Table Of Contents
Senate Drops Plans for Climate Bill; Will Move Forward with Limited Energy Legislation
On July 22, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that Democrats in the Senate would not pursue comprehensive climate legislation before the August recess, instead focusing on a more limited energy bill with provisions targeting the oil spill. Reid attributed the decision to not having the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster on the Senate floor. Following a private meeting with the 59 Senate Democrats, he said, "I had to make a decision . . . . We know we don't have the votes." Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), who with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) released draft legislation in May that would create an economywide cap and trade program, acknowledged the lack of Republican support as a primary factor. "We've always known from Day One that to pass comprehensive energy reform you've got to have 60 votes," he said. "As we stand here today we don't have one Republican vote."
Reid said next week the Senate will take up a new bill that will likely focus on holding oil company BP PLC responsible for the Gulf spill, as well as ways to improve energy efficiency, boost incentives for natural gas vehicles and increase spending on land and water conservation. Kerry noted the legislation is “admittedly narrow.” Speaking for the Obama administration, Carol Browner, the president’s adviser on energy and climate change, pledged to carry on efforts to address climate change. "We will continue to use all of the tools available to us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," she said, referring to the Environmental Protection Agency regulations that are scheduled to go into effect in January 2011. "The president believes in the science, he believes in the Supreme Court decision, and we will continue to move forward."
World's Energy Ministers Pledge Support for Clean Energy
On July 20, senior officials from the economies that make up more than 80 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) and contribute 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions concluded a two-day meeting in Washington, DC, pledging greater support for clean energy. Energy officials from host country United States and 23 other nations agreed to 11 energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives, which U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said would eliminate the need for more than 500 mid-sized power plants around the world over the next 20 years. Participating nations pledged hundreds of millions of dollars toward the projects, including $10 million from the United States in the first year. "These steps will promote economic growth, create jobs and cut greenhouse gas emissions," Chu said. "What we've seen here is that working together, we can accomplish more, faster, than working alone." This was the first Clean Energy Ministerial, and Chu said that the United Arab Emirates will host a follow-up clean energy meeting in early 2011, with Britain holding a third meeting at a later date to be determined.
U.S. Environmental Agency Questions Need for Cross-Border Oil Sands Pipeline
On July 16, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a letter saying the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) conducted by the U.S. State Department regarding the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada to Texas, is inadequate. The letter highlighted four areas in which the EIS needs revision: the purpose and need for the project; potential greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the project; air pollutant emissions at the receiving refineries; the pipeline’s safety and spill response; and potential impacts to minority communities. The letter suggested the pipeline be put on hold until the industry demonstrates it can lower its emissions from extraction and production to match other conventional sources of oil. The GHG emissions from oil sands crude are estimated to be 82 percent larger than most crude oils the United States refines. "We recommend that this discussion be expanded to include consideration of proposed and potential future changes to fuel economy standards and the potential for more widespread use of fuel-efficient technologies, advanced biofuels and electric vehicles as well as how they may affect demand for crude oil," the letter said.
Global Warming Raises Water Shortage Risk in One-third of U.S. Counties
On July 27, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a report revealing that global warming puts water supply at risk throughout the lower 48 states of the United States. “The analysis shows climate change will take a serious toll on water supplies throughout the country in the coming decades, with over one out of three U.S. counties facing greater risks of water shortages,” said Dan Lashof, director of the Climate Center at NRDC. Water supplies in the Great Plains and the southwest United States in particular are at extreme or high risk, the report said. Demand for water may exceed supply by 2050 in parts of Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. In Texas, California and some other southwestern counties demand has already exceeded supply – water withdrawal is higher than 100 percent of the existing supply. The report said that while counties in the northeast and northwest are at lower risk, water supply in all of the 48 states will be affected by climate change. “Water management and climate change adaptation plans will be essential to lessen the impacts, but they cannot be expected to counter the effects of a warming climate. The only way to truly manage the risks exposed by this report is for Congress to pass meaningful legislation that cuts global warming pollution and allows the U.S. to exercise global leadership on the issue,” Lashof said.
