Friday, December 26, 2008

The Economist on Poznan: Fiddling with Words

The Economist summarized the December Poznan, Poland meeting as fiddling with words. Economist link Likewise, in 2007, I characterized the G8 summit in these words, "Nero became infamous for fiddling as First Century Rome burned. This month, the parties at the G8 summit followed Nero's insanely frivolous, time-wasting lead. Unfortunately, this time the whole planet is burning."   Findlaw: Smith commentary But the Economist captured the situation with a different metaphor.

IMAGINE that some huge rocky projectile, big enough to destroy most forms of life, was hurtling towards the earth, and it seemed that deep international co-operation offered the only hope of deflecting the lethal object. Presumably, the nations of the world would set aside all jealousies and ideological hangups, knowing that failure to act together meant doom for all.  At least in theory, most of the world’s governments now accept that climate change, if left unchecked, could become the equivalent of a deadly asteroid. But to judge by the latest, tortuous moves in climate-change diplomacy—at a two-week gathering in western Poland, which ended on December 13th—there is little sign of any mind-concentrating effect. To be fair to the 10,000-odd people (diplomats, UN bureaucrats, NGO types) who assembled in Poznan, a semicolon was removed. At a similar meeting in Bali a year earlier, governments had vowed to consider ways of cutting emissions from “deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries; and the role of conservation [and forest management]”. After much haggling, delegates in Poland decided to upgrade conservation by replacing the offending punctuation mark with a comma.  At this pace, it seems to hard to believe that a global deal on emissions targets (reconciling new emitters with older ones) can be reached next December at a meeting in Copenhagen, seen as a make-or-break time for UN efforts to cool the world.

The Economist went on to explain some of the background factors that influenced the events at Poznan and why it was not a totally depressing waste of time:

In the background of the Poznan meeting, there was mild optimism (and a reluctance by others to put fresh cards on the table) ahead of an expected change of stance by an Obama administration in America; resentment (among the poor and green) over the refusal of Japan and Canada to promise deeper cuts; and strong demands from China for the transfer of technology from the rich to others. In the final hours of the conference, the governments of small, sinking island nations were delighted to learn that they, and not some global body, would control a fund to help them adapt to a warming world. Their mood changed when it became known that no extra money had been set aside for this purpose.  However hard it looks to put this global jigsaw together, there were some encouraging unilateral moves, especially from Latin America. Mexico vowed to halve greenhouse emissions by 2050; Brazil said it could reverse a recent rise in deforestation and cut the rate of forest loss by 70% over the next decade; Peru said that with help it could reduce deforestation to zero.

But the economist made the case that the key to progress towards an agreement in Copenhagen is the willingness of the EU to continue to provide climate leadership.  The EU's attitude seems a bit ambivalent.  As the Economist reported,

At a summit on December 11th and 12th, the EU’s leaders eventually decided to keep their targets intact while also allowing opt-outs which may yet undermine their stated goals. President Nicolas Sarkozy, who chaired the summit, boasted of a “terrific fight” which French diplomacy had managed to finesse. Despite many concessions for heavy industry and poor newcomers to the EU, the final deal (perhaps to its credit) left everybody unhappy. European industry felt too much was being asked of it, while green groups thought industry had gained rather too many concessions.  In the background of the EU’s wrangling were some goals laid out last year in pre-recession times. By the year 2020, the EU promised three things: to cut overall greenhouse gas emissions by 20% over 1990 levels; to obtain 20% of overall EU energy from renewables like wind, waves and plant waste; and to make efficiency savings of 20% over forecast consumption.  The new EU deal kept the targets, but offered sops to countries that fear an emphasis on the “polluter pays” principle may drive up electricity costs, or push heavy industry away to places, like Asia, that in Copenhagen will oppose big emission cuts. Opt-outs were granted from plans to force large polluters to buy allowances to emit carbon at auction. Poorish ex-communist countries that rely on coal for power will be allowed to dish out up to 70% of the carbon allowances needed by power firms, for no payment, for a few years after 2013. Heavy industries that face global competition will also get up to 100% of their allowances free, at least initially, if they use the cleanest available technologies. And EU nations will be allowed to buy in credits for emissions reductions far from Europe, and count them against as much as 90% of their national reduction targets. Eurocrats say a reduced emphasis on auctioning permits won’t undermine the benefits of the package; carbon-cutting discipline still comes from the ceiling on the number of allowances issued. That cap will be cut each year after 2013: this should help to support carbon prices in the EU’s Emissions-Trading Scheme. The concessions risk prolonging some follies. For example, big power firms that now get carbon allowances free have been passing on their nominal cost to customers. Handing out free allowances may also reduce revenues available to governments for investment in greenery. Moreover, some pro-market countries fret that using climate-change policies to redistribute money within the EU will cause trouble in global talks. It will make it harder to resist China and India when they seek transfers of money in the name of “solidarity”.

