Climate Change News April 23, 2012

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
April 23, 2012



EPA Releases Air Pollution Standards for Oil and Natural Gas Production

On March 18, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released new rules controlling emissions of methane and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from the production of oil and natural gas. When fully implemented in 2015, the standards promise to reduce over 95 percent of harmful emissions from natural gas operations, including volatile organic compounds and air toxics such as benzene and hexane. The rule does not directly regulate the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, but by limiting HAPs, methane emissions will also be reduced. The New Source Performance Standard includes a two year “phase in” period during which companies may either burn off or use technologies to capture natural gas and other air pollutants.  EPA estimated that industry will save $11 to $19 million by capturing and selling escaping methane each year.  EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson stated, "The president has been clear that he wants to continue to expand production of important domestic resources like natural gas, and today’s standard supports that goal while making sure these fuels are produced without threatening the health of the American people."

For additional information see: New York Times, Mother Jones, EPA Press Release, EPA Oil and Natural Gas Air Pollution Standards

EPA Claims No Plans to Regulate Carbon Emissions from Existing Power Plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it currently has “no plans” for the regulation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing power plants. A proposed GHG emissions standard for new power plants released on March 27 contained only one reference to plans for existing source standards, while a draft of the rule submitted to the Office of Management and Budget on November 7 contained numerous references to developing standards for existing power plants. At the rule’s release, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told reporters, “We don’t have plans to address existing plants.”   The draft included comments such as, “At a future date, EPA intends to promulgate emission guidelines for states to develop plans reducing [carbon dioxide] emissions from existing fossil-fuel-fired [electric generating units]” and “regulation of new sources of those pollutants triggers a requirement that EPA also promulgate emission guidelines for existing source.” The EPA’s change of plans regarding existing source regulations apparently arose during a White House review of the proposed standard for new sources.

For additional information see: Politico

Senate Committee Holds Hearing on Sea Level Rise

On April 19, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing titled, “Impacts of Rising Sea Levels on Domestic Infrastructures.” Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) ended his opening statement by saying, “The discussion that we’re having today is an important one. Witnesses will be testifying about real-world impacts. I hope that this hearing contributes to the restarting of a national conversation on this important topic.” Five Democratic senators attended, while Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), was the only Republican member at the hearing.  Waleed Abdalati, chief scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), noted at the hearing, “It is clear there are changes coming. It is clear the way we use energy is contributing to those changes, and I think it should be equally clear that our success in the face of those changes really depends on slowing them down, keeping them as small as we reasonably can . . . investments in alternate energy are, I think, essential for a successful future.”

For additional information see: Committee Hearing, Opening Statement by Senator Bingaman, The Hill, OPB News

U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions on the Rise

On April 16, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its annual greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory, “The Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2010.” EPA reported the United States emitted the equivalent of 6,822 million metric tons of CO2 in six main greenhouse gases. This is 10 percent higher than 1990 emissions, and represents a 3.2 increase over 2009 emissions (CO2 emissions decreased 6.6 percent between 2008 and 2009).  The rise in emissions was attributed to increased energy demand across a strengthening economy and warm summer temperatures that increased air conditioning use in 2010. The report accounted for the six leading gases: CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride, and for the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere by “sinks” such as forests, vegetation and soils. The United States submitted the report to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

For additional information see: National Journal, EPA Press Release, Report

Resources in Warming Arctic Draw Investment, Risk and Military

The rapid warming of the Arctic is opening up the region to investment in shipping, tourism, scientific research, and exploitation of fisheries, fossil fuels, and mineral resources. A recent report by the British insurance giant Lloyds estimated that the Arctic is likely to attract $100 billion in investment over the next ten years, but warned of high development and insurance costs. In particular, Lloyds cautioned that environmental impacts and cleanup costs of disasters such as oil spills may be greater than in other regions, as response is limited by remoteness, infrastructure and unusual environmental conditions. Ice damage to ships, severe weather, poor wireless communications, incomplete navigation information and lack of meteorological data contribute additional risk. "The businesses which will succeed will be those which take their responsibilities to the region's communities and environment seriously, working with other stakeholders to manage the wide range of Arctic risks and ensuring that future development is sustainable,” said Lloyds CEO Richard Ward.

In related news, warming in the Arctic has prompted nations with an eye on newly accessible resources and shipping lanes to sharpen their military focus in the region.  The Arctic powers, United States, Canada, Russia, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland, recently met to discuss regional security issues. Two months ago the U.S., Canada, Denmark held Arctic military exercises while Norway, with 14 other countries, held Arctic military exercises one month ago. Heather Conley, from the London-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that armed conflict is unlikely; militaries are more likely to need to respond to catastrophic events such as sinking ships or environmental disasters. “The risk is not militarization; it is the lack of capabilities while economic development and human activity dramatically increases that is the real risk,” said Conley.

