Climate Change News May 9, 2011

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
May 9, 2011


Federal Legislative Action


Court Rejects Challenge to California Clean Car Regulation

On April 29, a federal appeals court rejected a legal challenge from the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that sought to revoke a California regulation meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by forcing automakers to make and sell less polluting cars in the state. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that NADA did not prove the regulation would cause their members future harm, and the Chamber of Commerce could not identify any members affected by the regulation. California's clean car program implements progressively stricter emissions standards on cars starting with 2009 models until model year 2015.

For additional information see: AP, Court Decision

Federal Government Publishes Carbon Footprint: 121.3 Million Metric Tons

According to the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the federal government’s 2010 “reducible” emissions totaled 66.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, or 2.5 million metric tons less than its 2008 baseline. On April 30, CEQ released the first report on aggregated federal government and individual agency emissions data. The total 2010 emissions for programs not subject to reduction targets, such as military operations and law enforcement, added 54.9 million metric tons, for a total of 121.3 million metric tons of CO2. The biggest contributor of emissions not subject to reduction targets was the Department of Defense, which emitted 52.2 million metric tons of CO2, or 95 percent of the non-reduction total. Also, its share of reduction-eligible emissions was 34.4 million metric tons of CO2, or 52 percent of the 2010 government total. The release of the data report is mandated by the President’s sustainability goals outlined under Executive Order 13514, which was first announced in October 2009 and updated to less stringent targets in January 2010. The order states that the federal government will reduce its direct emissions, such as those from fuels and building energy use, by 28 percent by 2020 and will reduce its indirect emissions by 13 percent by 2020. According to the CEQ, the planned reductions across agency operations could save $11 billion dollars in energy costs over the next decade and or eliminate the use of the equivalent of 235 million barrels of oil.

For additional information see: Environmental Leader, CEQ Press Release, Executive Order 13514

Environmental Groups Challenge First Greenhouse Gas Permit Under New EPA Rules

The Sierra Club and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network have challenged the air pollution permit covering two iron-making plants in southeastern Louisiana, petitioning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to halt the production of a $3.4 billion complex being developed by Nucor. The groups argue that when the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality approved a final permit for the direct reduced iron plant on January 27, 2011, it combined the project with a pig iron plant that was approved by state regulators last year. According to Joanne Spalding, an attorney at the Sierra Club, Nucor rushed the pig iron facility through the permitting process to avoid subjecting the higher-emitting plant to the new climate regulations put in place in January. Their petition also claims that the amount of greenhouse gas emissions the new plant would be allowed to release is much higher than it should be. The EPA has 60 days to respond to the petition.

For additional information see: NY Times, Court Petition

Young Climate Activists Sue U.S. Government Over Atmospheric Pollution

On May 4, lawyers representing children and young adults filed a series of lawsuits against the U.S. government, claiming that its agencies have neglected their duty to protect the Earth's atmosphere for future generations. Lawsuits are to be filed in every state and Washington, D.C., according to the plaintiffs, a coalition called Our Children's Trust. The goal of the lawsuits is to protect the atmosphere by declaring it a public trust, a concept previously used to clean up polluted rivers and coastlines. Judges will need to decide whether or not the Environmental Protection Agency’s existing regulations on greenhouse gas emissions are stringent enough. Although the cases will likely take years to be resolved, if successful they could significantly impact carbon intensive businesses by effectively forcing the government to impose more stringent emissions regulations.

For additional information see: Business Green, AP

Anti-Corruption Group Warns Climate Change Fund Threatened by Corruption

On April 30, the global anti-corruption organization Transparency International (TI) issued a report urging governments and businesses to step up efforts to prevent fraudulent practices that undermine confidence in fast-expanding low carbon industries. The report warned that corruption poses a growing threat to green construction projects, the integrity of the carbon market, and wider environmental messaging. TI identified a number of green investment areas at risk of exploitation, such as the United Nations' Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation scheme and the European Emissions Trading Scheme, and offered recommendations to help decision makers combat rising levels of fraud. According to the report, the 20 countries most affected by climate change and set to benefit from international climate change funds often face serious corruption risks. As stated in the report, “Despite significant additional revenue, social inequity and poverty may rise while long-term economic growth falters. In the worst instances, these conditions can contribute to public unrest or civil war."

For additional information see: Business Green, Deutsche Welle, Report

Climate Fund Meeting Called Successful Despite Little Progress

On April 28 and 29, the first meeting of the UN-backed 'Green Climate Fund' committee took place. The committee is tasked with developing plans for the new fund, capable of distributing up to $100 billion of climate-related investment a year to developing nations by 2020. During the meeting, three co-chairs to the committee were appointed: Mexican finance minister Ernesto Cordero Arroyo, South African minister in the presidency Trevor Manuel, and Norway's state secretary at the Ministry of Finance Kjetil Lund. According to UN climate change chief Christiana Figueres, the committee will play a key role in international climate change negotiations, as it will deliver a series of recommendations before the UN's annual climate change summit later this year in Durban, South Africa. “The launch of the Green Climate Fund is one of the significant decisions that nations reached in Cancun, which show that governments can take repeated steps forward, including this year in Durban,” she said.