Government Contractors Soon to Be Required to Track Emissions
On July 12, the General Services Administration (GSA) released a plan requiring government contractors to track their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions beginning in 2011 or 2012. The report is a part of President Obama’s executive order directing federal agencies to report and cut their emissions and suggests federal contracting officials invite contractors to track their emissions. The contracting officials would then use the emissions data as an important factor in awarding contracts to companies. Gradually, gathering emissions data for products, in addition to the companies’ emissions, would be phased in. The report said President Obama’s initiative “will naturally lead agencies to look for opportunities to reduce the emissions from their supply chains. With agencies looking for reduction opportunities, suppliers will want to add low GHG emissions as part of their value statement” [when agencies are assigning contracts]. Although some critics are saying that GSA’s plan would be a barrier to competition, Stephen Engler, head of Deloitte’s U.S. carbon management services practice, said, “You’ve got companies on the bubble deciding, ‘Should we look at this or should we not?’ This could be enough of a nudge.”
Top Climate Scientist, Stephen Schneider, Dies at 65
On July 19, Stephen Schneider, a renowned climatologist from Stanford University, died while on a flight from Stockholm to London. Schneider was the founder and editor of the magazine Climatic Change and a member of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former vice president Al Gore for international research on global warming. He advised every administration of every president from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama. "Steve Schneider helped the world understand that the burning of fossils had altered the chemistry of Earth's atmosphere, and that this change . . . had led to a discernible human influence on our planet's climate," said Benjamin D. Santer, a climate scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. In a statement, Gore called Schneider a "prolific researcher and author . . . and a wonderful communicator" whose contributions to the advancement of climate science will be "sorely missed."
GAO: 'Clean' Coal Technology at Least 10-15 Years Away
On July 16, the Government Accountability Office issued a report on “clean” coal technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and efficiency technologies, which show the most potential for reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from coal power plants. “Commercial deployment of CCS within 10 to 15 years is possible according to DOE and other stakeholders, but is contingent on overcoming a variety of economic, technical and legal challenges,” the report said. “Many technologies to improve plant efficiency have been used and are available for commercial use now, but still face challenges.” The advance of either of these technologies is hampered by the relatively low price of coal. In countries facing higher prices for coal, it is more economic to invest in efficiency technologies and the advanced materials required to build more efficient power plants, the report said. “Moreover, without a national carbon policy to reduce CO2 emissions nearly all stakeholders said CCS would not be widely deployed. Without a tax or a sufficiently restrictive limit on CO2 emissions, plant operators lack an economic incentive to use CCS technologies,” said GAO. In addition to these barriers, DOE has not been systematically assessing the development of these “clean” coal technologies, the report found, which prevents Congress and stakeholders from knowing how mature these technologies are and how much annual spending will be necessary for these technologies to move forward. GAO recommended that “DOE develop a standard set of benchmarks to gauge and report to Congress on the maturity of key technologies.” In its review of GAO’s report, DOE agreed with GAO’s recommendation.
Forest Service Shifts Strategy to Address Changing Climate
On July 20, the U.S. Forest Service released its National Roadmap for Responding to Climate Change and a new performance accountability system. “A changing global climate brings increased uncertainties to the conservation of our natural resources,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The new roadmap and scorecard system will help the Forest Service play a leadership role in responding to a changing climate and ensure that our national forests and grasslands continue to provide a wide range of benefits to all Americans.” The roadmap is comprised of short and long-term actions. Specifically, it calls for three types of actions: “assessing current risks, vulnerabilities, policies, and gaps in knowledge; engaging internal and external partners in seeking solutions; and managing for resilience, in ecosystems as well as in human communities, through adaptation, mitigation, and sustainable consumption strategies.” The scorecard lists 10 goals for all national forests and grasslands to meet, including carbon assessments, adaptation efforts, monitoring and more. “Land and resource management are inherently fraught with risk and uncertainty. Climate change exacerbates both. In response, the Forest Service must be nimble, willing to learn from mistakes, and must incorporate lessons learned into future agency direction,” the report said.
