Climate Change News June 28, 2010

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
June 28, 2010



Reid Considers Climate Bill Linked to Oil Spill Response

On June 24, Senate Democrats concluded their second meeting to discuss potential energy and climate legislation, with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) indicating that he prefers legislation linked to overhauling offshore drilling regulation. “Whatever form it takes, we're going to move forward," Reid said. "We agree we must deal with the catastrophe in the Gulf, we must create millions of new jobs, we must cut pollution and we must strengthen our national security and energy independence." Reid’s legislative package could include pieces from a number of energy bills currently being considered: Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman’s (I-CT) American Power Act, which would establish a cap and trade program; Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s (D-NM) American Clean Energy and Leadership Act, which creates a national renewable electricity standard but without a cap on carbon emissions; Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins’(R-ME) Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal Act, a “cap and dividend” bill; and Sen. Richard Lugar’s “Practical Energy and Climate Plan” that includes support for renewable energy, efficiency standards and support for nuclear energy.

“The Democratic caucus realizes that we have a problem," Reid said after the meeting. "We have a phenomenon here that if we don't do something about, our planet's destruction could be there. The security of our nation depends on a good energy policy." A number of key senators are expected to meet with President Obama to discuss energy policy, possibly sometime the week of June 28. The visit is being rescheduled to follow up on a June 23 meeting that was canceled.

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

Study: 97 Percent of Scientists Say Man-made Climate Change is Real

On June 21, a study by researchers at Stanford University published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences revealed that 97 to 98 percent of scientists say that man-made climate change is real. Additionally, “the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of [anthropogenic climate change] are substantially below that of the convinced researchers,” the study said. Of the 1,372 scientists included in the data set, 90 percent of the “convinced,” or those who believed man-made climate change was real, had published 20 or more peer-reviewed papers while 80 percent of the “unconvinced,” or climate change skeptics, had published fewer than 20 peer-reviewed papers. Critics of the paper have suggested that dividing scientists into the two categories of “convinced” and “unconvinced” is not nuanced enough. “It would be helpful to have lukewarm [as] a third category,” said Jim Prall of the University of Toronto and an author of the study, but he maintained that the paper is useful in alerting the public to the fact those scientists who are “unconvinced” climate change is caused by humans may not have the expertise to make such a judgment in a scientific way. “If you look at the statistics on how many of them are climate scientists, they just don’t stack up,” Prall said. “The people putting those statements out are having to reach far and wide. They’re having to lower the bar to pad out their list. So they can’t get very many top climate scientists, because very few out of that selection agree with them.”

For additional information see: Science, Study Abstract, Scientific American, Vancouver Sun

Montreal Protocol Talks Conclude with Push to Phase Out ‘Super’ Greenhouse Gases

On June 18, the Montreal Protocol concluded its latest round of talks in Geneva, Switzerland, resolving to continue discussions on phasing down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the ozone treaty, potentially avoiding up to 209 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent by 2050. The discussions were prompted by proposals submitted earlier this year by the Federated States of Micronesia, Mauritius, the United States, Canada, and Mexico. "It's a controversial issue that has been discussed for the second year. It's gaining support and should the parties decide on this, it would be the most important (climate) decision," said Marco Gonzalez, Executive Secretary of the UN Ozone Secretariat, which administers the treaty. Although HFCs account for about 2 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions today, they are growing so fast that scientists predict HFCs could account for 20 percent of the world's GHGs by 2050. “This would be a major victory for the world, and particularly vulnerable nations like Micronesia that need fast, near-term climate mitigation to survive,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development. “Opportunities for progress under the climate negotiations this year are uncertain, but we know the ozone treaty is ready to deliver.” The Montreal Protocol Parties will continue deliberations at the November 2010 meeting in Kampala, Uganda.

For additional information see: AP, Environmental Leader

Bid to Suspend California's Global Warming Law Qualifies for November Ballot

On June 23, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen certified a proposition to suspend the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) for the November ballot. Called the “California Jobs Initiative,” the proposition “requires the state to abandon implementation of comprehensive greenhouse gas reduction program that includes increased renewable energy and cleaner fuel requirements, and mandatory emission reporting and fee requirements for major polluters such as power plants and oil refineries, until suspension is lifted.” The suspension of AB 32 would not be lifted until the state unemployment rate drops from 12.4 percent to 5.5 percent for four successive quarters. In addition to reducing jobs, “AB 32 would impose billions of dollars in higher utility rates and fuel prices on California families when they can least afford it,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Proponents of AB 32 have said the measure will decrease the growth of green jobs that would occur as a byproduct of AB 32. “This initiative sponsored by greedy Texas oil companies would cripple California’s fastest growing economic sector, reverse our renewable energy policy and decimate our environmental progress for the benefit of these oil companies’ profit margins,” said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

For additional information see: Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Fresno Bee

Court Freezes Bids to Return 'Endangerment' Finding to EPA

On June 16, a panel of federal judges issued an order freezing motions to remand the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) greenhouse gases (GHGs) endangerment finding. The 17 motions were merged into one case, Coalition for Responsible Regulation, Inc. v. EPA, and were filed by industry groups, members of Congress and state attorneys general. The motion requested the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to remand the EPA’s finding because of the current debates over the climate science used by the EPA. The panel’s order will put the motions for remand on hold until August 16 or until two weeks after the EPA decides whether or not it will reconsider its endangerment finding. The EPA has said it will make a decision by late July. “We have heard nothing yet that significantly undermines the decision that we have made,” said Gina McCarthy, EPA air chief. “We’re going to keep looking at it, and we will have an open mind until those legal decisions are finalized.”

