Table Of Contents
In Oval Office Address, Obama Calls for Clean Energy Legislation
On June 15, President Obama addressed the nation from the Oval Office to share what his administration is doing to deal with the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Calling it "the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced," he promised to do "whatever’s necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy." This included stronger regulations, safety standards and enforcement, along with a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling, the president said. But beyond stronger regulations, Obama noted that the country needs to shift away from fossil fuels, as their sources become more expensive and less accessible. "[T]here are some who believe that we can’t afford those costs right now," he said. "I say we can’t afford not to change how we produce and use energy -- because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security, and our environment are far greater."
To spur a transition to clean energy, the House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) last summer, which Obama called "a strong and comprehensive energy and climate bill –- a bill that finally makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy for America’s businesses." The Senate is now considering several pieces of climate and energy legislation, from which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will seek to develop a comprehensive legislative package to bring to the Senate floor in the coming weeks. "All of these approaches have merit, and deserve a fair hearing in the months ahead," Obama said. "But the one approach I will not accept is inaction."
For additional information see: Transcript of Oval Office Address
Senate Democrats Meet to Discuss Path Forward For Climate Legislation
On June 17, Senate Democrats met in a special caucus meeting to discuss the path forward for a package of climate and energy legislation expected to reach the floor in the coming months. The caucus heard from senators that have drafted energy legislation, pieces of which may be used in the upcoming legislative package. Senate Democrats heard from Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), whose American Power Act (APA) would establish a cap and trade program; Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee that reported out the American Clean Energy and Leadership Act (ACELA), creating a national renewable electricity standard but without a cap on carbon emissions; and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) who with Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), has introduced the Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal Act (CLEAR), a “cap and dividend” bill.
The group will meet again next week to continue the discussion, and key senators will meet June 23 with President Obama at the White House. Their goal is to bring a bill to the Senate floor within a few weeks, once senators return from their July 4 break, Senate leadership aides said. "We are not going to tell you today what we're going to have in this legislation because it's a work in progress," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters after the meeting. "The reason we are coming back for another caucus is we understand the importance of this issue. We have no one saying no, we have everyone saying yes. It is a question of how we will be moving forward."
EPA Releases Analysis of Kerry-Lieberman
On June 12, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its economic analysis of Sen. Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. Lieberman’s (I-CT) American Power Act. The analysis found that Americans would pay 22 to 40 cents a day, or $79 to $146 per year, if the Senate were to pass the Kerry-Lieberman climate and energy bill. Costs for the American consumer would actually go down through 2020 and then begin to increase in the years after. While Kerry and Lieberman have hailed these numbers as proof that now is the time to pass this bill, others have said the figures are not different enough from the figures of an analysis done last year for the climate bill which narrowly passed in the House. “The moderate results won’t do much to change the calculus in the Senate,” said Divya Reddy, an analyst at the Eurasia Group. “Many lawmakers from coal and manufacturing states still have reservations.” Some have said it will be up to President Obama to push the bill through, but others have said he should not capitalize on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
NOAA: May 2010 Was Warmest on Record
On June 15, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) released its monthly report for May, revealing that May 2010 was the warmest on record. “Since February 1985, every single month has been warmer than its 20th century average,” said Deke Arndt, chief of climate monitoring at the NCDC. Together, global land and ocean surface temperatures were also the warmest on record for May at 1.24°F above the 20th century average of 58.6°F, the report said. “Temperatures during May 2010 were warmer than average for much of the world’s land surface, with the warmest temperature anomalies occurring over eastern North America, eastern Brazil, Scandinavia, eastern Europe, equatorial and south Africa, eastern Russia and southern Asia,” it said, while also reporting that “Anomalously cool temperatures were present for western North America, northern Argentina, western Europe, and interior Asia.” These warmer temperatures have coincided with reduced ice and snow cover in the Arctic and the Northern Hemisphere – Arctic ice was 3.7 percent below the 1979-2000 average and it melted 50 percent faster than the average May melting rate, while Northern Hemisphere snow cover was 4.3 million square kilometers below the long-term average. The warming global land and ocean surface temperatures, and the reduced ice and snow cover in May, are congruent with the projected outcomes of climate change, said Arndt.
Climate Change on the G8/G20 Agenda after Pressure from World Leaders
On June 14, Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper confirmed that climate change will be on the agenda for the G8/G20 summits taking place June 25-27. Although climate change was originally designated as a “sideshow” by Harper, pressure from leaders in Mexico, the European Union and the United Nations, environmentalists and Nobel Peace Prize laureates resulted in the addition of climate change to the schedule. The Prime Minister’s position had been that climate change was an issue which ought to be tackled by the United Nations rather than at G8/G20 summits. “Obviously, a lot of subjects will be discussed, including some issues surrounding climate change,” he said. “At the same time, the G20 isn’t expected to replace the United Nations (global-warming) negotiating process.” He has since agreed to include climate change, but specifically as part of conversations about realizing a sustainable economy.