National Academies: Reliable Information and Better Communication for U.S. Climate Response
On July 22, the National Academies released their fourth report in a series of studies known as America’s Climate Choices, recommending improved communication about climate science and responses. The report proposed that the federal government establish information and reporting systems, such as climate services and a greenhouse gas accounting system, to provide a range of information on climate change and its impacts. Such systems would coordinate data among several agencies and incorporate regional expertise, the report noted, and information should be timely, authoritative, and based on rigorous natural and social science research. "Global climate change is a long-term challenge that will require all of us to make many decisions about how to respond," said Diana Liverman, co-chair of the panel that wrote the report, co-director of the Institute of Environment at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and a senior research fellow at Oxford University. "To make choices that are based on the best available science, government agencies, the private sector, and individuals need clear, accessible information about what is happening to the climate and to emissions. America's Climate Choices is a suite of reports requested by Congress, with an overarching report to be released later this year that builds on four previously released reports and other materials to offer a scientific framework for shaping the policy choices underlying the nation's efforts to confront climate change.
For additional information see: National Academies Press Release
Study Shows 'Cool' Roofs Could Offset Some Warming
On July 19, a study published in Environmental Research Letters found that light-colored or “cool” roofs and roads could offset up to two years of warming caused by carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. “These offsets help delay warming that would otherwise take place if actual CO2 emissions are not reduced,” said Surabi Menon, lead author of the study. White roofs absorb less heat than black or dark roofs do and, since roofs and pavements cover 50 to 65 percent of cities, lighter colored roofs and pavement would offset the emissions caused by about 300 million cars for 20 years, researchers said. On the same day, U.S. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu announced new efforts at the Department of Energy to install cool roofs in all federal government buildings. “Cool roofs are one of the quickest and lowest cost ways we can reduce our global carbon emissions and begin the hard work of slowing climate change,” said Secretary Chu. “By demonstrating the benefits of cool roofs on our facilities, the federal government can lead the nation toward more sustainable building practices, while reducing the federal carbon footprint and saving money for taxpayers.”
UN Lists Options if No Climate Deal in Cancun
On July 20, the United Nations released a paper exploring the consequences and options available if there should be no binding commitment produced by the climate talks taking place in Cancun later this year. The paper suggested the possibility of amending Kyoto Protocol rules such that for decisions to pass, four-fifths of countries would be required to vote in favor of a decision, rather than requiring agreement by consensus. It is hoped that this change would prevent the stalemate which occurred in Copenhagen in December 2009 from occurring again. "This is a positive way of forcing laggard countries who hold out and play their veto hand the whole time, to engage in constructive talks," Farhana Yamin, a research fellow at the University of Sussex. "Under this new system, they will realise that unless they are constructive, they will lose their voice altogether." Other possibilities include extending the first commitment period or changing the Kyoto Protocol so that following the adoption of an amendment, an amendment is tacitly accepted and would enter into force unless a particular country specifically opted-out of the agreement. The paper will be discussed at the talks which will be held in Bonn in August.
China to Launch Domestic Carbon Trading in Five Years
On July 22, it was revealed that China intends to launch a domestic carbon trading program over the next five years. At a closed-door meeting the day before, Chinese officials met to discuss ways to improve energy efficiency and reach its target of cutting energy intensity 40 to 45 percent by 2020. “The consensus was that a domestic carbon-trading scheme is essential was reached, but a debate is still ongoing among experts and industries regarding what approach should be adopted,” said an anonymous participant of the meeting. The scheme will not be a part of international efforts to combat climate change, but a supplement to the administrative measures which had been China’s primary means of meeting its 20 percent energy intensity reduction target from 2006 to 2010. “The market-based carbon-trading schemes will be a cost-effective supplement to administrative means,” said Yu Jie, an independent policy observer. In order for China to reach its target of reducing energy intensity, experts say China’s five-year plan will have to incorporate greater use of energy sources such as wind, nuclear, gas and hydropower, which have a smaller carbon footprint, and the plan will have to decrease the use of coal.
Six Developing Nations Pledge to Slash Carbon Emissions
On July 19, six nations seen as most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change concluded a weekend meeting in the Maldives ahead of the next United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) summit in December. "Antigua and Barbuda, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, the Maldives, the Marshall Islands and Samoa all pledged to slash greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and pursue green growth and development," the Maldivian government said in a statement. The Maldives pledged to go carbon neutral by 2020, along with Costa Rica by 2021 and Ethiopia by 2025. Other participating nations promised to cut GHG emissions, with the Marshall Islands pledging a 40 percent reduction in emissions by 2020, and Antigua and Barbuda pledging a 25 percent drop by 2020. "When those with the least start doing the most, it shows that everyone’s ambitions can be raised," said Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed.