For additional information see: The Times Colonist, The Washington Post, Lloyds Report

Mexico Passes Climate Change Act

Mexico’s House of Representatives and Senate passed climate legislation cutting carbon emissions 50 percent by 2050. President Felipe Calderon is expected to sign the law, which will make Mexico the second country after the United Kingdom to pass a climate change act with binding emission reduction targets.  The law sets targets to cut government emissions 30 percent by 2020 and to generate 24 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2024, and allows the government to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, establish new renewable energy incentives, and set up emission trading schemes. Keith Allott of the World Wildlife Fund commented, "It's all the more significant because Mexico is set to become one of the world’s biggest economies, but is not a rich country, with some 40 per cent of the population living in poverty. Yet its government and Congress can see that ending poverty and growing the economy will be that much harder unless they cut greenhouse gas emissions and embrace renewable energy.” WWF predicts that the law will be a template for climate legislation for other emerging economies.  

For additional information see: Business Green, Triple Pundit, Reuters

UK MP’s Urge Government to Consider “Outsourced” Carbon Emissions

Members of the UK Parliament are asking the government to reconsider carbon accounting rules and include consumer-based emissions when writing policies and reporting national greenhouse gas emissions. According to a new report by the Energy and Climate Change Committee, UK CO2 emissions fell by 19 percent between 1990 and 2008, but its carbon footprint, based on what the UK consumes, grew by 20 percent. The report attributes the decrease in UK emissions to a change from coal to gas for electricity generation, and outsourced manufacturing to places such as China, rather than to climate change policies. Committee Chairman Tim Yeo asked ministers to take a more “honest approach” in discussing UK climate impacts during international talks regarding global emissions. Yeo said, "The UK can scarcely lecture countries like China for failing to sign up to binding emissions cuts when much of their pollution is produced making products for us and other high-consumption economies."

For additional information see: The Telegraph, BBC

Karakoram Glaciers Grow, Glaciers Recede Worldwide

Researchers from the University of Grenoble in France observed growth of Karakoram mountain range glaciers between 1998 and 2008 due to regional snowfall, avalanches from surrounding mountains, and their unusual cover of rock debris, according to a report in Nature Geoscience. "Our conclusion that Karakoram glaciers had a small mass gain at the beginning of the 21st century indicates that those central/eastern glaciers are not representative of the whole (Himalayas)," said the authors. In February, a previous study reported that Himalayan glaciers experienced negligible melting between 2003 and 2010. Despite this regional variability, long-term measurements of the earth’s glaciers show that most glaciers worldwide have been losing mass for over 40 years.  In Patagonia, the Canadian Arctic, Alaska, Antarctica and Greenland, ice loss has been accelerating since the 1990’s, and recent predictions for the European Alps show an 80 to 96 percent decrease in glacier area by 2100.

For additional information see: The Christian Science Monitor, The Guardian, The Guardian

Choosing Building Materials to Increase Albedo May Offset Carbon Emissions

Using materials that increase albedo, or reflectivity, when replacing urban surfaces such as rooftops and roads could provide the equivalent of 25 to 150 billion tonnes of CO2 over 50 years, according to a study published in Environmental Research Letters on April 13.  Scientists from Canada’s University of Concordia said that decreasing solar energy absorption through increased albedo can reduce the urban “heat island” effect, cooling buildings, reducing air conditioning use, and improving air quality. Lead author Hashem Akbari said, "It is all based on planning, codes and policies. If we really put the nuts and bolts in place, we can get close to 100 percent of urban areas increasing the albedo of surfaces."

For additional information see: ScienceDaily, AFP, EESI Briefing

Climate Change Increases Conservation Costs

Studies examining conservation costs and climate change in South Africa, Madagascar and California were published together in Conservation Biology on April 12.  Despite different effects of climate change on local species, the studies predicted conservation costs to increase in all three regions.  "If world leaders want to be effective in both slowing the rate of environmental degradation and helping the poor to prosper now and in the future, they should place biodiversity conservation at the top of their agendas," advised Lee Hannah, a study author. Conservation of biodiversity also benefits humans. For example, “By protecting the plants and animals of its forests, Madagascar is protecting the sources of life-saving medicines, clean water for agriculture, and jobs for people in tourism," according to Jonah Busch, Climate and Forest Economist at Conservation International. Restoring rainforest to avoid species extinction as climate changes is six times more expensive than protecting existing forest in Madagascar.

