Thursday, May 4, 2006

Sometimes Governments Listen: Threat to Lake Baikal Averted

Last week, while I was still away, President  Vladimir Putin ordered the rerouting of a Siberian oil pipeline to avoid the northern shore of Lake Baikal, a world heritage site.  See  UNESCO site on Lake Baikal

                                        Graphic: Route of Proposed Pipeline
Putin reversed a controversial government decision in March to allow Russia's pipeline company Transneft to build the line within a half mile of Lake Baikal. The 2600 mile pipeline will provide oil to markets in Asia at a cost of $11.5 billion, which reportedly will be closer to $ 12.5 billion after the rerouting.

Russian environmental groups had protested the initial routing decision.  Pacific Environment  The NY Times  wrote about the impact of public protests on the routing decision: NYTimes link

Rare public protests followed the approval in March of the initial route, with rallies from Moscow to Irkutsk, the Siberian region bordering the lake.  "It was not a huge wave," Aleksandr Shuvalov, deputy executive director of Greenpeace Russia, said of the protests, "but it was a wave."  The pipeline's route, so close to Lake Baikal, raised concerns that an oil spill in the seismically active region could contaminate Lake Baikal, which holds more than 20 percent of the world's fresh water and an abundance of unique wildlife species. Not only environmental groups, but also Russian scientists opposed Transneft's planned route.  A commission of specialists from the Russian Academy of Sciences initially opposed the route on environmental grounds. Its recommendation was rejected and a new review ordered with new specialists. 

Mr. Putin's decision on Wednesday was an unexpected reversal and appeared choreographed for state television networks. Meeting with federal and regional officials in Tomsk, a Siberian city, he publicly chided Transneft's director, Semyon M. Vainshtok, after asking if there was an alternative to the contested route. "Since you hesitate, it means that there is such a possibility," Mr. Putin told a visibly uncomfortable Mr. Vainshtok. "If there had not been such a possibility, you would have said 'no' without any doubt."

Mr. Putin then ordered that the route hew more closely to one previously recommended by the Academy of Sciences but rejected by a regulatory agency. He said a new route should be charted at least 40 kilometers, or nearly 25 miles, from Lake Baikal. That would put it outside of Baikal's watershed, environmental groups said. 

Mr. Shuvalov called it "a victory of common sense."  The reversal underscored Mr. Putin's highly centralized power and his penchant for dramatic gestures. Wielding a pen in front of an oversize map of the Baikal region, he swept aside decisions by several government agencies, as well as those by Transneft, which had warned that finding another route would be prohibitively expensive.

Mr. Vainshtok and other officials from Transneft could not be reached for comment. They had said that the planned route would be safe and that moving it could add nearly $1 billion to the cost of the pipeline. When Mr. Vainshtok, in the televised exchange, suggested that the pipeline would have to move "much farther north," Mr. Putin responded curtly.  "If there is at least a tiny chance of polluting Baikal," he said, "we, thinking of future generations, must do everything not only to minimize this threat, but to exclude it." 

May 4, 2006 in Asia, Biodiversity, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Governance/Management, International, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

A British Perspective on Fuel Prices

I love reading the Economist.  Here's its take on the American reaction to high fuel prices.  I have one quibble with the Economist's perspective: it is not inconsistent to object to the profits of price-gouging oligopolists and to advocate higher taxes on fuels.  In the first case, the money goes to the rich getting richer -- in the second case, the money goes to the public and could be used to deal with critical energy-related problems: creating more efficient, sustainable and available public transportation, encouraging more sustainable energy production and use, etc:

Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute points out, there is no debate as to whether these penumbras and emanations include the right to cheap petrol. Americans are convinced that the rising price of petrol—the average price of a gallon has reached $2.90 and some places are charging more than $3—is nothing less than a violation of the rights they won from George III; and they have no doubt that the people doing the violating are the oil companies. Aren't the oil companies making record profits? And didn't the chairman of Exxon, Lee Raymond, just get parting “compensation” worth about $400m? “Does everybody love Raymond?”, asks Mr O'Reilly. “I don't. I think he's a greed-head.”

