Climate Change News July 17, 2009

Climate Change News

July 17, 2009



Senate Panel Considers Agriculture, Transportation in Climate Bill

On July 14, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held hearings to consider the roles agriculture and transportation could play in climate legislation currently being drafted by the Senate. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), committee chair, stated that agriculture would play a major role in the bill, while some expressed concern regarding potential harm future legislation may have on the rural economy. “I have strong concerns about whether this legislation will in the end result in higher costs for farmers,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID). "But I would like to find a win-win situation for everyone.” In response to concerns that legislation may increase costs for farmers, Sen. Boxer said, “If we do nothing and argue over this to the point of stalling everything, the farmers in my state will be desperate, as they see more droughts and more warming.”

The committee also heard testimony from Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood on the need for reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and boosting funding for public transportation. LaHood stated that in addition to the increase in fuel economy standards mandated by President Obama, any climate legislation must include strategies to reduce VMT. The Energy Information Administration has projected that VMT will increase 15 percent by 2030, noted Steve Winkelman from the Center for Clean Air Policy. “Although this is a slower growth rate than the recent past, it will effectively offset the emissions savings expected from the improved fuel efficiency and low carbon fuels requirements [of Congress and the Obama administration],” Winkelman said. Other experts indicated that when planning public transit projects, designers and lawmakers must take into account land use policies in an effort to reduce sprawl and make communities more walkable.

For additional information see: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Independent

Senate Republicans Lay Out Alternative to Climate Bill

On July 13, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) outlined an alternative plan offered by Senate Republicans in response to the climate legislation currently working its way through the Senate. Alexander has recently called for the construction of 100 new nuclear plants over the next 20 years. In the blueprint just released, the projects would have a combined price tag of $700 billion and would be funded mainly by private investments. Alexander called for an increase in federal loan guarantees provided for new nuclear power plants to $50 billion, up from the current $18 billion, in addition to an increase in research and development money for spent fuel recycling. He noted that nuclear plants currently supply 20 percent of our nation’s energy, but account for 70 percent of our nation’s “carbon-free” energy. “The difficulties with nuclear power are political, not technological, social not economic,” Alexander said. “The main obstacle is a lingering doubt and fear in the public mind about the technology. Any progressive administration that wishes to solve the problem of global warming without crushing the American economy should be helping the public resolve these doubts and fears.”

For additional information see: Wall Street Journal, Knox News, Tennessean

Secretary Chu Urges China to Set 2050 Emissions Targets

On July 15, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu urged China to develop strong mid-century emissions targets in the fight against climate change and said that the United States is ready to lead the fight. Chinese officials have so far not committed to long-term emission targets, citing the need for developed nations to set stricter mid-term targets for themselves. U.S. legislation under consideration in Congress has a goal of an 83 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2050. “Unless they also say, ‘We need to decrease our carbon emissions by mid-century,’ then the world will be in big trouble,” Chu said of the developing nations. “What the U.S. and China do in the coming decades will in a large part determine the fate of the world.”

For additional information see: AP, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, China Daily

Trapping CO2 or Switching to Nuclear Power Not Enough to Solve Global Warming

On July 13, a study published in the International Journal of Global Warming concluded that storing carbon emissions or switching to nuclear power will not solve the problem of climate change. The authors of the study argued that global warming is not caused as much by CO2 emissions as it is by heat emissions, and so an increase in CO2 emissions merely indicates where the most heat is produced. “Since net heat emissions account for most of the global warming there is no or little reason for CO2 sequestration,” explained Bo Nordell of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Luleå University of Technology in Sweden, a co-author of the study. The scientists also concluded that reliance upon nuclear energy will not be enough to reduce global warming, because it produces large quantities of heat while generating electricity. The researchers advocated reducing reliance on fossil fuels for energy and increasing the use of wind and solar technology as methods to combat long term climate change.

For additional information see: Science Daily

SEC Turnaround Sparks Sudden Look at Climate Disclosure

On July 10, a Securities and Exchange Commissioner (SEC) said that the federal agency may soon require corporations to disclose the effects of climate change in financial reports. “I think with the changes in the environment and everything that's been happening, it's really time for us to take another very serious look at the disclosure system in this area,” said Elisse Walter, one of five commissioners at the SEC, which oversees every publicly traded company in the country. “I think it's a very serious issue.”

