Climate Change News June 27, 2011

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
June 27, 2011



Supreme Court Turns Down Emissions Lawsuit; Says EPA Has Authority to Regulate CO2

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected a lawsuit brought by six states and several conservation groups that sought to force large utilities to cut emissions of greenhouse gases. In the June 20 decision, the justices said the courtroom is not the correct forum to control greenhouse gases. But the justices, including conservatives John Roberts and Antonin Scalia, reaffirmed that the authority to address greenhouse gas emissions rests with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2007, a divided court ruled 5-4 that the Clean Air Act gives the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gases. The EPA has issued one rule thus far requiring pre-construction permits to build or modify certain large industrial facilities that emit greenhouse gases, and plans to propose greenhouse gas standards for power plants and refineries in September. The plaintiffs, which included California, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont, believe the federal government is acting too slowly.

For additional information see: The New York Times, Associated Press

EPA Greenhouse Gas Permitting to Have Little Impact, Study Says

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) greenhouse gas rules that took effect Jan. 2 are unlikely to change industry behavior or reduce emissions, a Bloomberg Government study found. The rules apply to large stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissions, such as power plants, oil refineries and cement factories. Companies must receive pre-construction permits to build new facilities or make major modifications to older ones. Permits are conditional on the use of “best available control technology” by companies to limit emissions. Published June 16, the Bloomberg study found most companies already incorporate such measures into their projects; the new rules will neither increase costs on companies, nor cut emissions. The EPA plans to propose an additional rule in September establishing greenhouse gas emission standards for utilities.

For additional information see: Bloomberg

Debate Continues in New Jersey over Regional Cap and Trade Program

The New Jersey Senate may consider a resolution to declare that the state should remain part of a regional carbon market. In May, Gov. Chris Christie said the state would pull out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), calling it ineffective and a tax on business. On June 20, the Senate Environment and Energy Committee voted to refer a resolution to the full Senate that declares the governor’s move “inconsistent with legislative intent.” Such a declaration is generally the first move to overturn a rule, though New Jersey has not yet pulled out of RGGI. Ten states in the Northeast participate in the regional cap and trade program, which applies to power plants.

For additional information see: Legislative History,

NASA, EPA Sued over Climate Change

Two organizations took legal steps against NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over climate change last week. The conservative American Tradition Institute, based in Washington, D.C., sued NASA on June 21 to request records detailing climate scientist James Hansen’s compliance with federal ethics and disclosure rules. Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has received $1.2 million in prizes from environmental and civil service groups in recognition of his climate work. Meanwhile, on June 22, the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity announced its intent to sue the EPA to force the agency to develop regulations on black carbon, which settles on sea ice and glaciers, absorbs sunlight, and promotes melting. Black carbon results from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. The organization claims EPA is violating provisions of the Clean Water Act.

For additional information see: Science Insider, American Tradition Institute, Center for Biological Diversity

NOAA’s Climate Office Gets Hearing in House

House Republicans accused the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of seeking to open a propaganda office with its proposal to reorganize existing operations into a new Climate Service. “This just seems like a politically motivated advocacy office,” said Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), during a June 22 hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Announced last year, the NOAA Climate Service would bring the agency’s existing climate capabilities under a single entity to create efficiencies and a single portal for the public, businesses and other agencies to obtain long-term weather and climate information. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said the move responds to increasing demands for information that saves lives and property. The reorganization would establish a new management structure only; agency funding levels would not change. “The proposed reorganization is good government,” Lubchenco said in her written statement. “It comes at no additional cost to the American taxpayer, and would sustain NOAA’s scientific research capabilities and focus them on these new challenges.”

For additional information see: Nature, NOAA Proposal, EESI Spotlight

GAO: President, Congress Need to Set National Climate Change Priorities

Although federal funding for climate change activities is increasing, federal officials lack a shared understanding of the nation’s strategic priorities that would help guide that funding, a new GAO report found. Federal funding for climate change activities increased to $8.8 billion in 2010, up from $4.6 billion in 2003. More than half of the funding is spent on technology to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. At the request of Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), GAO surveyed and interviewed federal officials. GAO found federal officials do not have a shared understanding of strategic priorities. “This is in part due to inconsistent messages articulated in strategic plans and other policy documents,” GAO reported. The report recommended that the nation establish federal strategic climate change priorities. The report, “Climate Change: Improvements Needed to Clarify National Priorities and Better Align Them with Federal Funding Decisions,” was released June 20.

For additional information see: Markey Announcement, GAO Report

Europe Postpones Vote on Deeper Emission Cuts

The European Parliament will wait until July to call a vote on a proposal that would establish deeper cuts in member states’ greenhouse gas emissions. The current policy is to achieve a 20 percent reduction from 1990 levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2020. The United Kingdom is pushing to toughen that goal to establish a 30 percent cut in C02 emissions. On June 23, the parliament opted to delay the vote as Poland strongly objected to the tougher goal. Poland, which is assuming the presidency of the European Union, produces about 90 percent of its electricity from coal.