For additional information see: New York Times, Court Decision

Congressmen Seek to Delay TransCanada Oil Sands Pipeline until Effects on Greenhouse Gas Emissions Are Studied

On June 23, 50 Congressmen signed a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, expressing concern over the proposed $12 billion TransCanada oil sands pipeline which will run from Hardisty, Alberta to Port Arthur, Texas. The Congressmen wrote the letter in the hopes that the State Department would not approve the pipeline until a “full lifecycle assessment of the greenhouse gas emissions” is produced by the Environmental Protection Agency. “Building this pipeline has the potential to undermine America’s clean energy future and international leadership on climate change,” the letter said. If approved, the pipeline would be the third one approved by the State Department and would eventually import 900,000 barrels a day, increasing the percentage of tar sands oil consumed by the United States from four percent to 15 percent of total U.S. fuel supply. In addition to their concern that the pipeline will be approved by the State Department without regard for safety measures and the environmental impacts of the pipeline, the letter cited concern over the fact that studies have shown that oil sands activities emit three times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil activities. “Endorsing tar sands pipelines is a step in the wrong direction,” said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), one of the signers. “It’s counter to what President Obama has stood for. . . . in getting us away from oil.”

For additional information see: Winnipeg Free Press, Guardian, Bloomberg, Vancouver Sun

Defense Experts Call for More Explicit Climate Models

On June 21, the U.S. Navy announced its need for climate models which include assessments of the risks and uncertainties of future environmental changes. “Are we going to wait for perfect data? No. Not only the Department of Defense but any successful organization doesn’t wait for perfection,” said Rear Admiral David W. Titley, the head of the Navy’s Task Force Climate Change. “But we need to understand, how certain are you? And what does that mean?” The comments were made at a conference organized by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Center for Environment and National Security. The Navy will be conducting capabilities-based assessments for climate change in order to plan its investment strategy for dealing with the uncertainties accompanying climate change. In order to know how much and in what ways force structure, communications and infrastructure such as naval bases and airfields need to be improved, the consensus is that the Navy needs to work with climate scientists and modelers from other federal agencies. “I believe that the time is right, and the leadership in many agencies is right, to work this at a national level,” Titley said, “to make sure the taxpayer money we put into these predictions give the absolute best return on our collective investment. We owe this to the American people.”

For additional information see: New York Times, U.S. Navy Press Release

MIT Study: Natural Gas Use Likely to Double

On June 25, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) released a study concluding that natural gas use in the United States is likely to double in the next few decades. With an increase from 20 percent to 40 percent of the U.S. energy market, natural gas would be taking the place of the old and inefficient coal plants, the study said. The researchers examined the extent of U.S. natural gas reserves and the ability of natural gas to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, finding that natural gas would indeed be a plausible substitute for coal but that U.S. energy policy must work to foster the concurrent growth of natural gas and renewable energy. Too often, the report said, renewable energy has been added to the grid at the expense of natural gas instead of coal, which has much higher carbon dioxide emissions. “Much has been said about natural gas as a bridge to a low-carbon future, with little underlying analysis to back up this contention. The analysis in this study provides the confirmation – natural gas truly is a bridge to a low-carbon future,” said MIT Energy Initiative Director Ernest J. Moniz. However, he cautioned, “we better not get mesmerized by gas either. We need to do the hard work of getting those alternative technologies ready to take over.”

For additional information see: New York Times, MIT Press Release, MIT Report

West Virginia First State to Join EPA's Appliance Disposal Program to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On June 17, West Virginia became the first state to join the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) Program to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The program provides mail-in rebates to consumers who substitute their old and inefficient appliances for Energy Star appliances. Until West Virginia joined the program, RAD program members were primarily municipalities, utilities, manufacturers, universities and retailers. Members are expected to recuperate ozone-depleting chemicals from old appliances such as refrigerators, air conditioners and freezers and ensure that the chemicals are properly disposed of, recycled or reclaimed. These chemicals are an extremely potent group of GHGs. “We support programs that really matter, especially those that result in a cleaner environment,” said West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman. “We believe in the mission of EPA’s RAD program because it will help West Virginia spur economic growth, create jobs, save energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and protect the ozone layer.”