You can quibble for as long as you want about the economics of all this. You can point out that the price of petrol is fixed by global forces—from rising demand in India and China to political instability in Nigeria and, particularly, Iran—rather than devilish CEOs. You can point out that, so far, rising petrol prices have had remarkably little impact on the economy. The oil shocks of the 1970s sent inflation soaring and tipped the world economy into recession. Today the American economy is motoring along on a full tank, with low inflation, low unemployment and rising consumer confidence. You can point out that Americans don't know how lucky they are—a gallon of petrol costs $6.4 in Britain. You can even argue that it is their fault for driving gas-guzzling SUVs and living in McMansions miles from anywhere.

But you might as well hold your breath for all the difference it makes. No less than 69% of Americans think that the rise in petrol prices has already caused them either severe (23%) or moderate (46%) hardship. Nearly two-thirds think that the president has a lot of influence over the price of petrol. The result is that a presidency that has already been battered by Hurricane Katrina and bruised by the Iraq war is being bombarded by soaring petrol prices. Mr Bush's approval ratings are at an all-time low of 32%; economists are warning everyone that the price of petrol will rise higher as the summer driving season starts; and pundits are suggesting that Mr Bush may be a Republican Jimmy Carter, destroyed by Middle Eastern terrorists and rising oil prices. All he needs is a cardigan and a liking for the word “malaise”.

The Economist (subscription)

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May 4, 2006 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Details on the Fuel Economy Suit

Link: LawFuel

Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and New York City Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo today (Wednesday) filed a lawsuit challenging the Bush Administration for failing to address the impacts of its new federal fuel economy standards for SUVs and light trucks on air quality, fuel conservation and global climate change.

Spitzer and Cardozo were joined in the filing by eight other state Attorneys General and the District of Columbia. The lawsuit, filed today in the 9 Circuit Court of Appeals, alleges the National Highway Traffic th Safety Administration (NHTSA) failed to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), which require the government to determine the impacts of the new regulations on both fuel conservation and the environment.

The basis for the lawsuit is set forth in a comment letter by the plaintiffs submitted to NHTSA on November 22, 2005. The letter stated that NHTSA “failed to consider alternative approaches that would have promoted energy conservation, made meaningful contributions to increased fuel economy and encouraged technological innovation. In addition, NHTSA failed, in all respects, to consider the environmental consequences of its proposed overhaul of light truck standards, failed to consider the changes in the environment since its last Environmental Impact Statement in the 1980s, and failed to evaluate the impact of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions despite identifying the threat of CO2 and global climate change as new information concerning the environment.”


The letter also stated that the standards, which shift the mile-per-gallon requirements from a fleet-wide basis
to a new structure based on weight categories, “create incentives to build larger, less fuel-efficient models, which will jeopardize air quality and the climate.”

The final standards, issued in March, also contain an attempt by the Administration to argue for preemption of California’s landmark law, also adopted by New York, requiring reductions in vehicle emissions that contribute to global warming. The published document included a 52-page discussion asserting that only the federal government can regulate motor vehicle carbon dioxide emissions.

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May 4, 2006 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

States sue EPA over Refusal to Regulate CO2 in New Source Performance Standards

Yet another salvo in the war between the states and the Bush Administration: the states sue EPA for failing to regulate CO2 in the new NSPS for electric generating plants.  The states continue to aggressively seek policy changes responsive to global warming concerns.  Link: Green Car Congress

Nine state Attorneys General today sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to adopt strong emission standards to reduce air pollution from new power plants across the nation. The District of Columbia and the City of New York also joined in the legal action.

The Clean Air Act requires that the EPA review and revise emission standards for new pollution sources every eight years to ensure that they protect public health and the environment. On February 27, 2006, EPA issued revised regulations in accordance with a court order. However, the revised standards fail to regulate power plant emissions of carbon dioxide, the major contributor to global warming....

Joining New York State in the suit are California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New York City, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin. A coalition of environmental organizations, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and Environmental Defense filed a related petition today.


The suit charges that EPA’s rulemaking in this matter is inadequate in two fundamental ways:

  • EPA refused to regulate carbon dioxide, despite overwhelming research and scientific consensus that carbon dioxide contributes to global warming and thus harms “public health and welfare.” EPA’s claim that it does not have the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions is contrary to the plain language of the Clean Air Act.
  • EPA failed to set adequate standards for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, power plant pollutants that contribute to soot, smog, acid rain and higher levels of respiratory disease. The law dictates that the emission safeguards be set at levels that require use of the best demonstrated technology, but EPA is setting weak standards that can be met through less effective technologies.