For additional information see: Business Green

U.S. Wind Energy Production Not Affected by Climate Change

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that production of wind energy in the United States over the next 30-50 years will be largely unaffected by rising global temperatures. According to the study, the areas of greatest wind consistency were over the Great Plains, which are already being used to harness wind, and over the Great Lakes, which the United States and Canada are currently considering as potential locations for wind farms. The majority of the areas where there will be a decrease in wind are limited and off limits for wind farms, say researchers. To conduct the study, researchers predicted future wind density changes by examining three different regional climate models experiencing warming of about two degrees Celsius relative to the end of the last century. Observations taken by all three models concluded most areas would experience little to no change in wind density.

For additional information see: Science Daily, UPI, Study

Vatican Science Panel Addresses Threat of Glacial Melt

On May 5, a report commissioned by the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences addressed the widespread loss of snow and ice in mountain glaciers due to climate change. The report listed numerous examples of glacial decline around the world and the evidence linking that decline to human-caused changes in climate and air pollution. According to researchers, the threat to populations dependent on glaciers and snow packs requires immediate attention to mitigate the current and future effects of climate change. The report recommended three measures, including the immediate reduction of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions, reduction of concentrations of warming air pollutants such as soot, ozone, methane and hydroflurocarbons by up to 50 percent, and preparation to adapt to climate changes that society will not be able to mitigate.

For additional information see: Scripps, Study

Climate Change Threatens Koalas

University of Queensland researchers have found that climate change is likely to push koalas into populated areas where they'll be vulnerable to habitat loss, dog attacks and vehicle collisions. Researcher Christine Adams-Hosking was called to present her findings to Senate inquiry hearings in Brisbane on the status, health and sustainability of Australia's koala population. "Under a future hotter and drier climate, current koala distributions will likely shift to eastern and southern regions where koala populations are already under threat due to high human population densities,” she said. The Australian Senate plans to list koalas under The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act by October, protecting the species as a matter of national environmental significance. According to the research, dry inland habitats are likely to become uninhabitable by koalas, increasing the need to protect and restore coastal habitats, which are under threat from urbanization.

For additional information see: Sydney Morning Herald, Research

Study Predicts Increased Heat Waves and Human Mortality in Chicago

A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that global climate change is anticipated to bring more extreme weather phenomena, such as heat waves, that could impact human health in the coming decades. Scientists developed three climate change scenarios for 2081 to 2100, based on estimates from seven global climate change models as well as mortality and air pollution data for the city of Chicago from 1987 to 2005. The data were limited to the summers of each year. According to the study, heat waves could cause between 162 and 2,217 excess deaths per year in Chicago by the end of the 21st century. According to the researchers, the calculations of excess deaths could not be explained by projected increases in city population alone, and the exact change in mortality due to global warming is sensitive to the choice of climate model used in the analysis. "It's very difficult to make predictions, but given what we know now -- absent any form of adaptation or mitigation -- our study shows that climate change will exacerbate the health impact of heat waves across a range of plausible future scenarios," said Roger Peng, lead author of the study. Peng added, "We would expect the impact to be less severe with mitigation efforts including lowering CO2 emissions.”

For additional information see: Science Daily, Baltimore Sun, Study

New Study Finds High Levels of Mercury in Arctic Wildlife

According to a new study published by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, global mercury emissions could grow by 25 percent by 2020 if no action is taken to control them, posing a threat to polar bears, whales and seals and the Arctic communities who hunt those animals for food. The researchers, set up by the eight Arctic rim countries, warn that climate change could accelerate the problem by releasing mercury stored for thousands of years in permafrost, or by promoting chemical processes that transform the substance into a more toxic form. According to the study, polar bears, beluga whales, and seals are among the species that have shown heightened levels of mercury in parts of Arctic Canada and Greenland. The Inuit communities living in the Arctic are at risk due to their diet, which consists mainly of whale, seal, and occasionally polar bear, all animals which have accumulated high levels of mercury.

