Thursday, April 30, 2009

$3.55 Trillion FY 2010 Budget Approved By Democrats

Apr 29: In a solid showing of unity, not one Republican voted for the final approval to the fiscal year 2010 budget conference agreement (S.Con.Res. 13). In the House 233 Democrats voted in the 233-193 passage; and in the Senate 53 Democrats voted in the 53-43 passage. According to a Senate Democratic release, the five-year fiscal plan preserves the major priorities in President Obama’s budget plan. It makes investments in energy, education and health care. It provides significant middleclass tax relief for those making under $250,000. And it cuts the deficit by two-thirds by 2014.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) said, “Passage of this budget sends a clear signal that Congress, working in concert with President Obama, is moving forward on a new agenda for the country. The public spoke last November with their vote for change. Elected leaders spoke today with their vote for changing the nation’s priorities. We have adopted the President’s priorities of reducing our dependence on foreign energy, promoting excellence in education, and setting the stage for fundamental health care reform.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, "In terms of energy, in this first 100 days, an article in Fortune magazine of April 29th states that, ‘this is the greenest budget ever.’ The Obama $3.55 trillion dollar budget is a one-two punch for clean-tech. It boosts funding for renewables while slashing tax breaks for fossil fuels. Obama’s wish list -- now this is another organization called ‘Climate Progress’ — ‘Climate Progress’ calls the Obama wish list the ‘first sustainable budget in U.S. history.’ This is in addition to the initiative that was passed early on in the recovery package, known as the stimulus package -- it’s called ‘Greener Stimulus.’ Signed in February, the stimulus package is chalk full of clean-tech goodies with $43 billion dollars in grants for clean power, extensions of tax credits for solar wind, geothermal and energy efficiency programs, smart-grid funding, weatherization programs, and a new tax credit for clean-tech hardware manufacturing."

House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) spoke on the House floor in opposition of Democrats’ $3.6 trillion budget which he said, "spends too much, taxes too much, and borrows too much from future generations." He said, "...What we see before us is a budget resolution that is nothing short of the most audacious move to a big socialist government in Washington, D.C., than anything I could have ever dreamed about before I ran for Congress, or for that matter, anytime over the last 18 years that I’ve been here. Budgets are supposed to be about tough decisions, and there are no tough decisions in this budget, because when you look at the document, what it does, it’s real simple. It spends an awful lot of money, it raises a lot of taxes, and it puts all of this debt on the backs of our kids and our grandkids. This is not the American way. . ."

U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made a statement regarding the Democrats’ budget saying, “While families across the country are tightening their belts and carefully watching every dollar, Congress is on a trillion-dollar spending spree. . . Americans don’t understand how a giant expansion of government will help create or preserve jobs, or why the same Democrats who showed strong support on the Senate floor for Republican proposals to protect small businesses and middle class taxpayers, dropped those proposals once behind closed doors. Massive spending and crushing debt are not the answers to a recession, and neither are tax hikes on working families and job creators.”

Access a 4-page overview of the conference agreement (
click here). Access the complete 48-page conference agreement (click here). Access links to extensive information on the budget conference agreement (click here). Access a statement from Senator Conrad (click here). Access a statement from Speaker Pelosi (click here). Access a House Democratic release with links to information and videos (click here). Access the floor speech and video from Republican Leader Boehner (click here). Access the statement from Senate Republican Leader McConnell (click here). Access the Senate roll call vote (click here). Access the House roll call vote (click here). Access legislative details for S.Con.Res. 13 (click here).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Parties Conclude Major Economies Meeting "A Bit More Optimistic"

Apr 29: U.S. negotiators; Todd Stern, Special Envoy for Climate Change and Michael Froman, Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs; were cautious at a press briefing in discussing the progress made during the first of three preparatory session of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate held in Washington on April 27-28 [See WIMS 4/28/09]. The "leaders’ representatives" preparatory meetings are being held in advance of a "leaders' meeting" of the Major Economies in La Maddalena, Italy, in July 2009.

The forum of the 17 "Major Economies" included: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Denmark, in its capacity as host of the of the December 2009 Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen, and the United Nations also participated in the meetings.

Todd Stern, responding to a question summarized the meeting saying, "The question that was asked of me was whether I came out of the meeting somewhat more optimistic than I went in. And I believe what I said is I came out a bit more optimistic, because it was a discussion in which people were not -- were neither refusing to, you know, engage past their kind of canned remarks; where the atmosphere, unlike some other past meetings run by other people, were not head-butting exercises; where people were engaged in trying to work through issues. I’m not -- believe, me, I’m not trying to oversell. I described myself a bit more optimistic, because, and as Mike said, to a person, everybody -- the Chinese, the Indians, the Brazilians, everybody -- came out of that room feeling -- I think, feeling more optimistic than they went into the room, frankly. So -- but I also said. . . I would not downplay or underestimate the difficulty of getting an agreement in Copenhagen in the first instance, and the enormous difficulty of wrestling this problem to the ground, because it is. . ."