A growing body of evidence, including reports from the National Academy of Sciences, NASA and major universities, has found that increasing global temperatures will have dramatic effects in the United States, including rising sea levels, worsened air quality, water shortages and droughts, and increased intensity of hurricanes.

    Power plants are the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions responsible for increasing temperatures worldwide. According to current projections, dozens or even hundreds of new coal-fired plants will be built in the United States over the next 15 years. Under the current rule, these plants would face no requirement to control or reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Since the power plants have a life span of 40-60 years, the plants built in the near future will determine the level of our carbon emissions for generations.

The suit may be targeting powerplants, but forcing the EPA to regulate CO2 from that sector would also force regulation in the transportation sector.

May 4, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Student Writing Competition: Global Warming Liability

An opportunity to write on global warming over the summer:

The University of Pennsylvania Law Review is pleased to announce its first annual Symposium Scholar Essay Competition. We are seeking submissions of student-written work advancing a legal argument related to our 2006 symposium topic:  Liability for Global Warming: Law, Economics, and Science. The winning author will be invited to present the paper at the Law Review’s symposium in November 2006, and the paper will be published in our symposium issue. Please see the attached document for details about submission requirements. Download penn_student_writing_competition.pdf 

This is an exciting opportunity for students interested in pursuing careers in academia and for students concerned about the implications of global warming liability.  Please direct any questions or concerns to


May 4, 2006 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

AMS Seminar Today Addresses Ice Melt from Global Warming

The introductory remarks in the announcement of today's American Meteorological Society's Environmental Science Seminar "Changes in Cold Places: A Look at the Greenland Ice Sheet, Arctic Sea Ice and the Antarctic Ice Sheet" is a noteworthy summary of the effects of global warming on the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and Arctic sea ice:

Are parts or all of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets undergoing a net melting?  What is the nature of the observational evidence of melting?  How far back in time do these observations extend? Are the melting and rates of melting consistent with model simulations and projections of melting?  What are the factors deemed responsible for the melting?  Is Arctic Sea Ice thinning?  If so, by how much and over what period of time?  What is the nature of the observational evidence for this thinning?  Are the thinning and rates of thinning consistent with model simulations and projections of thinning?  What factors are deemed responsible for the thinning of Arctic Sea Ice?  Are there implications with respect to sea level rise?  Is there any evidence of a fundamental change in the rate at which the Greenland ice sheet is changing and the manifestation of those changes?  If so, why?   How well do model simulations capture the dynamics of ice sheets and sea ice relative to observations?  How well are these ice sheet models poised to project future changes in ice sheets, sea ice and sea level?

        Introductory Perspective on Current Climate Changes

Over the last 30 years, the scientific understanding of the causes of the Earth's natural climate variability and the climatic impacts of human activity has advanced dramatically.  In the early 1900's, global average temperatures increased from the predominately cooler temperatures of the previous several centuries, declined a little from 1940 to 1975, and then began to rise significantly.  The climate warming of the early 1900's is now largely attributed to recovery from a period with more volcanic activity and consequent cooling.  The small subsequent cooling in the mid-1900's is attributed mainly to increasing tropospheric aerosols from emission of sulfate pollutants, and the subsequent warming is attributed to increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations, the effect of which now overrides the aerosol cooling.  About 0.6º C of the recent warming is attributed to the effect of GHG, which have been increasing exponentially (0.5%/year).  Model projections of warming during the coming century range from about 1.5º C to 6º C depending on the GHG emission scenario.   The models have also consistently projected that the warming will be greatest in the Arctic.  During this century, we may be reaching or surpassing temperatures not seen since the last major warm period between ice ages 125-thousand years ago, when much of the Greenland ice sheet melted.  Already, some of the largest effects of the global warming are becoming apparent in the Greenland ice sheet and the Arctic sea ice.

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May 3, 2006 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Bird Flu Blues: Science Reports on The State of Our Ignorance

Science published an issue on April 21st about influenza: anyone interested in bird flu should look it up.  The table of contents, a summary of the issue's contents, and the contents of Science's special access portal can be found below. 

