Climate Change News March 21, 2011

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
March 21, 2011



McConnell Files Anti-EPA Amendment to Small Business Bill

On March 15, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced an amendment to a small business bill to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to control greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The McConnell amendment closely resembled the bill H.R. 910, now under consideration in the House. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) indicated he would schedule a vote for the Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) Reauthorization Act of 2011 (S. 493), despite the inclusion of the amendment, but the date has yet to be determined. Authored by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the bill mirrors the McConnell amendment, has the support of 42 Republicans and one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).

For additional information see: Wall Street Journal, The Hill, Politico, SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Bill

House Committee Passes Bill to Block EPA’s GHG Authority

On March 15, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed H.R. 910, a bill intended to strip the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases (GHG). Co-authored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the bill cleared its second legislative hurdle on a 34-19 vote, after the Energy and Power Subcommittee approved passage days earlier on a voice vote. Three Democrats, Rep. John Barrow (D-GA), Jim Matheson (D-UT), and Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR), joined a unanimous Republican voting bloc. Specifically, the bill would repeal the EPA’s 2009 “endangerment finding” that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are a threat to human health, and bar the agency from implementing rules to control them. A floor vote on H.R. 910 is expected later this Spring.

In related news, several Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee introduced amendments to the Inhofe/Upton bill intended to put Congress on record as either supporting or denying the science of climate change. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) introduced an amendment to H.R. 910 that Congress accept the EPA’s finding that global warming is unequivocal, which failed on a party-line vote 31-20. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) offered an amendment that stated Congress accepts the EPA’s finding that “the scientific evidence is compelling” that man-made emissions “are the root cause of recently observed climate change.” That measure also failed by the same margin. Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) also offered an amendment that Congress accept EPA’s finding that climate change threatens human health. It was defeated 31-21. The three Democrats who voted in favor of H.R. 910, Reps. Ross, Matheson, and Barrow, voted in favor of all three amendments.

For additional information on the Bill passage see: LA Times, NY Times, H.R. 910

For additional information on the Democratic amendments see: Politico, LA Times, Politico

New York, Others Prepare for Supreme Court to Hear GHG Public Nuisance Lawsuit

On March 14, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of six states and New York City in a public nuisance lawsuit against five utilities over their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Filed in 2004, the lawsuit considers whether states and other entities have the right to sue major utilities because their power stations are causing a public nuisance with their GHG emissions. The states named in the lawsuit are New York, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Rhode Island, Vermont, plus New York City. The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the states’ right to bring the suit, American Electric Power Co. Inc. v. Connecticut in 2009. However, the electric companies, American Electric Power, the Southern Company, Xcel Energy, the Cinergy Corporation and the Tennessee Valley Authority, appealed and the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments next month and decide on the case in July.

In related news, on March 11, New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow informed the U.S. Supreme Court that her state will withdraw from the public nuisance lawsuit. In a statement to the Associated Press, Dow’s spokesperson said, “Considering the Supreme Court's ruling and the Obama Administration's subsequent position that the EPA must determine an appropriate plan of action, it does not make sense to incur further taxpayer expense on an unnecessary lawsuit." Wisconsin withdrew from the lawsuit in February.

For additional information see: Business Green, Environmental Leader, NY Attorney General’s Brief,

Virginia Supreme Court to Hear State Attorney General’s Appeal in Climate Fraud Case

On March 4, the Supreme Court of Virginia agreed to hear the appeal of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on the case against the climatologist, Dr. Michael Mann, whom he accused of fraud. In April 2010, Mr. Cuccinelli demanded that the University of Virginia supply him vast numbers of academic documents regarding Dr. Mann’s work, including emails, computer programs and data, and others. Mr. Cuccinelli has accused Dr. Mann, now a professor at Penn State, with defrauding the state of hundreds of thousands of dollars by providing false information and records in his research grant applications. Last August a state judge ruled against Mr. Cuccinelli, because he had failed to provide any evidence. Mr. Cuccinelli appealed the decision, and now the Virginia Supreme Court will hear the case.

