Thursday, May 31, 2007

NAS Report Claims A "Spectacular Future" In Plasma Science

May 29: A new report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), National Research Council (NRC) entitled, Plasma Science: Advancing Knowledge in the National Interest, indicates that the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science should reorient its research programs to promote plasma science research and create a focal point for federal efforts in that field. The report says that breakthroughs in plasma science have the potential to enhance national and economic security, energy production, and general scientific knowledge. In general, plasma science (the study of ionized gases) is critical to the development of fusion energy (involving the fusion of nuclei), which could be an abundant energy source in the future.

According to the report, "Plasma science is on the cusp of a new era. It is poised to make significant breakthroughs in the next decade that will transform the field. For example, the international magnetic fusion experiment, ITER, is expected to confine burning plasma for the first time -- a critical step on the road to commercial fusion. The National Ignition Facility (NIF) plans to ignite capsules of fusion fuel to acquire knowledge necessary to improve the safety, security, and reliability of the nuclear stockpile. Low-temperature plasma applications are already ushering in new products and techniques that will change everyday lives. And plasma scientists are being called on to help crack the mysteries surrounding exotic phenomena in the cosmos. This dynamic future will be exciting, but also challenging for the field. It will demand a well-organized national plasma science enterprise. This report examines the broad themes that frame plasma research and offers a bold vision for the future."

The report concludes that, "The expanding scope of plasma research is creating an abundance of new scientific opportunities and challenges. These opportunities promise to further expand the role of plasma science in enhancing economic security and prosperity, energy and environmental security, national security, and scientific knowledge."

Access links to the complete report and an executive summary (
click here). Access further information from DOE's Office of Science (click here). [*Energy]

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Battle Lines Drawn On California Waiver Request

May 30: [Editor Note: The following three article and referenced article from last week, summarize positions of major interest groups involved in the debate over the State of California's request regarding a waiver of preemption under the Clean Air Act for its Greenhouse Gas Emissions regulation for cars and light-duty trucks.]

Automakers Request More Time On CA Waiver

May 22: At hearings conducted by U.S. EPA on California's waiver request for the control of emissions from new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines in Washington, DC (May 22) and Sacramento (May 30) [See WIMS 5/21&23/ 07], the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) formally requested a 30-day extension to the comment period because of what it said was "the scope of the issues involved." The current deadline for submitting public comments to EPA is June 15, 2007.

AAM, representing nine manufacturers including BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Toyota and Volkswagen, delivered testimony at the DC hearing and stated its position on the California waiver request. AAM said:
"Three important points about the waiver request need to be considered. First, California has the initial burden of fully explaining the basis for its waiver request in this proceeding. The waiver application presented to EPA contains many assumptions and undocumented claims about the benefits of the regulation and how the industry can comply with it.

"California needs to fully document those claims in order for EPA to move forward. For example, there has been no demonstration by the State in its waiver application that the regulations would help address the issue of climate change or global warming in a concrete manner. If California cannot show that its regulation has a demonstrable impact on global warming, EPA should reject the waiver request. It is impossible to contend that any measure is required to meet a compelling condition if the measure has no impact on the condition. For that simple reason, EPA must reject California’s waiver request.

"Second, and equally important, the Clean Air Act’s primary goal is to improve air quality, and in particular, to ensure that the air is healthy to breathe. The waiver provision of the Clean Air Act requires EPA to review California’s evaluation of how the California regulations compare to the federal regulations in their ability to protect and improve air quality. The waiver application from California asserts that the California program is superior to the federal program as a method of reducing smog-forming emissions, but offers no direct comparison between federal and California programs taken as a whole. California’s omission of such a comparison requires EPA to deny the waiver.

"Finally, we believe that California’s threat to sue EPA is not helpful to this process. EPA must deliberately and thoroughly approach the questions raised by the waiver application, especially when that application contains no evidence that the new standards will have any beneficial impact on the environmental conditions of concern. In short, EPA can and should take the appropriate time needed to properly analyze and respond to the waiver request. The Alliance member companies are committed to improving energy security and fuel economy, but piecemeal regulation at the state level is not the answer. Moreover, California has not demonstrated a basis for this waiver request, and EPA should deny the waiver."

NACAA Testifies In Support Of CA Waiver

May 22: The National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA, formerly known as STAPPA and ALAPCO) testified at U.S. EPA's public hearing in Arlington, VA offering strong support for full and prompt approval of California's request for a waiver of federal preemption under CAA Section 209(b), to permit enforcement of the State's new motor vehicle emission standards to control greenhouse gas emissions. California adopted its regulations in September 2005 and submitted its waiver request to EPA in December 2005.

Bill Becker, NACAA Executive Director urged EPA to respond to California's request without further delay and to grant complete approval of the waiver of Federal preemption. NACAA testified that EPA's role in considering a waiver request is narrow and deferential. NACAA said, "Under the law, EPA must grant California's request for a waiver unless it can demonstrate that California acted arbitrarily and capriciously in adopting its regulations, that there is no longer a compelling and extraordinary need for California to maintain its own motor vehicle program or that California's regulations are not consistent with Section 202(b) of the CAA." NACAA said that in the case of California's greenhouse gas regulations, none of these can be demonstrated and EPA does not have the discretion to deny the waiver request.

Sierra Club Testifies In Support Of CA Waiver

May 30: Testifying at the Sacramento, CA hearing on California's request for a waiver of Federal preemption under CAA Section 209(b), to permit enforcement of the State's new motor vehicle emission standards to control greenhouse gas emissions, Sierra Club denounced what it called "more than a year and a half of delay by the federal government that has prevented California and 11 other states from implementing a law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks." Sierra Club called on the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to immediately approve a needed "waiver" to the Clean Air Act permitting states to exceed Federal standards in combating pollution.

Sierra Club's regional staff director Carl Zichella, told agency officials that further delay in approving California's waiver was "making global warming more dangerous and difficult to solve." This failure to act was "unacceptable, irresponsible and immoral." Zichella said, "The debate over the science of global warming and the role of human activities in causing the problem is over. The debate over whether EPA has the authority to regulate CO2 is now also over. EPA has refused to act on California's request for more than a year and a half. It is now time for this unnecessary and dangerous delay to end. In the face of scientific and legal consensus, further delay amounts to playing politics with a lethal problem."

Sierra Club's testimony adds to the environmental group positions announced last week by Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Both groups indicated that they had filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. EPA to force a long-delayed ruling on California’s request to establish new tailpipe emissions standards for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. They indicated that they join California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and California Attorney General Jerry Brown in promising legal action to force a decision if EPA fails to take prompt action. Governor Schwarzenegger said in April that he would give the Agency 180 days to reach a final decision before filing a lawsuit. California and eleven states including: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Maryland; are awaiting the waiver decision from EPA.

Additionally, on May 22, the Senate Environment and Pubic Works (EPW) Committee, Chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) held a hearing entitled, Examining the Case for the California Waiver. Witnesses testifying included: Edmund G. Brown Jr., Attorney General State of California; Professor Jonathan H. Adler Director, Center for Business Law and Regulation, Case Western Reserve University School of Law, and Alexander B. Grannis, Commissioner New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Access the AAM testimony (
click here). Access links to the Federal Register notice and complete background information and documents on the California request (click here). Access the complete NACAA testimony (click here). Access a release from Sierra Club and the complete testimony (click here). Access a joint release from Environmental Defense and NRDC (click here). Access the EPW hearing website for links to testimony and the hearing webcast (click here). [*Air, *Climate, *Energy]

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Congressional Climate Investigation Goes To Greenland & Europe

May 26-28: Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), Chair of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming is joining House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other members of the Select Committee on an international fact-finding mission on global warming impacts and solutions over the Memorial Day weekend and this week. The bipartisan delegation arrived in Greenland on Saturday, May 26, continuing on to Germany, Great Britain and Belgium to meet with leading scientists and political leaders working on solutions to combat global warming. In Greenland the delegation met with Dr. Konrad Steffen, who is the lead scientist at Swiss Camp located on the Jakobshavn Glacier. In Europe, the delegation was to meet with Chancellor Merkel, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, foreign and environmental ministers, members of parliament and leading environmentalists and scientists.