For additional information see:, Conservation Biology

Study: Electric Car Greenhouse Gas Emissions Vary by Local Energy Sources

A recent study from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) compared the greenhouse gas emissions of electricity produced in different regions to power the all-electric Nissan Leaf versus the emissions of hybrid and conventional gasoline vehicles.  The study found that 45 percent of U.S. residents live in areas where powering an electric vehicle is equivalent to a gasoline vehicle that attains 50 miles per gallon (mpg) or more and equivalent to over 80 mpg in certain areas, including parts of New York and California.  Another 37 percent of Americans live in areas where power plant emissions for electric cars are at the equivalent of 41-50 mpg, comparable to hybrid cars. An electric car in a region totally reliant on coal power would be equivalent to 30 mpg; on par with conventional gasoline cars. “The good news is that, as the nation's electric grids get cleaner, consumers who buy an EV today can expect to see their car's emissions go down over the lifetime of the vehicle,” said report author Don Anair. Electric vehicles provide protection against changing gas prices, and the report estimates $13,000 fuel savings over an average car lifetime, compared to a 27 mpg conventional car.  The UCS report also stated a need for systemic change, “To prevent the worst consequences of global warming, the automotive industry must deliver viable alternatives to the oil-fueled, internal-combustion engine — i.e., vehicles boasting zero or near-zero emissions.”

For additional information see: Business Green, New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, UCS Study

European Mountain Plants Stressed by Climate Change

Climate change is causing mountain plants in Europe to move to higher altitudes and is decreasing species diversity, according to a study in the journal Science. The study evaluated 66 European mountains and found numbers of plant species were increasing in Northern Europe but either stagnating or declining nearer to the Mediterranean. "Our results showing a decline at the Mediterranean sites is worrying because these are the mountains with a very unique flora and a large proportion of their species occur only there and nowhere else on Earth," said Harald Pauli, coordinator of the project. Climate warming and decreased rainfall in the Mediterranean region is expected to worsen and corresponds to the decrease in plant life.

For additional information see: Mother Nature Network

Other Headlines

Wednesday, April 25, 2012: The Nexus between Water, Energy and Climate: Shaping Long Term Policy to Create Jobs and Business Success for a Resource Efficient Economy

The Royal Danish Embassy and the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invite you to a Congressional forum focused on how Denmark, which currently holds the Presidency of the European Union (EU), is meeting the economic, environmental, and energy challenges of the 21st Century. Denmark’s Minister for Trade and Investment, Pia Olsen Dyhr, will keynote the event. Minister Dyhr will focus on the nexus of energy, water and climate. These are issues important in the Congressional discussion underway on the Farm Bill and other energy and environmental legislation. Moreover, trade, investment, and international competitiveness are major concerns of Congress and the country overall, and Minister Dyhr will make the case for long-term, stable investment as the gateway to job creation and economic growth.

The role of stable, long-term policy has been essential in providing the certainty and “rules of the road” that businesses everywhere say are critical to their economic well-being. Without this, many companies lack the market certainty that is crucial to how they make their investment decisions. In a world of heightened global competitiveness and fast-moving technology changes, Denmark has positioned itself as a global energy technology leader. It is a country moving quickly to a low-carbon and highly efficient economy, and a country with a very robust economy and high standard of living. The story of how this can be accomplished will be discussed by Minister Dyhr and two senior executives of major cutting-edge technology companies that also have deep involvement in the United States. Speakers for this forum are: Pia Olsen Dyhr, Danish Minister for Trade and Investment, Jes Munk Hansen, CEO of Grundfos North America and Adam Monroe, President, Novozymes North America. This event is free and open to the public. No RSVP required. It will be held in HVC-215, Capitol Visitor Center from 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM. For more information, contact EESI at communications [at] or (202) 662-1884.

Thursday, April 26, 2012: Renewable Gas, Hydropower, and Geothermal: What is the role of these often overlooked renewable resources?

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invites you to a Congressional briefing to discuss several renewable energy resources which often do not receive much attention and yet are in plentiful supply across the United States: renewable gas, hydropower, and geothermal. Each of them can provide baseload electricity, and each of these renewable energy resources comes from a variety of sources and can deliver energy through a variety of energy technology applications. The briefing will explore the status of these resources, how they are used and why, and what the market drivers are for them. Speakers for this event will include: Kathryn Clay, Ph.D., Executive Director, American Gas Foundation, Jeffrey Leahey, Director of Government Affairs, National Hydropower Association and Karl Gawell, Executive Director, Geothermal Energy Association. This event is free and open to the public. No RSVP required. It will be held in 1334 Longworth House Office Building from 2:00 - 3:30 PM. For more information, contact EESI at communications [at] or (202) 662-1884.

Writers: Justin Jones and Zuzana Culakova

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