Climate Change News March 8, 2010

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
March 8, 2010



Sen. Rockefeller Introduces Legislation to Delay EPA Action for Two Years

On March 3, Congressional lawmakers moved to place a two-year hold on potential federal regulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases. Legislation was introduced by Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) which would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from issuing any new rules on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from power plants and other major stationary sources for two years. A similar bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), Nick Rahall II (D-WV) and Rick Boucher (D-V). Last week EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson wrote Sen. Rockefeller and seven other Democratic senators outlining her agency’s timetable for GHG regulation. Limits on CO2 pollution from vehicles would be issued this year while limits for large coal-burning power plants and industrial facilities would be phased in beginning in 2011, with no restrictions on smaller sources until 2016.

“This is a positive change and good progress,” Rockefeller said, referring to EPA’s timetable, “but I am concerned it may not be enough time. We must set this delay in stone and give Congress enough time to consider a comprehensive energy bill to develop the clean coal technologies we need.” He added that decisions with such a broad impact on the nation’s economy and energy future should be made by elected representatives, not bureaucrats. The EPA said it was studying the Rockefeller proposal and that it was important to note its difference from the measure introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and several others that would ban any regulation of CO2, including emissions from vehicles. “It is important to note that Senator Rockefeller’s bill, unlike Senator Murkowski’s resolution, does not attempt to overturn or deny the scientific fact that unchecked greenhouse gas pollution threatens the well-being of the American people,” said Adora Andy, an EPA spokeswoman, “nor would it threaten the historic clean cars program announced by the Obama administration last year.”

For additional information see: Washington Post, New York Times, Politico, Reuters, Office of Sen. Rockefeller Press Release

Thirteen Senators Call for Preserving Clean Air Act Protections in Climate Bill

On March 2, 13 Democratic Senators signed a letter written to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) urging him not to weaken Environmental Protection Agency regulation of greenhouse gases from the utility sector in any proposed climate bill. Led by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the letter insists that any climate bill must ensure that electricity generation from sources like coal be held to progressively higher performance standards for CO2 emissions. The other signatories were Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN). The senators worried that the old fleet of coal generators — three quarters of which were constructed before 1980 — will not take steps to reduce emissions under a cap and trade regime, especially if carbon allowances are given away for free in the beginning of the program and auctioned off later.

“As strong supporters of clean energy, we urge you to ensure that energy and climate legislation builds on the existing Clean Air Act and does not create loopholes for old, inefficient, and polluting coal-fired power plants. The bill should require coal-fired power plants—old and new alike—to meet up-to-date performance standards for carbon dioxide that will complement an overall cap on emissions and move America to clean energy,” wrote the group of Senators.

For additional information see: Office of Sen. Menendez Press Release

House Republicans Introduce Resolution to Block EPA Action on Greenhouse Gases

On March 2, House Republicans led by Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) introduced a resolution of disapproval that would strip the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of its endangerment finding for greenhouse gases (GHGs) under the Clean Air Act. In December 2009, the EPA concluded that GHGs pose a danger to public health and welfare, legally requiring regulation of the pollutant from mobile and stationary sources. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who cosponsored the bill, said, “Quite frankly [my constituents] are very concerned about what they see as an overaggressive and overly intrusive EPA. The EPA has not only moved away from its mission of being the Environmental Protection Agency, now they are the Economic Punishment Agency.” The move to undo the EPA’s endangerment finding is being raised in the Senate by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). “The endangerment finding the EPA put out last year is fatally flawed, not independently reviewed in the EPA and not born out by science,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), who also cosponsored the bill.

For additional information see: Politico, Office of Rep. Barton Press Release

EPA Raises Initial Threshold for Greenhouse Gas Regulation

On March 3, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson announced that power plants, refineries, and other major sources of greenhouse gases would be subject to permitting requirements beginning in 2011. Facilities already requiring other EPA permits would be brought under regulation in the first half of 2011, followed by the remaining facilities in the second half of the year. Although the EPA had originally put forward a regulatory threshold of 25,000 tons carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, Jackson said the agency was looking to start at a threshold of 75,000 tons CO2 per year. She noted that such a threshold would cover nearly 70 percent of CO2 emissions from stationary sources in the United States. Jackson further commented that the smallest sources would not get any consideration until sometime in 2016. Both Jackson and President Obama have repeatedly stated that new comprehensive climate legislation would be preferable to regulation under the Clean Air Act, but until such legislation is passed the EPA will proceed with its plans.

