGs are endangering public health and are caused in part by motor vehicles, therefore the EPA has authority to regulate these emissions under the Clean Air Act. Some members of Congress see this as EPA circumventing congressional authority and have introduced legislation to negate the EPA endangerment findings. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) are leading the charge against the EPA, but are unlikely to gain enough support to overturn the ruling. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) admits Murkowski is unlikely to succeed, but is confident that lawsuits will soon sprout up and “kill the endangerment finding.”
A comprehensive analysis of the Senate climate debate and key senators in the 60-vote race was prepared by ScienceInsider, and is available as part of their climate blog.
Stolen Emails Fuel Debate on the Integrity of Climate Science (12/09)
Over 1,000 emails and 2,000 other files dating as far back as 1996 from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom were stolen and posted on the web through a Russian file-sharing site in the city of Tomsk, Siberia on November 19, 2009. The university has called the incident a “criminal breach” and police are investigating. The timing of the release of the stolen information, just before the United Nations Climate Summit in Copenhagen, is suspicious and has led to further charges of criminality in support of climate skeptics.
The content of the private correspondences has spurred a bitter and increasingly acrimonious debate about climate science and scientific ethics. It is uncertain what effect, if any, the emails will have on climate legislation. In the U.K., Professor Phil Jones, the director of CRU, has stepped down and an independent investigator, Sir Muir Russell, will investigate whether there was any suppression or manipulation of data, determine if practices meet “best scientific practice,” review compliance with U.K.’s data access laws and review management and security at CRU. His report is not due until the spring of 2010. In addition, more than 1,700 British scientists signed a letter in support of the scientists involved in the emails and in support of the science showing global warming is in part due to anthropogenic factors.
At the United Nations, the co-chairs of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group One, Thomas Stocker and Qin Dahe, issued a statement saying that their work provides an open, transparent and unbiased report on the current knowledge of the climate system and its changes.
In the U.S., some of the American scientists involved in the emails held a press conference and stated that they were not involved in any scientific misconduct. Another group of twenty-five climate scientists in the U.S., wrote an open letter (PDF) to Congress stating “The body of evidence that human activity is the dominant cause of global warming is overwhelming. The content of the stolen e-mails has no impact whatsoever on our overall understanding that human activity is driving dangerous levels of global warming.”
Twenty-seven Republican senators sent a letter to the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asking for an independent investigation of the IPCC and its reports based on “allegations of adjusting or manipulating data and why various individuals refused to disclose raw data.” The senators compared their request to an investigation of the U.N.’s Oil for Food program by an outside entity in 2004.
Some Republican senators sent a letter to EPA asking the agency to halt its efforts to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act “until the agency can demonstrate the science underlying these regulatory decisions has not been compromised” based on the information garnered from the stolen emails.
In congressional hearings in December, lawmakers and witnesses expressed their opinions regarding the emails and the science. “The e-mails do nothing to undermine the very strong scientific consensus . . . that tells us the Earth is warming, that warming is largely a result of human activity,” Jane Lubchenco, who heads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told a House committee. At the other end of the debate and in the other chamber, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) stated at a December 2nd hearing, “One cannot deny that the e-mails raised fundamental questions concerning . . . transparency and openness in science.”
Senator Inhofe has formally requested a hearing about the emails in the Environment and Public Works Committee, while Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA), Chair of the House Select Committee on Global Warming and Energy Independence, has stated he will organize a hearing about the emails at the beginning of 2010.
The media continues to cover the controversy regarding the emails from many angles. The Wall Street Journal provides a sixty megabyte file of all of the stolen information as a link in a November 23rd news story while the Associated Press had five reporters read all 1,073 emails and then send summaries of their analyses to research ethics, climate science and science policy experts. The experts indicate that the science regarding global warming was not faked based on the content of the emails.
NSF Launches Climate Science Web Site “To What Degree?” (12/09)
The new National Science Foundation (NSF) climate science web site "To What Degree" aims to explain what science is saying about climate change through short video segments. Leading climate change experts answer common questions about the Earth system and climate change. The questions are broken down into four topics: the carbon cycle, Earth’s heat balance, the water cycle, and how do we know. NSF promises that more topics are coming soon.
EPA Sends GHG Endangerment Findings to White House (11/09)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent its greenhouse gas (GHG) endangerment findings to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review in early November. The proposed findings state that greenhouse gases are pollutants that threaten public health and therefore should be regulated by the EPA under the Clean Air Act. The EPA has already proposed follow-up GHG regulations, however, any regulations depend on approval of the endangerment finding first.
The OMB has 90 days to review the findings, however many expect a ruling ahead of the United Nations Copenhagen climate change treaty conference which starts on December 7, 2009.
Climate Change Legislation on Hold Until Spring (11/09)
The Senate has been unable to approve of a climate change bill within a very crowded legislative schedule, and the Senate now plans to schedule floor debate on a climate change bill after it completes work on health care and financial regulatory reform. The schedule roughly coincides with the revised United Nations plan to hold negotiations on a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol in the spring of 2010. The international community thinks, and the Obama Administration agrees, that binding international agreements are unlikely if the U.S. Congress does not approve of climate change legislation in advance.
Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are now working on legislation that could garner greater bi-partisan support and secure at least 60 votes in the Senate. Expect Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), Agriculture Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Energy Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Energy Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Budget Committee Ranking Member Judd Gregg (R-NH) to play a major role in crafting climate change legislation. Watch for fence-sitters from key states (for example, both senators from AR, IN, OH, ME, MI, MT, ND and WV) with regional concerns about the effects of climate change legislation to drive any late-breaking compromises in order to bring small but significant blocks of “yes” votes on the Senate floor.
RFF Seminar on Environmental Diplomacy (11/09)
Resources For the Future (RFF) held a seminar on Environmental Diplomacy Leading to Copenhagen. It reviewed past environmental agreements in relation to the upcoming climate change negotiations in Copenhagen and corresponded with the release of Negotiating Environment and Science by Richard Smith, former principal deputy assistant secretary in the Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs and head negotiator for some of the most significant environmental and scientific agreements of the late and post-Cold War era.