For additional information see: BusinessGreen Story 1, BusinessGreen Story 2

Report Calls for Urgent Cuts in CO2 to Save Dying Oceans

Climate change, pollution and overfishing are harming the oceans so rapidly that many marine species could be extinct within a generation, an international panel concluded. Marine scientists produced the report, which was released June 21 at a workshop at Oxford University that was organized by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO). “As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean the implications became far worse than we had individually realized,” said Alex Rogers, scientific director of IPSO. “This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level.” The report calls for cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to the warming of ocean surface temperatures and ocean acidification. It also calls on governments to reduce pollution and enact sustainable fisheries policies. The cumulative effect of the multiple threats must be addressed urgently because the rate of degeneration in the oceans is greater than predicted, the report warns.

For additional information see: The New York Times, Science Daily, Report

Climate Change a Factor in 2011’s Wild Weather, NOAA Says

With droughts, floods, wildfires, and tornadoes, 2011 is shaping up to have some of the wildest weather on record, and climate change is one factor, a new federal analysis confirms. Extreme weather has become more common in the United States since 1980, said experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Although pointing to the influence of climate change on specific weather events is difficult, experts believe warmer temperatures can exacerbate droughts in some regions, while fueling more intense rain and snow storms in others. So far in 2011, weather-related damages surpassed $32 billion. That tab is likely to grow as NOAA expects an active hurricane season.

For additional information see: Scientific American

Ocean Dead Zones Could Expand with Higher Temperatures, Study Finds

Climate change could increase the size of ocean dead zones, a new study found. Dead zones, created in areas of low oxygen, are fueled by excessive nutrients that stimulate the growth of algae. When the algae decay, they settle into deeper layers of the ocean, and become food for bacteria. The bacteria consume so much oxygen as to make the waters inhabitable for marine life. A UCLA research team used computer simulations which found that low-oxygen areas are particularly sensitive to small changes in climate. Higher temperatures inhibit oxygen from dissolving into the ocean from the atmosphere. Shallower layers of the ocean also heat up and inhibit the circulation of oxygen to lower layers. "In the case of a global temperature increase, we expect that low-oxygen regions will grow in size, similar to what happened at the end of the last ice age 30,000 years ago," said Curtis Deutsch, assistant professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at UCLA. "Since these regions change greatly in size from decade to decade due to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, more data is required before we can recognize an overall trend.” The study was published in Science.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

Study Finds Link Between Temperature, Increasing Rate of Sea Level Rise

The Atlantic is rising at a greater rate today along the coast of the United States than at any time during the last 2,100 years, a new study found. The study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences also discussed the link between changes in temperature and rates of sea level rise. “Sea-level rise is a potentially disastrous outcome of climate change as rising temperatures melt land-based ice and warm ocean waters," said Benjamin Horton, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. The current average sea level rise is 2.1 millimeters per year. The study verifies that today’s rate of sea level rise is unprecedented in the recent geologic past, scientists said.

For additional information see: Associated Press, Science Daily, Study

Quickening Pace of Arctic Melting Could Alter Sea Currents, Study Says

Rapid warming in the Arctic threatens to alter sea currents as ice and glaciers are melting at an accelerating pace, according to the 2011 ice study by the International Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program. ”There is a risk that this could alter large-scale ocean currents that affect climate on a continental scale,” the study said. Sea levels will rise more drastically than the prediction of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the study said. Scientists are observing the work of feedback loops; the loss of ice and snow cover allows the sea and land to absorb more energy from the sun during the summer, promoting greater warming of the lower atmosphere. Temperatures from 2005 through 2010 have been the highest since records began in 1880, the study showed.

For additional information see: Anchorage Daily News, Los Angeles Times, Study

Other Headlines

July 13: Scaling Up Residential Biomass Heating: A Stakeholder Symposium

The Alliance for Green Heat invites you to “Scaling Up Residential Biomass Heating: A Stakeholder Symposium" at the U.S. Forest Service. While residential wood heat is the dominant player in residential renewable energy, most wood heat appliances in America are outdated and emit too many particulates. Robust deployment of modern, high efficiency appliances in Europe has succeeded in helping make substantial strides towards its energy independence. This stakeholder symposium will bring together non-profits, industry, government and forestry and air quality experts to explore how America can maximize the renewable energy potential of wood and pellet heat, and minimize associated drawbacks. The symposium will be held July 13, from 2:00 - 4:00 PM in the Yates Training Room at the USDA Forest Service Building, 201 14th Street SW. It is free but space is limited and advance registration is required. Please register at Alliance for Green Heat.

July 15: Electric Transmission 205: Economic Stimulus and Jobs Benefits

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and WIRES (Working group for Investment in Reliable and Economic electric Systems) invite you to a briefing on how manufacturing and constructing electric transmission infrastructure can help stimulate the economy and create jobs. The event is free and open to the public. No RSVP is required. The briefing will be held on Friday, July 15, 10:00 - 11:30 AM in the Congressional Meeting Room North, in the Capital Visitors Center. For more information contact us at communications [at], or 202-662-1884.

Writers: Dave Gershman and Matthew Johnson

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