In a release, Markey said that reports had surfaced that the U.S. delegation to the Group of Eight Nations (G-8) has rejected a climate proposal from G-8 head and German Chancellor Angela Merkel that calls for limiting the worldwide temperature increase this century to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit and cutting global warming emissions to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 [See WIMS 5/18/07]. Markey indicated that the congressional delegation will meet with Chancellor Merkel.

Speaker Pelosi said, “Scientific evidence and real-world examples tell us that global warming is an international crisis that must be solved with international cooperation and innovative solutions. As we begin to craft legislative solutions to address this international crisis, Members of Congress will see firsthand the economic and environmental impact of global warming, as well as the actions our allies are already taking to address this global challenge.”

Earlier this year, the Speaker called for legislation to curb global warming and created the Select Committee Energy Independence and Global Warming. She said Congress is drafting wide-ranging legislation on energy independence by July 4 and global warming later this year.

Along with Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Markey, the delegation includes Select Committee members Hilda Solis (D-CA), Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin(D-SD), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), John Larson (D-CT), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO). David Hobson (R-OH), Ranking member of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee is also traveling with the group. According to the release, the air travel was to be carbon "offset" through the Pacific Forest Trust - a forest conservation and stewardship project that will permanently reduce approximately 500,000 tons of CO2 emissions over a 100-year period. Speaker Pelosi will personally pay for this effort.

Access links to several releases on the mission and subsequent posts on further developments (
click here). Access the Speaker's Blog for daily posts of the trip (click here). Access a release from Speaker Pelosi (click here). [*Climate]

Friday, May 25, 2007

Appeals Court Deals Blow To Industry MTBE Litigation Strategy

May 24: In the case of consolidated cases, In Re: Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE) Products Liability Litigation, U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, Case Nos. 04-5974 & 04-6056. The case includes the consolidated cases of: State of California v. Atlantic Richfield Company, et al. and State of New Hampshire v. Amerada Hess Corporation, et al. The two cases are among scores of related actions removed from state court and transferred to the Southern District of New York by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation pursuant to MDL No. 1358, In re Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE) Products Liability Litigation.

The case involves an appeal from an order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York denying Plaintiffs-Appellants’ motions to remand. The Appeals Court ruled that, "Because the district court erroneously held that it had removal jurisdiction over these actions under the federal officer removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1442, and/or the bankruptcy removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1452, and no alternative ground for jurisdiction is satisfied, we vacate the order of the district court and remand with directions to return these cases to the forums from which they were removed." While the various states have been arguing that the cases should be tried in state courts; oil companies and refineries have argued that they were operating as "federal officers" in carrying out a mandate to add MTBE to their reformulated gasoline, and therefore, the cases should be heard in Federal courts.

According to the Appeals Court, two issues are presented: "(1) whether principles of sovereign immunity are violated when a state plaintiff voluntarily prosecutes a claim in state court and the action is removed from state to federal court pursuant to a statute that expressly authorizes removal; and (2) if not, whether the district court had subject matter jurisdiction over this matter under the federal officer removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1442, the bankruptcy removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1452, or some other ground."

On the issue of "sovereign immunity," the Appeals Court ruled, "...California and New Hampshire have each made and acted upon the decision to commence a lawsuit. This voluntary act subjects them to the consequences that Congress may legitimately attach to such an action. Thus, we conclude that sovereign immunity does not bar the removal of these state-commenced actions to federal court."

On the second issue, the Appeals Court said in part, "The California and New Hampshire actions relate primarily to matters of public health and welfare, and the money damages sought will not inure, strictly speaking, to the economic benefit of the states. Instead, the clear goal of these proceedings is to remedy and prevent environmental damage with potentially serious consequences for public health, a significant area of state policy. Thus, even under the tests advocated by the defendant companies, these proceedings represent efforts by California and New Hampshire to enforce their 'police or regulatory power' and are not subject to removal..."

The Appeals Court also indicates that the district judge concluded, “defendants have sufficiently alleged that they added MTBE to gasoline at the direction of the EPA, a federal agency.” The Appeals Court said, "We cannot agree. The conclusion of the district judge is not based on an explicit directive in either the Clean Air Act or its implementing regulations. Significantly, after oral argument in this appeal, the district judge held that 'federal law did not require the use of MTBE...' the district judge and the defendants acknowledged that the EPA identified six other additives, besides MTBE, that could be blended into reformulated gasoline to meet the requirements imposed by the CAA and the regulations... That it may have been more convenient or less expensive for the defendants to use MTBE does not mean it would have been impossible for them to use other, less polluting additives..."

New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte issued a release saying that New Hampshire’s lawsuit against oil companies for MTBE contamination of state waters will be returned to state court, as a result the decision by the unanimous decision of the Second Circuit appeals court. She said the Appeals Court ruled that there was no Federal jurisdiction to hear New Hampshire’s state case and that it must be returned to state court, where it was originally filed.

In 2003, the State had sued oil companies that added the chemical methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) to gasoline sold in New Hampshire. The State sought full recovery for Statewide contamination of drinking water supplies. The oil companies immediately removed the case to Federal district court, which denied the State’s request to return to State court. The State appealed on grounds that there was no Federal jurisdiction over the State’s case. The appeals court agreed and remanded the state’s case to the Merrimack County Superior Court.

Ayotte said, “We are very pleased that the Federal appeals court agreed with us that the proper place to hear this important case about New Hampshire’s drinking water is in our State’s courts. We look forward to trying the case as soon as possible before a jury of New Hampshire citizens.”

Access the complete opinion (
click here). Access a release from the New Hampshire AG (click here). [*Remed, *Water, *Drink]

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Senate Hearing On Coal Gasification

May 24: The Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, Chaired by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), held an oversight hearing entitled, Coal Gasification: Opportunities and Challenges. The hearing addressed opportunities and challenges associated with coal gasification, including coal-to-liquids and industrial gasification. Witnesses included representatives from: Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment, University of Tennessee; Eastman Gasification Services Company; the RAND Corporation; and SAIC-Energy Solutions Group.

In an opening statement Chairman Bingaman indicated, "Although the fundamental technology we are talking about today has been around for many decades, relatively recent developments in the technology point to a pathway that may allow us to use the our abundant coal reserves in a way that is responsible to our children and their children." Bingaman said that additional, longer, more in depth, hearings or workshops on coal gasification including coal to liquids will be held in the near future. He said Senators Tester (D-MT), Corker (R-TN), Dorgan (D-ND), Salazar (D-CO) and Conrad (D-ND) had all requested additional hearings.

Bingaman said, "I don’t think anyone here would seriously dispute that coal is an important part of our fuel mix for the foreseeable future. Our domestic reserves are abundant and the price spread between coal and other fossil fuels is likely make coal an attractive option for a long time to come. However, the capital costs associated with coal facilities, and particularly coal gasification facilities, are very high – often in range of four billion dollars or more -- and their expected useful life is over 20 years. As a result, if we make a mistake, and encourage the development of plants that we later find to be incompatible with our need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it will be a very costly mistake."

Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), Ranking Member of the Committee, said that development of coal-to-liquids technology is essential for strengthening U.S. energy security over the coming years. He said, "...other nations, like South Africa and China, are well on the way to using coal converted to liquid form. In fact, China is constructing an 80,000 barrel per day coal-to-liquid facility, and the Chinese government has proposed using as much as 1 million barrels of coal-to-liquid a day by 2020. Coal is a resource that we have in abundance, and if we develop it wisely and lead the march to new clean coal technology, it will give us the economic potential to compete with the world’s emerging economies. We can’t afford to fall much farther behind.”

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) President & CEO Jack Gerard issued a statement highlighting the testimony of Eastman Gasification Services Company, and saying, “We applaud the Committee for looking at coal gasification and industrial gasification systems, which represent emerging technologies that can help the nation make use of its abundant domestic resources and develop a comprehensive energy policy. Industrial gasification, in particular, is a logical economic and technological path forward to achieve policy objectives such as environmental protection, energy security, reduction of natural gas prices and volatility, enhanced global competitiveness and job retention and growth. That’s because industrial gasification processes have unique characteristics that enable or advantage high levels of carbon capture. As Mr. Denton noted in his testimony today, industrial gasification is the ‘low hanging fruit’ as Congress considers programs to test and develop carbon capture and geologic sequestration (CCGS) technologies, protocols and financing issues. Gasification also has significant potential and benefit as a new source of feedstock for chemical manufacturers."

NRDC testified that, "One of the primary reasons that the electric power, chemical, and liquid fuels industries have become increasingly interested in coal gasification technology in the last several years is the volatility and high cost of both natural gas and oil. Coal has the advantages of being a cheap, abundant, and domestic resource compared with oil and natural gas. However, the disadvantages of conventional coal use cannot be ignored. From underground accidents and mountain top removal mining, to collisions at coal train crossings, to air emissions of acidic, toxic, and heat-trapping pollution from coal combustion, to water pollution from coal mining and combustion wastes, the conventional coal fuel cycle is among the most environmentally destructive activities on earth."

NRDC said, we can do better with both production and use of coal. And because the world is likely to continue to use significant amounts of coal for some time to come, we must do better... coal use and climate protection do not need to be irreconcilable activities... development and use of technologies such as coal gasification in combination with carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and permanent disposal in geologic repositories under certain circumstances could enhance our ability to avoid a dangerous build-up of this heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere while creating a future for continued coal use... we need to focus government funding more sharply on the most promising technologies [and] More importantly, we need to adopt binding measures and standards that limit global warming emissions so that the private sector has a business rationale for prioritizing investment in this area."

Access the hearing website for links to all testimony and an archived webcast (
click here). Access the statements from Senators Bingaman (click here); and Domenici (click here). Access the ACC release (click here). [*Energy]

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ninth Circuit Vacates Army Corps Lake Filling Permit

May 22: In the case of Southeast Alaska Conservation Council v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 06-35679. The case presents the question of whether the issuance of a permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violates the Clean Water Act [See WIMS eNewsUSA Blog posts on this issue]. The permit issued in this case authorizes Coeur Alaska, Inc., to discharge process wastewater containing tailings from its gold mine into a lake that is a navigable water of the United States. Coeur Alaska proposed to discharge daily 210,000 gallons of process wastewater containing 1,440 tons of tailings from its mine into Lower Slate Lake. The tailings in the discharge will raise the bottom elevation of the lake by 50 feet. A 90-foot high, 500-foot long dam will be built to contain the discharge and the area of the lake will be increased about three-fold.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contends that the permit was properly granted under § 404 of the Clean Water Act, which relates to the disposal of “fill material,” and that it is not subject to the effluent restrictions of § 301 or § 306 of the Clean Water Act. The plaintiffs contend that this mine disposal discharge must comply with the effluent restrictions of § 301 and § 306, and that any permit allowing discharge must be issued by U.S. EPA. The district court held that the issuance of the permit was proper. The Appeals Court reversed and remanded with instructions to vacate the permit.

In its conclusion the Appeals Court said, "In conclusion, we reverse the district court, remand to the district court to vacate the permits issued to Coeur Alaska and Goldbelt, and vacate the RODs that approved Coeur Alaska’s and Goldbelt’s plans of operations. The Corps violated the Clean Water Act by issuing a permit to Coeur Alaska for discharges of slurry from the froth-flotation mill at the Kensington Gold Mine. EPA’s performance standard for frothflotation mills, promulgated pursuant to § 301 and § 306 of the Clean Water Act, prohibits discharges from such operations into the navigable waters of the United States. No exceptions are provided by either the regulation or the statute.

"Even though the discharge in this case facially qualifies for the permitting scheme under § 404 of the Clean Water Act because it will change the bottom elevation of Lower Slate Lake, the discharge is nevertheless prohibited by the clearly applicable and specific performance standard. The plain language and structure of the Clean Water Act demonstrate that EPA’s performance standard governs in this case. Also, the agencies’ statements made during promulgation of the regulation defining 'fill material,' as well as their statements made to Coeur Alaska during the lengthy permitting process, indicate that they intended this result. Thus, the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The case is remanded to the district court for action pursuant to this opinion."

Access the complete 31-page opinion (click here). [*Water]

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

150 Reps Sponsor Bill To "Fix" Supreme Ct. CWA Decisions

May 22: Congressman Jim Oberstar (D-MN), Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, introduced legislation which he said is designed "to fix the Clean Water Act (CWA) after it was damaged by two U.S. Supreme Court rulings." The pair of rulings issued in 2001 and 2006 question the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to enforce the Clean Water Act on wetlands, streams and ponds that are not part of a major “navigable” waterway [Access various posts on WIMS-eNewsUSA Blog and the WIMS-EcoBizPort Special Report on the Rapanos Supreme Court Decision & Related Activities]. Oberstar said, “These rulings ignore everything we have learned about water pollution and wetland conservation. You have to control pollution at its source. If you wait until it hits a major waterway, it is too late to deal with the problem effectively.”

The Clean Water Act has also helped stop the draining of wetlands across the country. Oberstar indicated, “You only have to look at the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and the flooding on the Mississippi River in the mid 1990s to see how wetlands protect us, holding back flood waters. Wetlands also filter ground water and allow it to recharge aquifers. The Ogallala Aquifer provides water to eight states from Nebraska to Texas, but many of the wetlands that filter and recharge it have lost their protection due to these Supreme Court rulings.”

Oberstar's Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007 (CWRA) was introduced along with Representatives John Dingell (D-MI) and Vernon Ehlers (R-MI). The bill has 150 co-sponsors. Additionally, CWRA is endorsed by 300 organizations representing the conservation community, family farmers, fishers, boaters, labor unions and civic associations. According to a release the bill would eliminate a complex new jurisdictional application that has been added to the Federal permitting process because of the two Supreme Court rulings. That paperwork adds up to three months of processing time to a wetlands permit.

The bill is designed to restore the authority of the Clean Water Act so it has the same effect it had prior to the Supreme Court’s rulings. It would not create new rules or regulations. The first sentence of the act reads, “The Purpose of this act is as follows: To reaffirm the original intent of Congress in enacting the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 (86 Stat. 816) to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the waters of the United States.” CWRA would also reaffirm exemptions for farming, mining, logging and other activities that are not regulated by the Clean Water Act.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Clean Water Project Senior Attorney Jon Devine issued a following statement saying, “We commend the introduction of this important bill and hope Congress will act quickly and decisively in passing it. For decades, the Clean Water Act has protected America’s water resources from industrial pollution, oil spills, sewage, and outright destruction. Recent interpretations of the law have placed many of the nation’s important water bodies in legal limbo, allowing polluters to discharge into water resources across the country without complying with the Clean Water Act’s intended safeguards. This legislation will end this uncertainty and ensure that all of America’s water resources remain protected for future generations.”