If the regulation is enacted, it could force large greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters to reveal their GHG emissions, and companies would also have to disclose possible losses due to any future climate legislation. Currently, 76 percent of Standard & Poor’s 500 companies do not mention climate change in their annual reports. “It's reasonable to expect that companies would fail to focus on long-term risk posed by climate change, and more forced disclosure would correct a potential market failure,” said John Echeverria, executive director of Georgetown University's Environmental Law and Policy Institute. “That seems like incredibly important information that investors might have.”

For additional information see: New York Times

U. S. Senator Puts Hold on EPA Nominee over CO2 Bill Analysis

On July 13, Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) announced he would block the confirmation of the number two position at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because he is dissatisfied with the EPA’s economic report on the climate bill recently passed by the House of Representatives, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454). Voinovich said that his opposition is not linked to Robert Perciascope, the nominee and current CEO of the National Audubon Society, but rather reflects his desire to have EPA re-examine its economic analysis. “To help Congress fully understand how this bill would affect consumers and the economy, I ask again that EPA provide reliable and realistic analysis by addressing the remaining flaws in its modeling,” said Senator Voinovich. The EPA's analysis of the bill – which examines the impact that a cap-and-trade program would have on consumers – estimated that it would cost households 22 to 30 cents per day ($80 to $111 per year).

For additional information see: Wall Street Journal, CQ Politics

UK Government Releases 'Low-Carbon Transition Plan'

On July 15, UK Energy Secretary Ed Miliband said that the country plans to cut emissions 18 percent by 2020 in order to meet a target emissions reduction of 34 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. Miliband said that every department in the government will have a carbon budget in addition to a financial budget and that half of the emissions cuts will come from the electricity sector. The measures will add $164 per year to the average household energy bill, with poor households receiving government assistance. “Renewables, nuclear, clean fossil fuels, as this plan sets out, are the trinity of a low-carbon and the future of energy in Britain,” said Miliband. “To rise to the challenge will mean comprehensive changes in our economy and our society.”

Under European Union (EU) law, the United Kingdom must get 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. In 2006, it produced 1.5 percent of its energy from renewables. To spur growth in this field, the government is adopting feed-in tariff policies, which allow individual homeowners and other small operations to produce renewable energy and sell it to the national grid at a premium, guaranteed price. The government is promising to produce 40 percent of its energy from low-carbon sources, which include nuclear, “clean coal”, and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies, by 2020. The push for cleaner energy sources could create 400,000 jobs by 2015, Miliband said.

For additional information see: Bloomberg, Reuters, BBC

International Conference Looks at Role of Intellectual Property in Mitigating Climate Change

On July 13, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) hosted an international conference to discuss the role of intellectual property in promoting the development and diffusion of green technologies to combat climate change. UK Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property David Lammy said that technology transfer is key to climate change negotiations, and other leaders agreed that intellectual property should be a catalyst, not an obstacle, to solving climate change. WIPO Director General Francis Gurry said that intellectual property rights spur innovation by offering incentives, but that there are ways to transfer and disseminate technologies. Some officials expressed concern that patents would be a barrier to technology transfer from rich to poor countries. “The key message is that a fair agreement on technology transfer is crucial to seal the deal in Copenhagen,” said Haraldo de Oliviera Machado Filho, a senior advisor in Brazil’s commission on climate change. Chinese deputy intellectual property commissioner Li Yuguang suggested a joint development fund to allow nations to buy and disseminate major green technologies.

For additional information see: AFP, World Intellectual Property Organization

Past Warming Shows Gaps in Climate Knowledge

In the July 13 issue of Nature Geoscience, researchers concluded that current climate models fail to explain half of the global temperature increase that occurred during a previous warming period that took place during the Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum, roughly 55 million years ago. “In a nutshell, theoretical models cannot explain what we observe in the geological record,” said Gerald Dickens, an oceanographer at Rice University and co-author of the study. “There appears to be something fundamentally wrong with the way temperature and carbon are linked in climate models.” Scientists are not sure what caused the increase in carbon in the atmosphere in that period, but they do know from ocean floor core samples that the temperature increased by 7°C in 10,000 years. “Some feedback loop or other processes that aren't accounted for in these models – the same ones used by the [International Panel on Climate Change] for current best estimates of 21st century warming – caused a substantial portion of the warming that occurred during the [period],” said Dickens.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Reuters, AFP

