Climate Change News

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Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
March 3, 2014


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Obama to Change Wildfire Funding in Light of Climate Change

On February 24, President Obama previewed changes in wildfire funding to a group of Western state governors. Obama’s 2015 budget plan, which will be released on March 4, will recommend that the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior use a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster fund to pay for out-of-budget costs from the biggest wildfires, the same way FEMA is authorized to assist in cases of tornado and hurricane disasters. Under the proposal, severe fire, wildfires that threaten urban areas, and unusually active fire seasons could all be eligible for extra Congressional funding. Jay Carney, White House spokesperson, commented, “The current way that the government pays for fire suppression and preparedness costs is ill-suited to the increasing severity and cost of fires.” The Administration’s new method, based on a December 2013 bipartisan bill (S. 1875) sponsored by Sen. Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Crapo (R-ID), will give states more certainty concerning wildfire resources by treating wildfires like a natural disaster.

For additional information see: The New York Times, Business Week, The Hill

NOAA Asks for Help from Private Companies to Make All Its Climate Data Publicly Available

On February 24, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) unveiled a Request for Information (RFI) asking private companies to assist in making all NOAA’s data, including weather, ocean, and climate conditions, available to the public. Of the 20 terabytes (TBs) of data collected each day, utilizing a network of “buoys, weather stations, satellites, ships, and aircraft,” only an estimated 2 TB are available to the public via the Library of Congress. NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan referred to the data as a “public good.” She said, “They’ve been collected through public means. The American people in a sense already own them. I think an ideal model from our point of view would be one that preserves that characteristic of the data being a public good and really sort of turns it into an open innovation platform that anyone could have at.” Joe Klimavicz, NOAA's CIO, said if released, NOAA's data could help everyone from scientists to corporations understand more about climate change and the planet as a whole. "Imagine the economic potential if more of these data could be released. Unleashing the power of NOAA's data will take creative and unconventional thinking, and it's a challenge we can't tackle alone," he said.

For additional information see: The Hill,, NOAA News

Congress Urges EPA to Accelerate the Phasedown of HCFC-22

On February 21, a group of 17 Senators and 24 Members of the House, led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA), wrote Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy urging EPA to adopt a stricter stance toward reducing hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) production, in order to avoid the manufacture and importation of 90 million extra pounds of HCFC-22 over the next five years. HCFC-22 is a refrigerant installed in an estimated 67 million residential air conditioning units in the United States, with a global warming potential 1890 times greater than carbon dioxide (CO2). The letter said the EPA’s increased allowances in the proposed allocation rule released in December could allow dramatic expansion of the stockpile of HCFC-22. The letter stated that the increasing HCFC-22 stockpiles will slow the transition to more energy-efficient systems, dealing a double blow to the President’s Climate Action Plan’s goal to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The EPA is currently considering its final rule on the allocation of HCFC-22. Although HCFCs are slated to be phased out under the Montreal Protocol by 2020, increasing their production for even a short time can have significant impacts given their high global warming potential. “EPA needs to step up to the plate with a more aggressive, forward-looking approach here, and ensure that the goals of the President’s Climate Action Plan are fulfilled,” said Sen. Murphy.

For additional information see: Letter from Congress, Press Release Scott Peters

Senator Markey Hosts 100 International Legislators to Discuss Action on Climate Change

On February 27, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) held a meeting on Capitol Hill for more than 100 international leaders who want to take action at home on climate change in order to build momentum for an international agreement on climate change at the Paris Conference of Parties (COP-21) in 2015.  Senior staff from the World Bank and United Nations (U.N.) were present, as well as Senators Whitehouse (D-RI), Boxer (D-CA) and House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA).  Also present was U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, who commented on the necessity of bipartisan action on climate, stating, “I urge you to reach out to colleagues across the political spectrum and help them see policy at home with co-benefits for growth and climate is also an international path to a better tomorrow for all.”

In related news, during the meeting on February 26 GLOBE International Fund, a global organization of national lawmakers, released findings identifying 500 national laws to address climate change in its 4th annual Climate Legislation Study. Efforts have been led by developing countries, including China and Mexico; the United States is one of the few countries without national climate legislation. Prior to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Rio, there were fewer than 40 laws addressing climate change. The report examined 66 countries which altogether account for 88 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and found that 62 of these countries have either passed or are in the process of passing “significant” climate legislation. The study was done with the Grantham Institute at the London School of Economics, and charts the steady expansion of national laws to address climate, including energy laws and other laws that have an impact on climate. GLOBE also launched the Partnership for Climate Legislation to help legislators develop and implement national climate legislation, with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Bank. These laws, according to Figueres, could be critical building blocks to an international agreement for Paris and beyond.