The ECN had a more optimist view of the EU's action, arguing that the final package passed the political test:

The energy and climate policy package was proposed in January 2008 by the European Commission and, after some adjustments, agreed by the Member States last week during a meeting of EU government leaders. The central objectives remained in place: For the year 2020, (i) to save energy use by 20%, (ii) to increase the share of renewable energy in total energy use to 20% (compared to some 8% in 2005), and (iii) to reduce total EU greenhouse gas emissions by 20% (compared to 1990).

The main instrument to achieve the greenhouse gas reduction target is the EU-wide harmonised Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). The most contested issue in the package was whether industries would receive their emission allowances for free or whether they would have to buy them in an auction. Currently, the allowances are given out for free, which has led to power companies charging their consumers as if they are paying a carbon price, resulting in billions of windfall profits. Auctioning of the emission allowances would solve this problem, but is politically controversial as it would lead to high costs for greenhouse gas emitting industries.

On auctioning in the ETS the following was decided:

• Starting from 2013, power companies have to buy all their emission allowances at an auction. Contrary to the original EC proposal, however, the EU government leaders agreed that for existing power generators in some (mainly East-European) countries the auctioning rate in 2013 will be at least 30% and will be progressively raised to 100% no later than 2020. This means that for instance existing coal-fired power plants in Poland still get their allowances for free, but that new power plants need to pay. In the Netherlands, all power plants will have to buy their allowances.

• For the industrial sectors under the ETS, the government leaders agreed that the auctioning rate will be set at 20% in 2013, increasing to 70% in 2020, with a view to reaching 100% in 2027. The original EC proposal included 100% auctioning in 2020 rather than 2027. Industries exposed to significant non-EU competition, however, will receive 100% of allowances free of charge up to 2020.

With regard to greenhouse gas reduction in the sectors that are not covered by the ETS, such as households and transport, which cover about 55-60% of EU emissions, the Commission proposal allowed Member States to use offset credits to meet up to two-thirds of the emission reduction and the remaining part by domestic abatement measures. The EU leaders, however, agreed to allow 11 (mainly West-European) countries – including Spain and Italy – to use additional offset credits to meet their non-ETS targets.

My bottom line from all of this is that the U.S. needs to assert serious leadership on climate change -- and the green team Obama has assembled gives every reason for hope that it will do so.  In just less than a month!

December 26, 2008 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, South America, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The Economist Reacts to Obama's Cabinet Picks

The Economist's reaction was that Obama has chosen an all-star team of heavy weights.  Beyond Hillary Clinton at State,

... [Bill Richardson] surprised many by quitting as governor of New Mexico to become secretary of commerce. He had previously served as ambassador to the United Nations and secretary of energy under Bill Clinton. Such is his eagerness to serve that he has taken a low-profile job often given to unremarkable cronies of the president.

     

Next in the presidential-contender list was Tom Vilsack. The former governor of Iowa was well-enough regarded (for competence if not charisma) that he briefly ran for president himself, before finding fundraising tricky. He will become secretary of agriculture. His roots in a corn-growing state have dismayed opponents of America’s corn-based ethanol subsidies. But bravely, he has proposed lowering the tariff on greener, more efficient Brazilian sugar-based ethanol. His reckons that more ethanol in the energy mix will encourage the development of a delivery infrastructure. This will boost future investment into promising forms of non-corn ethanol, such as production from cellulose.

Behind the presidential contenders come other surprisingly weighty candidates for medium-sized cabinet posts. Ken Salazar, a senator from Colorado, has been tapped for the interior department. Mr Salazar, a moderate from a state that usually swings behind the Republicans, was valuable to Senate Democrats and was thought of as an up and coming. Mr Obama’s nominee for secretary of energy is Steve Chu, a Nobel-prize-winning physicist and head of the Lawrence Berkeley national laboratory, an important research centre.

Two appointments might seem like partisan payback. Tom Daschle was the head of the Senate Democrats until his South Dakota seat was taken by gleeful Republicans in 2004. The well-connected Mr Daschle will spearhead reform as head of the Department of Health and Human Services. Eric Shinseki was pushed into early retirement as army chief of staff, after predicting the Iraq war would take hundreds of thousands of troops to win. Mr Obama has nominated him to be Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs. Yet even these two appointments have drawn surprisingly little Republican criticism.

Mr Obama’s picks may be one reason why the approval rating of his transition is high, according to polls, and well above that of George Bush or Bill Clinton at similar points. Including the appointment of Hilda Solis as Labour Secretary he has even managed to pick two blacks, three Hispanics and two Asian-Americans—and five of his cabinet are women—without any accusations of tokenism. The biggest point for criticism might be his choice of Eric Holder for attorney-general. Mr Holder is a well-respected lawyer. But he is tangentially implicated in some of the grubbier episodes of the Bill Clinton era, including Mr Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich, a fugitive financier. Mr Holder may provide the only piece of controversy in cabinet confirmation hearings....