For additional information see: EPA Press Release, West Virginia DEP Press Release

UN Clean Development Mechanism Panel Reviewing HFC Projects

On June 23, UN Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) chairman Clifford Mahlung said the UN may complete an analysis by August of hydrofluorocarbon-23 (HFC-23) credit programs and how the credits are awarded by August. Under the Kyoto Protocol, when developing nations cut their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, they can claim carbon offsets and sell them in carbon markets. As potent GHG emitters, HFC-23 emissions cuts are very profitable because they earn a large number of offsets. As a result, CDM Watch and other watchdog groups have concluded, some companies may have been increasing emissions in order to destroy them and receive more credits, selling them for profit. “I think what happened is the maximum production that is allowable, I think the number we have maybe is too high and that has to be adjusted,” said Mahlung. “But if something is happening that is not the best solution for the environment, then obviously it is a concern for the board and we will have to take some type of an action, even if it’s drastic, to make sure credibility is maintained.” The panel will be looking into possible loopholes in the rules which could have been exploited and will be making recommendations about how many credits will be issued through 2012.

For additional information see: Reuters, Bloomberg

UN Names Authors for Fifth IPCC Report

On June 23, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its list of climate change experts who have been selected for the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). Of the 3,000 scientists who were nominated, 831 were chosen. In order to improve regional coverage and include new perspectives since its Fourth Report, the proportion of female authors and authors from developing countries has increased to 25 percent and 30 percent, respectively. Sixty percent of the selected authors are new to the IPCC report process because, “We didn’t want old club members who repeat themselves from one assessment to the next,” said Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, IPCC Vice Premier. In addition to the new authors, the IPCC has made an effort to include authors from a diverse array of backgrounds such as physics, oceanography, engineering, ecology, economics, statistics, meteorology and the social sciences. AR5 is expected to be released between 2013 and 2014.

For additional information see: AP, IPCC Press Release

Study Finds Some Coral Reefs Adapt to Global Warming

On June 23, a study published in PLoS ONE investigated how some coral reefs are more likely to survive in changing ocean temperatures compared to others. Rising ocean temperatures are increasing stress on the world's coral reefs, and in some cases leading to what is known as coral bleaching and death. The challenge of the study was to find out why some coral species are better able to handle the heat stress than others. “We decided to focus on coral larvae because the successful dispersal and settlement of larvae is key to the survival of reefs,” said Iliana Baums of Pennsylvania State University, a lead author of the study. The researchers found evidence that local adaptations had taken place among parent colonies which made some larvae more heat-resistant than others. This type of variation "offers the species as a whole a better chance of survival under changing conditions,” said Baums. This study further supports the hypothesis that coral genes may have the "adaptive potential needed to deal with changing environmental conditions," an important characteristic for coral species that are likely to face more stress as the global ocean temperatures rise.

For additional information see: UPI, Study Abstract

New Research Sheds Light on Antarctica's Melting Pine Island Glacier

A study published in the June 20 issue of Nature Geoscience suggested that Antarctica’s melting Pine Island Glacier, which is contributing as much as 10 percent to the rise in global sea level, may have such a high melt-rate due to its separation from a 400 meter-high ridge. Using an autonomous underwater vehicle, researchers were able to take measurements which revealed the ridge. “We do not know what kick-started the initial retreat from the ridge, but we do know that it started some time prior to 1970,” said Adrian Jenkins of the British Antarctic Survey. “Since detailed observations of Pine Island Glacier only began in the 1990s, we now need to use other techniques such as ice core analysis and computer modeling to look much further into the glacier’s history in order to understand if what we see now is part of a long term trend of ice sheet contraction.” Jenkins also said that the study raised the issue of whether or not the high melt-rate and ice loss of the glacier can be attributed exclusively to climate change or if it is instead an extended trend which began in the 1970s. However, Pierre Dutrieux, a co-author from the British Antarctic Survey, has said that the ice loss could still have been caused by something related to climate change. “It could be a shift in the wind, due to a change in climate, that pushed more warm water under the shelf,” said Dutrieux.

For additional information see: BBC News, Study Abstract, Science Daily, Reuters, The Register

Other Headlines

June 28: Electric Transmission 203 -- Planning to Expand and Upgrade the Grid

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 current and future methods of planning expansion of the high voltage electric transmission system. This briefing will explore diverse methods of planning and some of the current challenges that may have to be overcome by states, Congress, and/or the FERC. The briefing will take place on Monday, June 28, from 2:00 - 3:30 p.m. in 385 Russell Senate Office Building. This briefing is free and open to the public. No RSVP required. For more information, please contact us at communications [at] or (202) 662-1884.

Writers: Fiona Burns and Amy Sauer

Please distribute Climate Change News to your colleagues. Permission for reproduction of this newsletter is granted provided that the Environmental and Energy Study Institute is properly acknowledged as the source. Past issues are available here. Free email subscriptions are available here. We welcome your suggestions, comments, and questions.

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) is a non-profit organization founded in 1984 by a bipartisan Congressional caucus dedicated to finding innovative environmental and energy solutions. EESI works to protect the climate and ensure a healthy, secure, and sustainable future for America through policymaker education, coalition building, and policy development in the areas of energy efficiency, renewable energy, agriculture, forestry, transportation, and urban planning.

EESI's work, including this free newsletter, is made possible by financial support from people like you. Please help us continue to make it available by making a secure, online donation today by clicking here or mailing a check to Environmental and Energy Study Institute; 1112 16th St NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20036. Please feel free to contact Susan Williams at (202) 662-1887 or see to find out more. Thank you for your support!