Climate Change News April 11, 2011

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
April 11, 2011



Senate Rejects Amendment to Strip EPA of Greenhouse Gas Regulations (S. 493)

On April 6, the U.S. Senate rejected legislation proposed by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) which would strip the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs) under the Clean Air Act (CAA). The amendment, which was attached to an unrelated small business bill, recieved 50 votes but needed 60 votes to pass. Only one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), voted against it, whereas four Democrats, Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Mark Pryor (D-AK), voted for it. In addition to McConnell’s amendment, the Senate also rejected three more restrictive EPA amendments that were offered to the small-business bill. An amendment proposed by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), which was aimed at exempting agriculture and small businesses from GHG regulations, was defeated by a vote of 7-93. An amendment proposed by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) aimed to postpone the EPA’s authority to regulate GHGs for two years and was defeated 12-88. Lastly, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) proposed an amendment combining the prior two efforts that was defeated 7-93.

For additional information see: Politico

House Passes Bill to Eliminate EPA’s Authority Over Climate Change (HR 910)

On April 7, the House of Representatives passed HR 910, a bill to strip the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gases (GHG’s) by a vote of 255-172. However, the White House has threatened to veto the legislation if it ever reached the President. It would require a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate to override a veto. Proposed by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), 236 Republicans voted yes on the bill, as did 19 Democrats. House Republicans also rejected a number of amendments that would preserve various pieces of EPA's authority and which accused Republicans of ignoring the science related to climate change.

For additional information see: Politico, NY Times, Wall Street Journal

34 Senators and 155 Representatives Send Strong Letter Supporting Clean Air Act

On April 4th, prior to the House vote to strip the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gases (GHG’s) under the Clean Air Act, 34 Senators and 155 Representatives sent a strong letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner advising him of the benefits the CAA and EPA have brought to the United States. The letter stressed that key air pollutants decreased 60 percent and the economy has grown over 200 percent since the implementation of the CAA in 1970. It also brought up important points pertaining to how the EPA has used its CAA authority to implement national automobile standards, which decreased U.S. dependence on foreign oil as well as decreased carbon dioxide emissions. However, the letter seemed to have little effect on the House, as they passed a bill stripping the EPA of regulating greenhouse gases on April 7.

For additional information see: Letter, Senate Resolution

House 2012 Budget Plan Targets Clean Energy Cuts

House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) proposed a long-term budget plan on April 5th that calls for drastic cuts in federal spending on energy research and development and for the outright elimination of subsidies and tax breaks for wind, solar power and other alternative energy technologies beginning in fiscal year 2012. The plan is expected to be opposed by President Obama and the Democratic Senate, but has substantial support among Republicans in the House. Overall funding for energy programs would fall to about $1 billion per year, whereas Obama’s plan would allocate about $8 billion towards clean energy initiatives per year. Programs that are likely to face elimination are electric car battery technology and charging infrastructure, clean energy manufacturing loans, and production and investment tax credits for wind and solar power.

For additional information see: NY Times

Disagreements in Bangkok Stall Climate Negotiations

In the first week of April, international negotiations on climate change held in Bangkok failed to make any significant progress. The United Nations (UN) secretariat stated that positive discussions had taken place through a series of workshops aimed to improve emission reduction targets for developed countries, develop a clean technology transfer mechanism, and enhance climate mitigation plans for developing nations. However, negotiators failed to agree on a scheduled work program for this year’s meetings due to differences in the priorities of developing and developed nations. Developing nations insisted the talks should focus largely on extension of the Kyoto Protocol, which will expire next year. Developed nations wanted to focus the talks more on delivering the commitments made at the Cancun climate summit in December, 2010. A number of countries, including the United States, Japan, and Russia, stated that they had no intention to sign on to an extension of the Kyoto Protocol. The United States had not adopted the Kyoto Protocol. The expiration of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012 would remove the legal foundations for the UN's carbon trading mechanisms and leave industrialized nations with no legally binding emission reduction targets. The next climate summit will take place in Durban, South Africa, in December.