Economist story on a Well-Stocked Cabinet

December 26, 2008 in Agriculture, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Woodrow Wilson Center series on North American climate governance in January

Please join the Canada Institute and the Environmental Change and Security Program for

 

Governing the Climate: Lessons from the National Conference on Climate Governance

 

featuring

 

Barry Rabe, University of Michigan

 

Leigh Raymond, Purdue University

 

Stacy VanDeveer, University of New Hampshire

 

Henrik Selin, Boston University

 

Christopher Borick, Muhlenberg College

 

 

Monday, January 12, 2009
1:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.
6th Floor Flom Auditorium
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

 

Seating is limited. Please RSVP to canada@wilsoncenter.org.

 

President-Elect Barack Obama has pledged to address the looming threat posed by global warming. Yet successfully addressing this challenge will require serious deliberation of governance options. While conventional thinking continues to hold global warming as an issue to be dealt with at the international level, the United States and other countries have learned that reducing carbon emissions within a nation requires a high level of cooperation and coordination at the sub-national levels of government. Given the unexpectedly large role state and local authorities have had to date, the precise role and leadership of the federal government to address climate change in the United States is a timely subject for discussion.      

 

Please join the Canada Institute and the Environmental Change and Security Program for a panel discussion on North American climate governance. The panel will comprise five leading climate change scholars whose work was recently featured at the National Conference on Climate Governance at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. This session is supported by the Stockholm Environment Institute, reflecting its interests in promoting trans-Atlantic understanding on climate change.

 

Barry Rabe of the University of Michigan will examine congressional capacity to forge coherent climate legislation; Leigh Raymond of Purdue University will assess the challenges involved in the development of a carbon cap-and-trade system; Stacy VanDeveer of the University of New Hampshire and Henrik Selin of Boston University will discuss the direction of U.S. re-engagement with the world on climate change; and Christopher Borick of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion will speak on changing public attitudes toward climate change.

 

Location: Woodrow Wilson Center at the Ronald Reagan Building: 1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW ("Federal Triangle" stop on Blue/Orange Line), 6th Floor Flom Auditorium. A map to the Center is available at www.wilsoncenter.org/directions. Note: Due to heightened security, entrance to the building will be restricted and photo identification is required. Please allow additional time to pass through security.

December 26, 2008 in Climate Change | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Interactive Fora on Climate Change Planned This Spring

We would like to invite you to join us for The Climate Registry’s series “Climate Policy Forum: Charting the Path Ahead.”  The series features regional North American forums that bring together representatives from business, government and organizations to interactively discuss regional, federal and international climate policy issues.  Each forum specifically addresses how these policy issues affect their respective regions, and panelists include commissioners and directors from the regions’ state environmental protection departments.  These forums are especially timely with president-elect Obama setting a new course for a federal cap-and-trade system and developments in state and regional mandatory reporting programs.  The next upcoming forums include:

February 3 – Tampa, Florida  (http://www.theclimateregistry.org/downloads/Events/2009/forums/se-info-page.pdf)

February 26 – Denver, Colorado  (http://www.theclimateregistry.org/downloads/Events/2009/forums/western-info-page.pdf)

March 11 – Columbus, Ohio  (http://www.theclimateregistry.org/downloads/Events/2009/forums/midwest-info-page.pdf)

The forums are in-person events, and to accommodate the interactive setting, seating is limited.  If you would like additional information on the forums, please visit The Climate Registry website or contact Anja Gilbert at anja@thecliamteregistry.org.  If you would like specific information on sponsorship opportunities, please contact Kati Price at kati@theclimateregistry.org.

The Climate Registry is a nonprofit collaboration among North American states, provinces, territories and Native Sovereign Nations that sets consistent and transparent standards to calculate, verify and publicly report greenhouse gas emissions into a single registry.  The Registry supports both voluntary and mandatory reporting programs and provides comprehensive, accurate data to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

www.theclimateregistry.org

December 26, 2008 in Climate Change | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Recent Study Shows Utilities Exploited Free Allowances in EU-ETS

An ECN study analyzing the impact of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) on electricity prices, in particular on wholesale power markets across the EU, found that a significant part of the costs of freely allocated CO2 emission allowances are passed through to power prices, resulting in higher electricity prices for consumers and additional (‘windfall’) profits for power producers. The study discusses some policy implications of the pass-through of these costs, concluding that the pass-through of CO2 costs to electricity prices is a rational, carbon-efficient policy, while the issue of windfall profits can be addressed by either taxing these profits or auctioning - rather than free allocations - of the emission allowances.  What the study didn't consider is the political impact of artificially high electricity prices to meet the modest Kyoto protocol goals in terms of the longer term political will to achieve the far deeper emission cuts necessary to prevent the impacts of global warming from being catastrophic.EU electricity price study

December 26, 2008 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, EU, Governance/Management | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Leading Green

