Climate Change Policy (2/1/13)

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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. During the both the 111th and 112th Congresses no major climate policy passed. President Obama prominently spoke of the importance of addressing climate change in his second inaugural address. Expect the Senate Environment and Public Works Committtee and the President to promote climate change legislation during the 113th Congress.

A general history of the climate change debate is available at the Congressional Research Service's Global Climate Change Briefing Book.

Recent Action

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Previous Action

American Security Project Releases Climate Security Report (10/12)
The American Security Project (ASP) has released their “Climate Security Report,” which states that climate change is a clear and present danger and is a threat to national security.

The report refers to climate change as “an accelerant of instability around the world exacerbating tensions related to water scarcity, food shortages, natural resource competition, underdevelopment and overpopulation.” With climate change increasingly fueling geopolitical conflicts, U.S. and allied military forces will be increasingly called upon to provide disaster relief around the globe as extreme weather events become more common, the report says.

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Background

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. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Climatic Data Center report titled State of the Climate: National Overview Annual 2012, the contiguous U.S. experienced the hottest year on record in 2012 (1895-2012). The average annual temperature was 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 3.2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average for the 20th century and 1.0 degree Fahrenheit warmer than the previous record high in 1998.

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 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 have pushed Congress away from debating the science of climate change toward finding solutions to address the issue. The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report is expected to be released in parts between September 2013 and October 2014.

In the 110th Congress a comprehensive cap and trade approach was the focal point with various proposals being discussed, but Congress failed to pass any substantial legislation. The most prominent of the proposals, the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act (S.3036), did not make it past the Senate.

Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) introduced the American Power Act (APA) during the 111th Congress. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) initially planned to assist with the creation of the bipartisan APA but later withdrew from the effort. The APA would have increased investment in domestic fuel resources and clean energy while reducing emissions and refunding money to consumers and businesses. No alternative to Kerry-Lieberman emerged and no actions were taken to bring the measure to a vote.

There was no major climate change legislation passed in the 112th Congress. One bill that passed in November 2012 was the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011 (P. L. 112-200). It blocks the European Union (E.U.) from requiring that U.S. airlines participate in trading carbon emissions from flights to and from European countries which would have cost passengers an extra $3 per flight.

The EPA released new standards for oil and gas operations as well as new fossil-fuel-fired stationary electric utility generating units in 2012. The former enacts the first federal air standards for hydraulically fractured natural gas wells. The latter requires new stationary sources to reduce GHG emissions, primarily through the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. The stationary source regulation was challenged in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and was upheld under the Clean Air Act (P.L.101-549).

Contributed by Wilson Bonner, Geoscience Policy Staff; Kimberley Corwin, 2013 AAPG/AGI Spring Intern.

Background section includes material from AGI's Climate Change Policy for the 112th Congress.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Geoscience Policy.

Last updated on February 1, 2013