Smith discussed the importance of a science-based approach, citing the Montreal Protocol from 1990 that phased out ozone depleting chemicals. Smith cautioned against having Copenhagen turn into another Kyoto Protocol mess, where international agreements were made prior to U.S. domestic approval leading to unfulfilled international targets.
Frank Loy, former undersecretary of State for Global Affairs, and Alan Hecht, former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) negotiator, concurred with Smith’s remarks. Loy talked about the special role of the U.S. in international agreements. The U.S. is a key player that cannot be ignored despite an often cumbersome congressional approval process that can be undermined by a single Senator. Loy speculated that the Montreal Protocol was so successful because there was a readily available alternative to the banned chemicals. Climate change, on the other hand, will be hampered by the lack of a clear alternative to business as usual practices.
Study Ties Drought to Population, Not Climate Change (10/09)
A Columbia University study found that the drought that overwhelmed the Southeast from 2005-2007 was nothing out of the ordinary. By studying data from tree rings, computer models, and weather instruments, the drought was found to be pretty standard and even mild compared to other droughts even in the recent past. Despite the normalcy of the drought, it forced many states to declare water usage restrictions and file lawsuits against other states over water. Columbia reported that the resulting water shortages were due to population growth and bad planning rather than climate change.
There were 6.5 million people in Georgia in 1990, and now there are 9.5 million people. That is almost a 50 percent increase in only 17 years. The population is still growing and little has been done to reduce consumption or increase storage of water. Although it was much drier in the 19th century, it had less of an effect due to the small population.
Most climate models have actually predicted that as temperatures rise, rainfall will increase in the Southeast, but this will come with an increase in evaporation. Richard Seager, a climate modeler at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia, says the best one could hope for is for the two to balance out and that “climate change should not be counted on to solve the Southeast’s water woes.”
Survey Finds Public More Skeptical of Global Warming (10/09)
Fewer Americans believe there is good evidence for human induced temperature increases, or that it is a serious problem, according to a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey. Of the 1,500 people surveyed from September 30-October 4, only 57 percent agreed that there is solid evidence the Earth is warming. That is down across party lines from the 71 percent who answered the question affirmatively in April 2008. Of those who agreed, a similar decrease is seen in those who thought it was due to human activity. In 2008, 47 percent believed it was caused by humans while the latest survey shows 36 percent. When asked how serious they believed the problem to be, 35 percent answered very serious, down from 44 percent in 2008.
Despite the decreases, the survey shows increased support for a cap-and-trade program with 50 percent of the respondents favoring setting limits on carbon emissions. This comes after a separate Pew Research Center poll on current events during early October found only 23 percent of the 1,002 people called could correctly identify that a “cap-and-trade” program dealt with energy and the environment, as opposed to health care, banking reform, or unemployment.
Climate Change Legislation Passes Despite Boycott (10/09)
The debate on the Kerry-Boxer climate change bill in the Senate, officially referred to as the “Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act” or S. 1733, ramped up in mid-October. Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and co-sponsor of the bill, steered the bill out of committee on November 5 after three comprehensive hearings during the last week of October.
The Republicans on the committee staged a boycott of discussions on the bill because they wanted to get a detailed cost analysis from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first. Boxer did not want to delay the bill any longer on a redundant request, so after three days of trying to reach a compromise the committee voted 11-1 in favor of the bill without considering amendments by either party. No Republican committee members were present for the vote breaking a tradition of having at least two minority party members as part of any quorum for committee votes. The one vote against the bill came from Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) who felt his amendments needed to be addressed. Among the 80 amendments submitted by Democrats, Baucus’ amendment would decrease the emissions target from a 20 percent reduction to a 17 percent by 2020.
The latest version of the Kerry-Boxer climate bill is 959 pages in length and was released to the public on October 30. The bill is separated into two major divisions: “Authorization For Pollution Reduction, Transition, and Adaption” and “Pollution Reduction and Investment.” The first division includes titles for greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction programs, research, transition and adaptation. The second division outlines the “cap-and-trade” scenario, or the benchmarks for carbon dioxide reductions, the GHG registry systems, and the offsets program. The bill calls for a 20 percent reduction of GHGs compared to 2005 levels by 2020 and an 83 percent reduction by 2050.
To reduce GHG emissions, the bill looks to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), which includes finding geological storage sites and developing demonstration projects, plus advanced nuclear energy, water efficiency, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and natural gas. The research covers advanced energy and drinking water adaptation. Water is also covered in the adaptation programs which provide safeguards for natural resource conservation and additional programs for floods, wildfires, and coastal adaptation.
The newest version includes one major addition. It limits the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s power to regulate GHGs by making sure congressional emission caps preempt EPA’s ability to moderate emission under the Clean Air Act. The addition also gives EPA more power over large industrial emission sources than the Waxman-Markey bill in the House. EPA has been flexing its regulatory power already in regard to those large point sources, issuing a rule on October 30 to force sources emitting more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents to constrict emissions.
The Democratic majority is trying to get a Senate-approved measure passed before the Copenhagen climate summit in December. Besides the Kerry-Boxer bill, other portions of the a full climate change bill are awaiting votes in the Finance Committee and the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee
Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) are also working outside of the committees to find solutions to garner the 60 votes needed for passage. Senators Graham and Kerry wrote an op-ed for the NY Times in mid-October calling for more offshore oil and gas drilling and greater incentives for nuclear energy. Their plan will likely be on the discussion table as these provisions could garner more support from Republicans and some Democrats.
With the number of controversies and compromises still to be tackled, it is unlikely the bill will reach the Senate floor before Copenhagen or even by the end of this year. While the continued uncertainty about congressional actions on climate change would be a significant disappointment for the Administration and the international community, President Obama has indicated that he will make climate change legislation a top priority once health care reform legislation is completed.
The Kerry-Graham op-ed in the NY Times:
Climate Change Bill Frozen; Expected to Heat Up in Oct. (9/09)
Climate change legislation in the Senate was expected to advance in September, however, the health care reform legislation ended up consuming most of the month so little progress was made on climate change. The House has already passed a climate change bill (H.R. 2454) and everyone is awaiting a Senate climate change bill, particularly given that many senators did not like the House bill. Finally on September 30th, Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) released a draft bill on climate change, entitled “Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act.” The draft is missing key components, especially the details of how greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced through regulation, signifying that much more work is needed before the Senate draft can be introduced as a working bill. The Senate bill requires more reduction of greenhouse gases than the House bill and thus would be stricter.