Access a release from Representative Oberstar (
click here). Access a release from NRDC (click here). [*Water]

Monday, May 21, 2007

USDA Report Highlights Ethanol-Corn Domino Effect

May 18: According to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "A large expansion in ethanol production is underway in the United States. Cellulosic sources of feedstocks for ethanol production hold some promise for the future, but the primary feedstock in the United States currently is corn. Market adjustments to this increased demand extend well beyond the corn sector to supply and demand for other crops, such as soybeans and cotton, as well as to U.S. livestock industries. USDA’s long-term projections, augmented by farmers’ planting intentions for 2007, are used to illustrate anticipated changes in the agricultural sector."

The report, Ethanol Expansion in the United States: How Will the Agricultural Sector Adjust? (Report No. FDS-07D-01, May 2007), indicates that ethanol production in the United States totaled almost 5 billion gallons in 2006, about 1 billion gallons more than in 2005. While this was a significant increase, further expansion in the industry is continuing, with production expected to exceed 10 billion gallons by 2009. This large and rapid expansion of U.S. ethanol production affects virtually every aspect of the field crops sector, ranging from domestic demand and exports to prices and the allocation of acreage among crops. Many aspects of the livestock sector are affected too. As a consequence of these commodity market impacts, farm income, government payments, and food prices also change. Adjustments in the agricultural sector are already underway and will continue for many years as interest grows in renewable sources of energy to lessen dependence on foreign oil.

In 2006, ethanol (by volume) represented about 3.5 percent of motor vehicle gasoline supplies in the United States. However, about 14 percent of corn use went to ethanol production in the 2005/06 crop year. With continued strong ethanol expansion, USDA’s 2007 long-term projections indicate that more than 30 percent of the corn crop will be used to produce ethanol by 2009/10, remaining near that share in subsequent years. Yet, even by 2017, ethanol production (by volume) is projected to represent less than 8 percent of annual gasoline use in the United States.

USDA says that its 2007 long-term projections show average corn prices reaching $3.75 a bushel in the 2009/10 marketing year and then declining to $3.30 by 2016/17 as the ethanol expansion slows. Higher corn prices affect corn’s role as an animal feed. Livestock feeding is the largest use of U.S. corn, typically accounting for 50-60 percent of the total. With higher prices, corn used for animal feeding declines to 40-50 percent of total use over the next decade.

The increased use of corn for ethanol production and higher corn prices have important implications for global trade and international markets. The United States has typically accounted for 60-70 percent of world corn exports. With the ethanol expansion and higher prices, however, the U.S. share of global corn trade drops to 55-60 percent. Global adjustments to higher corn prices include reduced foreign demand and increased foreign production.

With higher crop prices, farmland prices rise to reflect the increased value of crop production. This accelerates gains in farmland prices, which also reflect demand for land for nonagricultural uses, such as housing and recreation. As the livestock sector adjusts to higher feed costs resulting from the expansion in corn-based ethanol production, overall production of meats is reduced over the next few years. As a result, consumer prices for red meats, poultry, and eggs are expected to exceed the general inflation rate in 2008-10. Consequently, overall retail food prices in USDA’s 2007 long-term projections rise faster than the general inflation rate for several years.

Access the complete 20-page report which contains links to additional reference information (
click here). Access a narrated slideshow providing an overview of this report (click here). Access additional information related to bioenergy is available from the USDA Economic Research Service Bioenergy Briefing Room (click here). [*Energy]

Friday, May 18, 2007

Advice & Criticism On G-8 Meeting Climate Change Action

International Science Academies Urge G-8 Action

May 16: The U.S. National Academy of Sciences joined 12 other worldwide national science academies in calling on world leaders -- particularly G-8 leaders who will meet in June [See related post below] -- to address global climate change and energy-access issues by promoting low carbon-emission energy systems and more efficient use of energy. The academies also urged leaders to facilitate scientific and technical innovation, and to simplify and enforce a balanced intellectual property regime.

The groups issued two statements: (1) Science Academies' Joint Statement: Promotion and Protection of Innovation; (2) Science Academies' Joint Statement: Sustainability, Energy Efficiency, and Climate Protection. The 12 other academies include: Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South America and United Kingdom.

In the statement addressing climate and energy the academies' said, "It is important that the 2007 G8 Summit is addressing the linked issues of energy security and climate change. These are defining issues of our time, and bring together the themes of growth and responsibility in a way that highlights our duties to future generations. In 2005, the Academies issued a statement emphasizing that "climate change was occurring and could be attributed mostly to human activities, and calling for efforts to tackle both the causes of climate change and the inevitable consequences of past and unavoidable future emissions...

"Recent research strongly reinforces our previous conclusions. It is unequivocal that the climate is changing, and it is very likely that this is predominantly caused by the increasing human interference with the atmosphere. These changes will transform the environmental conditions on Earth unless counter-measures are taken...

"G8 countries bear a special responsibility for the current high level of energy consumption and the associated climate change. Newly industrialized countries will share this responsibility in the future."

The 13 Academies of Sciences have called on "world leaders, especially those meeting at the G8 Summit in June 2007, to: (1) Set standards and promote economic instruments for efficiency, and commit to promoting energy efficiency for buildings, devices, motors, transportation systems and in the energy sector itself; (2) Promote understanding of climate and energy issues and encourage necessary behavioral changes within our societies; (3) Define and implement measures to reduce global Deforestation; (4) Strengthen economic and technological exchange with developing countries, in order to leapfrog to cleaner and more efficient modern technologies; (5) Invest strongly in science and technology related to energy efficiency, zero-carbon energy resources and carbon-removing technologies."

Access the joint statement on Promotion and Protection of Innovation (
click here). Access the joint statement on Sustainability, Energy Efficiency, and Climate Protection (click here).

Markey Blasts Bush On G-8 Climate Negotiations

May 17: Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming issued a statement highly critical of the Administration's attempts to weaken the upcoming G-8 meeting agenda as it relates to climate change. The G8+5 includes: Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the United States, Canada and Japan; the plus 5 countries are China, India, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa. The European Commission is also represented at all the meetings.

Markey indicated that in the final meetings between resigning British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George Bush, global warming is reportedly high on the agenda. But reports indicate that the Bush administration is cutting key language from the G-8 climate agreement set to be unveiled at the body’s next meeting in Germany in early June [June 6-8, Heiligendamm, Germany], "a reprise of the regressive role adopted by the Bush Administration at earlier international summits such as the 2005 G-8 summit which Blair hosted at Gleneagles.

Markey said the actions follow the Rose Garden announcement earlier this week from the White House on their plan to cut gasoline use and heat-trapping emissions from vehicles [See WIMS 05/15/07]. He said Bush reiterated his “twenty in ten” plan, which includes a goal of increasing fuel economy standards by 4 percent a year for ten years, but does not have any mandatory elements and would not be a completed proposal until three weeks before the President leaves office.

Markey said, “When it comes to making progress on combating the threat of global warming, President Bush has become very adept at the cynical game of maintaining a sunny demeanor while ordering his operatives to rain on the climate change parade. The President needs to tell his minions to re-engage with the international community on global warming, not continue their resistance.” Markey's comments follow the May 16 announcement from his colleague Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA), Chair of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, that he would introduce on May 23, "serious, substantive legislation to reinvigorate international negotiations to stop global warming and to help developing nations produce energy in a clean and sustainable way."

