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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
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:
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
• 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
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
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
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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
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 firstname.lastname@example.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
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
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 email@example.com. If you would like specific information on sponsorship opportunities, please contact Kati Price at firstname.lastname@example.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.
December 26, 2008 in Climate Change | Permalink
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
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
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
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
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."
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
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
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
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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
Another green team reaction -- Nature
Published online 22 December 2008 |
& Alexandra Witze
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
Looking to the future: John Holdren, has long pushed for changes to US energy policy.K. Srakocic /AP
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.
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).
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.”
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.J. Lubchenco
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.
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.
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
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.
The Island End River flows into the Mystic River, which flows into
Boston Harbor. Both rivers are navigable waterways of the United
As depicted in the attached diagram, the Terminal's marine
transfer area was comprised of three berths (Berths 1, 3 and 4).
Barges and ships offload petroleum products that were piped to and
stored in the tanks within the tank farm. Those products were then
piped to the Terminal truck loading rack, where they were loaded onto
trucks for distribution. Berth 1 is an approximately 500-foot long
extended southwesterly from the Everett shoreline and ran parallel to
the Island End River. Berths 3 and 4 were situated side-by-side on an
approximately 1000 foot dock that ran from the outermost end of Berth 1
northwesterly to the Everett shoreline, parallel with the Mystic River,
with Berth 3 being closer to Berth 1.
The product receipt lines at Berth 1 ran parallel to the Berth 1
dock to approximately the point where the Berth1 dock met the Berth 3
dock, and from that point those lines ran parallel to the Berth 3 dock,
where they ultimately were connected to the Berth 3 product receipt
lines. The Berth 1 product receipt lines were isolated from the Berth 3
product receipt lines by seal valves, which were designed to prevent
product being offloaded at Berth 3 from flowing into the Berth 1
product receipt lines.
The Everett Terminal was operated and maintained by a staff of
approximately 14 employees situated in an office building adjacent to
the tank farm and just north of the marine transfer facility. The
regular Terminal staff consisted of a terminal superintendent, terminal
supervisor, nine terminal operators who covered the Terminal's 24-hour
operations, electrician, mechanic and accountant. At any given time,
at least two terminal operators were on duty. Additional Terminal
support was provided by a field operations specialist, an area
administrator and an area engineer.
ExxonMobil was responsible for the proper operation and
maintenance of the facility. These responsibilities entailed, among
other duties, monitoring the Terminal, and when necessary, cleaning,
repairing, and replacing, as appropriate, worn or damaged equipment,
including pipes, valves, docks, and tanks. Likewise, ExxonMobil was
responsible for monitoring the transfer of petroleum products at each
point in the process: from delivery at the marine transfer area,
through the receipt and storage of those products in the tank farm, and
to the loading of the products onto trucks at the truck loading rack.
It was therefore necessary that facility employees remain alert to
pressure drops or spikes during transfer operations and to monitor the
site visually for spills, hazards or other irregularities.
At approximately 4:30 A.M. on Jan. 9, 2006, the oil tanker M/V
Nara docked at Berth 3 to unload petroleum products, including
approximately 3.1 million gallons of low sulfur diesel (LSD) fuel, which
is blue-green in color and is used as fuel in various types of engines.
Later that morning, hoses running from the Nara's tanks were attached
to a product intake manifold on Berth 3. By mid-afternoon, pumps
aboard the Nara began to pump LSD fuel from the vessel through the
manifold into a product receipt line that was connected to storage
tanks on the tank farm. As it was being pumped from the Nara, the LSD
flowed past a 10-inch seal valve located on Berth 3, which closed off a
product receipt line from Berth 1. As a result of wear and tear, the
valve did not close completely and leaked oil into the Berth 1 product
ExxonMobil was aware of this defect. In September 2005, a
contractor pressure-tested the value and informed ExxonMobil that it
leaked. Nevertheless, ExxonMobil had failed to replace the valve by the
time the Nara arrived in January 2006. As a result, LSD pumped from
the Nara leaked by the defective valve into the Berth 1 product receipt
line. The line was approximately 610 feet long and 10 inches in
diameter, and was filled with approximately 2,500 gallons of low sulfur
kerosene. At the other end of the line was a pressure relief valve
capped by a 3/4-inch coupling. The coupling had not been replaced in
more than 30 years, was unpainted and was badly corroded.
As the Nara's delivery continued, the leakage by the seal valve
on Berth 3 built pressure in the Berth 1 product receipt line until the
coupling on Berth 1 burst. The rupture sent the kerosene in the pipe,
along with LSD from the Nara, pouring through the destroyed coupling
into a rectangular containment pan on Berth 1, as depicted in the
attached photograph. The fuel filled the containment pan and began to
spill over its side and into the Mystic River below. The spill
continued until approximately 5:00 A.M. on January 10, when pumping
from the Nara ended.
A total of approximately 2,500 gallons of kerosene and 12,700
gallons of LSD poured into the Mystic River, causing a visible
blue-green sheen on the Mystic River that eventually spread up the
Island End River and down to Boston Harbor, and prompting several
reports to the Coast Guard. ExxonMobil personnel did not discover the
ruptured coupling and the full containment pan on Berth 1 until
approximately 11:00 A.M. on January 11, when the Coast Guard arrived at
the facility to ask questions about the origin of the sheen.
ExxonMobil's negligent failure to provide adequate resources and
oversight to the maintenance and operation of the Everett terminal was
a direct cause of the spill. In particular, ExxonMobil negligently
failed to replace the leaking seal valve on Berth 3, and to replace the
unpainted and corroded coupling at Berth 1, which ruptured as a result
of the leakage and pressure build-up in the product receipt line.
ExxonMobil also negligently allowed the spill to continue after
it should have been discovered by failing adequately to monitor the
transfer operations from the Nara. Although ExxonMobil's employees
were required to perform regular walk-through inspections of the
berths, they failed to do so while the containment pan was spilling LSD
into the Mystic River. Because the segment of the walkway over the
containment pan was partially submerged when the pan filled, a routine
walk-through of the berth, had one been performed, inevitably would
have resulted in the detection of the spill while it was still
December 23, 2008 in Cases, Energy, Governance/Management, Law, North America, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink
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
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
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
Here are some of the picks of Change.gov
The “green dream team”
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
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
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
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."
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
December 22, 2008 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, Social Science, Sustainability, US | Permalink
UNGA Adopts Climate Change-Related Resolutions
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