Given the delay in releasing this Senate draft and the lack of a finished bill, it is unlikely that any climate change legislation will be completed before the United Nations conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid suggested this a week before the draft’s release and the Administration’s climate czar, Carol Browner, confirmed this assessment two days after the release of the Senate draft when she said a bill was unlikely by December.
The Senate draft has eight major titles and many involve geoscience-related research and development including: I. Greenhouse Gas Reduction Programs, II. Research, III. Transition and Adaptation, VII. Global Warming Pollution Reduction, and VIII. Additional Greenhouse Gas Standards.
The text of the draft and summaries of the titles are available in the Sept. 30 press release on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Majority page.
EPA Finalizes First U.S. Greenhouse Gas Reporting System (9/09)
Starting in 2010, emitters of large amounts of greenhouse gases (GHG) will be required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to record their emissions. This new system will be required for any facility that emits at least 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year. The rule will apply to about 10,000 facilities, accounting for roughly 85 percent of the nation’s total GHG emissions. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson sees this as “a major step forward in our effort to address the greenhouse gases polluting our skies.”
By collecting this data, it will give some insight into where the GHGs are coming from and help determine what needs to be done in order to lower the emissions through appropriate policies and programs. This data will also empower businesses to compare their own emissions with those of similar facilities in order to collaborate in finding the best and cheapest way to decrease their emissions. Environmentalists and some industries are in favor of the emissions registry. Industries such as the American Chemistry Council, the American Petroleum Institute and the Edison Electric Institute applauded this new version of the rule that will allow facilities and suppliers to cease annual reporting if they limit their GHG emissions consistently over several years. The facilities must begin recording emissions January 1, 2010 and will submit their records to EPA in 2011.
DOI Launches Climate Change Response Council (9/09)
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar launched the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) first coordinated strategy to address climate change impacts on September 14, 2009. This secretarial order (Secretarial Order No. 3289) addresses the impacts of climate change on water, land, wildlife, fish, and other resources.
The strategy includes a Climate Change Response Council of senior DOI officials, led by Salazar, to coordinate actions and facilitate better communication related to climate change within the DOI bureaus and offices and with other agencies. The council will oversee the Carbon Footprint Project, which is creating an emissions reduction program, and the Carbon Storage Project, which is working on both geological and biological storage techniques. Salazar is also creating eight regional climate change response centers to manage strategies and data for each region and engage the public. To focus on how climate change impacts drought, wildfires, invasive species, and migration patterns across land boundaries, he also created the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.
This Secretarial Order builds upon Secretarial Order No. 3285 issued in March to promote the development of renewable energy on public land.
UN Releases Compendium on Climate Change (9/09)
The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) released a review of about 400 peer-reviewed or institution-based climate change research articles from the past three years. The UNEP’s “Climate Change Science Compendium 2009” is a follow up to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report. It is not a consensus document, but an update on scientific findings and conclusions. The review suggests that climate change impacts can still be avoided with “immediate, cohesive and decisive action to both cut emissions and assist vulnerable countries.”
The review is broken into five topics: Earth systems, ice, oceans, ecosystems, and systems management. Earth systems includes new climate modeling systems, growth in carbon dioxide emissions, and possible increase of 4.3 degrees Centigrade making “tipping points,” like the end of summer sea ice in the Arctic, occur sooner. The ice section covers more on the status of summer sea ice in the Arctic, acceleration of glacier and ice sheet melting, and the hole in the ozone’s cooling affect on Antarctica. The oceans section addresses the more rapid projections for sea level rise and acidification. The ecosystems section covers biodiversity threats and drought problems. The final section recommends large-scale efforts to preserve ecosystems, protection of tropical forests, and finding innovative ways to keep carbon out of the atmosphere.
The UNEP report is available from the compendium website.
AERC Sustainability of Urban Ecosystems Briefing (9/09)
The Association of Ecosystem Research Centers (AERC) held a briefing entitled “Out on a Limb: Sustainability of Urban Ecosystems under Changing Climates.” The briefing addressed ways that climate change will affect urban areas and what can be done to slow these changes down. A variety of panelists gave suggestions to help urban areas adapt to the changes.
Donald F. Boesch of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science said that since the flooding of New Orleans billions have been invested in improving the safety of the area, but little has been done to mitigate the deterioration of the coast and climate change. He suggested that the survival of New Orleans will strongly depend on our success in limiting climate change.
Allen Davis, director of the Maryland Water Resources Research Center at the University of Maryland, said the infrastructure systems in this country are built with an assumption that the most extreme conditions they will face are stagnant. With climate change, he added, the extremes will only become more damaging and will worsen an already stressed infrastructure. Davis suggested water management methods could help to lessen the impacts of these changes.
Peter M. Groffman, senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, stressed the importance of preventing sea level rise and also suggested the use of urban storm water management.
Nancy B Grimm of Arizona State University looks at climate change from an ecological standpoint and suggested that sustainable solutions to urban challenges will be most effective if based on ecological principles and look at the connections between city dwellers and the global scale.
Douglas Farr, president of Farr Associates, suggested that one way for cities to have an effect on climate change is to develop LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) neighborhoods. This system is the first national system for neighborhood design that incorporates green building with urbanism and smart growth.
ACS Regional Climate Models Briefing (9/09)
The American Chemical Society (ACS) held a hearing on “Regional Climate models: A Critical Adaptation Tool for Communities and Industry.” The speakers included Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University, Greg Holland of National Center for Atmospheric Research, Cortis Cooper of Chevron Energy Technology Co., and Sarah Cottrell of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s office.