According to Markey, U.S. negotiators are reportedly trying to expunge several important parts of the G-8 climate statement, including the need to keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius; that dealing with global warming is an “imperative not a choice”; and targets on reducing global warming emissions. He said cited a similar event in late April, where President Bush discussed achieving progress on global warming with E.U. leaders at the U.S.--E.U. summit in Washington. Meanwhile, half a world away, in Bangkok, Thailand, the U.S. delegation was "criticizing the findings of the IPCC and downplaying the importance of stabilizing emissions, specifically disputing recommendations from European governments."

Access the complete statement from Representative Markey (click here). Access the statement from Representative Lantos (click here). Access the G-8 Summit German website for additional information (click here). Access background information on the G-8 upcoming climate negotiations (click here). Access a summary of actions entitled, The Road to Heiligendamm, compiled by the G-8 Research Group (click here). [*Climate, *Energy]

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Senate Passes Its Version Of Water Resources Development Act

May 16: The U.S. Senate, by a vote of 91-4, passed its $13.9 billion version of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA, H.R.1495). The Senate insisted on its amendment and requested a conference to resolve the differences between the House-passed, $15 billion version, approved by a vote of by a vote of 394-25, on April 19, 2007 [See WIMS 4/30/07]. U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Senators James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Max Baucus (D-MT), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure, thanked their colleagues for their bipartisan support for the bill.

According to a release from Senator Boxer, the bill will authorize America’s essential flood control, navigation, and ecosystem restoration projects in a way that is fiscally responsible and technically sound. The bill authorizes nearly $2 billion for wetlands restoration and flood control projects to put Louisiana on the path to Category V storm protection, and authorizes dozens of other critical water projects nationwide. The passage of a WRDA bill is a top priority for the EPW Committee.

Boxer said, “This bill meets our communities’ and our nation’s acute and unmet water infrastructure needs and it does it in a fiscally responsible way. One of the lessons of Hurricane Katrina is that we ignore our water infrastructure needs at our nation’s peril. This bill makes a substantial commitment to protecting Louisiana’s coasts and communities. Some of the communities this bill will protect have waited seven years or more for these projects. This bill will end that wait, but it will also ensure that we avoid the mistakes of the past by making sure future projects receive the serious analysis and careful implementation they deserve. The Water Resources Development Act and the projects, policies, and programs it authorizes are essential components of keeping our economy growing. From trade to transportation, disaster prevention to rural recreation, this bill helps America compete in the world and stay strong and safe at home.”

Senator Inhofe said, “In passing WRDA today, the Senate took a significant step forward in improving our nation's water resource needs. The WRDA bill passed by the Senate meets many of the most critical water resource needs facing our nation today. For example, the WRDA bill improves navigation and increases capacity and efficiency of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, provides measure to increase hurricane and storm damage protection through wetlands preservation and restoration, and creates an inventory of the nation’s levees with assessments of high risk levees in order to protect people and property. I am pleased to work with my colleagues on the Committee to get this legislation passed. As the Ranking Member, I will continue to work with my EPW colleagues to expedite this bill back to conference with the House and to the President as soon as possible.”

The bill includes a provision authored by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) that will authorize the use of Federal funds to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to complete the Asian Carp Barrier project. The barrier will prevent the spread of invasive species, including Asian Carp, between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basins through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. Durbin said, "The Asian Carp threatens both the native fish and natural wildlife of the lake and in turn, the economy of the entire Great Lakes region. Currently, this invasive species threatens a $4.1 billion sport and commercial fishing industry in the Great Lakes. The bill passed today recognizes the threat of the Asian Carp by authorizing the permanent operation of the barrier system to prevent these harmful fish from entering the waters of the Great Lakes."

The legislation will authorize the Corps of Engineers to complete construction on a permanent barrier and to upgrade and make permanent the original demonstration barrier. This bill avoids potential construction delays and funding problems by allowing the federal government to fully fund the barrier project. In addition, the legislation authorizes federal funding for a feasibility study to investigate the options and technologies available to form a more comprehensive strategy to prevent the spread of invasive species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basins through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and other aquatic pathways.

According to a release from American Rivers, "The Senate bill makes it clear that the status quo at the Corps is no longer acceptable. The Senate bill would establish meaningful, independent peer review of costly or controversial Corps projects; significant improvements to the Corps’ mitigation practices; updating of the Corps’ long-outdated planning guidelines; a new national policy for the Corps on floodplain protection; and an interagency assessment of the nation’s flood risks and flood protection programs."

An amendment offered by Senator John Kerry (D-MA), that would direct the Army Corps of Engineers to factor climate change into all future water projects fell short by 9 votes of a 60 vote requirement imposed by opponents of the amendment. According to a release from Senator Kerry, the amendment would direct the Army Corps of Engineers to use the best available climate science, account for potential future impacts of climate change on storms and floods, and account for the costs and benefits associated with the loss and protection of wetlands, floodplains, and other natural systems that can buffer the effects of climate change. The Kerry amendment was supported by numerous national, state, and local conservation and environmental organizations.

Access a release from Senator Boxer (
click here). Access a release from Senator Durbin (click here). Access a release from American Rivers (click here). Access a release from Senator Kerry and link to his amendment (click here). Access legislative details for H.R.1495 (click here). Access links to the latest media coverage on the Senate passage (click here). [*Water, *Climate]

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

NRDC Sounds Alarm On Risks Of Nano-Scale Chemistry

May 15: A report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) accuses the U.S. government of gross failure to use its authority to protect citizens from the potentially dangerous effects of nano-scale chemistry, according to scientists and policy experts at NRDC. NRDC said its scientists have created a regulatory framework for nanomaterials, a new breed of super-small industrial materials already being used in more than 500 consumer products such as baby wipes, sunscreen, toothpaste, and lipstick.

Jennifer Sass, nanotechnology expert with NRDC and author of the report said, “Precautionary regulation must play ‘catch up’ to ensure worker and public safety. Without requirements for product labeling, consumers are left ignorant and vulnerable to exposure to an untested and possibly unsafe new generation of chemicals. People deserve unbiased information to protect their families. In the face of government failure to take action, the new NRDC report proposes an immediate, three-part framework for regulating nanomaterials, based on already established precautionary approaches to managing toxic chemicals that are broadly agreed upon by environmental and worker protection groups.

The steps include; (1) Prohibit the untested or unsafe use of nanomaterials. Because preliminary data demonstrates the potential for toxicity, unsafe or untested nanomaterials should not be used in a manner that may result in human exposures or environmental releases over the lifecycle of the material. (2) Conduct full lifecycle environment, health, and safety impact assessments as a prerequisite to commercialization. Robust testing is urgently needed to identify potential risks early in development, across the lifecycle of the material. The results of testing should be made available to the public. (3) Facilitate full and meaningful participation by the public and workers in nanotechnologies development and control; consider the social and ethical impacts of nanotechnologies. The potential of nanotechnologies to transform the global social, economic, and political landscape means we must move the decision-making out of corporate boardrooms and into the public realm.

NRDC says several studies have associated nano-sized air pollutants with asthma attacks, heart disease, strokes and respiratory disease. Yet nanomaterials in consumer products remain essentially unregulated in the United States. Despite their unknown effects on human health, Lux Research, a consulting firm with expertise in science-driven innovation, projects that $2.6 trillion worth of manufactured goods will incorporate nanotechnologies by 2014.

