Saturday, January 10, 2009

Even George Wants a Legacy

WASHINGTON, DC, January 6, 2009 (ENS) - Just two weeks before he leaves office, President George W. Bush today set aside three new marine national monuments in the Pacific Ocean. Taken together, the three monuments cover nearly 200,000 square miles, and they will now receive America's highest level of environmental recognition and conservation, the president said.

To create the new monuments, President Bush used the Antiquities Act signed in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt.

"The first is we will establish the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument," said President Bush. "At the heart of this protected area will be much of the Marianas Trench - the site of the deepest point on Earth - and the surrounding arc of undersea volcanoes and thermal vents."

This monument is located in the western North Pacific Ocean, to the east and south of the Mariana Islands, near Guam. It features coral reefs off the coast of the upper three islands in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Marine life near a seamount on the Marianas Trench (Photo courtesy Oregon State University)

"These islands, some 5,600 miles from California, are home to a striking diversity of marine life - from large predators like sharks and rays, to more than 300 species of stony corals. By studying these pristine waters, scientists can advance our understanding of tropical marine ecosystems not only there, but around the world," Bush said during the signing ceremony this afternoon at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

"This unique geological region is more than five times longer than the Grand Canyon. It is deeper than Mount Everest is tall. It supports life in some of the harshest conditions imaginable. A fascinating array of species survive amid hydrogen-emitting volcanoes, hydrothermal vents that produce highly acidic and boiling water, and the only known location of liquid sulfur this side of Jupiter," the president said.

The second new monument is the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, spanning seven areas to the far south and west of Hawaii.

"One is Wake Island - the site of a pivotal battle in World War II, and a key habitat for nesting seabirds and migratory shorebirds," said President Bush.

"The monument will also include unique trees and grasses and birds adapted to life at the Equator; the rare sea turtles and whales and Hawaiian monk seals that visit Johnston Atoll; and some of the most pristine and spectacular coral reefs in the world," he said.

Coral formation at Rose Atoll, one of the new national marine monuments (Photo courtesy NOAA)

The third new monument is the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument, a diamond-shaped island to the east of American Samoa - the southernmost territory of the United States.

This atoll is inhabited by rare species of nesting petrels, shearwaters, and terns.

"The waters surrounding the atoll are the home of many rare species, including giant clams and reef sharks - as well as an unusual abundance of rose-colored corals," said President Bush. "This area has long been renowned as a place of natural beauty. And now that it's protected by law, it will also be a place of learning for generations to come."

Resource destruction or extraction, waste dumping, and commercial fishing will be prohibited in the new monument areas. Research, free passage, and recreation will be allowed.

"For seabirds and marine life, they will be sanctuaries to grow and thrive," said the president. "For scientists, they will be places to extend the frontiers of discovery. And for the American people, they will be places that honor our duty to be good stewards of the Almighty's creation."

In 2006, President Bush created another marine national monument covering the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the largest protected marine area in the world and the largest single conservation area in American history.

Today the president announced that the United States will soon submit a request to the United Nations that this monument become a UNESCO World Heritage site - America's first such submission in 15 years.

The United States will also request World Heritage designation for Mount Vernon - the home of America's first President, George Washington.

January 10, 2009 in Biodiversity | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 9, 2009

ExxonMobil supports carbon tax

This speech takes a leaf from Ken Cohen's playbook.  I think that Cohen is honestly convinced that taxes are better and that cap-and-trade is too complicated.  On the other hand, it certainly muddies the waters for quick passage of a climate change bill.  And maybe that's the real point.  The other strategic possibility is that oil companies are quick to suggest that their marginal costs of control are far higher than utilities.  If so, since utilities will control first rather than pay the tax, the tax necessary to secure reductions from the utilities will be relatively low.  So, the oil companies could pay the low tax and defer payment of the higher costs of control. 

Also, as I frequently point out to my students, environmental taxes produce a downward pressure on the level of emission control to be achieved simply because they tax each unit, not just the undesired units, of pollution.  That drives the cost of control through the roof and creates the downward political pressure.  Additionally, there is always the uncertainty of what the marginal cost of control is and thus the amount of emission reduction that will be achieved. 

WSJ reports:

The chief executive of Exxon Mobil Corp. for the first time called on Congress to enact a tax on greenhouse-gas emissions in order to fight global warming. In a speech in Washington, Rex Tillerson said that a tax was a "more direct, a more transparent and a more effective approach" to curtailing greenhouse gases than other plans popular in Congress and with the incoming Obama administration...