For additional information see: Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Dallas News

Brazil and U.S. Sign Memorandum of Understanding on Climate Change

On March 3, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim signed a “Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation Regarding Climate Change” aimed at strengthening cooperation between the two nations on issues of climate and energy. The agreement opens the dialogue between the two nations on issues of implementing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, joint efforts on research, development and dissemination of clean energy technologies, and cooperation on scientific research. It will also promote cooperation on reducing deforestation, capacity building, and technology.

For additional information see: U.S. State Department Press Release

China Says It Is Moving to Enforce Greenhouse Gas Goals

On February 28, the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress said it will spell out greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions goals and monitoring rules for regions and sectors in its next five-year plan. In November 2009 the Chinese government said it would reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted to make each unit of national income 40 to 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. That goal would let China's GHG emissions keep rising, but more slowly than its economic growth. The more recent comments provided some clarity as to how the reductions will be achieved. Officials said they will carry out an "inventory" of GHG emissions in 2005 and 2008, using that as a yardstick for setting emissions reductions goals across areas and sectors. The government would also launch a series of technological and fiscal support policies to promote the use of non-fossil, renewable energies including wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and nuclear power, aiming to increase its proportion of primary energy consumption to about 15 percent by 2020, up from 9.9 percent at the end of 2009.

For additional information see: Xinhua News, Reuters

South Dakota Legislature Calls for "Balanced" Teaching of Global Warming in Schools

On March 1, the South Dakota Legislature passed a resolution calling for the “balanced teaching of global warming in public schools” by a voted of 37 to 33. The resolution asserted that global warming and climate change are theories rather than proven fact, and that carbon dioxide is a highly beneficial ingredient for plant life rather than a pollutant. It also stated that there are many other influences on climate other than greenhouse gases, and that the cumulative effects of these influences are largely speculative. The resolution is similar to those in other states such as Kentucky that are calling for the teaching of minority viewpoints on climate change and global warming alongside those accepted by the vast majority of climate scientists.

For additional information see: South Dakota Legislature Resolution, New York Times

Independent Panel Will Review Work of IPCC

On February 26, the UN announced that an independent board of scientists will be appointed to review the workings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has faced recent criticism over inaccuracies in its 2007 report. The board’s work will be part of a broader review of the IPCC, said Nick Nuttall, a spokesman for the UN Environment Program. Nuttall said the review body would be made up of “senior scientific figures” who could perhaps produce a report by late summer for consideration at a meeting of the climate panel in October in South Korea. Plans for assembling the panel are set to be announced next week. "The IPCC clearly has suffered a loss in public confidence," said Stanford University climate scientist Chris Field, a chairman of one of the IPCC's four main research groups. "And one of the things that I think the world deserves is a clear understanding of what aspects the IPCC does well and what aspects of the IPCC can be improved."

For additional information see: AP, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Hindu

UK Met Office's Review Says Global Warming is Man-made

On March 5, the UK Met Office published new evidence in the Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews Climate Change Journal, which said that evidence that global warming is man-made is stronger now than when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) carried out its assessment in 2007. The study, which looked at over 100 studies published since the IPCC's report, found that changes in Arctic sea ice, atmospheric moisture, salinity in parts of the Atlantic Ocean and temperature changes in the Antarctic were consistent with human influence on climate. "What this study shows is that the evidence has strengthened for human influence on climate and we know that because we've looked at evidence across the climate system and what this shows very clearly is a consistent picture of a warming world," said Dr. Peter Stott who led the review at the UK Met Office. The Met Office study came at a time when some have questioned the basis of climate science following recent controversies over the handling of research findings by the IPCC and the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

For additional information see: Guardian, BBC, Financial Times, Telegraph

Undersea Release of Methane in Arctic Ocean Is Under Way

On March 4, scientists from Russia, the United States and Sweden said that the Arctic Ocean seabed off eastern Siberia has destabilized and is leaking methane, threatening to add to global warming. The study, published in the journal Science, found that about 8 million metric tons (8 teragrams) of the greenhouse gas is leaking yearly from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Methane leaks are important to scientists studying climate change because the gas is over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) as a global warming gas. While the researchers said the leakage does not “alarmingly” alter estimates for global emissions, it may be a precursor to larger venting of the gas. “Subsea permafrost is losing its ability to be an impermeable cap,” said Natalia Shakhova, a scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who led the research. “If it further destabilizes, the methane emissions may not be in teragrams, it may be significantly larger.”