There's an interesting green blog that Harvard Business School sponsors called "Leading Green."  For anyone interested in corporate social responsibility or sustainability, its worth a visit.  Leading green link

December 26, 2008 in Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Climate Change Game for Class

Some of you who enjoy games in class might devise an improved version of this cap and trade game designed by the founder of Cleantech Blog  carbon trading game link

December 26, 2008 in Climate Change | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Climate Change Books of 2008: Real Climate Roundup

Real Climate is, of course, one of the most authoritative blogs on climate change science.  Here's what Real Climate has to say about 2008 books on climate change.Real Climate link

As is usual, we have a brief round-up of books we have found interesting or noteworthy this year. While we mainly focus on new books, we include a couple of new editions of older books, and of course, our previous reviews might still be of some interest (2005, 2006, and 2007).

The prize for the most optimistic title this year goes to Wally Broecker, for "Fixing Climate" (written mainly by Robert Kunzig). This is a book written in a particular style - a number of recent advances in relevant paleo-climate (abrupt changes, mega-droughts, etc.) are examined through the lens of a single scientist and their one key measurement or observation. This makes for a good narrative, but without wishing to take anything away from the great science discussed or the individual insights, it's only a partial picture of how these interesting ideas actually took root and got validated by the wider community. The climate fix the book ends up backing is a scheme for the air capture of CO2 (discussed here, and more recently here). The technology is fascinating, but at over a couple of hundred $/per ton CO2, the economics are a long way from being viable. But read about it for yourselves. 

Also dwelling on paleo-climate is Chris Turney's Ice, Mud and Blood. Eric reviewed this for Nature, noting that "Turney is by no means the first to try to articulate the point that paleoclimatology has lessons for our future. Richard Alley's The Two-Mile Time Machine and Mark Bowen's Thin Ice, to name just two, have made the same basic arguments. But Turney's book is the most up to date, and I would certainly recommend it to colleagues, who will enjoy it and may well learn something new, as I did."

Finally, it is definitely worth paying attention to books that may have been out for a while, or in a new edition. We were particularly impressed with Richard Somerville's award-winning introduction to understanding environmental change "The Forgiving Air" which has just been re-issued.

Another notable paperback this year was from Joe Romm (of Climateprogress.org). His "Hell and High Water" is mostly focused on policy solutions. As is a new book by Jay Inslee and Bracken Hendricks "Apollo's Fire". Congressman Inslee has been known to pass by RealClimate now and again. It does worry us a bit that the very first chapter refers to our friend and colleague Cecelia Bitz — a noted sea ice expert at the University of Washington — as 'Carol', and we hope that this is not indicative of the fact-checking care in the book. It looks to be an interesting contribution to the discussion of U.S. climate policy and it is especially timely to have a serious book on solutions to the problems in the Middle East, climate change, and the economy, all rolled into one. We look forward to reading this more closely.

And of course, we are far too modest to mention our own humble offerings…. ;)

December 23, 2008 in Climate Change | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

California to Create CEQA Exemptions for Construction Projects

E&E reports (Debra Kahn, E&E reporter)

State Democratic leaders appear to be yielding to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan for easing environmental restrictions as a way to kick-start job-generating construction projects.  Schwarzenegger (R) proposed exempting certain infrastructure projects from the California Environmental Quality Act last month, saying policymakers had to be "creative" in stimulating job growth in light of the state's budget deficit....California has taken significant steps in the last few years to incorporate climate change concerns into CEQA requirements. State Attorney General and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown (D), for example, pressured businesses and local governments to take emissions into account when planning development.  Now, the state's environmental red tape [i.e. environmental assessment process] is becoming the first regulatory casualty of the recession as Schwarzenegger seeks to create jobs.  As part of a budget fix, the Legislature last week adopted Schwarzenegger's proposal to expedite $1.5 billion in infrastructure bonds, including $700 million for local roads and $800 million for public transit. It also passed a bill exempting eight construction projects from some CEQA requirements....The eight projects included in last week's bill would span the state, from Sacramento County to San Diego County. They would be worth $14 billion and would create nearly 260,000 jobs, Steinberg said. That's in addition to the projects funded by accelerated bond money and another $3 billion from the gas tax increase that would go to transportation projects...."Not only will these projects keep people and goods moving, they will create thousands of good construction jobs," Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D) said in a statement. "Did we gut CEQA? No. Communities trying to keep their air and water free from contamination aren't the problem -- the recession is." Other environmental concerns are also being pushed aside in the short term, including the California Public Utilities Commission's approval last week of the Sunrise Powerlink transmission line, a controversial project that Steinberg and Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Lori Saldaña (D) both opposed in its approved form. Climate Wire

December 23, 2008 in Environmental Assessment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Cape Wind receives Mass DEP approval of undersea electric cables