By backing [a carbon tax], Mr. Tillerson has become an unlikely member of a club that includes former Vice President Al Gore, consumer advocate Ralph Nader and President-elect Barack Obama's designated head of the National Economic Council, Larry Summers.

Carbon taxes have been politically unpopular. "Calling for a carbon tax could be a ploy because few observers believe such a tax is politically feasible in our Congress," says Daniel J. Weiss, a fellow at the Center for American Progress, a left-of-center think tank in Washington.

The leadership of the Democratic-led Congress and other major oil companies prefer using a cap-and-trade approach. Under this system, the government would establish economy-wide emission limits as well as limits for individual companies. There would be a market for firms to buy and sell pollution allowances based on whether they were above or below their caps.  ConocoPhillips and the U.S. divisions of BP PLC and Royal Dutch Shell PLC have all supported a cap-and-trade solution.

Mr. Tillerson said a cap-and-trade system would be costly, bureaucratic and create a "Wall Street of emissions brokers." The speech signals an evolution in the thinking of Mr. Tillerson, who became chief executive and chairman of Texas-based Exxon, the world's largest Western oil company, in 2006. Mr. Tillerson now calls the issue complex and challenging to understand, but -- in contrast to Exxon's previous party line -- he doesn't question whether fossil fuel use has contributed to rising global temperatures.

Tillerson's certainly right about the transaction costs associated with a cap-and-trade system.  This could be interesting. 

January 9, 2009 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, Legislation, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

EU study shows that aerosol pollutants have been underestimated


According to a recent study by Hoyle and colleagues, funded in part by the EU, levels of global secondary organic aerosol (SOA) in the Earth's atmosphere have increased by 60 per cent since pre-industrial times, suggesting that the effects of SOA have been previously underestimated. Since aerosols cool the atmosphere, this and similar studies suggest that the warming effect of CO2 and other greenhouse gases may be underestimated by current atmospheric models, including that used by the 4th Assessment Report of the International Panell on Climate Change.


SOA is made up of fine particles and droplets suspended in the atmosphere and is the product of many complex photo-chemical processes. It affects the climate by increasing the reflection of the sun's rays and so cools the Earth's surface. It also contributes to atmospheric haze, as well as having an impact on human health.


There has been a considerable change to the composition and magnitude of emissions from human activities since pre-industrial times. This study, partly conducted under the EU-funded EUCAARI project1, investigates changes affecting the distribution and global burden of organic aerosols since 1750. The increase is believed to be due to rises in industrial or fossil fuel emissions rather than increases in biomass burning.


The researchers processed meteorological data from 2004 using a computer model. They modelled SOA formation from the by-products of mainly biogenically emitted (produced by plants and animals) substances such as monoterpenes, isoprene, benzene, toluene, xylene and other volatile organic compounds.


The experiments also compared data from 1750 and 2004 to assess the effects of increases in ammonium sulphate aerosol. The present day global warming effects of SOA were calculated including the radiative effects of aerosols, clouds, light scattering and absorption by gases, at 40 levels of the lower to middle atmosphere.


Among the results were:

  • The production of SOA increased from about 43 teragrams (1 Tg = 1012 grams) a year to 69 Tg a year since pre-industrial times, leading to an increase in the global annual mean SOA burden from 0.44 Tg to 0.70 Tg, or about 60 per cent.
  • Emissions from fossil and biofuel burning contribute twice as much to the SOA increase as biomass burning emissions.
  • The increases are greatest over industrialised areas, as well as over regions with high emissions of precursor gases that will cause the formation of SOA.
  • The increase is mainly caused by emissions of primary organic aerosols (POA) from fossil fuel and biofuel burning.
  • The largest distribution increases in SOA at surface levels are in the biomass burning regions of South America, Southern Africa and South East Asia, as well as industrialised areas such as Europe and the East Coast of America.
  • Increases higher in the atmosphere were seen in the northern Hemisphere, where significant increases were found at polar latitudes, while very small increases were found at high southern latitudes.
  • Radiative forcing was much stronger over industrialised areas, in eastern Europe and on the east coast of the US. Radiative forcing (measured in watts per square meter) provides a simplified means of comparing the various factors that are believed to influence climate change.

As yet, very few radiative forcing estimates of SOA exist and no radiative forcing estimates were provided for SOA in the latest IPCC report. The authors believe that the radiative forcing of SOA was previously underestimated and these results may improve estimates of future climate change.