For additional information see: The Age, New York Times, Bloomberg, AFP

Wal-Mart Pledges to Reduce Carbon Emissions by 2015

On February 25, Wal-Mart announced that it would cut some 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from its supply chain by the end of 2015. The company said that the reductions represent approximately 1.5 times the expected carbon growth of the company during the same time period and are equivalent to taking 3.8 million cars off the road for a year. Wal-Mart plans to achieve emissions reductions by focusing on popular product categories with the highest embedded carbon — milk, bread, meat, clothing — and pressing its suppliers to rethink how they source, manufacture, package and transport those goods. Michael T. Duke, Wal-Mart’s president and chief executive, said in a webcast, “We know we need to get ready for a world in which energy will only be more expensive.”

For additional information see: Reuters, Forbes, Washington Post, New York Times, Walmart Press Release

Climate Change May Extend Allergy Season

On March 1, Dr. Renato Ariano, the director of allergy services at Bordighera Hospital in Italy, presented a study to a meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology in New Orleans which concluded that the duration of pollen seasons as well as the amount of pollen in the air during those times progressively increased between 1981 and 2007. The scientists were able to connect the longer and more intense allergy seasons with the gradual regional temperature increases. For the parietaria plant, the pollen season began 80 days sooner at the end of the study period than at the beginning. For olive trees, the season began 30 days sooner. The results also found that the number of people sensitized to seasonal allergies steadily increased throughout the study period. Non-seasonal allergy sensitivities such as those caused by dust mites remained the same during the study.

For additional information see: Reuters, HealthDay News

Whaling Results in High Levels of GHG Emissions

On February 26, U.S. scientists from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute announced the findings from their study, which estimated that the last 100 years of whaling released 100 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere, or the equivalent of burning 13,000 square miles of temperate forest. When whales die naturally, they sequester large amounts of carbon in the deep ocean for hundreds of years. A full grown blue whale stores around 9 tons of carbon, which are not sequestered when whales are consumed following hunting. The study’s author Dr. Andrew Pershing of the University of Maine pointed out that this research might help apply the idea of carbon credits and carbon offsets to reduce whaling. Nations or fisheries could claim allowances based on whaling avoided. Despite the importance whales play in the carbon cycle, the authors made sure to point out that the billions of tones of carbon dioxide released annually by society far outweighs the impact from whaling.

For additional information see: UPI, BBC

India Imposes Clean Energy Tax on Coal

On February 26, the Indian government announced plans to levy a tax on coal and use the money to start a national fund to back renewable energy projects. “Harnessing renewable energy sources to reduce dependence on fossil fuels is now recognized as a credible strategy for combating global warming and climate change,” Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in his annual budget speech to Parliament. A clean energy tax of 50 rupees ($1) a metric ton will be imposed on domestic and imported coal, Mukherjee said, without specifying a target for the fund. The new levy could help raise about 25 billion rupees ($543 million), according to Emergent Ventures, a climate change consulting company. Mukherjee also proposed tax incentives to help boost investment in solar, wind and geothermal power generation.

For additional information see: UPI, Bloomberg, Economic Times

Other Headlines

March 9: Electric Transmission 201: Cost Allocation

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 a major challenge facing the modernization of our nation’s high voltage grid: cost allocation. This briefing will explore the basic concepts of cost allocation, why the issue is critical to the future of the grid, and what needs to be resolved by the Congress, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and other stakeholders to reduce the regulatory uncertainty about who will pay for the coming build-out. The briefing will take place on Tuesday, March 9, from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m. in 325 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.

March 18: The Renewable Fuel Standard and Cellulosic Biofuels: Prospects and Challenges

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invites you to a briefing on the state of the cellulosic biofuel industry and its prospects for producing the volumes required by the federal Renewable Fuel Standard in coming years. The briefing will take place on Thursday, March 18, 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 Ned Stowe at bioenergy [at] or (202) 662-1885.

Writers: Daniel Schneider, Jesse McCormick and Amy Sauer

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