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Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
February 24, 2014


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Obama Announces Plan to Tighten Large Truck Fuel Efficiency Standards

On February 18, President Obama ordered the development of new higher fuel standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks, part of what his aides call "muscular" and unilateral efforts to use executive power to take on climate change. The White House directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation to draft the new rules by March 2015, with the final rules due a year later. Heavy-duty vehicles made up only 4 percent of registered vehicles in the United States in 2010, but accounted for about 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and on-road fuel use in the transportation sector. The limits on truck tailpipe pollution would combine with previous rules requiring passenger cars and light trucks to nearly double their average fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. “The U.S. is showing the world that it is ‘walking the walk’ and not just ‘talking the talk’ and lecturing the rest of the world about what they need to do,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development.

For additional information see: White House Fact Sheet, The New York Times, The Guardian, Reuters

Senators To Hold All Night Discussion of Climate Change on Senate Floor

On February 12, Senator Whitehouse (D-RI) announced to activists that at least 20 Senators plan to hold an all-night talkathon on climate change in March. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) will organize and lead the event. The talkathon will be the first initiative of the new Climate Action Task Force, begun by Senator Whitehouse and Senator Boxer (D-CA) to create action around climate change. Sen. Whitehouse said he thinks the Senate will begin to focus more on climate change in the coming year, stating, “I think you’re going to see the Senate as a very, very boisterous place on climate . . . it’s not just going to be me giving my weekly speech.” Sen. Whitehouse has been giving a speech on the floor every week the Senate has been in session since April 2012 to encourage action on climate change. He also asked the activists to push lawmakers to go on record with their opinion on anthropogenic climate change, a move he said will make them “very, very uncomfortable,” but is important. Sen. Whitehouse added that the Climate Action Task Force is organizing a May rally at the Capitol, at which people will be encouraged to deliver alarm clocks to members of Congress to "tell everyone that Congress needs to wake up on climate change."

For additional information see: Huffington Post

Secretary of State Kerry Calls Climate Change “Weapon of Mass Destruction”

On February 16, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to a group of college students, civic leaders, and government officials in Jakarta, Indonesia on the need to address climate change. In his remarks, Kerry called climate change the “world’s largest weapon of mass destruction,” and said climate deniers are ignoring the scientific facts. Kerry said the United States has a role to play in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and cited President Obama's Climate Action Plan, which commits to cut greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent from 2005 levels. He said while industrialized nations have "a huge responsibility" to reduce emissions, other nations also need to do their part, noting, “it is time for the world to approach this problem with the cooperation, the urgency, and the commitment that a challenge of this scale warrants.” Kerry argued that the world needs a new global energy policy that is not as focused on fossil fuels in order to truly address the problem, and called on the Indonesian people to push their government to promote emissions reduction initiatives. Indonesia is in a unique situation as it is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the United States, due to high rates of deforestation. Indonesia is also likely to experience some of the worst impacts of unchecked climate change, including sea level rise and more powerful storms.

For additional information see: Mercury News, CNN, The New York Times, Speech

EPA Emissions Rule to be Debated in Supreme Court

On February 24, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments regarding the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) enforcement of greenhouse gas emissions regulations. The case will focus on EPA’s 2010 rule imposing pollution-control requirements on certain expanded or modernized refineries and plants. Under the authority of the Clean Air Act, EPA is authorized to enforce the use of “best available technologies” in refineries and plants, in order to encourage energy savings; however, the parameters of the Clean Air Act as written by Congress could allow EPA to exert its influence on other sources of emissions, including hospitals and commercial buildings. The EPA has revised the rule to exclude these sources, but opponents are not appeased. Fifteen states have come out in support of the EPA ruling, while 12 states have objected, saying in a court brief that the rule is “one of the most brazen power grabs ever attempted by an administrative agency.” However, the EPA and state officials report that the law, which has been issuing greenhouse gas permits for the past three years, is running smoothly and companies are even “looking for and finding opportunities to increase efficiency and minimize greenhouse gas emissions in ways that benefit them directly.” The upcoming court challenge is not expected to significantly alter the Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, which required EPA to regulate greenhouse gas 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: Wall Street Journal, The New York Times

California Legislators and Scientists Urge Expanded Emissions Cuts Post-2020

On February 19, the Union of Concerned Scientists, a science advocacy group, sent a letter to California Governor Jerry Brown and state legislators urging them to implement stricter greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards by 2020 in order to cut climate change causing emissions as much as 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The letter was signed by more than 100 California-based climate scientists and researchers from allied fields. Although the California Air Resources Board (ARB) says California is on track to reach its more immediate goal of GHG reduction to 1990 levels by 2020, the letter urges lawmakers to “adopt and implement enforceable emissions caps for 2030 and beyond,” and remarks that achieving deeper cuts than those outlined in state laws translates to additional investment in renewable energy and cleaner transportation.   