  1. EUCAARI (European Integrated project on Aerosol Cloud Climate and Air Quality Interactions) is supported by the European Commission under the Sixth Framework Programme. See:

Source: Hoyle, C.R., Myhre, G. , Berntsen, T.K. and Isaksen, I.S.A. (2008). Anthropogenic influence on SOA and the resulting radiative forcing. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions. 8: 18911-18936.                                                 


January 8, 2009 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Energy, EU, Physical Science | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

NRC report on nutrient control in the Gulf of Mexico

A large area of coastal waters in the northern Gulf of Mexico experiences seasonal conditions of low levels of dissolved oxygen, a condition known as hypoxia. Excess discharge of nutrients into the Gulf of Mexico from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers causes nutrient overenrichment in the gulf's coastal waters and stimulates the growth of large algae blooms. When these algae die, the process of decomposition depletes dissolved oxygen from the water column and creates hypoxic conditions.

In considering how to implement provisions of the Clean Water Act to strengthen nutrient reduction objectives across the Mississippi River basin, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requested advice from the National Research Council. This book represents the results of the committee's investigations and deliberations, and recommends that the EPA and U.S. Department of Agriculture should jointly establish a Nutrient Control Implementation Initiative to learn more about the effectiveness of actions meant to improve water quality throughout the Mississippi River basin and into the northern Gulf of Mexico. Other recommendations include how to move forward on the larger process of allocating nutrient loading caps -- which entails delegating responsibilities for reducing nutrient pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus -- across the basin.

You can read and download this report on line for free: NRC report:NAP link

January 4, 2009 in Water Quality | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

AAAS Forum on Sustainability Science

Those of you with an interest in the intersection between law, science, and technology may find the following program of interest:

Forum on Sustainability Science Programs
Thursday 12 February 2009
1-6 PM
Chicago, IL

One of the biggest challenges that the planet faces is how to balance
the needs of human development and with the needs of the environment.
Policy makers at all levels of governance increasingly look to
scientists and engineers to provide guidance in creating sustainable
societies.  Universities are increasingly responding by developing
academic and research programs in Science and Technology for Sustainable
Development or *Sustainability Science* that undertake practical,
place-based research to provide decision-support for addressing
sustainability challenges.

Since the inaugural Forum at the 2007 AAAS Annual Meeting in San
Francisco, the AAAS Center for Science, Technology, and Sustainable
Development has convened key university actors in Sustainability Science
to dialogue on collaborative approaches to building this emerging field.
Though participants hail from diverse perspectives and institutions
most are experiencing similar challenges as they develop
interdisciplinary programs, which combine both basic and applied
research methods.

As a follow-up to previous sessions which identified key challenges and
opportunities (2007) and began to identify opportunities to further
connect these universities (2008), the 2009 Forum for Sustainability
Science Programs will tackle a number of common concerns for these
programs including:

*       Course Content and Curriculum Development
*       Sustainability Science and Decision-Making
*       Supporting Interdisciplinary Research for Sustainability

The Forum will include a series of roundtable discussions, led by key
actors in the sustainability science community.  A reception following
the roundtables will provide an opportunity for further networking
amongst this group.

This event will be held on the opening day of the 2009 AAAS Annual
Meeting, featuring 150+ scientific symposia, including tracks on
*Sustainability Science and Policy*, *Feeding a Hungry
Planet*, *Managing Environmental Challenges*, and
*Understanding Environmental Change*.

Registration and travel details are available at:

More details on this program to follow in early Janaury, or by

Sarah Banas
AAAS Program Associate
(202) 326-6492

January 4, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Biofuels too

A new study by Stanford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Mark Jacobson entitled “Review of Solutions to Global Warming, Air Pollution, and Energy Security” Jacobson study link comprehensively analyzes various energy solutions, addressing associated impacts on water supply, land use, wildlife, resources, and pollution.  Ultimately, the study finds that “In sum, the use of wind, CSP, geothermal, tidal, solar, wave, and hydroelectric to provide electricity for BEVs [battery-electric vehicles] and HFCVs [hydrogen fuel cell vehicles] result in the most benefit and least impact among the options considered. Coal-CCS and nuclear provide less benefit with greater negative impacts. The biofuel options provide no certain benefit and result in significant negative impacts.”