Access a release from NRDC (click here). Access the NRDC report (
click here). Access WIMS-EcoBizPort Nanotechnology links for additional information (click here). [Note: On February 26, Environmental Defense and DuPont announced their Nano Risk Framework (click here).] [*Toxics]

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

President Calls For Regulations & Coordination For 20-in-10 Plan

May 14: In a Rose Garden event at the White House, President George Bush discussed his plans on corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) and alternative fuel standards. The President said, "We now have reached a pivotal moment where advances in technology are creating new ways to improve energy security, strengthen national security, and protect the environment. To help achieve all these priorities, I set an ambitious goal in my State of the Union: to cut America's gasoline usage by 20 percent over the next 10 years. I call this goal 20-in-10, and I have said -- sent to Congress a proposal that would meet it in two steps: First, this proposal will set a mandatory fuel standard that requires 35 billion gallons of renewable and other alternative fuels by 2017. That's nearly five times the current target. Second, the proposal would continue our efforts to increase fuel efficiency. My administration has twice increased fuel economy standards for light trucks. Together, these reforms would save billions of gallons of fuel and reduce net greenhouse gas emissions without compromising jobs or safety."

The President also addressed last month's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Massachusetts, et al. v. EPA, et al., No. 05-1120 [
See WIMS 4/2/07]. saying, "...the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA must take action under the Clean Air Act regarding greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. So today, I'm directing the EPA and the Department of Transportation, Energy, and Agriculture to take the first steps toward regulations that would cut gasoline consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles, using my 20-in-10 plan as a starting point. Developing these regulations will require coordination across many different areas of expertise. Today, I signed an executive order directing all our agencies represented here today to work together on this proposal. I've also asked them to listen to public input, to carefully consider safety, science, and available technologies, and evaluate the benefits and costs before they put forth the new regulation."

The President's Executive Order ... declares that, "It is the policy of the United States to ensure the coordinated and effective exercise of the authorities of the President and the heads of the Department of Transportation, the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the environment with respect to greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles, nonroad vehicles, and nonroad engines, in a manner consistent with sound science, analysis of benefits and costs, public safety, and economic growth." The Order generally calls for coordination and cooperation between all levels of the executive branch and indicates that, "To implement this order, the heads of the agencies acting jointly may allocate as appropriate among the agencies administrative responsibilities relating to regulatory actions to which section 3 refers, such as publication of notices in the Federal Register and receipt of comments in response to notices."

According to a fact sheet on the President's actions, he has "directed these agencies to take the first steps toward regulations that would cut gasoline consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles, using as a starting point his "Twenty in Ten" plan to reduce U.S. gasoline consumption by 20 percent over the next 10 years." In his statement he said, "...I have directed members of my administration to complete the process by the end of 2008."

Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Chair of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee said, “This is an Executive Order on interagency relationships. While good relations among agencies are important to the regulatory process, it’s also important to recognize that reducing gasoline consumption requires more than good interagency dynamics. The absence of any standards in today’s announcement is a reason why Americans will be looking to Congress for stronger leadership on energy policy..."

Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), Ranking Member of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee said, “In response to the Supreme Court’s decision EPA v. Massachusetts, President Bush today announced that he has issued an executive order instructing the EPA and other relevant agencies to develop new regulations that will raise the average fuel economy of American vehicles and increase the use of alternative fuels. News today that DailmerChrysler will sell a controlling interest in its struggling Chrysler Group reminds us of the significant financial troubles facing America’s auto industry. One of the reasons for these struggles is the failure of the Big Three to adapt to the growing need for vehicles that are more fuel efficient. The American consumer is now demanding vehicles that use less gasoline and emit less carbon dioxide."

The American Petroleum Institute (API) issued a statement saying, “API is pleased that the Bush administration has decided to undertake a full rulemaking and comment approach that recognizes the technological challenges and significant infrastructure hurdles that must be resolved to significantly increase renewable and alternative fuels in the nation’s fuel mix... Ethanol has a role as a transportation energy source, but that role will be limited until significant technology breakthroughs permit economic production of ethanol from biomass (cellulosic). The timing of such breakthroughs is highly speculative. There is no guarantee that technologies would emerge to enable large-scale economic cellulosic ethanol production in the next decade and ensure reliable energy for U.S. consumers at affordable prices. It is critical that any alternative fuels standard include regular technology and feasibility reviews that would trigger appropriate adjustments to mandates to ensure companies and consumers are not penalized due to obstacles that might prevent meeting usage targets."

Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director, issued a release saying, "It is encouraging that the President is now also showing interest in tackling some of our most pressing problems; however, he already enjoys the clear authority to address these problems and he can and should act immediately to do so. There is no reason to wait until the end of 2008 for federal agencies to act... Most importantly, the President has existing authority to raise fuel economy standards the 4 percent per year he promised in the State of the Union... It's great that everyone from Ted Stevens to Barack Obama to President Bush wants to improve fuel economy at 4 percent a year. Such an increase would dramatically cut both our oil consumption and global warming emissions... "Fourteen states, representing some 40 percent of the U.S. auto market, have adopted California’s landmark global warming emissions standards for automobiles. California and the other states are still waiting for permission from the Environmental Protection Agency to implement them."

Access links to the President's comments, the Executive Order and a fact sheet (
click here). Access the statement from Senator Bingaman (click here). Access the statement from Senator Domenici (click here). Access the statement from API (click here). Access the Sierra Club statement (click here). [*Energy, *Climate]

Monday, May 14, 2007

WRI Report On The Business Case for Community Consent

May 14: A new report released by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and endorsed by a $110 billion coalition of faith-based institutional investors concludes that multinational corporations and financial institutions that seek local community consent for their operations will have a competitive advantage over those that fail to do so. The report, Development Without Conflict: The Business Case for Community Consent, is the first to document the precise financial and operational opportunities and risks a company faces when engaging with communities affected by environmentally sensitive development projects. It provides a roadmap for implementing community consent procedures into project and investment strategies.

The report's four case studies of industrial projects in the Philippines, Argentina, Thailand and Peru demonstrate the financial opportunities of achieving community consent including project cost savings, increased access to international capital and positive reputational benefits. Companies that fail to achieve consent face a range of financial implications including project cost-overrun risks, litigation, increased scrutiny and concern from Wall Street stock analysts, and significant reputational harm.

The report has received the endorsement of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a 35-year-old international coalition of 275 faith-based institutional investors, which include denominations, religious communities, pension funds, healthcare corporations, foundations and dioceses with combined portfolios worth an estimated $110 billion. Rev. David M. Schilling, program director of ICCR, said, "Companies that look to the principles laid down in the WRI report and learn from the valuable case studies will be better equipped to work with the communities in which they operate.

The central tenet of free, prior, informed consent (FPIC) is that local indigenous communities have the right to determine how projects that might affect their land or way of life are developed. The principle has been expanded by some companies and financial institutions to all communities impacted by their projects and investments. Jon Sohn, WRI senior associate and a co-author of the report said, "WRI supports companies and financial institutions that mainstream community consent-based policies into their projects and investments. Respecting local community rights makes plain sense from a business perspective and we expect trends towards this practice to increase."

WRI cites, for example, that in April 2007, religious institutional investors, led by Christian Brothers Investment Services, filed a shareholder resolution that required Newmont Mining Corporation (NEM) to produce a report addressing community-based opposition to its operations around the world. In an unprecedented move for a U.S. mining company, Newmont's board of directors supported the proposal. Newmont's shareholders overwhelmingly approved the resolution, with 91% of shares voting in favor. WRI also indicates that on May 15, 2007, the World Bank's International Finance Corporation is hosting a meeting of Equator Principle Banks, export credit agencies and other development banks to explore best risk management practices to achieve "broad community support" in projects they support.

Operationalizing FPIC is an evolving concept in development circles, yet several institutions have recently adopted strengthened consultation procedures and are considering ways to achieve "consent" based development outcomes. The report provides best practice principles to achieve that goal.