Climate Change Threatens Poverty Fight, Report Warns
On July 20, Forum for the Future released a report indicating that climate change further threatens the fight against poverty. Poor countries will be the most affected by climate change, the report noted, so governments and aid donors need to include measures to combat climate change in their efforts to reduce poverty and stimulate low-carbon economic growth in these countries. “Climate change and development should be seen as complementary, not competing issues,” said Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future. “By putting climate change at the forefront of development thinking we will not only help the world’s poorest to avoid serious risks, but we can also help them seize new opportunities to create better lives for themselves.” Attempting to project what may happen should the efforts of the developed world fall short of what is necessary, the report created four different scenarios in which the outcomes of actions taken by developed and developing countries to combat climate change and poverty were examined. “Without urgent action, climate change threatens to undo years of work tackling poverty in the developing world. . . . This report will act as an important tool to help poor countries plan for an uncertain future, and underlines our need to build climate change into everything we do,” said Stephen O’Brien, UK International Development Minister.
Red Sea Coral Reefs Suffer Worse Mass Bleaching in Years from Warmer Oceans
On July 16, a study published in Science revealed that warmer oceans are causing slower growth and bleaching in a species of coral, Diploastrea heliopora, in the Central Red Sea. Over the past 10 years, growth of this species has reduced by 30 percent and may stop growing completely by 2070. "The warming in the Red Sea and the resultant decline in the health of this coral is a clear regional impact of global warming," said Neal E. Cantin, co-lead researcher on the project. In the 1980s, "the average summer [water] temperatures were below 30°C. In 2008 they were approaching 31°C." The coral reefs were not visibly stressed, but CT scans of the skeletons revealed that the skeletons of the corals are not growing, or calcifying, as quickly because they are losing symbiotic algae, which exist in the coral tissue and help the coral grow new skeleton. “When the corals are thermally stressed, they lose algae and many will eventually starve and die. When corals lose enough algae, they actually turn white, and that’s what bleaching is. We think these corals are on their way to bleaching,” said Anne Cohen, co-author of the study. Previous episodes of coral bleaching have occurred but have been attributed to one-year long El Nino events. The current trend of deterioration cannot, the study said, be attributed to El Nino. “[T]here is no way El Nino could account for a ‘trend’ that persists for decades. These are simply superimposed upon the human/CO2-induced warming trend. . . . So, in the past few decades, the Red Sea temperature has been going up just like the global mean temperature, and the corals are suffering according,” said fellow researcher Kristopher Karnauskas.
July 27: Making Housing More Affordable through Energy Efficiency--Role of Financing and Building Codes
The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invites you to a briefing on how energy efficiency legislation can make new homes more affordable. Building energy codes can ensure all new homes save money on utility bills. These savings can be valued as part of the mortgage qualification process and make housing more affordable for Americans of all income levels. This briefing will address the financial value of energy efficient homes, the importance of strong building energy codes in improving efficiency across the country, and the effect on homebuilders’ and homeowners’ bottom lines. The briefing will take place on Tuesday, July 27, from 2:00 - 3:30 p.m. in 2325 Rayburn House Office Building. This briefing is free and open to the public. No RSVP required. For more information, please contact us at communications [at] eesi.org or (202) 662-1884.
July 29: Energy Innovation in Our Nation's Defense
The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invites you to a briefing about why and how the military is addressing security concerns through clean energy innovations. The CNA Military Advisory Board’s new report, Powering America’s Economy: Energy Innovation at the Crossroad of National Security Challenges, explores the growing challenges presented by the close connection between the U.S. energy portfolio and its economic and national security. This briefing will present key findings from CNA’s report and offer recommendations for turning the nation’s growing energy problems into opportunities to bolster national and economic security through energy innovation. The briefing will take place on Thursday, July 29, from 2:30 - 4:00 p.m. in 328A Russell Senate Office Building. This briefing is free and open to the public. No RSVP required. For more information, contact EESI at climate [at] eesi.org or (202) 662-1892.