January 4, 2009 in Agriculture, Air Quality, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Findlaw Environmental Case Summaries

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CASES                   

• FPL Energy Maine Hydro LLC v. Fed. Energy Regulatory Comm'n
• State of North Carolina v. Envtl. Prot. Agency
• American Forest & Paper Assoc. v. Fed. Energy Regulatory Comm'n
• Devon Energy Corp. v. Kempthorne

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U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, December 23, 2008

FPL Energy Maine Hydro LLC v. Fed. Energy Regulatory Comm'n , No. 051871
In dispute regarding plaintiff's effort to secure a renewal of an operating license from defendant-federal commission plaintiff's attempts to get a water state quality certification, petition to review defendant's stay order is denied where: 1) res judicata did not deprive plaintiff of its ordinary opportunity to get an order issued by defendant reviewed on the merits in a federal circuit court; 2) plaintiff did not show that the standard of review applicable to its legal claim was any different than in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) than it would have been if the court considered the legal issue itself; 3) defendant did not modify the license but simply stayed its order granting the license pending reconsideration; and 4) the Maine SJC's contrary determination that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Board's rescission was timely bound plaintiff in the present court. Read more...

U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, December 23, 2008
State of North Carolina v. Envtl. Prot. Agency , No. 05-1244, 05-1246, 05-1249, 05-1250, 05-1251, 05-1252, 05-1253, 05-1254, 05-1256, 05-1259, 05-1260, 05-1262, 06-1217, 06-1222, 06-1224, 06-1226, 06-1227, 06-1228, 06-1229, 06-1230, 06-1232, 06-1233, 06-1235, 06-1236, 06-1237, 06-1238, 06-1240, 06-1241, 06-1242, 06-1243, 06-1245, 07-1115
In a per curiam decision reviewing challenges to aspects of the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), cases are remanded to defendant-EPA without vacatur of CAIR where allowing CAIR to remain in effect until it is replaced by a rule consistent with the court's opinion would at least temporarily preserve the environmental values covered by CAIR. Read more...

U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, December 23, 2008
American Forest & Paper Assoc. v. Fed. Energy Regulatory Comm'n, No. 071328
Petition for review of defendant-Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) interpretation of a term used in amendment to the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) is denied where defendant-FERC's interpretation of the term "markets" in 16 U.S.C. section 824a-3(m)(1)(A)(ii) encompassing both competitive and non-competitive markets was reasonable. Read more...

U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, December 23, 2008
Devon Energy Corp. v. Kempthorne, No. 075299
Pursuant to plaintiff's lease to extract coalbed methane from federal land in Wyoming, final order issued by US Department of the Interior (DOI) requiring plaintiff to retroactively recalculate royalties owed to the government is affirmed where: 1) the DOI's interpretation of the marketable condition rule reflected a reasonable construction of the rule; 2) the agency's order was not at odds with the plain language of the rule, nor did it effectively "amend," rather than reasonably construe the rule; and 3) plaintiff's claim that DOI's order conflicted with a prior interpretation of the marketable condition rule is rejected. Read more...


January 4, 2009 in Cases | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

SCOTUS preemption cases -- Findlaw commentary

Anthony Sebok and Benjamin Zipursky [bio] have written some good comments on Findlaw about the forthcoming federal preemption case concerning drug warnings [Wyeth Commentary I and Wyeth Commentary II ] and a comment on the companion tobacco preemption case.  Good Commentary   

January 4, 2009 in Cases | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

2009 to be in top 5 of the hit parade

Planet Ark reports:

Next year is set to be one of the top-five warmest on record, British climate scientists said on Tuesday.  The average global temperature for 2009 is expected to be more than 0.4 degrees celsius above the long-term average, despite the continued cooling of huge areas of the Pacific Ocean, a phenomenon known as La Nina.  That would make it the warmest year since 2005, according to researchers at the Met Office, who say there is also a growing probability of record temperatures after next year. 

Currently the warmest year on record is 1998, which saw average temperatures of 14.52 degrees celsius - well above the 1961-1990 long-term average of 14 degrees celsius. Warm weather that year was strongly influenced by El Nino, an abnormal warming of surface ocean waters in the eastern tropical Pacific....

Professor Phil Jones, director of the climate research unit at the University of East Anglia, said global warming had not gone away despite the fact that 2009, like the year just gone, would not break records. "What matters is the underlying rate of warming," he said. He noted the average temperature over 2001-2007 was 14.44 degrees celsius, 0.21 degrees celsius warmer than corresponding values for 1991-2000.