According to the brief Chairman's Summary of the meeting, "Participants agreed that the Forum is not an alternative to the UN Framework Convention process, but could inform and complement and make a major contribution to success in the UN negotiations in Copenhagen, as well as implementation of the Bali Roadmap. Participants shared the view that climate change is a clear and present danger to our world that demands immediate attention from all countries, and that the Major Economies Leaders Meeting in July should send a strong political signal to add momentum to the Copenhagen process and to collective efforts to achieve a low-carbon future. It was noted that all major economies are already taking actions in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities." There was wide support for considering how best the Major Economies Forum can contribute to a successful outcome at the UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December.

The summary indicated, participants agreed to continue discussions on mitigation, finance, adaptation and related issues at their next meeting (scheduled for Paris in May), including exploring shared assumptions. "The discussions underscored the need for near term ambitious actions for all, as well as pathways, and the development of mid-term goals for developed countries. . .

"Many in the group noted that the forum could provide valuable support and impetus at a political level for the development of critical technologies and supported exploring cooperation on innovation and policies to enable deployment of technologies, including carbon capture and storage, clean coal, buildings, energy efficiency, solar energy and biofuels, among others. The role of legal and regulatory systems in facilitating enabling environments was also raised."

On the subject of "midterm targets" (i.e. greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions by 2020) a question was asked at the press briefing -- What reaction did you get, if any, from countries regarding the comments you’ve made several times that for the United States midterm targets going 25 to 40 below 1990 levels is not going to be feasible? Stern gave an indirect response saying, We had quite an extensive conversation about the whole subject of mitigation, and to include the question of midterm targets, to include the question of what the United States is talking about. So yes, those discussions came up. People expressed their views. We expressed our views. Some people agreed with us, some people pushed back with – on us, we pushed back on them. It was a good conversation. There were plenty of people there who – I mean, there were all different views represented, and it was, I think, again, a very constructive conversation. It’s very much what we wanted. We wanted to not be dodging things."

The issue of midterm targets was also a point of contention at the recent meetings of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany [See WIMS 4/9/09], which concluded with wide disparities and no agreement on interim targets for industrialized countries for the year 2020. Experts say the interim targets are critical to reversing the growth in emissions. The European Union has called for interim targets of 20-30% less than 1990 levels; Australia (minus 4-14%); Canada (+2%); Japan (+4% to – 25%); Russia (not available); and the Obama Administration has said it would reduce GHG levels to 1990 levels by 2020 or a 0% reduction from 1990 levels.

Access the Chairman's Summary from the First Preparatory Meeting of the Major Economies Forum (
click here). Access the transcript of the Special Briefing at the conclusion of the Major Economies Forum (click here). Access the State Department Climate Change website for additional information (click here). [*Energy, *Climate]

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

One More ACES Climate & Energy Bill Hearing Before Markup

Apr 27: Following three days of testimony and one day of Member statements last week [See WIMS 4/27/09], House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, Chair Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) sent a brief memorandum to members of the Energy and Commerce Committee regarding the Subcommittee markup schedule for the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES).

The memo indicates, "We wanted to report that we viewed last week's hearings, with 68 witnesses over three days, as very helpful in airing the issues associated with the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. The hearings have spurred productive discussions between members on the legislation, which are continuing this week. We will schedule markup of the bill in the Subcommittee for next week, with the precise date to be advised shortly." Additionally, the two Democratic Chairmen sent a 5-page letter to Ranking Members Joe Barton (R-TX) and Fred Upton (R-MI) in response to a letter regarding hearings on the ACES.

In their letter, Waxman and Markey indicate, "This letter responds to the April 24, 2009, request from you and your Republican colleagues on the Committee for additional day of hearings on the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES). Your request was surprising given the extensive hearings the Committee has held on energy policy and legislation. Our extensive hearings and the many accommodations we have provided to the minority far surpass the process you provided Democrats when you and your Republican predecessors controlled the Committee. In the past two and a half years, this Committee has held dozens of hearings on energy and climate change policy that have informed the development of the ACES text and built a detailed factual record regarding the need for action on this matter." The letter listed some 36 hearings from February 2007 through March 2009. The listing did not include the 4 days of hearings that were just completed.