For additional information see: NY Times, Virginia Supreme Court

Carbon Credits Rise as Germany Prepares to Close Older Reactors for Safety Review

On March 15, carbon credits rose to 17 euros after German Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed that several older reactors in Germany will shut down temporarily for a three month moratorium. Merkel ordered seven reactors, all brought online before 1980, to close to conduct a sweeping safety review in the midst of the growing crises at several Japanese reactors following the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11. The carbon price spike was fueled by carbon traders who speculated that coal and natural gas will meet most of the unmet demand. According to industry analysts, energy and industrial firms currently hold a surplus of emissions allowances as a result of the economic recession, but a lengthier nuclear shutdown could eat into the surplus.

For additional information see: Reuters, Business Green

EU Sets Auction Amount for 2013 Emissions Allowances

On March 15, the European Commission Director General for Climate, Jos Debelke, announced plans to auction 120 million carbon allowances for the next phase of the European Union’s cap and trade program. "Stakeholders have expressed a strong preference to have the early auction volume fixed now as this gives market actors time to adapt to the chosen level," Jos Delbeke acknowledged. Set to begin in 2013, the European emissions trading scheme will enter its third phase and begin to ratchet down the number of emission allowances it distributes to 11,000 installations for free. Instead, companies subject to the program will have to purchase more allowances at auction to cover their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In addition to the 120 million allowances, the European Investment Bank intends to sell 300 million allowances by the end of 2012 as part of its NER300 demonstration program to raise funds for low carbon projects.

For additional information see: Business Green, European Commission

Automobile Emissions in UK Drop 3.5 Percent in 2010

On March 16, a report released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) found that the 2010 average carbon emissions for new cars in the United Kingdom fell 3.5 percent as compared to carbon emissions in 2009. The “New Car CO2 Report” also found that 40 percent of new cars average emissions below 130g/km, the 2015 targeted EU fuel efficiency standards for new vehicles. “New technology has delivered impressive reductions in CO2 emissions, but coordinated action, to support research and development, new infrastructure and consumer incentives, is critical to securing significant future advances.” said SMMT's chief executive Paul Everitt. The report stated that 56 percent of new cars have a CO2 emission level of 140g/km or less, compared to 10 years ago, when the average new car in the United Kingdom was well over the 140g/km CO2 emissions level.

For additional information see: Business Green, Report

Study Reveals Pre-Historic Global Warming More Common Than Previously Thought

On March 17, a study published in the journal Nature found that rapid climate change occurred on Earth much more frequently than previously thought, with limited biological impact at the time. A team led by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography analyzed sea floor sediments to see how climate change affected marine ecosystems during four short periods of intense warming in the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum--a transition period between two geologic epochs 65 to 33 million years ago, in which global temperatures rose 7.2-12.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Researchers attributed the rapid global warming events to different feedback mechanisms, such as a substantial release of carbon from the ocean. Scripps geologist and study co-author Richard Norris noted that the research discovered more periods of intense warming and, that despite significant global change, biological effects seemed modest. While Norris pointed out there were differences between then and now, indicating that the earth’s surface has been massively restructured, making it harder for species to relocate en masse, reaction to the findings in the scientific community included several remarks about comparisons to human-induced climate change. Current ecosystems, including human beings, were not around back then, noted Gavin Schmidt, of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “So, while interesting from an intellectual standpoint, this new information is not going to change how 'scientists' think about climate change."

For additional information see: Science Daily, San Diego Union-Tribune, Abstract

Researchers Show New More Accurate Carbon-Mapping Technique

On March 15, a study published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment reported a new method to more accurately assess carbon stored in Hawaii’s forests. A team from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Carnegie Institution for Science's Department of Global Ecology developed a 30-meter resolution map of the above ground carbon density of the island of Hawaii, spanning 40 vegetation types, by combining field measurements, airborne Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR)-based observations, and satellite-based imagery. The estimated total of 28.3 million tons of carbon was 56 percent lower than the estimate of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. However, the latter assessment was not intended to resolve carbon variation on so fine a scale. Researchers noted that the new approach represented a fourfold decrease in the regional costs of carbon management over using field samples only. "We are very excited about the prospects of applying this new approach to other regions of the world to facilitate faster and more accurate forest carbon assessments. It is a true leap forward in understanding the state and dynamics of the world's forests," said Dr. R. Flint Hughes, an ecologist and co-author of the study.