The impacts of climate change are already under way and are causing problems worldwide. As these changes occur, it will be important to be able to anticipate them. The Nested Regional Climate Model (NRCM) is used to predict the changes at a local scale that are brought about by climate change. It combines the strengths of the Community Climate System Model (CCSM), and the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model. It will be useful for planning for things like future droughts, heat waves, sea level rise, coastal storms, and species movement and loss. This tool is an important aid for policymakers struggling to adapt policies and those in industry trying to develop equipment to withstand the changing climate. The model is an initiative of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).
For more information and to view a video webcast of the briefing, go here.
Senators Want Other Pollutants in Climate Change Bill (8/09)
Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) are pushing to limit more than carbon dioxide emissions in current climate change legislation. They are working with Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) to draft a bill that would cut mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides emissions as well. The air pollution bill would improve upon the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), which has been reinstated after being discarded a year ago. The new bill would keep the CAIR standards through 2011, but starts implementing stricter emission standards in 2012. Carper has discussed his interest in including this legislation in the Waxman-Markey bill with Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who may be marking up the bill in the fall.
The new standards would be in place from until 2014, and then reduced further through 2019. National sulfur dioxide emissions would be limited to 3.5 million tons per year through 2014 and then to 1.5 million tons per year through 2019. After 2019, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could lower the allowed emissions level as needed. The nitrous oxides emissions standards would be different depending on the region of the U.S. The Eastern states would have similar allowances as the CAIR program and would be called Zone 1, while 16 western states would form Zone 2. Zone 1 would be allowed emissions totaling 1.39 million tons from 2012 to 2014, 1.3 million tons through 2019, and then the EPA Administrator could again change the limit as reductions are needed. The emission standards for Zone 2 would start at 400,000 tons in 2012 and be reduced to 320,000 tons at the end of 2014. Limits on mercury emissions standards would only start in 2015 to reduce emissions by 90 percent. The air pollution bill would also change the cap and trade program under CAIR to an auction system for allowances directed by the EPA.
Petition Demands EPA Review of Climate Science (8/09)
On August 25, 2009, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a 21-page petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requesting a public proceeding to independently judge the scientific evidence that global warming endangers human health. Such a proceeding would be akin to a public trial of the scientific evidence for global warming and its potential effects on human health.
The petition may delay EPA efforts to finalize an endangerment finding it published in April 2009. The EPA proposes that atmospheric greenhouse gases (specifically carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride) endanger the public health and welfare. These gases are thus defined as pollutants under the Clean Air Act and should be restricted and monitored according to provisions in the Clean Air Act. Emissions of these gases for new motor vehicles would also be included as pollutants.
The key point being brought forth by the Chamber is relatively narrow, questioning only a specific finding and is summed up by the following statement written in the petition: “no issue should be more important in deciding whether to make an endangerment finding than the question of whether higher global temperatures will lead to higher death rates in the United States.” The Chamber points to the June 2009 U.S. Global Change Research Group report entitled “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States,” which projects a smaller risk of fatalities in the U.S. in the winter because of a lower potential for people to suffer from hypothermia or accidents on ice.
According to an E&E Daily report, the EPA Deputy Press Secretary Brendan Gilfillan believes the petition has no basis because EPA based its proposed endangerment finding on “the soundest peer-reviewed science available, which overwhelmingly indicates that climate change presents a threat to human health and welfare.”
EPA is now considering the petition. If EPA denies the petition, the Chamber would have 60 days to challenge the decision. The Chamber of Commerce has indicated that it would file a lawsuit against any endangerment finding filed by the EPA.
The petition and the potential for further challenges mean that any endangerment findings issued by the EPA will undergo significant public scrutiny of the science behind the rulings. It also means that EPA will not be able to enact other new rules being proposed to limit emissions that are based on the endangerment finding.
Indeed one day after the Chamber’s petition was filed, the EPA and Department of Transportation announced that draft rules imposing the first-ever greenhouse gas emissions standards on vehicles was delivered to the White House.
Geoengineering in News and Policy (8/09)
Geoengineering ideas come and go, but popularity is on the rise again as the public and the government look to ways to mitigate changes to the environment. The National Academy of Sciences is reviewing geoengineering and the Obama Administration promises to consider geoengineering options. Additionally the new assistant secretary for science at the Department of Energy, Steven Koonin, was recently a leader of a climate-engineering study group, which published a report on “cloud whitening”.
The study group published their report, “Climate engineering responses to climate emergencies” through a new non-profit called Novim. The cloud whitening idea uses aerosols to reflect shortwave solar radiation back into space. The report cites the Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption in 1991, which cooled the planet, as an exemplary model. The idea is projected to cost somewhere between $8 and $30 billion depending on the method of implementation. Like some other geoengineering ideas, cloud whitening would seek to cool the planet without dealing directly with the underlying cause. There is little knowledge of the consequences and critics speculate that such an idea could lead to droughts and other negative side effects.
Novim, based in Santa Barbara, California, is a non-profit scientific corporation that convenes small collaborative groups of the world’s leading experts to identify and analyze scientific and technological issues of global importance. Its findings are published online and uploaded to scientific archives. Results will also be made available in the form of classroom study guides, videos and perspective summaries aimed at policy makers and the public in general.
New Climate Researchers Invited to Symposium (7/09)
The Dissertations Initiative for the Advancement of Climate Change Research (DISCCRS, pronounced “discourse”), connects natural and social scientists engaged in research related to climate change, impacts and solutions. The goal is to broaden perspectives and establish a collegial peer network to address climate challenges at the interface of science and society. Climate researchers who completed their PhD dissertations between April 1, 2007 and July 31, 2009 are encouraged to register their dissertations for possible selection to the next week-long symposium in Tonto National Forest, Arizona from March 13-20, 2010.
The program is supported by the National Science Foundation and scientific societies (including AGI Member Societies, AGU and ASLO).
Survey Assesses Scientist and Public Opinions (7/09)
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) evaluated the public view of science and compared it to the viewpoint of scientists. The survey asked 4,500 people, of which 2,500 were members of AAAS, about science and the global standing of U.S. science research. The study found that while the public has a good opinion of scientists, they do not believe that American scientists lead the world in scientific research. Only 17 percent of the public think that U.S. science is the best in the world, while 49 percent of scientists hold this belief. The number of people who view scientific advances as the most important achievements of the U.S. has declined in the last 10 years from 47 to 27 percent.