For additional information see: Governors Wind Energy Coalition, E&E News

Supreme Court Hears Challenge to EPA’s Authority to Regulate Power Plants Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On February 24, the Supreme Court heard six consolidated challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate industrial facility-sourced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The challengers include members of private industry and the state governments of Texas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. Fifteen states are in support of the EPA’s authority to regulate GHG, including California and New York. The justices are not revisiting the court’s 2007 decision confirming EPA’s authority to regulate GHG in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, and instead deliberating over whether or not EPA has the authority to set emissions standards. The original ruling in the 2007 decision would have set carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions at 250 tons per source per year, which would have brought schools and small businesses under regulation. In order to reduce the regulatory burden EPA raised the CO2 threshold between 75,000 and 100,000 tons per source per year. This revision is the center of the prosecution’s argument, which cited it as a bold overstep.  During Monday’s arguments, the justices were divided on whether the EPA’s revision of GHG standards is an executive overreach or a sensible decision, but agreed that regardless of the court’s decision in this case, EPA will still retain other ways of reducing emissions. In a separate Supreme Court case on December 17, 2013, justices heard arguments on EPA regulations under the Clean Air Act concerning power plant emissions which cross state lines. The Supreme Court's decisions on both cases are expected in July 2014.

For additional information see: The New York Times, SCOTUS Blog, Washington Post

Colorado Regulators Approve New Rules to Regulate Methane Emissions from Oil and Gas Drilling

On February 23, Colorado officials enacted regulations for emissions from oil and gas drilling, including the first rules aimed at reducing methane emissions from oil and gas. The laws are the strictest state regulations laid out for the booming natural gas industry, requiring industry to capture 95 percent of volatile organic compounds (which lead to ozone formation) and methane emissions. Reduced emissions from oil and gas production will have multiple co-benefits, including cost savings, lowered human health risks and decreased greenhouse gases (GHG), which are the primary drivers of climate change. The emissions caps were proposed last fall as part of a collaborative effort between diverse interests, including oil and gas producers such as Anadarko Petroleum, Noble Energy, and Encana Corp, as well as the Environmental Defense Fund and Colorado state officials. Several producers began voluntarily complying with the regulations last year. Noble vice president Ted Brown commented, “This rule is smart. It is cost effective. It ensures that oil and gas is developed in the safest possible way for communities and the environment.” Under new regulations, operators will be responsible for detecting leaks and fixing them, using technology such as infrared cameras. Mike Freeman, an Earthjustice attorney, commented, “this [regulation] helps control Colorado's smog problems and helps us address Colorado's contribution to global warming . . . But more is going to be necessary for Colorado to meet the federal clean air standards."

For additional information see: The Denver Post, Bloomberg, Huffington Post

UN Green Climate Fund Focused on Countries Most Vulnerable to Climate Change

On February 21, the board of the United Nations (UN) Green Climate Fund (GCF) decided at its meeting in Bali, Indonesia to pay at least one quarter of its funds to the nations most vulnerable to climate change, specifically island nations and countries in Africa. The GCF was set up under the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to funnel contributions from developed countries, who have pledged to contribute $100 billion annually by 2020. At the meeting, board members also decided to split the funding it receives 50/50 between climate mitigation and adaptation projects. They also agreed to engage more with the private sector, and make the fund a leader on gender mainstreaming by writing a gender mainstreaming action plan by October 2014. Brandon Wu, senior policy analyst at ActionAid USA and civil society observer for the GCF meetings, said that these new developments are a “step in the right direction,” although the language still leaves “wiggle room” on timing of allocation. According to the co-chair of the Fund, Jose Maria Sarte Salceda of the Philippines, “decisions taken this week ensure that the Fund can help developing countries to cope with the devastating impacts of climate change and become more climate-resilient.” The next board meeting of the GCF will take place May 18-21 at the fund’s headquarters in South Korea.

For additional information see: Bloomberg, Trust, IISD, Statement

British Government Plans to Build World’s First Carbon Capture Project

On February 24, Shell UK signed an agreement with the Peterhead gas power station in Aberdeenshire, Scotland to begin the design phase of a Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) project that would capture over 10 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) throughout the next decade. The project will capture the CO2 emissions from the Peterhead power plant post-combustion, and then transport them to an underground storage facility. Organic compounds called amines will then absorb the CO2. If successful, the CCS project would help Great Britain meet its goal of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050, which the British government had previously outlined in 2012 energy legislation. Shell UK Chairman Ed Daniels said, “the project has the potential to make gas, already the cleanest burning fossil fuel, even cleaner.” According to David Clarke, CEO of the Energy Technologies Institute, “Without CCS, the cost of reaching UK Climate Change targets will double from a minimum of around 30 billion pounds ($50 billion) per year in 2050.” Although the Peterhead project will be the first time CCS technology has been used concurrently at a gas power plant, Shell currently has several other CCS projects underway, including the Quest Oil Sands Project in Alberta, Canada, and the Gorgon Project in Australia.