January 4, 2009 in Climate Change, Physical Science | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Biofuel Soars on Air New Zealand

Due to the poor EO/EI ratio of biofuel and its competition with food crops, most of us are skeptical about widespread use of biofuel to meet transportation needs.  However, air transportation is one of the few sectors where finding alternative energy sources is difficult.  So, the recent and forthcoming tests of various biofuels in the air transportation sector are noteworthy, especially when strict conditions are placed on biofuel production.  In one recent test, Air New Zealand set three requirements for sustainable biofuel:

(1) the fuel source must be environmentally sustainable and not compete with existing food resources;

(2) the fuel must be a drop-in replacement for traditional jet fuel and technically be at least as good as the product used today; and

(3)the fuel must be cost competitive with existing fuel supplies and be readily available.

Environmental News Service reported in more detail:

A passenger jet with one of its four engines running on a biofuel blend today completed the world's first commercial aviation test flight to test a biofuel made from jatropha.  The test flight was a joint initiative with partners Boeing, Rolls-Royce and Honeywell's UOP. The two hour Air New Zealand test flight was powered by a second-generation biofuel made from the seeds of the jatropha plant that could reduce emissions and cut costs. The flight was the first to use jatropha jatropha seed oil as part of a biofuel mix [50% jatropha, 50% jet fuel]....

Air New Zealand test plane (Photo courtesy Air New Zealand)
Jatropha seed pods (Photo courtesy Air New Zealand)

Jatropha is a plant that produces seeds that contain inedible lipid oil that is used to produce the fuel. Each seed produces 30-40 percent of its mass in oil and jatropha can be grown in a range of difficult conditions, including arid and otherwise non-arable areas, leaving prime areas available for food crops....

The jatropha used on Tuesday's flight was grown in Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania, the airline said. The criteria for sourcing the jatropha oil required that the land was neither forest land nor virgin grassland within the previous two decades.


Jatropha grows on poor soil and in arid climates not suitable for most food crops. The jatropha farms that grew the seeds for this test flight are rain-fed and not mechanically irrigated.

The test flight partners engaged Terasol Energy, a leader in sustainable jatropha development projects, to independently source and certify that the jatropha-based fuel for the flight met all sustainability criteria. Once received from Terasol Energy, the jatropha oil was refined through a collaborative effort between Air New Zealand, Boeing and refining technology developer UOP. The process utilized UOP technology to produce jet fuel that can serve as a direct replacement for traditional petroleum jet fuel.

Air New Zealand aims to meet 10 percent of its fuel needs through sustainable biofuel by 2013. In February, Virgin Atlantic was the first airline to test a commercial aircraft on a biofuel blend, using a 20 percent mixture of coconut oil and babassu oils in one of its four engines. In January, two more airlines will test their biofuel blends. Continental Airlines on January 7 will conduct a test flight powered by a blend involving algae and jatropha. The flight will be the first biofuel flight by a commercial carrier using algae as a fuel source, the first using a two-engine aircraft, and the first biofuel demonstration flight of a U.S. commercial airliner.  On January 30, Japan Airlines is planning a test flight from Tokyo using a fuel based on the camelina oilseed as a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

January 4, 2009 in Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Cape Wind Controversy

Barbara Durkin provided the following correspondence concerning the issues surrounding the Cape Wind controversy.  Those of you interested in following these issues may find this correspondence interesting.

Continue reading

January 4, 2009 in Energy, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, Law, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Climate Ark Turns 10

All of you are familiar with Reuter's Planet Ark, which provides timely coverage of environmental issues all over the globe.  Fewer of you may be familiar with Climate Ark, an ecological portal, that provides a deep ecology perspective on climate news.  Go take a look ClimateArk link

January 4, 2009 in Climate Change | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Obama's administration aspires to being squeaky clean

The would-be boss of NOAA, Commerce Secretary nominee Bill Richardson, has withdrawn due to an ongoing investigation into corporate bribery for a state contract.  There is no suggestion that Richardson knew of or condoned the alleged misconduct.  But, it is important for an Obama Administration to make a sharp break with the corruption associated with past Administrations.  Kudos to both of them.

Marketwatch reported today:

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Sunday he was withdrawing as nominee to head the Commerce Department, citing "a pending investigation of a company that has done business with New Mexico state government." Richardson said in a statement that the probe "promises to extend for several weeks or, perhaps, even months," and that he "could not in good conscience ask [President-elect Barack Obama] and his administration to delay for one day the important work that needs to be done." He said he would, however, remain in his post as governor. Fox News cited a report last month that a grand jury is investigating whether the California firm CDR Financial Products paid to push through a contract with the state of New Mexico. Obama responded by expressing regret for Richardson's decision, adding: "Although we must move quickly to fill the void left by Governor Richardson's decision, I look forward to his future service to our country and in my administration."

January 4, 2009 in Governance/Management | Permalink | TrackBack (0)