The survey also asked scientists about the scientific knowledge of the public. While two thirds of the public have a high opinion of scientists, 85 percent of scientists think that public ignorance of science is a problem. The study evaluated the scientific knowledge of the public and compared it to the scientists’ knowledge. Questions about evolution found that 32 percent of the public believe that humans and other living things have evolved over time, as opposed to 87 percent of scientists. A similar disparity is found for global warming, with 49 percent of the public and 84 percent of scientists believing that humans are the cause. However, there is some agreement between scientists and the public when it comes to funding of science research. Both groups say that government investment is essential for scientific progress. Majorities of each group also agree that advances in medicine and life science are the most important advances in science.
Another recent survey by two scientists at the University of Illinois in Chicago polled 3,146 scientists on their opinion of climate change. Dr. Peter Doran and former graduate student Maggie Kendall Zimmerman presented their findings in the American Geophysical Union’s publication Eos in January. The results showed that 90 percent of the polled scientists believe that mean global temperature has risen since 1800, and 82 percent agree that human activity is a significant contributing factor. Of the climate specialists polled, 97 percent agreed that humans have contributed to the mean global temperature rise. The study concluded that there is an overall consensus among scientists that humans are causing climate change.
The full survey report by the Pew Research Center can be found here.
More information on the Doran and Zimmerman survey can be found at CNN.
Climate Legislation Work Ongoing in Senate (7/09)
Following the passage of the Waxman-Markey climate change bill in the House last month, the Senate started work on its own climate legislation. The Environment and Public Works (EPW) committee is taking the lead in drafting the legislation with five other committees weighing in. EPW Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has called several hearings in her committee during the month of July to consider all aspects of opportunities and challenges with climate change legislation. Boxer has said they will use the Waxman-Markey bill as a starting point to develop legislation, but the Senate will come up with their own version. She plans to release a draft bill on September 8 when the Senate returns from its August recess and to markup the bill throughout the month. EPW intends to meet a September 28 deadline set by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for the bill to be reported out of the six committees.
More information about the progress of Senate debate and legislation on climate change is available from the committee web site: http://epw.senate.gov/
AGI summaries of hearings on climate change in the House and the Senate are available at: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis111/climate_hearings.html
NAS Climate Change Meeting (7/09)
The National Academies of Science (NAS) Committee on America’s Climate Choices discussed the international context for America’s climate choices at a meeting on July 13, 2009. Bjorn Stigson, president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), spoke about the current challenges to addressing climate change at the global level and the current status of international negotiations. He emphasized the nexus between society, economy, and environment that will encompass how we address climate change, and also asserted that we will be able to change if there is the political will to do so. An informal consensus of committee members present at the meeting felt that a substantial deal resulting in real emissions targets being set will not be reached at the upcoming conference in Copenhagen. Chad Holliday of Dupont spoke about the need for better cooperation between business and government in determining how we will reduce emissions without hurting the economy. Jonathan Pershing, senior climate negotiator at the U.S. State Department, spoke about the status of international negotiations going into Copenhagen and what would help or hurt the U.S. at the negotiating table. He believes there is too much political pressure for a deal not to be made at Copenhagen, but it is likely it will be a broad framework that will be inadequate in reducing emissions in a substantial way. Pershing indicated that the U.S. would have more credibility at the negotiating table if climate change legislation has been passed in both the House and Senate by the conference. He also said that he sees a new international deal being formed as a set of linked national programs, as opposed to assigning emissions allowances country by country as was done in the Kyoto Protocol.
The NAS website for past and upcoming meetings on America’s Choices on Climate Change can be found at: http://americasclimatechoices.org/events.shtml
ESA “Water Resources in the West” Briefing (7/09)
The Ecological Society of America (ESA) held a hearing on “Water Resources in the West: Assessing Tradeoffs in a Changing Climate” on July 13, 2009. The briefing focused on how water use will be impacted by climate change, the relationship between ecosystem services and water resources, and managing agricultural and urban ecosystems. The speakers included Dr. Jill Baron of the U.S. Geological Survey and Colorado State University, Dr. Darrel Jenerette of the University of California Riverside, and Dr. Diane Pataki of the University of California Irvine.
There will not be enough water in the West to satisfy all human and environmental needs in the future as a result of growing population and climate change. The likely effects of less water will be reduced water quality, smaller bird and fish migration corridors, and contracted trout and salmon fisheries. It will be necessary to engage in adaptation and management of watersheds on the local and regional scales to maximize the benefits of the water that will remain. Ecosystem services will suffer in the coming decades due to more severe droughts which will become the norm. Goods and services related to drinking water, energy, fiber production and food production will be threatened. Policy options exist in water pricing, agriculture policy, and housing policy that will allow us to maximize the benefits of these services. Outdoor urban water use in the West needs to be reduced and the smart plant ecology choices in those urban cities would curb usage. Considerations must also be made of the tradeoff between water conservation and climate since irrigation makes cities cooler but takes more water out of the watershed.
National Climate Service Bill Passes House Committee (6/09)
The House Science and Technology committee passed H.R. 2407, the National Climate Service Act of 2009, with a vote of 24 to 12. The bill originally would have established a National Climate Service office as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), but a bipartisan amendment was passed that calls for the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to determine over the next three years the roles different federal agencies should play in a new climate service. OSTP will need to base its plan on the inventory of the federal government’s climate modeling and monitoring programs, as well as the potential users of climate data. Several Republican amendments were defeated before the vote, including an amendment that would remove all references in the bill to “climate change.” This bill may amend the NOAA National Climate Service proposed in the Waxman-Markey bill (H.R. 2454), but Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) has said H.R. 2407 will move ahead even if H.R. 2454 does not.