For additional information see: Business Green

Paper Companies to Cut GHGs 15 Percent by 2020, Increase Recycling 70 Percent

On March 30, the American Forest and Paper Association (AFPA) announced a new strategy called “Better Practices, Better Planet 2020”, that states they will increase the paper recycling rate to over 70 percent and pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent before the year 2020. AFPA announced that it will present progress updates in annual reports on paper recovery as well as a biennial “Sustainability Report”. The Environmental Paper Network, advocates for sustainable and environment-friendly paper production, stated that they support AFPA’s goals, but would like AFPA to increase their paper recovery, and include plans to improve water and air quality. Georgia-Pacific, one of the world’s largest pulp and paper companies, announced on March 29 that they also will participate in AF&PA’s “Better Practices, Better Planet 2020” initiative.

For additional information see: AFPA, Georgia-Pacific

KFC Seeks Climate-Friendly Alternatives to Palm Oil

Fast food chain KFC announced on April 6th they would no longer fry their chicken in palm oil, in an effort to reduce climate change and heart disease. KFC stated, "The global expansion of the palm oil industry has been a contributor to the destruction of tropical rainforests and peat lands to make way for palm oil plantations, which has inadvertently caused large amounts of greenhouse gases [to be] pushed into the atmosphere." The company will instead begin to use a form of rapeseed oil to fry their chicken. They will continue to use palm oil to fry their fries, buns, tortillas, and hashbrowns, but stated that they are talking to suppliers about switching to alternatives or using only sustainably-certified palm oil.

For additional information see: The Independent

Some Tropical Fish Able to Cope with Rising Ocean Temperatures

A James Cook University study, presented at the CSIRO Greenhouse 2011 conference, revealed that the spiny chromis fish, found in the central Great Barrier Reef, could adapt to warmer waters caused by climate change. Climate models show that waters surrounding the reef could increase 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050, and 3 degrees Celsius by 2100. The study showed that newborn chromis fish were able to alter their metabolic rate to adapt to the warmer temperatures. However, the study found the fish living in the warmer water had not acclimatized quite as well as the fish living in water at current sea temperatures. They were smaller when full grown, and it was not yet observed if they could give birth to viable offspring. Jennifer Donelson, author of the study, stated that although her results were, “an ‘unexpected positive story’, the findings did not take away from overall dire predictions about the future of the reef and its corals.”

For additional information see: The Australian, Abstract

Sea Rising at Upper End of Forecast

One of the authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2013 update stated, at the CSIRO’s Greenhouse 2011 conference, that global sea levels are rising close to the upper-end predictions made in the IPCC’s landmark 2007 report of 60-80cm by 2100. Scientists have attributed the rise to many factors, the largest being thermal expansion of the ocean and the melting of glaciers and ice caps. John Church, who will co-author the IPCC 2013 chapter on sea level rise, stated that a global effort must be made to reduce carbon emissions to slow sea level rises.

For additional information see: The Australian, Conference, Study

Mangrove Forests Store More Carbon than Other Forests

A study published in Nature Geoscience found that, per hectare, mangrove forests store up to four times more carbon than most other tropical forests around the world. Scientists attribute the mangrove forest's ability to store such large amounts of carbon, in part, to the low-oxygen conditions in the deep organic-rich soils in which they live. The mangrove forest’s complex, underwater root system slows down incoming tides, allowing organic and inorganic material to settle into the surface of the sediment. The low-oxygen conditions slow the decay rates of these materials, leaving much of the carbon in the soil itself. Apart from fossil fuel burning, deforestation plays a significant part in the release of greenhouse gases. The study suggests implementing programs to reduce the deforestation of mangroves as a mitigation for climate change.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