For additional information see: Fuel fix, Reuters, Business Spectator, The Engineer

Settlement Sets Up Expectation That All New York State-Regulated Utilities Prepare for Climate Change

On February 20, the New York Public Service Commission (NYPSC) and Consolidated Edison (ConEd), New York City’s largest electric utility, agreed that ConEd would now be responsible for preparing for future extreme weather due to climate change. The NYPSC stated their expectation that every utility regulated by New York State would assess its resiliency to climate change, and incorporate climate change impacts into their system planning and budgets. In light of the disastrous affects that Hurricane Sandy had on New York and ConEd’s infrastructure, the settlement requires that ConEd study how climate change, including the impacts of more intense storms and sea level rise, will affect its infrastructure. In the settlement, ConEd committed to spending $1 billion by 2016 to undergo “storm hardening,” a process to make utility lines and infrastructure resistant to strong storms. According to Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Center for Climate Change Law, this settlement is “a very strong signal to other utilities—an unmistakable statement of the intention of the commission . . . and it’s a statement of expectation. It’s the kind of thing that utilities and their lawyers take very seriously.”

For additional information see: Climate Central, Huffington Post

Report Says RGGI Revenue to Leverage $2 Billion in Lifetime Savings

On February 25, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) released a report quantifying the cost benefits of measures taken as part of the initiative. RGGI is a market-based carbon reduction program formed by nine states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. RGGI estimates the program will leverage more than $2 billion in lifetime energy bill savings from the $700 million of investments made from RGGI proceeds between 2009 and 2012 from the sale of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances. These savings will benefit more than 3 million households and 12,000 businesses in the region as well as offset 8.5 MWh of electricity generation, 37 mmBTU of fossil fuels and avoid the release of 8 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). Examples of projects funded from RGGI proceeds include energy efficiency, weatherization, green community planning and Home Energy Star Programs. According to Collin O’Mara, secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and vice chair of the RGGI board of directors, “RGGI proceeds helped support numerous energy efficiency and clean energy . . . helping our states build a smarter and cleaner energy infrastructure.”

For additional information see: Environmental Leader, Fierce Energy, Report

Climate Change Linked to Decline in Indus Valley Civilization

On February 25, a study published in Geology stated that an abrupt weakening of Indian summer monsoons 4100 years ago coincided with the de-urbanization of nearby Indus settlements, indicating climate change may have significantly impacted the population. The researchers determined the drought events of the Holocene, which had already been linked to the decline of civilizations in the Greece, Egypt, and Mesopotamia, extended to the Indus Valley in northwest India. The study found that the shift in climate led to lower, saltier lakes, and a decline in summer riverbank flooding that was critical for agriculture. The weakening of the summer monsoon is attributed to changes in large-scale tropical ocean dynamics, with the El Nino Southern Oscillation experiencing stronger and more frequent events, for instance. Study co-author and University of Cambridge archaeologist Dr. Cameron Petrie commented, “. . . precisely what happened to the Indus Civilization has remained a mystery. It is unlikely that there was a single cause, but a climate change event would have induced a whole host of knock-on effects.”

For additional information see:, Times of India

Study Says Climate Change at Root of Peruvian Glacier Shrinkage

On February 25, a study released in the journal Geology found that changing temperatures are the primary drivers of the size fluctuations of Qori Kalis, the outlet glacier of the Quelccaya ice cap, the largest piece of ice in the tropics, located in the Peruvian Andes. The scientists were able to date the growth and shrinkage of the glacier during the past 500 years, and by comparing rock deposits from glacier movements to ice core data, they found that temperature, not ice accumulation, was the main cause of glacier retreat and advancement. These findings support hypotheses that recent tropical glacier shrinkage is the result of temperature increase due to man-made climate change. While there has been sound evidence that temperature is the cause of glacial shrinkage in the Northern Hemisphere, tropical glaciers have proved very sensitive to short-term impacts from changes in cloud cover, making their study a more difficult task. This paper is further evidence that temperature is the root cause of glacial fluctuations in the tropics. According to Meredith Kelly, co-author of this study, “this result agrees with . . . earlier suggestions that these tropical glaciers are shrinking very rapidly today because of a warming climate.”

For additional information see: The New York Times, Science Recorder, UPI, Study

Other Headlines


March 6, 2014: The Supreme Court and EPA Carbon Rules

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invites you to a briefing on the Supreme Court case, Utility Air Regulatory Group v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is considering whether the EPA's authority to regulate the greenhouse gas emissions of new motor vehicles also extends to stationary sources, such as existing power plants. The case is the result of six separate challenges to EPA authority from industry groups and 12 states. On February 24, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the consolidated case.

Thursday 2:00 - 3:00 PM, in Senate Visitors Center (SVC) 209-208

Please RSVP to expedite check-in

Writers: Jenifer Collins, Emily Jackson, Jessie Stolark and Laura Small

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