Drought Discussion at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (6/09)
The Environmental Change and Security Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars held a meeting on June 15, 2009 entitled “Climate Change and Water: Challenges and Responses in Australia and California.” Two professors spoke on the recent drought that has engulfed both regions. Dr. Jon Barnett, an Australian Research Council Fellow and an associate professor in the Department of Resource Management and Geography at the University of Melbourne, spoke on the impacts of the 10 year drought in Australia. Dr. Barnett first illustrated the severity of the drought with graphs of decreasing rainfall and livestock totals. He then discussed the Australian government’s response to the drought, explaining how some drought relief programs will only exacerbate the problem. One example is the increase in greenhouse gas emissions from the extra energy used to desalinate water and to pump water longer distances. He concluded that Australia has to change its irrigation structure and not delay decisions about reducing emissions any further.
The second speaker was Dr. Michael Hanemann, the Chancellor’s Professor at the Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics and the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Hanemann spoke about the drought in California and the current state of the water supply system there. His main point was that management of the water system needs to be organized in a way that takes climate change into account. In California, temperature affects the supply more than precipitation, because snowpack defines the amount of water flowing through the streams in the spring. He explained that the water system is decentralized and there is no planning or coordination of water supply. He emphasized that these problems need to be fixed before the temperature rises and water becomes scarce, suggesting that the government regulate the distribution of water.
Global Change Research Program Releases New Report (6/09)
A new report released on June 16, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, documents the impacts of climate change on various regions and sectors in the U.S. and discusses actions society can, or is already taking, in response. The key findings are that human-induced emissions are the primary cause of the changes; agriculture will be challenged, threats to human health will increase, and the changes are projected to intensify impacts already affecting energy, water, ecosystems, coastlines, transportation, and society.
The report is a product of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), a 13 member interagency government program established by Congress in 1990 to help understand, assess, predict, and respond to global change. The congressional mandate stated that the USGCRP must release a global change impact assessment every four years, and an annual report to Congress. The first national assessment was released in 2000, followed by a series of 21 Synthesis and Assessment Products.
This newest report is a comprehensive look at climate change impacts, drawing from the past USGCRP assessments, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and other research. The report clearly and simplistically shows dramatic changes taking place, and how they will affect people and industry. It shows widespread changes that are happening now, making the point that global change is a current concern for everyone. There are examples of adaption measures taken by various communities, in order to give the audience ideas of ways to mitigate the negative impacts. The report does not make policy recommendations. Instead it emphasizes the importance and consequence of choices made today on the severity of the changes in the future as method of informing decision making.
The full report, factsheets, and summaries are available for download from the USGCRP website.
Weather Mitigation Research Bill Approved (5/09)
On May 20, 2009, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved the Weather Mitigation Research and Development Policy Authorization Act of 2009 (S. 601). The bill, sponsored by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) would establish a weather mitigation research program within the National Science Foundation (NSF), establish a working group composed of representatives from state and academic institutions, and establish a weather mitigation grant program to fund research at state agencies, academic institutions and non-profit organizations. The bill would authorize $25 million per year over five years for these programs.
The bill is based on recommendations of a 2003 National Academies report entitled “Critical Issues in Weather Modification Research”.
National Climate Service Program Proposed (5/09)
A National Climate Service, housed within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is proposed to be the primary portal for climate information. The climate service would supply usable climate data to federal agencies, state and local governments, researchers, and private citizens. Under this bill, NOAA would improve the coverage and resolution of its climate data and modeling to provide the best monitoring capabilities. The bill also mandates an advisory board to give input on how to best serve the users. Some argue that creating a separate office within NOAA will just duplicate the work of the National Weather Service, while others predict this will be the most user-friendly way to integrate local, national, and international data to meet the growing demand for climate services.
The “National Climate Service Act of 2009” (H.R. 2407) was proposed by the House Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), and was unanimously approved by the Energy and Environment Subcommittee on May 13, 2009. Now H.R. 2407 awaits full committee approval, and is anticipated to be marked-up the first week of June. The committee is trying to keep pace with the Waxman-Markey climate and energy legislation (H.R. 2454), which also proposes a National Climate Service. The Waxman-Markey bill was approved by the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee before the Memorial Day recess and now awaits a vote by the full House.
House Climate Change Legislation Update (5/09)
On May 21, 2009, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454) passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee and has been reported in the House for a possible vote. The committee was able to compromise on many issues to get the bill passed, but many believe additional changes will be needed before the bill has a real chance of garnering enough votes in the full House. The bill calls for emission reductions of 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050 and uses a rather complex cap and trade system to secure such reductions.
Only one Republican, Mary Bono Mack (CA), voted for the measure, signifying the continued partisan schism on climate change and energy legislation. Amendments proposed by Republicans that would end a cap and trade program if there are job losses or energy price increases were defeated during the markup. Republicans still contend that the bill will be a burden to businesses and families alike.
Many Democrats that voted for the bill acknowledged that more work needs to be done to make the bill more palatable. House members still want to address issues regarding speculation in a carbon cap and trade market, indirect land use changes caused by greater biofuels production, and adding more agricultural offsets. Other House committees are interested in holding their own markup of related legislation including Ways and Means, Agriculture, Science and Technology, and Natural Resources. House members will continue to work out the details of some of the provisions in the bill after returning from the Memorial Day recess.
The Senate is closely following the progress of the bill, which the House hopes it will use as a template for companion legislation. So far the Senate has not begun any work on legislation that has similar climate change measures to the House bill. Instead the Senate is focused on a separate energy bill and parts of the Senate energy bill do overlap with H.R. 2452
NOAA Shares Climate Knowledge On The Hill (5/09)
On May 20, 2009 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) brought speakers and displays to Washington, DC for their third annual NOAA Day on the Hill. The theme “NOAA Knows Climate” was emphasized by a day of panelists explaining NOAA’s contributions to climate related research in the arctic and oceans, services for the public like the U.S. Drought Portal, and climate literacy efforts through educational partnerships. Representative Michael Honda (D-CA) spoke on the need for climate literacy that drives people to action, and offered his office’s help in these endeavors. Staff from various House offices attended the briefings and asked questions of the experts. Most were interested in how to get society to act, and what could be done immediately to mitigate or reverse the effects of climate change.
EPA Rules That GHGs Are Hazardous To Your Health (4/09)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on April 17, 2009 that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are indeed threatening to public health and welfare. In the much anticipated report, the EPA found “that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations,” explained Administrator Lisa Jackson. The findings also propose that vehicular emissions are contributing to this pollution. Therefore the EPA can monitor GHG emissions as part of the Clean Air Act, something the agency has been trying to determine since the 2007 Supreme Court order to conduct this report.