Planet Ark reports that Cape Wind received permission yesterday to place its proposed undersea cables to transmit power to the mainland. The project would place 130 turbines about 4.7 miles off upscale Cape Cod and would supply enough power for about 400,000 homes.  Developers of the $1 billion project are still waiting on a composite state and local permit, as well as federal approvals by the U.S. Coast Guard, Department of the Interior and the Federal Aviation Administration, expected to be complete by March.Planet Ark link

December 23, 2008 in Energy | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Another green team reaction -- Nature

Published online 22 December 2008 | Nature | doi:10.1038/457010a

Eric Hand & Alexandra Witze

John Holdren, a leading voice on climate change at Harvard University, will serve as science adviser to US president-elect Barack Obama. And Jane Lubchenco, a strong advocate of marine conservation at Oregon State University in Corvallis, will head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Looking to the future: John Holdren, has long pushed for changes to US energy policy.
Looking to the future: John Holdren, has long pushed for changes to US energy policy.K. Srakocic /AP

Holdren, as is normal for US science advisers, has a background in physics. At the time of his appointment, two eminent biologists were named to co-chair the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) with him. One will be Harold Varmus, the former director of the National Institutes of Health, who led Obama's science advisory team during the campaign. The other is Eric Lander, founding director of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who helped lead the push to sequence the human genome.

Together, these appointments underscore how Obama is choosing experienced academics for positions in government once he becomes president on 20 January.

If confirmed by the Senate, Holdren will replace John Marburger as head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which helps set research agendas and budgets across multiple federal agencies. Holdren will also hold the title of Assistant to the President for Science and Technology; this is seen by some as a clear step up from the title Marburger enjoys, Science Advisor to the President (see Nature 455, 453; 2008).

Holdren's appointment quickly won praise from other academics. "He's competent and at the forefront of so many fields," says Ralph Cicerone, an atmospheric scientist and president of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC. "He's encyclopaedic, he's quick and he's deep." Representative Vernon Ehlers (Republican, Michigan), a physicist, adds: "He's an excellent choice, a good scientist, and I think he will serve the president and the country well."

Holdren also directs the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts. Now an environmental-­policy specialist, in his early career he worked as an engineer at Lockheed Missiles and Space Company in Sunnyvale, California, and as a fusion scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, also in California. He worked on nuclear weapons and non-­proliferation issues while chairman of the executive committee for the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs — a familiarity with this issue that is in keeping with past science advisers. "He is comfortably in the same sort of mould that we've had for many decades," says John Gibbons, a science adviser to President Bill Clinton, "except for the unusual extent in the depth of his involvement in the process of science in government."

“He knows what he doesn't know, and he knows who to ask.”

Holdren is no stranger to Washington, having served on the PCAST to Clinton. In that capacity, he chaired a number of major reports meant to guide energy policy, including one that promoted a move away from coal and towards nuclear energy and renewables, says Charles Vest, president of the National Academy of Engineering. "All of the things that you expect in 2008 — but that you might not have seen on the agenda about a decade ago," says Vest.

For another PCAST report, Holdren delivered a solo presentation to Clinton on non-proliferation strategy in the early era of post-Soviet Russia, says Gibbons. "It was very coherent, expert — it answered the question authoritatively," he says. "That ultimately led to a US position on plutonium disposition a couple of weeks later when the president went to Moscow." Holdren's understanding of how the White House works will serve him well, says Neal Lane, another former Clinton science adviser.

Rare skill

In recent years, Holdren has been a tireless advocate for improving US energy policy, travelling the world and lecturing on science's role in sustainability. He has said that reading The Challenge of Man's Future by Harrison Brown — which looked at the science of sustainability — in high school set him on a path to working on the intersection between science, technology and society. He has even appeared on David Letterman's late-night show to discuss the science of global warming.

Marine star: Jane Lubchenco will run the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.Marine star: Jane Lubchenco will run the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.J. Lubchenco

Daniel Schrag, a climate scientist and Harvard colleague, says that Holdren's wide-ranging interests belie his depth of knowledge in a number of areas. "John has a remarkable ability to survey vast areas of scientific infor­mation and distil them down to their essence — that's a very rare skill," says Schrag. "He knows what he doesn't know, and he knows who to ask." Schrag also says that Holdren is skilled at getting people from different backgrounds together; as co-chairman of the National Commission on Energy Policy, Holdren led a bipartisan group including business and industry leaders to produce a document in 2004 on how to "end the energy stalemate". Holdren understands that fixing climate change comes with big costs, says Schrag. His familiarity with Lawrence Summers, the former Harvard president who will head the National Economic Council, might help him to that end.

One unresolved question is how all the climate and energy specialists in the Obama administration might work together. Nobel-prizewinning physicist Steven Chu will head the Department of Energy; former Environmental Protection Agency chief Carol Browner is in a new White House position overseeing climate and energy policy. "It'll all have to be coordinated very carefully," says Lane.