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May 3, 2006 in Physical Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)

10 States Challenge U.S. Fuel Economy Rules for SUVs and Other Light Trucks

Link: NYTimes

The NY Times reported that ten states are filing suit this week to force the Transportation Department to toughen mileage regulations for sport utility vehicles and other trucks.

The states argue the Bush administration did not rigorously analyze the environmental benefits of fuel economy regulations or consider the impact of gasoline consumption on climate change.  The plaintiff state and cities are California, New York, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont, as well as New York City and the District of Columbia.

The current fuel economy standard for cars is 27.5 miles a gallon, while light trucks must average 21.6 miles a gallon.  The new standard for light trucks, published on March 29, 2006, is estimated to increase to an average of 24 miles a gallon when fully implemented in 2011.  The 8.1% fuel savings from the new standard amounts to 10.7 billion gallons over the lifetime of the vehicles built while the rule is effective from 2008-2011 -- only one month of gasoline use in the US. 

The Transportation Department fuel economy rules are considerably less stringent than new California greenhouse gas emissions regulations that New York and other states intend to pass -- which have been challenged by the automotive industry.  As reported by Hybrid Cars:Hybrid Cars link

In Sep. 2004, California regulators approved a plan to drastically reduce vehicle emissions related to global warming over the next 11 years. "It's the most challenging  regulation that's ever been proposed by the California Air Resources Board, or even the E.P.A." said Thomas C. Austin, a top research consultant on the regulation. The new regulation, which could affect as much as 30 percent of the U.S. market (not just California), would phase in from 2009 to 2016. It would require the auto industry to cut greenhouse gas emissions from its new fleets by approximately 30 percent.        

The response from automakers, Honda included, is that they don't have the technology to make this happen. Auto lobbyists also object on the basis that they can't manufacture vehicles based on two or more different emissions standards, and that a single fuel economy standard must be set at the federal level for all 50 states. The issue gets more complicated because standards for other tailpipe emissions, such as carbon monoxide  and particulate matter, are indeed set at the state level. Can greenhouse gas pollution be regulated like a tailpipe emission or is it a surrogate for fuel economy, as the automakers contend?


As expected, in early Dec. 2004, a lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Fresno by 13 California car dealerships and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, seeking an injunction to halt California from enacting the plan. The alliance includes G.M., DaimlerChrysler, BMW, Volkswagen, and even hybrid-makers Ford and Toyota. The Alliance of International Automobile Manufacturers, which includes Honda,           Toyota, and 16 other carmakers and suppliers, also joined the lawsuit.        


Honda is the only car company advocating for increases in Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which would set a single standard for fuel economy more in line with the California proposals, as a resolution to the standoff.



May 3, 2006 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Bird Flu Blues - Don't Bother with the Borders

Link: The Travel Bug -- Enserink 2006 (502): 1 -- ScienceNOW.

A paper published by Ferguson online by Nature on 26 April  examined strategies the US and the UK might use to contain a pandemic flu. Closing the borders and limiting domestic travel would not be effective.  More successful strategies focus on isolating patients, quarantining their households, and using an antiviral drug prophylactically.  A paper published by Cooper online in PLoS Medicine also concluded that travel bans would have little effect on the overall spread of the pandemic.  The virus would reach cities around the globe only 2 days later if a travel ban were implemented after the first 100 cases.  Only if an almost completely effective travel ban were implemented immediately after the first detection would a travel ban significantly slow the pandemic's global spread.

May 3, 2006 in Governance/Management | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Hard to Believe

Now that the Bush administration has concluded that global warming is real and caused by fossil fuel combustion, you'd think it might be willing to move off its neanderthal position on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  But you would be wrong, it wants to answer all of the "unanswered" questions and still favors "voluntary" emissions reductions. Link: Federal Study Finds Accord on Warming - New York Times.

Andrew Rivkin of the NYTimes writes:

The finding eliminates a significant area of uncertainty in the debate over global warming, one that the administration has long cited as a rationale for proceeding cautiously on what it says would be costly limits on emissions of heat-trapping gases.

But White House officials noted that this was just the first of 21 assessments planned by the federal Climate Change Science Program, which was created by the administration in 2002 to address what it called unresolved questions. The officials said that while the new finding was important, the administration's policy remained focused on studying the remaining questions and using voluntary means to slow the growth in emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide.

May 3, 2006 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)