Concern over Pesticide Due to Global Warming Potential

On July 14, six environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Pesticide Action Network North America, asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to deny a request from Dow AgroSciences to test a pesticide containing sulfuryl fluoride, citing a study that appeared in the Journal of Physical Chemistry in 2008 which stated that sulfuryl fluoride had a global warming potential 4,780 times that of CO2. Sulfuryl fluoride is currently used to fumigate buildings, but Dow hopes to use it to replace the pesticide methyl bromide, currently being phased out due to its damaging effect on the stratospheric ozone layer. Dow applied for the permit in March 2009 to test on fruit and vegetable fields in various states. The EPA said that it would conduct “a human health risk assessment and an ecological risk assessment” of the chemical.

For additional information see: Chemical & Engineering News

Energy Department Signs Off on FutureGen Site

On July 14, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) gave its approval to use Mattoon, IL as the site of the proposed coal plant known as FutureGen. The DOE issued a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Record of Decision, declaring the site environmentally fit for the plant. The FutureGen plant would be the first coal plant in the United States to use carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) techniques, possibly capturing up to one million tons of CO2 per year. “The carbon capture and sequestration technologies planned for this flagship facility are vitally important to America and the world,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said. The DOE will provide $1 billion in stimulus funding for the construction of the plant, with the power and coal companies in the FutureGen Alliance supplying the rest of the $2.4 billion needed to build the plant. The members of FutureGen Alliance will spend the next eight to ten months developing plans and then will re-convene with the DOE to decide whether to go forward with the plant.

For additional information see: Houston Chronicle, Reuters

Kansas Coal Plant Fight Now Goes to Federal Level

On July 14, the Sunflower Electric Power Corporation announced that it had filed a lawsuit in Kansas City’s U. S. District Court, claiming that they had been unfairly treated by the Kansas government. The state government had previously blocked an air quality permit due to concerns about climate change. The two proposed projects have been blocked since 2007 because officials were worried about the 11 million tons of CO2 emitted per year by the plants. The Sunflower Corporation, which has already filed lawsuits with the Kansas Supreme Court, said that they have been unfairly denied the air permit because currently there is no federal or state law regarding CO2 and permitting. "It seems to be a way of trying to pre-empt that and go into federal court," former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius said of the new lawsuit. Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club's national coal campaign, said that the new suit by the Sunflower Corporation seemed like an attempt to undermine Kansas’ authority to regulate emissions. "It's definitely an act of desperation," Nilles said. "They have lost everything so far. It's a last ditch effort, but it certainly should be taken seriously."

For additional information see: Harris News Service, AP

Other Headlines

July 22: Ask the Climate Question: Adapting to Climate Change in Urban Regions

The Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP) Urban Leaders Adaptation Initiative, the CCAP Urban Leaders partners of Chicago, King County (Washington), and New York City, and the Rockefeller Foundation invite you to a discussion on Capitol Hill about key lessons learned around the United States in urban climate adaptation. The briefing follows the recent release of CCAP's report: "Ask the Climate Question: Adapting to Climate Change Impacts in Urban Regions." The event will take place on Wednesday, July 22 from 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. in SVC 203/202 in the Capitol Visitor Center. Please RSVP to Ashley Lowe at For more information, please contact Josh Foster, CCAP Climate Adaptation Manager at

September 9 and 10: H209 Forum

The Henry Hudson 400 Foundation, in partnership with Liberty Science Center, Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance and Netherlands Water Partnership, invite you to attend H209, a transatlantic water forum. H209 will focus on the critical role of collaborative public/private partnerships in protecting water quality and dealing with the effects of climate change. It will introduce the latest ideas in advanced technology and water systems management through case studies. Dutch and American business, government, and policy decision makers will come together to share expertise at the H209 Forum, to be held at Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, New Jersey on September 9 and 10. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Cees Veerman, Chairman of the Dutch Delta Commission, will be featured speakers, and representatives from IBM, United Water, Arcadis, Nestle, Macquarie, American Water, DHV, Janney Montgomery Scott, American Society of Civil Engineers, and city, state and federal governments will take part. For more information about H209 and registration for the forum, please visit

Writers: Sarah Hanke and Amy Sauer

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