Lubchenco, like Holdren, is a past president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. A marine ecologist, she has spoken out against overfishing and done research in the hypoxic, or dead, zones that can be caused in some areas by fertilizer run-off. As head of NOAA she will have jurisdiction over a wide range of issues including the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Weather Service.

Dealing with fisheries "will be one of her major challenges", says John Byrne, who headed NOAA during the administration of Ronald Reagan and is a former president of Oregon State University. Industry groups are wary of her pro-conservation stances, but Byrne thinks that Lubchenco is up to the challenge of running the agency. "It needs someone to respond to issues such as climate change, pressure on coastal zones, ocean pollution and over-fishing in a firm way. She will do that," he says.

Another appointment in Obama's environmental team is Ken Salazar, a Democratic senator from Colorado, to head the Department of the Interior. Salazar is known as a middle-of-the-roader who has protested against Bush administration plans to expand oil-shale development in the American west, but who has also supported offshore drilling. The agency oversees the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which has been buffeted in recent years over its handling of species listings under the Endangered Species Act.

                                                                                  

December 23, 2008 in Governance/Management | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

ExxonMobil pays $ 6 million for spilling 15,000 gallons of diesel into Mystic River

BOSTON, MASS. - DOJ filed a criminal information today in federal court charging a wholly owned subsidiary of ExxonMobil Corporation with violating the criminal provisions of the Clean Water
Act in connection with a spill of approximately 15,000 gallons of diesel oil and kerosene into the Mystic River from ExxonMobil's oil terminal in Everett, Mass.  The information was filed in connection with a $6.1 million settlement.

     According to the information, ExxonMobil Corporation and its corporate predecessors have owned a marine distribution terminal in Everett, Mass. (the "Everett Terminal") since 1929.  Oil tankers deliver petroleum products that are distributed from the terminal throughout the region.  ExxonMobil Pipeline Company, is a wholly owned subsidiary of, and operates the facility on behalf of, ExxonMobil Corporation.  The Everett Terminal included an inland "tank farm," which was comprised of a tank loading rack and 29 large-scale oil storage tanks in which oil products were stored.  Various above-ground pipes and valves connected those tanks to the Terminal's marine transfer area located at the confluence of the Mystic and Island End Rivers.   ExxonMobil's failure to replace a leaking seal valve and a corroded coupling at the transfer station, known to be faulty, was the cause of the spill.  ExxonMobil also negligently failed to conduct required inspections by which it would have detected the spill while it was still ongoing.

       As part of its plea agreement, ExxonMobil has agreed to pay the maximum possible fine of $359,018 (twice the cost of the clean up), the clean up costs of $179,634, and a community service payment of $5,640,982 to the North American Wetlands Conservation Act fund to be
used to restore wetlands in Massachusetts.   ExxonMobil further agreed that for the next three years, the Everett facility will be monitored by an court-appointed official and will be subject to a rigorous environmental compliance program.

      

Continue reading

December 23, 2008 in Cases, Energy, Governance/Management, Law, North America, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

MacDonald Fiasco at FWS Forces Reconsideration of Critical Habitat for Endangered Bull Trout

The Bush administration yesterday told a federal court it would reconsider its stance on critical habitat for endangered bull trout.  DOJ lawyers yesterday said that the administration is considering whether to continue defending a 2005 decision to reduce critical habitat for bull trout by 90 percent after the Interior IGs most recent report mentioning the decision as one of 13 whose legitimacy had been damaged by political tampering from former Interior official Julie MacDonald.  Previous post on Interior IG report In January 2006, two environmental groups, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Wild Swan, sued Interior over the decision in U.S. District Court in Oregon.  E&E News

When the habitat designation was shrunk in 2005, Interior officials justified the cuts because much of the excluded habitat was already protected by state policies and other environmental management plans.  However, the environmental plaintiffs contended that the Bush Administration excluded critical habitat to open the river areas to development and resource extraction.  Designation of critical habitat prohibits action reducing the habitat's ability to support the endangered species.

December 23, 2008 in Biodiversity, Cases, Governance/Management, Law, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

CAIR Reinstated Pending EPA Revision of Rule

The D.C. Circuit decided today 12/23 decision to temporarily reinstate the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR),EPA CAIR webpage  but the program to reduce power-plant emissions of NOx and SOx will need to be revised due to the court's finding of "fundamental flaws" in the CAIR cap-and-trade provisions.  The court on rehearing decided against vacatur, striking down the rule altogether, as its July decision had done.  July CAIR decision   The industry petitioners, the government, and environmentalists had agreed in their responses to the court that vacatur was not a desirable remedy.  The CAIR rule, which takes effect at the beginning of the year, is reinstated until EPA crafts a new program consistent with the court's determination that allowing utilities to freely trade SO2 emissions credits, banking early credits and using them in later years, violates the Title IV acid rain provisions of the Clean Air Act.  Whether through legislative action or rulemaking, the process of revising the rule is likely to require at least two or three  years. The SO2 emissions market reportedly rallied today after the court decision, trading up from yesterday's close of $148 to more than $200 per allowance,

December 23, 2008 in Air Quality, Cases, Energy, Governance/Management, Law, Legislation, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Here are some of the picks of Change.gov

 

The “green dream team”

   

President-elect Obama's picks for key members of his energy and environment team have not just drawn praise -- they've set off a wave of optimism that the time for serious action on climate change has arrived.