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

Plasticity of Plants Helps Them Adapt to Climate Change

On March 17, an international study published in Trends in Plant Science found that the phenotypic plasticity of plants enables them to adapt to climate change. Researchers reviewed plants’ molecular and genetic mechanisms which showed that plants have “the capacity to adapt to a changing environment without requiring any evolutionary changes,” according to Fernando Valladares, co-author of the paper. Scientists used various indicators to study the plasticity of the plants, including pigmentation, root length, and leaf mass. Valladares stated that "various studies suggest that species from more heterogeneous and changing environments have greater degrees of plasticity. For example, plants from these environments have great root plasticity in order to be able to take better advantage of fertile and damp areas and to avoid sterile, dry ones". He continues, "The differences in plasticity and its mechanisms allow us to better understand why various plant species grow where they do. This will enable us to project their most likely ranges in climate change scenarios.”

For additional information see: Science Daily, EurekAlert, Abstract

NASA Study Finds Relationship between Earth’s Core and Climate Change

On March 11, a study published in The Journal of Climate found new evidence of the relationship between movements in the Earth’s core, rotation, and atmospheric temperature change. According to researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the link between the three variables and the effect each has on the length of Earth’s day has been established for some time. In addition to finding a correlation between long-term variations in temperature to long-term variations in the length of day, researchers also found how much core variations affect the length of day over various time periods. Scientists used two sets of global surface temperature data from NASA’s Goddard Institute and the UK’s Met Office since the 1880’s and compared it to existing models of the fluid movements of the Earth’s core and recorded changes to the length of day. They then subtracted human-produced temperature changes to create a “corrected” temperature record and found that the Earth’s core effect on climate is substantially smaller than human effects. Data showed that since 1930, global temperature began to rise without corresponding changes to other variables. "It's just a wiggle on top of what ever else is going on," said JPL's Steve Marcus, a co-author of the study. "It's just an added variability on top of these larger trends we've observed in climate over the last century or so, when human global warming has certainly been kicking in."

For additional information see: Science Daily, Pasadena Star News, Abstract

Septic Tank Emissions Found to be Half of Previous Estimates

Researchers at the University of California, Davis have determined the greenhouse gas emissions of septic tanks to be approximately half as high as previously estimated. The waste sent to septic tanks is broken down by microorganisms that then produce methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide – all of which contribute to the warming of the atmosphere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that an average septic tank emits 0.23 metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent per tank per year, but this new research indicates that annual per-tank emissions are between 0.10 and 0.12 metric tons. Approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population uses septic tanks in their homes.

For additional information see: Chemical and Engineering News, Abstract

Northern Peatlands Contributed Less Methane at End of Ice Age than Thought

Northern peatlands did not play as large a role as previously thought in the warming of the atmosphere at the end of the last ice age, according to research conducted by PhD students at the University of Alberta and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Northern peatlands, the largest of which occur in subarctic regions of Canada and Russia, are a boggy mixture of dead organic material and water. Covering more than four million square kilometers, they sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow and emit methane – a greenhouse gas many times more powerful than carbon dioxide – as old peat is buried and decomposes. Scientists had previously believed that northern peatlands were a principal source of the increase in atmospheric methane 10,000 years ago, but a comparison of radiocarbon dates of ancient peatlands with ice-core records showed that peatlands did not colonize the north until 500-1000 years after the dramatic increase in methane. These results imply that tropical wetlands were instead the likely cause of the initial rises in methane levels at the end of the last ice age.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Press Release, Abstract

Other Headlines

April 6: Hydropower in America: Energy Generation and Job Potential

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invites you to a briefing on hydropower. The event will be held from 3:00-4:30 p.m., April 6, at the Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2322. It is free and open to the public. For more information contact us at communications[at] or 202-662-1884.

Writers: Matthew Johnson, Alison Alford, Laura Parsons

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