Waxman and Markey said, "In total, the Committee has held over 40 days of hearings on energy and climate change policy over the past two Congresses. During these hearings, over 300 witnesses testified, including 130 in this year alone. These hearings have included testimony from numerous minority witnesses and have involved accommodations for the minority that are not required under House or Committee rules. For example, 14 witnesses requested by the minority testified in the legislative hearings on ACES from April 22 to 24, 2009. On both April 22 and 24, the Committee scheduled new panels during the middle of the day to accommodate last-minute minority witness requests, pushing majority witness panels into the evening hours on those days. Our approach to this legislation stands in stark contrast to the approach you and your Republican predecessors adopted in previous Congresses on legislation that affected millions of Americans and involved expenditure of substantial taxpayer dollars."

The two Chairmen listed five examples and said, "These are just a few of many examples of how Republicans abdicated regular order when they controlled this Committee. This track record makes it particularly difficult to see any reasonable basis for Committee Republican complaints about the thorough, fair, and deliberate process we are employing to consider the ACES measure. Nevertheless, we want to continue to take into consideration issues raised by all members of the Committee as we proceed with this measure. We therefore will provide for an additional day of Committee hearings on the ACES draft on Friday, May 1,2009."

In their letter requesting additional hearings, Ranking Member Joe Barton and the other Republican members of the committee, asked Waxman and Markey to call witnesses selected by the Republicans under Rule XI of the Rules of the House of Representatives. They said, “As you know, this legislation will raise the price of gasoline, electricity, and every commodity and service that requires energy for its production or transport. Rising prices will lead to significant job losses that will not be offset by any small number of low-paying green jobs. This legislation will export our jobs and our manufacturing sectors overseas. And this bill will do nothing to decrease our dependence on foreign oil.

“Hasty decisions on incomplete legislation never seem to produce the desired outcome, and we had hoped that we would not have to assert traditional minority rights under the House Rules to request a day on which we might all hear from some who have not been permitted to testify." The Republicans said the Committee heard from 54 Democratic witnesses and 14 Republican witnesses last week.

Access the Memo to Committee members (
click here). Access the letter from Waxman-Markey (click here). Access the request letter from Republican members (click here). [*Energy, *Climate]

Monday, April 27, 2009

Climate Change Debate Heats Up

Apr 27: The last two weeks have seen a major turning point on the legislative, political and regulatory elements of the climate change debate. On April 17, U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced the Agency was issuing its proposed finding proposed finding that greenhouse gases contribute to air pollution that may endanger public health or welfare. From April 21-24, the House Energy & Commerce Committee, Chaired by Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) and its Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, Chaired by Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) held four days of must-see hearings on the American Clean Energy Security Act Of 2009.

On Earth Day, April 22, President Obama delivered a major speech on energy that included the Administration's reaffirmation to move forward with its cap and trade program. Finally, on the international front as the week commences and following the recent Bonn meeting [
See WIMS 4/9/09], the leaders of 17 "Major Economies" and the Secretary General of the United Nations are participating in a major energy and climate change session at the Department of State on April 27-28 in Washington, DC, at the invite of the President.

On April 17, Administrator Jackson announced the long awaited, "endangerment finding" which was the subject to intense controversy during the Bush Administration [
See WIMS 7/25/08]. Jackson said, "This finding confirms that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations. Fortunately, it follows President Obama’s call for a low carbon economy and strong leadership in Congress on clean energy and climate legislation. This pollution problem has a solution -- one that will create millions of green jobs and end our country’s dependence on foreign oil.” The proposed endangerment finding states, “In both magnitude and probability, climate change is an enormous problem. The greenhouse gases that are responsible for it endanger public health and welfare within the meaning of the Clean Air Act.”

EPA’s proposed endangerment finding is based on peer-reviewed scientific analysis of six gases -- carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride -- that have been the subject of intensive analysis by scientists around the world. EPA said the science "clearly shows that concentrations of these gases are at unprecedented levels as a result of human emissions, and these high levels are very likely the cause of the increase in average temperatures and other changes in our climate."

The scientific analysis also confirms that climate change impacts human health in several ways including: higher concentrations of ground-level ozone; increased drought; more heavy downpours and flooding; more frequent and intense heat waves and wildfires; greater sea level rise; more intense storms; and harm to water resources, agriculture, wildlife and ecosystems; and more. The analysis also finds that climate change has serious national security implications.

The "endangerment finding" responds to the April 2, 2007, 5-4 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court which decided the historic case about global warming (Massachusetts, et al. v. EPA, et al., No. 05-1120), and ruled that EPA has existing authority under the Federal Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from motor vehicles. EPA had previously refused to regulate such gases, arguing it lacked statutory authority [
See WIMS 4/2/07]. The Supreme Court ruled that EPA does have authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. The Court also held that the Agency could not refuse to use that authority based on the Agency’s policy preferences. Instead, the EPA would have to decide, based on the science, whether it believed that greenhouse gas emissions were posing dangers to public health or welfare. If the Agency determined that "endangerment" was occurring, the Agency would have to start the process of setting emission standards for greenhouse gases.