Though the report does not suggest any specific regulations, the implications are huge. Since the EPA has jurisdiction of pollutants included in the Clean Air Act, the findings give the EPA official responsibility for controlling GHG emissions. The EPA could have complete power over limiting vehicle emissions and potentially imposing caps on industry unless Congress passes legislation to tackle these issues. There has been a push in Congress to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation, but it is uncertain whether there is enough support yet to pass such a bill. Some see the ruling as motivation for Congress to move faster in their consideration of climate and energy bills, especially amid fears that the EPA will use this rule to regulate everything from cars to cows. If the EPA did undertake such a broad and complex set of new regulations and standards, it could easily be overwhelmed. However these are just speculations since the EPA has not put forth any actual rules, and will not announce any, until after the public comment period for the proposal is over on June 23, 2009.
For more information on the findings and submitting comments, visit the EPA website.
House Unveils Climate Change Bill (3/09)
On March 31, 2009, Henry Waxman (D-CA), Edward Markey (D-MA) and other senior Democrats unveiled a 648-page draft of climate change legislation. The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 or the Waxman-Markey draft has four titles: 1. Promotes renewable energy, carbon capture and sequestration technologies, low-carbon transportation fuels, electric vehicles and smart grids; 2. Increases energy efficiency; 3. Limits emissions of greenhouse gases; and 4. Protects consumers and promotes green jobs. Title 3 attempts to limit emissions through a market-based program of tradable federal permits (allowances) for each ton of emitted carbon dioxide for all entities that emit more than 25,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide. The goal is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 83 percent of 2005 levels by 2050.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans met with committee chairman Henry Waxman and Markey on April 2 to discuss the draft. Afterwards, many Republican committee members told the media they are opposed to the cap-and-trade scheme in title 3. The bill is ambitiously scheduled for a full committee markup on May 11 and while discussions and debates are likely to be contentious and significant, some version of the measure is expected to be approved by the committee. Democratic House leadership has promised to have a climate change bill vote by the full House by Memorial Day.
Details of the draft as well as summaries and comments of both parties are available from the House Energy and Commerce Committee web site.
EPA Fast-Tracks GHG Decision and Proposes Mandatory Reporting (3/09)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is slated to release its final decision on whether greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are threatening public health and welfare in mid to late April according to a draft review leaked to Greenwire. The EPA supposedly began interagency reviews of the proposal at the end of March, with a very quick turnaround time proposed. Part of the reason for the rush is that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is refraining from any new emissions mandates until a final decision is reached.
Another speculated reason was the supposed goal to release the review by April 2, the second anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that started this process. Jackson has since made it clear that April 2 is too soon for a decision and that she only wanted to be mindful of that date. So far the decision is planned to show that GHGs affect human welfare through changes to temperature, air quality, crops, and the spread of diseases. It will also lump together the six primary GHGs (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride) into one group following the strategy of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for creating a “common currency.”
The EPA also proposed a rule on March 10 requiring large, industrial GHG emitters to report emissions under the Clean Air Act. The goal is to start a national system to obtain comprehensive and accurate data on the amount of GHGs being emitted both upstream (by suppliers of the fuels) and the direct emitters. Although indirect emissions and small businesses will not be counted, the ruling will cover 85 to 90 percent of U.S. emissions. The first annual report will be submitted to the EPA in 2011 for calendar year 2010 with an estimated annual cost to industry of $127 million, after an initial $160 million the first year. There will be a public hearing in Sacramento, CA and Arlington, VA to discuss this proposed ruling in early April. The ruling is also open to public comment.
For more information and to submit comments, go to the EPA GHG Emissions website.
USGS Addresses Unknowns about Carbon Storage (3/09)
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released a report on March 16, 2009 detailing how it will conduct an assessment of potential locations for underground carbon storage. As directed in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (Public Law 110-140), the USGS will conduct a three year national carbon storage assessment. The methods described in the report ensure a uniform approach to estimating carbon storage potential in depleted oil and natural gas reservoirs and saline aquifers.
The assessment will focus on geologic formations that are “technically accessible” with today’s drilling and injection technologies and can hold liquefied carbon for over 10,000 years. While presenting the report, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar stated that “the report will help us find the best places in the country for this type of carbon sequestration,” which is a “critical first step” in determining how much carbon can be stored in the subsurface. The USGS assessment strategy draws on previous work done by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that estimated 143 billion tons of carbon dioxide could be stored in depleted reservoirs and saline aquifers. The USGS noted that more needs to be learned about the behavior of carbon injected into the subsurface to help refine details in storage potential for different types of geologic formations.
EPA Close To GHG Emission Ruling (2/09)
The new EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced that the agency is close to deciding whether or not greenhouse gases (GHG) are dangerous to human health and welfare. If the EPA rules that GHG are indeed a danger to humans, it will be required to regulate gases such as carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act. The decision is expected to come by April 2, the second anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that spurred this investigation. The previous administrator remained quiet on the subject, deciding only to pass the decision off to the next administration. If added to the list, GHGs would join other pollutants already federally regulated by the act, challenging the EPA to figure out how to monitor GHG emissions.
Legislatures in Two States Look to Implement Carbon Sequestration Bills (2/09)
Republicans in the Montana state legislature drafted a bill at the end of February that would set the table for carbon sequestration in the state, a necessary step for future development of coal-fired power plants and other coal-related technologies according to Governor Brian Schweitzer (D). The bill would set up a program under the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation to manage carbon capture and subsurface storage operations within the state. Although encouraged by their colleagues to recognize problems associated with global warming in the state, Montana Democrats still indicated more issues need to be resolved, especially with ownership legalities and specific methodologies of subsurface storage before any bill passes the legislature.