Reports Highlight Harmful, Lasting Impact on Oceans from Carbon Emissions
On June 18, the journal Science published a series of studies focusing on how oceans are being affected by carbon emissions. Not only are oceans warming and becoming increasingly acidic but dead zones are swelling, kelp forests and coral reefs are declining and the food chain is collapsing as fish and marine organisms become less abundant, smaller and more prone to disease, according to a study by Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, of the University of Queensland, and John Bruno, of the University of North Carolina. The same report said there is growing confirmation that “rapidly rising greenhouse gas concentrations are driving ocean systems towards conditions not seen for millions of years, with an associated risk of fundamental and irreversible ecological transformation.” In addition, other reports in the series focus on how human use of fossil fuels and fertilizers has changed the chemistry of the ocean, sea level rise, ocean acidification and their effects on marine life. Taken collectively, the studies emphasize the need for more research on these important issues and the need for comprehensive plans to address the challenges facing humans and the oceans.
Scientists Develop Technology to Track Carbon Dioxide
On June 9, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) revealed it had successfully tested a method of tracking the movements of carbon dioxide (CO2) after it was stored underground in New Mexico. Using perfluorocarbon tracers (PFTs), liquids which are nontoxic, colorless, chemically inert and clear, it is possible to measure the movement of CO2 after it has been stored underground and, importantly, to determine whether or not CO2 has leaked. Leakage and seepage of CO2 from the injection wells is a serious concern for scientists because, “There is going to be some requirement that we verify that the carbon dioxide is going where we expect it to and that it’s not going back into the atmosphere or geologic zones that weren’t intended. The tracers help with that,” said Brian Strazisar, a scientist at the NETL in Pittsburgh. Carbon capture and sequestration is expected to play a prominent role in reducing the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, scientists argued. “CO2 storage in the subsurface is just part of everything else that needs to be done, like increasing efficiency and developing better coal combustion technologies that produce less CO2. . . . It can be done and these tests and positive results like these tracers are just more evidence that it’s something that we should continue examining,” said Sean McCoy, manager of the Carbon Capture and Sequestration Regulatory Project at Carnegie Mellon University.
Report: Enhancing Energy Efficiency Provisions in Pending Legislation Would Create Jobs, Save Money
On June 15, 2010, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) released a report finding that energy legislation proposed in the Senate could benefit from stronger energy efficiency measures. The study looked at the American Power Act (APA), a climate and energy draft bill released by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and American Clean Energy Leadership Act (ACELA), a bill passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in June 2009. Implementing both bills in their current state would result in 2.3 percent energy savings with a net loss of 60,000 jobs in 2020, followed by a five percent energy savings with net gain of 166,000 jobs and annual savings of $256 per household by 2030. ACEEE noted that certain enhancements to the energy efficiency measures would result in greater economic benefits and increased energy savings. The analysis found that by 2030, enhancing the energy efficiency provisions in the two pieces of legislation would increase direct energy savings from energy efficiency provisions from 5 percent to 16 percent, drive up the number of new jobs created from just over 160,000 to about 360,000, and increase annual consumer energy bill savings from $256 to $448 per household.
“If we want more jobs and more money in our families’ pockets, then we should be using less energy – it’s a straightforward proposition," said Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who spoke at the press conference releasing the ACEEE report. “This report lays the very clear case that investing in energy efficiency makes our economy stronger and less vulnerable and gets Americans back to work.”
Watchdog Group Finds Firms Abusing Kyoto Carbon Trading Scheme
On June 12, CDM Watch, a Clean Development Mechanism watchdog announced that firms taking part in the Kyoto Protocol carbon-cutting projects are taking advantage by deliberately raising their emissions of hydrofluorocarbon-23 (HFC-23) in order to destroy them and receive more credits. This activity effectively defeats the purpose of CDM projects, which are intended to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions by distributing Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs) carbon credits for capturing and destroying HFC-23. Instead of being incentivized to cut down on emissions, plants were found to be increasing emissions in order to sell the credits they receive to buyers in carbon markets. As a result of these abuses, CDM Watch has called upon the United Nations to change the structure of CDM and prevent firms from “gaming” the system. “The revision would ensure that the CDM projects achieve actual mitigation because it would remove the current financial incentive that causes plants to produce gas for the sole purpose of getting paid to destroy it. It also determines emission reductions in a conservative manner,” said Eva Filzmoser, Director of CDM Watch.