Climate Change Affects Migratory Bird Patterns

In a study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Smithsonian scientists found that declining rainfall is interfering with the patterns of migratory birds. Many bird species that breed in the temperate forests, marshes and backyards of North America spend the winter months in the tropics of the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Climactic warming is causing decreased rainfall in the tropics and affecting the availability of insects, the primary food for birds during the winter, which in turn delays the migration of the birds back to their northern breeding grounds. The study focused on American redstarts, a member of the warbler family, at a non-breeding site in Jamaica. Researchers found a clear correlation between the amount of insects available to the birds and the timing of their migration back to North America. "Because American redstarts return to the same site to breed each year, arriving later may make it harder for them remain to remain in sync with their breeding cycle,” said Colin Studds, lead author of the study.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

Study Identifies Tree Species Particularly Vulnerable to Climate Change

An 18-year study published in the journal Global Change Biology found that climate change, particularly early spring warming and summer droughts, affects tree growth, reproduction, and survival. The results indicated that four types of trees: pine, elm, beech, and magnolia, are the most vulnerable to climate change. Scientists measured and recorded the growth, mortality and fecundity (ability to produce viable seeds) of 27,000 trees, belonging to 40 species located in three geographic regions, at least once every three years. They then used a specially designed bioinformatic analysis to quantify the effects of climate change on tree species over time, including the effects of localized variables such as competition with other trees for light, or the impact of summer drought. The findings may help scientists and policymakers identify which species are more susceptible to climate change and why.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

Scientists Calculate Melt Rate of Patagonian Glaciers

In a study published in Nature, scientists found that the recent melt rate of glaciers in Patagonia has increased by a factor of ten compared to the melt rate since the 19th century. By observing distinct landscape markings, scientists were able to determine the maximum advance of the Patagonian glaciers during what is known as the “Little Ice Age” which ran from the 16th to 19th centuries. They compared ice lost since the Little Ice Age to the amount lost in recent decades to determine the increased melt rate. This increase, authors noted, is contributing to rising sea levels at an alarming rate. Neil F. Glasser, lead scientist of the study, stated that the trends in glacial melting, “mirrors the significant rise in global temperatures detected over the past 30 years. . . providing support for the assertion that glacier recession can be attributed to recent warming.”

For additional information see: NY Times, BBC, Study

Climate Change Leads to Spread of Malaria in Africa

As the climate warms in East Africa, infected mosquitoes are expanding their range and spreading malaria, according to new research by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society. Temperatures have increased significantly since the 1980s in the Kenyan Highlands, and residents of the Highlands, who normally do not get malaria, are especially susceptible to the disease since they have no built up immunity for it, according to Dr. Maria Neira, director of public health and environment for the World Health Organization. “As temperatures have been increasing, the mosquitoes that are transmitting the disease have better conditions to breed, reproduce, and transmit the disease. Vector-borne diseases are expanding their reach and death tolls," she stated.

For additional information see: ABC News, Scientific American, Book

Other Headlines

April 14: PAHs Increasing in Urban U.S. Lakes

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), Water Environment Federation (WEF), and Office of Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) invite you to a briefing featuring new national findings from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) on increasing levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in urban lakes studied in 40 cities from Anchorage, Alaska, to Orlando, Florida. PAHs are widespread in the environment and are a significant environmental topic because several are probable human carcinogens, they are toxic to fish and other aquatic life, and their concentrations have been increasing in urban lakes in recent decades. This event will be held Thursday, April 14, 2011, 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 noon in H-137 U.S. Capitol Building. This briefing is free and open to the public. No RSVP required. For more information, contact us at communications [at] or (202) 662-1884.

May 4: Geothermal Energy Technology and International Development Forum

The Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) will hold a one-day “Geothermal Energy Technology and International Development Forum” in Washington, DC on Wednesday, May 4, 2011 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. The program seeks to showcase geothermal projects, trends, and governmental policies in the U.S. and around the world. Topics covered will include the geothermal market today, projects under development in the U.S. and internationally, outlook for the future of the geothermal market , jobs and money, new technologies, and federal agency support at home and abroad. To register visit

Writers: Deep Ghosh, Alison Alford, and Matthew Johnson

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