In related news, on February 19, California State Senators Fran Pavley (D) and Ricardo Lara (D), introduced a bill obligating state air regulators to set post-2020 emissions reductions for carbon dioxide (CO2), black carbon and methane. While Senator Pavley authored the 2006 law which set the 2020 emissions reduction goal (A.B. 32), Senator Lara has historically been critical of parts of the state’s cap and trade program. According to Senator Lara, the inclusion of black carbon and methane in future reductions will not only impact climate change but the health of California’s poorest communities, where air quality is more often worse than in other areas. “We must ensure that all communities, including disadvantaged communities throughout California, have the promise of a clean environment today and into the future.” While California regulators already possess the authority to mandate additional emission cuts, according to ARB spokesman Dave Clegern, they welcome the suggestions.

For additional information see: LA Times, Press Release, Yahoo News, Letter

Kansas Legislature Considering Resolution to Resist White House Climate Action Plan

On February 13, the Kansas House Energy and Environment Committee held a public hearing on House Resolution (H.R.) 6043 in the Kansas Legislature, a two-page document which urges Congress to oppose President Obama’s action plan for addressing climate change. The non-binding resolution argues that the resources used to create the President’s Climate Action Plan, introduced in June 2013, were not based on sound science. Rep. Dennis Hedke (R-Wichita), committee chairman, argued at the committee hearing that the “real data” shows that warming trends were occurring long before the Industrial Revolution and human influence is being overplayed. Representatives from the oil and gas industry attended to back the resolution. Local environmental groups and citizens also made the trip to Topeka to testify against the resolution, saying the scientific consensus shows climate change is happening and its causes are anthropogenic. Rep. Julie Menghini (D-Pitsburg) commented, “when I spend as much time and effort as you have on your presentations, I expect a positive outcome and I just can’t wrap my arms around what positive outcome you think is going to come from passing this legislation.” Members heard two hours of testimony but have not yet taken action on the measure.  

For additional information see: USA Today, Kansas City Public Media, Ottawa Herald, Kansas State Legislature

Utah State Rep. Introduces Bill to Limit State’s Ability to Regulate Greenhouse Gases

On February 18, the House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee of the Utah State Legislature held a hearing on a bill that would exclude “natural components of the atmosphere” from being regulated as an air pollutant, including carbon dioxide. The bill (H.B. 229) introduced last October by Rep. Jerry Anderson (R), would also restrict the state from establishing standards for greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations below 500 parts per million. According to Rep. Anderson, the atmosphere “could use twice as much carbon dioxide . . . the carbon dioxide levels back in the days of the dinosaurs was considered to be about 600 parts per million. And they seemed to thrive quite well . . . The vegetation back in those times was lush.” Anderson continued, “I hate to think how cold it would have been a couple of months ago if we didn't have some global warming; it’s been a good thing to keep us from freezing to death." Matt Pacenza of the Healthy Environmental Alliance of Utah said the bill was a stunt, adding that Anderson is, “opposed to any efforts to be energy-efficient and move away from dirty coal and embrace mass transit and do all the things that so many folks think are a good idea.” The committee voted to hold the bill.

For additional information see: The Huffington Post, Utah Public Radio

Billionaire Tom Steyer to Invest in Climate Change Campaigns for 2014 Election

On February 17, billionaire former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer announced that he will be investing $100 million in the 2014 elections in an effort to make climate change a top priority issue. This is the first time that Steyer has sought large amounts of funding from other Democratic and environmental leaders; $50 million will come from his personal fortune, and he hopes to raise the other $50 million. The Florida gubernatorial race and the Senate race in Iowa are both potential targets for the money, as both include candidates who either discredit the science on climate change or believe the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should not limit greenhouse gas emissions. Regarding the amount of funds he is investing, Steyer states that, “I think that [$100 million] would be a really cheap price to answer the generational challenge of the world.” Earlier in February, Steyer met with leading Democratic donors and environmental philanthropists at his ranch in California to urge them to join his efforts. Steyer and his organization, NextGen Climate Action, have spent millions in the recent Virginia governor elections and the Massachusetts Democratic congressional primary, as well airing 90-second commercials opposing the Keystone XL pipeline.

For additional information see: The New York Times, NBC News, Politico

CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC all Covered Climate Change in Sunday Shows Last Week

On February 16, CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox covered climate change and extreme weather events on their Sunday morning talk shows. Several recent events, including President Obama’s proposal to create a $1 billion climate resilience fund, recent record-breaking winter storms across the United States, and the California drought, were discussed in connection to climate change. On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer interviewed Dr. Marshall Shepherd, the former head of the American Meteorological Association. During the interview, Dr. Shepherd discussed the link between individual weather events and climate change, an area of climate research where consensus is still evolving. He commented, “there’s some scientific literature that suggests that Jetstream patterns can be affected by the amplified warming that we’re seeing up in the Arctic, because of climate change or global warming. Now that’s real. We know that climate change is happening and humans are contributing. I’m not quite ready to say that this snow storm we saw this week or last week is caused by global warming or climate change. But one thing I will emphasize, I think that we have forgotten how to be cold or deal with snowstorms because we are seeing so few of these big storms like we’ve seen and that probably is because of climate warming.” The discussions were a departure from recent low levels of climate change coverage. A January 2014 Media Matters study revealed the Sunday talk shows discussed climate change for a total of 27 minutes in 2013, with 60 percent of those minutes coming from Face the Nation and none from Meet the Press.