Afghanistan’s Kabul Basin Faces Major Water Challenges
On June 16, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Afghanistan Geological Survey released a study indicating that Afghanistan’s Kabul Basin is facing major water challenges because of rising temperatures caused by climate change. The study found that warmer temperatures resulted in earlier snow melts, leading to less available water in the summer. With its population expected to increase with the return of refugees, demand for water in the Kabul Basin is expected to increase six fold, as groundwater supplies dry up by as much as 60 percent. Additionally, “With improved quality of living we expect water use per person to increase and so with more people using more water, we have about six times more water being used,” said Thomas Mack, the report’s lead author. Groundwater is available in a rarely-used deep aquifer and may be able to provide water in the future, but the quantity it could provide and the quality and safety of the water are uncertain. As a result, “Water resources in the Kabul Basin are a critical issue for both the people of Afghanistan and U.S. military personnel serving there,” said Marcia McNutt, USGS Director. “The work the USGS has done in providing insight about the water situation in the basin can help with future water-resource planning and management efforts and can be applied to other areas of Afghanistan.”
Warmer Arctic Will Bring Snowy, Cold Winters
On June 11, scientists at the International Polar Year Oslo Science Conference announced that North America, Europe and Asia are likely to experience a higher frequency of cold and snowy winters due to Arctic warming. Annual temperatures in the Arctic have increased two to three times faster than in the rest of world as a result of varying wind patterns, ocean heat storage, natural variability, loss of sea ice reflectivity and climate change. Arctic ice has decreased by 2.5 million square kilometers in the past 30 years. As a result of the warming, studies by Meijii Honda, a senior scientist at Japan’s Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, found that wind patterns were disrupted, forcing the jet stream further south and pushing the cold of the Arctic down to Eurasia and Japan. “In future, cold and snowy winters will be the rule rather than the exception,” said James Overland of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
High-yield Agriculture Slows Pace of Global Warming
On June 15, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that high-yield agriculture slows the pace of global warming, contrary to popular conception. “Every time forest or shrub land is cleared for farming, the carbon that was tied up in the biomass is released and rapidly makes its way into the atmosphere – usually by being burned, said Jennifer Burney, a researcher at Stanford University’s Program on Food Security and the Environment. “Yield intensification has lessened the pressure to clear land and reduced emissions by up to 13 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year.” Typically, critics of intensive farming have said that it increases emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) because it requires the use and fabrication of fertilizers and agrochemicals, which are heavily reliant on petroleum. Despite the increased use of fertilizers and agrochemicals, the study showed that up to 1.5 billion hectares of land were prevented from becoming farmland, reducing emissions significantly. Yet, Helmut Haberl of Klagenfurt University in Austria suggested that the study did not take into account the negative effects of intensification on soil degradation, loss of biodiversity, the toxic effects of pesticides on workers and animals.
Robotic Submarine to Study Climate Change in Lake Michigan
On June 15, Purdue University announced that its scientists are conducting a study to examine the effect of climate change on Lake Michigan. Using a three foot long robotic submarine, the study will observe how changes in wind patterns caused by climate change affect the growth and survival of young fish, specifically yellow perch and alewives, in the lake. The study will link the growth of larval fish with changes in water temperature near the shore which may be affected by changes in wind patterns. Climate change may cause shifts in wind patterns which can impact young fish negatively if the wind shifts cause “upwelling events,” which bring cold water and nutrients up to the shore of the lake, where the larval fish are located. “These larval fish are very vulnerable because they are not fully developed and cannot swim well, so they are really at the mercy of their environment,” said Tomas Hook, an assistant professor at Purdue University’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources. “Growth rates during the larval stage in part determine how well young fish survive to become adults.” Both species of fish are valued for the role they play in the lake’s ecosystem, so “we need to learn how physical properties change in the near shore and how that influences fish survival,” said Cary Troy, an assistant professor at Purdue’s School of Civil Engineering.
Study Predicts Increased Floods and Droughts Long after Temperatures Are Stabilized
A study appearing in an upcoming issue of the Geophysical Research Letters predicted that increased floods and droughts would continue to occur decades after global temperatures are stabilized. Using a computer model, Peili Wu and a team of UK scientists at the Met Office Hadley Center found that once carbon dioxide (CO2) levels reach a certain level, even an extreme decrease in CO2 emissions would not prevent an increase in floods, droughts and other extreme weather events. “Our results suggest that relationships between precipitation and warming may significantly underestimate precipitation changes during periods of [greenhouse gas] stabilization or reduction,” the authors of the study said. “The inertia due to the accumulated heat in the ocean implies a commitment to changes long after stabilization.” The study modeled increases in CO2 emissions to 1,000 parts per million (ppm) from our current level of 390 ppm and then decreased CO2 emissions to 280 ppm. While such a steep reduction would be impossible to accomplish, the data showed that even such a sharp decrease in CO2 emissions would reduce temperatures but would not have an immediate effect on flooding and droughts. As a result, “This effect must be taken into account when assessing the implications of various mitigation options for flooding, water supply, food production and human health,” the scientists said.
For additional information see: Guardian