"This is a team with a keen interest in addressing climate change, and the talent and skills to get the job done," Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said in a statement. "With Steven Chu, Carol Browner, Lisa Jackson and Nancy Sutley at the helm, President-Elect Obama's Administration will be well-equipped to tackle the challenge of building a new clean energy future that preserves the climate while revitalizing our economy."

"These selections form a green dream team that will help President-elect Obama’s vision for solving our economic and global warming challenges through clean energy become reality," Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, was quoted as saying by Congressional Quarterly's Politics blog.

In the press conference yesterday introducing the new team, President-elect Obama said of Energy Secretary-desginate and Nobel-prize winning physicist Steven Chu, "His appointment should send a signal to all that my Administration will value science, we will make decisions based on the facts, and we understand that the facts demand bold action."

That signal has been heard loud and clear.

"Obama has chosen about the most qualified scientist one can imagine to make the case for putting the E back into DOE," Science Insider, a blog run by the same organization that publishes the influential journal Science, wrote of President-elect Obama's choice to lead the Department of Energy.

Under the headline "Science Born Again in the White House, and Not a Moment Too Soon," Wired magazine's Science blog wrote that Secretary-designate Chu "recognizes the need to invest in science, from grade schools to universities to industry. He sees the imperative for the government to think in new and big ways about the energy problem. He understands we have to face up to climate change. And, most importantly, he has ideas about how to get it all done and the character to make them happen."

Reid Detchon, executive director of the Energy Future Coalition, praised the creation of a new White House post to coordinate energy and climate policy, and the choice of Carol Browner to fill it.

"The President-elect's decision...to integrate policy on the intersection of energy, environment and climate change is both visionary and overdue," he said in a statement. "All the agencies of government must be involved, and his selection of Carol Browner to lead the Council signals the importance he attaches to an effective inter-agency process."

The National Journal has more responses on its Energy and Environment blog.

   

December 23, 2008 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

More reaction on Obama's green team

Statement of Eileen Claussen
President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change
on President-Elect Obama's New Energy and Environment Appointments

December 11, 2008

This is a team with a keen interest in addressing climate change, and the talent and skills to get the job done.  With Steven Chu, Carol Browner, Lisa Jackson and Nancy Sutley at the helm, President-Elect Obama's Administration will be well-equipped to tackle the challenge of building a new clean energy future that preserves the climate while revitalizing our economy.   We look forward to working with the new Administration to achieve these goals.

###

December 23, 2008 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Reaction to Obama's green team

Planet Ark reports:

President-elect Barack Obama's new "green dream team" is committed to battling climate change and ready to push for big policy reforms, in stark contrast with the Bush administration, environmental advocates said on Monday.

"If this team can't advance strong national policy on global warming, then no one can," said Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, referring to Obama's picks for the top energy and environment jobs in his administration, which takes office on January 20.

"This caliber of scientists in any administration would be a major headline," Knobloch said by telephone on Monday. "But in contrast to the eight years of the Bush administration, where political appointees ran roughshod over science at a terrible cost to the truth, they stand out even more."

Last week, Obama picked a Nobel physics laureate, Stephen Chu, to head the Energy Department; former environmental lawyer and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar as Interior secretary; former New Jersey environment chief Lisa Jackson to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Nancy Sutley, deputy mayor of Los Angeles, to run the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

The president-elect tapped Carol Browner, who headed the Clinton administration's EPA, to take a new White House position coordinating policy on energy, environment and climate change. For White House science adviser, Obama chose John Holdren, a Harvard University expert on climate change.

For the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which deals with weather and climate among other matters, Obama named Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist who has been sharply critical of that agency for allowing overfishing.

5 MILLION GREEN JOBS

"Each one of them is not only experienced and capable ... but also very, very committed to doing something on climate," said Tony Kreindler of advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund. "They really get the connection between climate change and economic growth and how pursuing renewable energy can create jobs."

Obama has pledged to create 5 million green jobs and break U.S. dependence on foreign oil, investing $150 billion in the next decade to build an energy economy that relies on renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal energy.

"None of this will be easy, because some of the powerful special interests and their allies still have their heads in the sand," said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters.

However, Karpinski said that with Obama's "great new green dream team" and more members in the U.S. Congress who support action to curb climate change, a law to limit greenhouse gas emissions is more likely, as is a global agreement to succeed the current phase of the carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol.