Access a release on the WRI report (
click here). Access the complete 70-page report (click here). Access an overview and links to an executive summary and related information (click here). [*All]

Friday, May 11, 2007

Economic Impacts of Global Warming On Insurance

May 3: The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, Chaired by Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), held a hearing entitled, Economic Impacts of Global Warming: Part 1-Insurance. The Committee heard from insurance experts on how a riskier, warming would affect their business and the costs to consider. A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report notes that insurers paid more than $320 billion in claims on weather-related losses from 1980 to 2005. Scientists predict that an unstable climate due to global warming will cause more severe and unpredictable weather events.

In an opening statement Chairman Markey said, "Over the last 25 years, extreme weather caused 88 percent of the $320 billion in total insured property losses. Since almost everything that is insured -- from property, to crops, to human life and health -- is susceptible to severe weather, the insurance industry is one of the most sensitive indicators of the economic repercussions of global warming. From a financial perspective, the insurance industry is our canary in the climate coal mine." Witnesses testifying at the hearing included: the Director of Natural Resources and Environment, Government Accountability Office; the Washington State Insurance Commissioner; and the President of the Reinsurance Association of America.

GAO testified that weather-related events in the United States have caused tens of billions of dollars in damages annually over the past decade. A major portion of these losses is borne by private insurers and by two Federal insurance programs -- the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which insures properties against flooding, and the Department of Agriculture’s Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC), which insures crops against drought or other weather disasters. GAO said, "The growth in population in hazard-prone areas and resulting real estate development have generally increased liabilities for insurers, and have helped to explain the increase in losses. Due to these and other factors, federal insurers’ exposure has grown substantially. Since 1980, NFIP’s exposure nearly quadrupled to nearly $1 trillion in 2005, and program expansion increased FCIC’s exposure 26-fold to $44 billion.

GAO recommended that the Secretaries of Agriculture and Homeland Security analyze the potential long-term fiscal implications of climate change for the FCIC and the NFIP, respectively, and report their findings to the Congress. Both agencies expressed agreement with the recommendation.

Access the hearing website for links to an opening statement from Chairman Markey and the witness testimony (click here). [*Climate]

Thursday, May 10, 2007

EPA's 2007 Report on the Environment: Science Report

May 10: U.S. EPA announced in a Federal Register notice [72 FR 26629-26631] a 45-day public comment period for the draft 539-page document entitled, EPA's 2007 Report on the Environment: Science Report (ROE SR) (EPA/600/R-07/045). The public comment period is to precede the formal public, scientific peer review of the document by EPA's Science Advisory Board (SAB) on July 10-12, 2007. The public comment period begins May 10, 2007 and ends June 25, 2007.

EPA's 2007 Report on the Environment compiles the latest and most reliable indicators to help understand critical trends in the environment and human health. Additionally, the report identifies key limitations of the indicators and gaps where reliable indicators do not yet exist. The gaps and limitations highlight the disparity between the current state of knowledge and the goal of full, reliable, and insightful representation of environmental conditions and trends, and provide direction for future research and monitoring efforts. The indicators for EPA’s 2007 ROE SR, which comprise the main content of the report, underwent independent scientific peer review as well as public review and comment during the summer and fall of 2005. In addition to the EPA’s 2007 ROE SR, EPA is also producing the Highlights of Conditions and Trends document (EPA's 2007 ROE HD), which summaries the findings in an easier to understand format. The Highlights Document (HD) is undergoing a separate review under EPA's Office of Environmental Information. After the SAB and public reviews of the draft 2007 ROE SR, the comments and recommendations received from the experts and public will be considered and the resulting revisions discussed within EPA and with EPA’s Federal agency partners. EPA plans to publish the final EPA’s 2007 Report on the Environment: Science Report in late 2007.

The massive report, is written for environmental professionals and consists of five chapters: Air, Water, Land, Human Health, and Ecological Condition. The Air, Water, and Land chapters (Chapters 2, 3, and 4) focus on trends in air, water, and land media, and their effects on human health and ecological systems. The Human Health and Ecological Condition chapters (Chapters 5 and 6) follow with information on overall trends in human health and ecological systems. The latter two chapters address questions that are intrinsically affected by multiple factors across media.

For each of these five chapters, EPA identified a set of priority questions that it considers to be most important and relevant to the Agency’s mission to protect the environment and human health. The report is organized around these questions. The response to each of the questions has three components: An introduction that describes the scope of the question (see below) and provides relevant background information; A set of indicators that answer (or more often partially answer) the question; and A discussion of (1) the "answer" that the indicators collectively provide to the question; and (2) the most critical indicator gaps, limitations, and challenges that prevent the question from being fully answered.

The document concludes with Chapter 7, "Afterword," which discusses the next steps for improving indicators and summarizes the challenges to answering the questions and synthesizing and integrating information across indicators. Appendix A lists acronyms and provides a glossary of terms that have particular definitions within this document or whose definitions are not commonly available. Appendix B describes the process used to develop the 2007 ROE Science Report. Appendix C compares indicators used in the 2003 Draft ROE Technical Document with those in this 2007 version.

Access an overview and links to chapters and related information (
click here). Access the FR announcement (click here). Access the ROE website (click here). [*All]

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

UN Report Evaluates Bioenergy Trade-Offs For Decision Makers

May 8: The fast-growing bioenergy industry offers many opportunities, but also involves a number of trade-offs and risks, the United Nations said in its most comprehensive review of the likely impact of the emerging bioenergy market. The report indicates, “The economic, environmental and social impacts of bioenergy development must be assessed carefully before deciding if and how rapidly to develop the industry and what technologies, policies and investment strategies to pursue." The document, Sustainable Energy: A Framework for Decision Makers, was prepared by UN-Energy, a group of all UN agencies programs and organizations working in the area of energy. It was sponsored by the Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

UN-Energy Chair Mats Karlsson of the World Bank said, “The purpose of the study was to help ensure that the energy needs of people are met and the local and global environment is adequately protected. We hope to use the collective strength of the UN system to affect change”.

The report points out the many benefits of bioenergy systems in relation to poverty alleviation, access to energy services, rural development and rural infrastructure. It reviewed the likely impact of bioenergy in terms of food security, climate change, biodiversity and natural resources, employment and trade. It also identified the vital points decision makers need to consider and stresses that, “Unless new policies are enacted to protect threatened lands, secure socially acceptable land use, and steer bioenergy development in a sustainable direction overall, the environmental and social damage could in some cases outweigh the benefits”. Regarding the use of some grains as a biofuel feedstock, UN-Energy noted, “In general, crops that require high fossil energy inputs (such as conventional fertilizer) and valuable (farm) land, and that have relatively low energy yields per hectare, should be avoided.” It is noted that even “sustainably"-produced energy crops could have negative impacts if they replaced primary forests, “resulting in large releases of carbon from the soil and forest biomass that negate any benefits from biofuels for decades.”

Additionally, the report indicates, that the availability of adequate food supplies could be threatened by biofuel production as land, water and other resources were diverted from food production. Similarly, food access could be compromised by higher basic food prices resulting from increased bioenergy feedstock demand, thus driving the poor and food insecure into even greater poverty.

The FAO also introduced its International Bioenergy Platform (IBEP), a 26-page document, to the international community in the energy, agriculture and environment sectors as a mechanism for organizing and facilitating a multidisciplinary and global approach. IBEP is expected to provide analysis and information for policy and decision-making support; to build and strengthen institutional capacity at all levels; to enhance access to energy services from sustainable bioenergy systems; and to facilitate opportunities for effective international exchange and collaboration.

In a related matter, the Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP) unveiled its website on May 9, which was launched at the GBEP’s 3rd Steering Committee meeting, taking place in New York during the 15th session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. The site provides information on the Partnership, which was created in May 2006 to promote the use of bioenergy and whose secretariat is hosted at FAO. It also offers links to sources of information on bioenergy and features news and a regularly updated list of bioenergy events.