Wyoming, the nation’s largest producer of coal, is even further along with developing regulations for a carbon sequestration program with the passage of several bills in the state that continue to outline carbon storage rights. In 2008, Wyoming became the first state to address carbon storage by passing legislation that stated surface owners also own underground storage rights. The two states carbon sequestration legislation mark a continuing trend of state initiatives to combat carbon emissions and other global warming issues as cohesive federal legislation fails to pass.
Climate Change Science Program Issues Last Five of Twenty One Reports (1/09)
The interagency Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), a coalition of 13 federal agencies, posted the last five of twenty one reports in January 2009. The CCSP was formed during the Bush Administration to integrate the U.S. Global Change Research Program with President Bush’s newer initiative, the Climate Change Research Initiative. The goal was to re-establish priorities for climate change research while still carrying out the requirements of the Global Change Research Act of 1990. A court ruled that the CCSP has not carried out the requirements of the act and others have criticized the program for a lack of effectiveness in meeting the goals of the program and of the law.
Congress and the new Obama Administration are likely to seek changes to CCSP or a re-organization of climate research to meet the requirements of the Global Change Research Act or enact new legislation to develop a more effective strategy to meeting national goals.
All of the climate change science reports and more information about CCSP is available here.
Outlook for Climate Change Legislation (1/09)
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has pledged to have a vote on climate legislation on the House floor this year and Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce has pledged a markup on a climate bill in his committee before Memorial Day.
Over in the Senate, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee has pledged to have a climate bill out of her committee before the United Nations Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December. Senator Boxer in a press conference on February 3, 2009 indicated that she has not tried to coordinate any legislation with Waxman or the House Committee, but they might try to get together later this year.
In the press conference, Senator Boxer announced six broad principles of the bill. The principles include: 1. Reduce emissions to levels guided by science; 2. Set short and long term emissions targets that are certain and enforceable; 3. Ensure that state and local entities continue pioneering efforts on global warming; 4. Establish a transparent and accountable market-based system; 5. Use revenues from the carbon market for consumers, research and technology, assistance to states and local entities, assistance to workers and businesses, ecosystem health and preservation and work with the international community; and 6. Ensure a level playing field within the global community.
Waxman has not held a specific press conference on his plans for climate legislation, but in response to media questions he has called for quick action. Waxman says that uncertainty about emissions reductions is hurting industries by delaying plans and investments for the future. On January 15, 2009, Waxman held a hearing on the growing consensus of business for action on climate change. There were 14 witnesses from industry and environmental groups who are part of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership. Among the executives were the chairmen of ConocoPhillips, General Electric, DuPont and electric utilities Exelon, NRG Energy Inc. and Duke Energy. Environmental groups included Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Nature Conservancy and World Resources Institute.
In general, the witnesses endorsed a cap-and-trade system, but wanted a longer time frame, asking for 80 percent greenhouse gas reductions by 2050 bringing emissions back to 1990 levels. Waxman has previously supported a more aggressive and ambitious target of 80 percent reductions by 2030. President Obama has supported 80 percent reductions by 2050 and this seems to be a likely starting point for the House bill. President Obama has also called for auctioning all of the emission allowances and not giving industry any free allowances.
These and many other details must be worked out by the Senate and House committees and then brought forward to both chambers for floor debates and votes. Such a process will take some time, but expectations are high for climate bills by the end of the year.
For more information about the U.S. Climate Action Partnership and their advice to policymakers please visit: http://www.us-cap.org/
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It is now widely accepted by the scientific community and by a growing
number of policymakers that human activities, such as the burning
of fossil fuels and deforestation, are increasing atmospheric concentrations
of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases" (GHG). The
potential consequences of such alterations to the Earth's heat and
radiation balance are the source of considerable debate. However,
Congress has begun to focus more attention on the issue of climate
change over the past several years. As concern about global warming
continues to mount and as states and cities develop policies to deal
with the issue at the regional scale, Congress has come under increased pressure to address the issue at the federal level.
A key factor in spurring action in Congress has been the publication
of several critical reports on climate change. The Stern Review, published
in October 2006 by Sir Nicholas Stern, head of Britain's Government
Economic Service, analyzes the economic impact of climate change.
The report suggests that global warming could "shrink
the global economy by 20 percent. Action now, however, could mitigate
the consequences of climate change at the cost of just 1 percent of
the global gross domestic product.
An increasing number of American businesses are jumping aboard the
climate change wagon. In February of 2007, the U.S. Climate Action
Partnership (U.S. CAP), a coalition of leading
corporations and environmental organizations, testified before Congress. The
membership of U.S. CAP, which includes organizations
such as Alcoa, BP America, Inc., DuPont, Duke Energy, Pacific Gas & Electric Company and Natural Resources Defense
Council, has attracted Congress's interest because of the leadership role the groups have in their respective industries. Additionally, they have united to forge a consensus view regarding
action on climate, providing specific
recommendations to reduce GHG emissions.
However, the release of the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report in November 2007
created perhaps the biggest waves in Congress. Based on new research
over the past six years, hundreds of scientists representing 113
countries, agree that "the observed widespread warming of the atmosphere and ocean, together with ice mass loss, support the conclusion that it is extremely unlikely (<5%) that global climate change of the past 50 years can be explained without external forcing and very likely (>90%) that it is not due to known natural causes alone." The conclusions of the IPCC report has pushed Congress way from debating the science of climate change toward finding solutions to address the issue. In the 110th Congress a comprehensive cap-and-trade approach has been the focal point with various proposals being discussed. The most prominent of the proposals, the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act (S.3036), was debated on the Senate floor this June and represents a shift toward legislative action.
Sources: Environment & Energy Daily and Greenwire.
Contributed by Corina Cerovski-Darriau, Rachel Poor, and Linda Rowan, Government Affairs staff; Merilie Reynolds, AGI/AAPG Fall 2008 Intern; Rachel Potter, 2009 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Stephanie Praus, 2009 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Joey Fiore, 2009 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Mollie Pettit, 2009 AGI/AAPG Fall Intern; Elizabeth Brown, 2010 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Elizabeth Huss, 2010 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Kiya Wilson, 2010 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; and Matthew Ampleman, 2010 AGI/AAPG Fall Intern.
Background section includes material from AGI's Climate Change Policy for the 110th Congress.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI
Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on January 5, 2011