Even most of those who disagree with Obama on climate change accept the qualifications of his appointees, but Myron Ebell of the pro-business Competitive Enterprise Institute criticized Holdren and Lubchenco as being "on the scientific fringe of global warming alarmism."

Environmental groups have clashed repeatedly with the Bush White House on science policy, especially when that was at odds with energy policy.

President George W. Bush vowed to regulate carbon emissions when he campaigned for the White House in 2000, but changed course soon after taking office in 2001, and for most of his tenure voiced skepticism that cutting back on human-generated carbon dioxide emissions would solve the problem.

Under his stewardship, the United States has been alone among major industrialized nations in rejecting the carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol. Bush has refused to impose economy-wide limits on carbon emissions, maintaining that this would hamper U.S. competition with fast-growing, big-emitting economies like China and India.

Bush's Environmental Protection Agency chief has balked at limiting climate-warming carbon emissions, even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the agency has the power to do this.

December 22, 2008 in Governance/Management | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Obama's choices for the green team -- pretty good showing

Obama named John Holdren, an energy and climate specialist, as the new White House science adviser, heading the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.  Holdren is a Harvard University physicist who has focused on the causes and consequences of climate change and advocated policies aimed at sustainable development. He has also done extensive research on the dangers of nuclear weapons.  Holdren teaches at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and is a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Other choices:

Obama named Steven Chu, winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics who was an early advocate for finding scientific solutions to climate change, to head the Energy Department.

He named former Environmental Protection Agency head Carol Browner for a new post that will coordinate White House policy on energy and climate change.

Obama named marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco of Oregon State University as his nominee for head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Obama also named two people to work with Holdren to lead the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, also known as PCAST. One of them, Eric Lander, is founding director of the Broad Institute, a collaboration of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University that focuses mapping the human genome.  The other is Harold Varmus, a former director of the National Institutes of Health who won a Nobel Prize for his studies on cancer and genetics. For the past nine years, Varmus has served as president and chief executive officer of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Obama previously named former Gov. Tom Vilsack, D-Iowa, for Agriculture Secretary; and Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., for Secretary of the Interior.

December 22, 2008 in Governance/Management | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Know your source: American Council for Capital Formation contends that CO2 controls will conflict with job creation and economic stimulus plans

E & E:

Can President-elect Barack Obama successfully stimulate the economy, create jobs and reduce emissions? What are some of the pitfalls of pursuing a "green" stimulus? During today's OnPoint, Margo Thorning, senior vice president and chief economist at the American Council for Capital Formation, gives her take on why some of the incoming administration's aggressive climate and economic goals may conflict with each other. Thorning assesses Obama's energy and environment Cabinet picks and explains how she believes the chairmanship shift in the House Energy and Commerce Committee will affect the push for cap-and-trade legislation.

ACCP has been an ExxonMobil-funded, conservative think tank with a climate skeptic slant.  For example, in March 2003, Dr. Thorning had this take on the minor cuts required by the Kyoto Protocol:

Given the severe macroeconomic impacts the Kyoto Protocol would impose on the United States, including reducing U.S. GDP by 1-4 percent, slowing wage growth significantly, worsening the distribution of income, and reducing growth in living standards, Dr. Thorning called for a new approach. Voluntary measures to reduce CO2 emissions should include modifications to U.S. tax policy that reduce the cost of capital for energy-efficient investments

ExxonSecrets.org reported that American Council for Capital Formation Center for Policy Research has received $1,619,523 from ExxonMobil between 1998-2006.  The 2007 report indicates that ExxonMobil still supports ACCF-CPR, again providing a $15,000 additional contribution.

1

December 22, 2008 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, Social Science, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

UNGA Adopts Climate Change-Related Resolutions

UN General Assembly (UNGA)

Last week, among 34 development-related actions put forward by its Second Committee (Economic and Financial), the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a number of resolutions including consideration of the economic ramifications of climate change. 

Among the climate change-related resolutions, the UN General Assembly:

  • supported international efforts and funding to prevent and manage natural disasters, as well as extreme weather patterns;
  • stressed the need to further advance and implement the Bali Strategic Plan for Technology Support and Capacity-Building (document A/63/414/Add.7);
  • called for urgent global action to address climate change for the benefit of present and future generations, and urged parties to the UNFCCC to continue using the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in their work (document A/63/414/Add.4);
  • urged all governments, relevant organizations, UN bodies and the Global Environment Facility to take timely action to effectively follow-up and implement the Strategy and the Mauritius Declaration, and called upon the international community to help Small Island Developing States adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change (document A/63/414/Add.2);
  • encouraged governments to promote sustainable urbanization to improve the living conditions of vulnerable populations, including slum-dwellers and the urban poor, and to help mitigate climate change (UN-Habitat document A/63/415); and
  • reaffirmed its partnership with the Pacific Island Forum through the lens of the serious threats posed to vulnerable island States by climate change and the global economic recession (document A/63/L.56).

[UN Press Release]

December 22, 2008 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)