Access a lengthy release on the report and links to related information (
click here). Access the complete 64-page report (click here). Access the IBEP document (click here). Access a release on the GBEP website (click here). Access the GBEP website (click here). [*Energy]

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

WRI Report On Restoring Nature's Capital

May 7: Ecosystems must be viewed as huge capital assets, affected by nearly all development and investment decisions according to a new World Resources Institute (WRI) report -- Restoring Nature's Capital: An Action Agenda to Sustain Ecosystem Services. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), conducted in 2005 by the United Nations, including UNEP, WRI, and 1,300 Assessment participants, found the extent to which economies depend on the capital lying within nature's lands, waters, forests, and reefs. Restoring Nature's Capital presents the results of the earliest concerted thinking about how to address both the stark realities and the enormous potential uncovered by the Assessment. Restoring Nature's Capital draws on the recommendations of its 17 contributing authors from around the world.

Using the Assessment as its backdrop, Restoring Nature's Capital proposes an action agenda for business, governments, and civil society to reverse ecosystem degradation. Drawing on the recommendations of the 17 contributing authors, WRI's own series of World Resources reports, and the good work of many others, it sets out to answer the thorny question of what changes must be made to ensure that ecosystems can meet the needs of today's and future generations.

The authors contend that governance -- who makes decisions, how they are made, and with what information -- is at the heart of sustaining healthy ecosystems. With this as their fundamental tenet, the authors present an action agenda for reversing degradation of ecosystems and sustaining their capacity to provide vital services for generations to come. The action agenda identifies how decisions about development projects and investments can be made in ways that lead to healthy ecosystem services. These decisions, made by local and national governments, corporations, and international financial institutions, involve billions of dollars, affect huge swaths of land and water, and affect millions of people.

Access a WRI announcement (click here). Access an overview and links to related information (click here). Access the complete 101-page report (click here). [*All]

Monday, May 07, 2007

Nuclear Energy: Balancing Benefits And Risks

May 7: The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has recently released a Special Report entitled, Nuclear Energy: Balancing Benefits and Risks (April 2007). The report addresses the benefits and risks of nuclear power for the United States and other countries in light of increased concern over energy security and global climate change. As indicated in the report, the debate surrounding nuclear energy also intersects with critical U.S. foreign policy issues such as nuclear proliferation and terrorism. The Council Special Report was produced in partnership with Washington and Lee University and written by the Council’s Fellow for Science and Technology Charles D. Ferguson. CFR says the report provides the factual and analytical background to inform this debate.

According to the foreword to the report, written by CFR President Richard Haass, the report is a "sobering and authoritative lookat nuclear power. Dr. Ferguson argues that nuclear energy, despite its attributes, is unlikely to play a major role in the coming decades in strengthening energy security or in countering the harmful effects of climate change. In particular, the rapid rate of nuclear reactor expansion required to make even a modest reduction in global warming would drive up construction costs and create shortages in building materials, trained personnel, and safety controls. There are also lingering questions over nuclear waste, as well as continued political opposition to siting new plants. Nonetheless, the report points out steps the United States could take -- such as imposing a fee on greenhouse gas emissions -- to level the economic playing field for all energy sectors, which over the long run would encourage the construction of new nuclear reactors (if only to replace existing ones that will need to be retired) and help reduce global warming.

Dr. Ferguson has written a fair and balanced report that brings the nuclear energy debate down from one of preferences and ideologies to one of reality. Nuclear Energy: Balancing Benefits and Risks is useful to anyone who wants to understand both thepotential and the limits of nuclear power to enhance energy security and slow climate change."

Among the report's recommendations are: "Nuclear energy produces one-fifth of U.S. electricity and one-sixth of global electricity; thus, the United States and its partners have a vested interest in ensuring safe and secure operation of the world’s nuclear industry. But the future of domestic and international commercial nuclear energy use faces large uncertainties in financial competitiveness and in external costs such as proliferation risks of the nuclear fuel cycle, safe and secure operation of nuclear power plants, and long-term disposal of highly radioactive waste. Generating electricity from any energy source comes with external costs. Traditionally, the U.S. government and many other governments have relied on subsidies to pick winners and losers among energy sectors. But providing subsidies to mature industries such as nuclear power have hidden the external costs. Governments should strive to identify and factor in as many of the external costs as possible into the price of energy sources." The report makes major recommendations for factoring in external costs and managing the risks.

Founded in 1921, the Council on Foreign Relations is an independent, national membership organization and a nonpartisan center for scholars dedicated to producing and disseminating ideas so that individual and corporate members, as well as policymakers, journalists, students, and interested citizens in the United States and other countries, can better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other governments. The Council takes no institutional position on policy issues and has no affiliation with the U.S. Government.

Access the complete 51-page report (
click here). Access the CFR website for additional information (click here). [*Energy, *Haz/Nuclear]

Friday, May 04, 2007

IPCC Releases "Mitigation Of Climate Change" Report

May 4: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC), meeting in Bangkok, Thailand released its third in a series of three documents comprising its Fourth Assessment Report "Climate Change 2007", also referred to as AR4. The Working Group III, 35-page Summary for Policymakers report entitled, Mitigation of Climate Change, provides a comprehensive synthesis of research and analysis of climate change solutions, discussing measures such as energy efficiency, improved fuel economy and increased use of renewable energy. The Working Group III report follows the release of the Physical Science Basis [February 07, See WIMS 2/2/07] and Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability [April 07, See WIMS 4/9/07] reports. A synthesis report, integrating the three reports will be released in November 2007.

The report focuses on mitigation of climate change through limiting or preventing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing activities that remove them from the atmosphere. It analyzes mitigation options for the main sectors in the near-term, addressing also cross-sectorial matters such as synergies, co-benefits and trade-offs. It also provides information on long-term mitigation strategies for various concentration stabilization levels. The summary report is organized into five sections including: Greenhouse gas (GHG) emission trends; Mitigation in the short and medium term, across different economic sectors (until 2030); Mitigation in the long-term (beyond 2030); Policies, measures and instruments to mitigate climate change; and Sustainable development and climate change mitigation.

The report looks at many key mitigation technologies available now and beyond 2030 by various sectors including: energy supply; transport; buildings; industry; agriculture; forestry and waste management. The report also looks at the various policies, measures and instruments to mitigate climate change. It indicates that a wide variety of national policies and instruments are available to governments to create the incentives for mitigation action. Their applicability depends on national circumstances and an understanding of their interactions, but experience from implementation in various countries and sectors shows there are advantages and disadvantages for any given instrument.

The Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Yvo de Boer, issued a statement saying "the worst effects of climate change can be staved off if the appropriate international action is immediately taken." He said, "The third installment of the report presents us with an impressive array of response options to address the results of the IPCC’s first two installments published this year. With these options, we have a chance of preventing some of the most catastrophic scenarios the IPCC has forecast."

A release from the U.S. State Department indicates that, "The United States supports the consensus summary report on climate change mitigation that was reviewed and approved by over 100 countries..." Dr. Harlan Watson, U.S. Department of State Senior Climate Negotiator and Special Representative and head of the interagency U.S. delegation to the Working Group III meeting said, "The United States was an active and constructive participant in the international dialogue among experts and governments meeting in Bangkok. The result of this exchange is a summary document that will help policy makers around the world make more informed decisions in addressing the economic, energy and associated technological implications of global climate change."

Access the WG III Summary for Policymakers report (
click here). Access the webcast of the press conference (click here). Access the IPCC website for additional information including links to previous reports and advance information on the WG III report (click here). Access the statement from UNFCCC (click here). Access the State Department release (click here).[*Climate]