For additional information see: EcoWatch, Study

CCAC Marks Two Years of Short-Lived Climate Pollution Reduction

On February 16, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC), a partnership of 36 countries and 44 NGOs, intergovernmental organizations, and private business seeking to reduce short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), celebrated the anniversary of its founding, after two years of fast progress toward their Triple Imperative: slowing climate change, improving human health, and improving food security. Helena Molin Valdes, head of the CCAC Secretariat, said, "This year we will focus to a great degree on the health aspects of air quality and short-lived climate pollutants." Rapid reductions in short lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), including black carbon, methane, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and tropospheric ozone, provide rapid benefits due to their short atmospheric life spans. The CCAC will be studying non-HFC refrigerant alternatives, launching an air quality awareness campaign, supporting information sharing to identify best practices, and increasing access to financial support for SLCP reduction. “Action on SLCPs can cut the rate of global warming by half and at the same time reduce poverty and save millions of lives,” said Romina Picolotti, the former Secretary of Environment for Argentina and now civil society representative to the CCAC Steering Committee. “The CCAC is already working on plans for taking its strategies to the scale it needs to meet the bold challenge of cutting the rate of warming in half for the next 40 years, with the World Bank pledging billions of new dollars for their efforts,” stated Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, one of CCAC’s NGO members. “The Coalition is a rare climate success story.”

For additional information see: All Africa, Achim Steiner: Two Years of the CCAC, UNEP

Study Reveals Higher Methane Emissions from Fracking than EPA’s Estimates

On February 13, a study published in the journal Science found that methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is leaking from oil and natural gas operations at rates 50 percent higher than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated. The study concluded that although the leakage is higher than EPA's estimate of 1.5 percent, if leakage rates are below 3.2 percent, natural gas is better for the climate than other forms of fossil fuel, such as coal. However, the study authors cautioned, "If natural gas is to be a 'bridge' to a more sustainable energy future, it is a bridge that must be traversed carefully: Diligence will be required to ensure that leakage rates are low enough to achieve sustainability goals." Researchers analyzed 200 technical publications concerning methane leakages from oil and gas operations, including the production, processing and distribution of natural gas, and compared them to the EPA greenhouse gas inventory, which is based on company reports of leakage and activity. The study authors noted that EPA's inventory does not include "super-emitters," parts of the oil and gas system which leak most of the methane accounted for in atmospheric studies. Steve Hambug, head scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, commented, "There is a high likelihood that a large proportion of emissions are coming from a relatively small number of sites. This strongly indicates that there is a relatively straightforward capacity to reduce those emissions." The study authors said they have been discussing their findings with interested scientists at the EPA. The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, an organization founded by a pioneer in hydraulic fracturing, funded the study.

For additional information see: Environment & Energy Publishing, The Washington Post

Arctic Darkening Two to Three Times Higher Than Previously Calculated

On February 18, researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, released data in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing the loss of Arctic sea ice is reducing the Earth’s albedo, or reflectivity, by an amount considerably larger than previously estimated. The study shows that two to three times more of the Arctic is darkening from melting sea-ice than previously reported. “Based on our results, the albedo forcing from Arctic sea ice retreat is quite large,” said Scripps climate scientist Ian Eisenman, “Averaged over the entire globe, it’s one-fourth as large as the direct radiative forcing from CO2 during the same period.” The Scripps study is the first to use direct satellite measurements rather than computer models to assess the decreasing albedo from the loss of sea ice. Dr. Ramanathan, Distinguished Professor of Climate and Atmospheric Sciences at Scripps, said, “Scientists have talked about Arctic melting and albedo decrease for nearly 50 years. This is the first time this darkening effect has been documented on the scale of the entire Arctic.”

For additional information see: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, ABC Online, New Scientist, Euronews, Study

Climate Change to Threaten Equatorial Reef Fish Populations & Coastal Communities

On February 12, an Australian-based study published in Global Change Biology found that fish and associated fishing communities living close to the Earth's equator, especially those in Indonesia and Southeast Asia, are at the most risk from climate change. The study authors concluded that "low-latitude reef fish populations [were] living close to their thermal optima and may be more sensitive to ocean warming than higher-latitude populations.” They noted that a "relatively small" two to three degree Celsius increase in temperature could potentially trigger fish population decline and migration. Scientists studied six species of common equatorial fish, holding them in four different temperature points over a two week period to simulate the current equatorial ocean thermal range and projected increases from global warming. Of the six species of fish studied, Chromis atripectoralis in particular were already struggling to survive in temperatures above their preferred temperature of 29 degrees Celsius. According to the study, warming ocean temperatures make it difficult for fish to successfully scope out and evade predators, and produce the energy needed to find food or breed. Dr. Jodie Rummer, leader of the study and researcher from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University in Queensland, noted that as fish populations decline, “this will have a substantial impact on the human societies that depend on these fish."

For additional information see: Climate Central, International Business Times, Study

Other Headlines

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

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