For additional information see: AP, Study

Climate Change to Cause Extinction of American Pika

A study to be published in Global Change Biology found a clear connection between warming and rising extinction rates of the American pika, a small, hamster-looking animal, for the first time. The research shows that the pika began rapidly fleeing lower elevations and dying off in the Great Basin of the Western United States a decade ago, when human-generated greenhouse gas emissions began to affect climate and sea levels. Local extinction rates of American pikas have increased nearly five-fold in the last decade, and the rate at which the species is moving up mountain slopes has increased 11-fold since the 20th century. Scientists recorded more extreme temperatures and less precipitation at sites where the pikas are going extinct than at those where they are thriving, allowing them to become more susceptible to disease, heat stress, or predation. To conduct the study, researchers compared their own population surveys from the periods 1994-1999 and 2003-2008 to historical distribution records of pikas in the Great Basin from 1898 to 1956.

For additional information see: Reuters, Science Daily, Study

Climate Change Slowing Production of Food Crops

A study published in Science found that the world's rising temperature is slowing production of major food crops, and will eventually disrupt the economies of many countries and impair the health of their people. Farmers will need to change the types of crops they grow, and many crops, particularly corn and wheat, will need to be grown in new regions, according to researchers. To conduct the study, researchers used computer modeling from widely available crop and climate data to examine the past 30 years of production for corn, wheat, rice and soybeans, four of the world's major food crops. The results found rice and soybeans to be unaffected by climate change. Corn production was four percent lower than normal and wheat was 5.5 percent lower than normal, which possibly caused the six percent rise in global prices for those two crops during the past 30 years. The report stated that millions of people will be forced to consume less food as crop prices get higher, leading to more malnutrition and illness for those least able to pay for the food. However, crops in Mexico, the United States, and Canada remain unaffected, due in large part to the fact that overall temperatures in these areas have not risen significantly in the past 30 years.

For additional information see: Washington Post, SF Chronicle, Candian Press, Abstract

Study Finds High Concentrations of Methane in Sea-Floor Mud

A study published in Geophysical Research Letters found high concentrations of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, in seafloor mud at three offshore locations. The findings support larger estimates of how much methane is stored under the world's oceans. Since the 1960s, researchers have known that some natural deposits of frozen ice lying on the ocean floor contain methane clathrate, or hydrate. The high pressure and cold temperature keep them from melting. However, in addition to the methane stored inside the ice, the author of the study, Peter Brewer, noted there must be a lot of methane in the water saturating the mud in which that ice is buried, or the hydrate would not be stable. "The hydrates in sediments have to be in equilibrium with the water around them, which must contain huge amounts of methane. One would guess it is about the same as the amount in the [hydrate] itself,” he said. Brewer and colleagues used a remotely operated vehicle with a metal probe and a Raman spectrometer to collect samples. The study stated that this technique can be used to check up on areas where it is suspected that a large volume of methane might be released. Researchers agreed that these releases are unlikely to affect climate change, as “the gas is more likely to get chewed up by bacteria or dissolved into the sea water rather than released to the air,” said Brewer.

For additional information see: Nature, Study

Other Headlines

Federal Legislative Action

H.R. 1705: On May 4, H.R. 1705 was introduced and referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, chaired by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), as well as to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, chaired by Rep. John Mica (R-FL).
Intent: To require analyses of the cumulative and incremental impacts of certain rules and actions of the Environmental Protection Agency, including rules or guidelines related to climate change under the Clean Air Act.
Previous Action: Referred to House Transportation and Infrastructure on May 4, 2011.
Sponsor: Rep. John Sullivan (R-OK)
Related Bill: None
For more information: THOMAS

S. 46: On May 5, S. 46 was ordered by the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, chaired by Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV), to be reported with an amendment in the nature of a substitute favorably.
Intent: To reauthorize the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000, and for other
purposes. Part of the Act would develop an action strategy and implementation plan that includes discussion of climate change impacts to coral reefs, among many other factors.
Previous Action: Considered in committee which has recommended it be considered by the Senate as a whole.
Sponsor: Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI)
Related Bill: H.R. 738 (Del. Bordallo, D-GU)
For more information: THOMAS

June 16: 14th Annual Congressional Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency EXPO + Policy Forum

On June 16, the Sustainable Energy Coalition - in cooperation with Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Caucus—will host the 14th annual Congressional Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency EXPO + Forum. This year’s EXPO will bring together over fifty businesses, sustainable energy industry trade associations, government agencies, and energy policy research organizations to showcase the status and near-term potential of the cross-section of renewable energy (biofuels/biomass, geothermal, solar, water, wind) and energy efficiency technologies. The morning program will feature Members of the U.S. Congress while afternoon speakers will discuss the role sustainable energy technologies can play in meeting America’s energy needs. The EXPO is free, open to the public, and no RSVPs are required. The events will be held on April 16, 9:30am-4:30pm in 345 Cannon House Office Building (Cannon Caucus Room). For more information contact Ken Bossong at kbossong614 [at]

Writers: Deep Ghosh and Matthew Johnson

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