For four straight days (April 21-24), Chairmen Waxman and Markey held perhaps the most comprehensive set of hearings ever on alternative energy and climate change issues as contained within the draft American Clean Energy Security Act Of 2009 (ACES). The testimony and videos from the hearing are must-see and read for all those interested in the science and politics of climate change. Waxman and Markey released their draft of ACES on March 31 [
See WIMS 3/31/09]. The hearings included statements from Committee and Subcommittee members which demonstrated the stark differences between Democrats and Republicans on the issue; major testimony from Administration officials from EPA, the Department of Energy and Transportation; extensive testimony and questioning of former VP Al Gore, former Senator John Warner (R-VA); former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich; and major environmental, industry, state and local government officials, and others.

Al Gore's testimony reminded that, "Our country is at risk on three fronts. The economic crisis is clear. Our national security remains at risk so long as we remain dangerously dependent on flows of foreign oil from reserves owned by sovereign states that are vulnerable to disruption. The rate of new discoveries, as you know, is falling even as demand elsewhere in the world is rising. Most importantly, of course, we are -- along with the rest of humanity -- facing the dire and growing threat of the climate crisis."

Newt Gingrich responded saying he had concluded, ". . . this is the wrong bill. This bill is wrong for our national security. This bill is wrong for our economy. This bill is wrong for government of, by, and for the people. He challenged Gore's assumption that we face energy shortages, and said, ". . .Vice President Gore’s analysis was wrong. . . The United States government blocks the development of new energy sources and inhibits the use of existing energy and then explains that we will have a shortage of energy. It is an artificial, government imposed shortage not a naturally occurring phenomenon. . ."

Gore, Warner, Gingrich and others commented on the news story that broke on the day of their testimony in the New York Times indicating that new internal documents released in legal proceedings demonstrated that in 1995, the industry-financed group, Global Climate Coalition, did not reveal scientific information from its own experts that indicated that, "The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied."

The industry report also said that, "Given the limitations of climate models and other information on this question, current claims that a human impact on climate has already been detected, are unjustified. However, assessment of whether human activities have already affected climate may be possible when improved climate models are available. Alternatively, a large, short term change in climate consistent with model predictions could be taken as proof of a human component of climate change [See links to the complete report below].

On Earth Day, President Obama delivered an energy and climate change speech in Newton, Iowa at a manufacturing plant building towers for windmill turbines. He said, "America has always led the world in producing and harnessing new forms of energy. . . the choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy. The choice we face is between prosperity and decline. We can remain the world's leading importer of oil, or we can become the world's leading exporter of clean energy. We can allow climate change to wreak unnatural havoc across the landscape, or we can create jobs working to prevent its worst effects. . ."

While most of the President's speech focused on alternative energy issues, he used the opportunity to again discuss his plans for climate change and a cap and trade program. He said, ". . .last week, in response to a mandate from the United States Supreme Court, the Environmental Protection Agency determined that carbon dioxide and other tailpipe emissions are harmful to the health and well-being of our people. So there's no question that we have to regulate carbon pollution in some way; the only question is how we do it. I believe the best way to do it is through legislation that places a market-based cap on these kinds of emissions. And today, key members of my administration are testifying in Congress on a bill that seeks to enact exactly this kind of market-based approach. My hope is that this will be the vehicle through which we put this policy in effect."

Finally, today and tomorrow (April 27 & 28), the U.S. is hosting a forum of the 17 "Major Economies" including: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Denmark, in its capacity as the President of the December 2009 Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the United Nations have also been invited to participate in this dialogue.

According to information from the State Department, the meeting will take place at the "level of leaders’ representatives." U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern will lead U.S. participation in the Major Economies Forum, and Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs Michael Froman will serve as Chair. The Forum is intended to facilitate a candid dialogue among major developed and developing economies; help generate the political leadership necessary to achieve a successful outcome at the December UN climate change conference in Copenhagen; and advance the exploration of concrete initiatives and joint ventures that increase the supply of clean energy while cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

In a press briefing on April 24, Froman said Major Economies represent 75 percent of global emissions. He said, ". . .we believe that it is critical that those 17 be able to make progress on the outstanding issues and reach political consensus if there is to be a deal in Copenhagen, as well as to make progress on the transformational technologies that are necessary to develop if we’re going to solve the climate change problem. This is part of the President’s overall effort to build a clean energy economy, to create green jobs, and to create greater energy independence. We plan to have three working sessions of the Major Economies Forum over the next few months in preparation for a leaders meeting that will take place on the margins of the G-8 meeting in Italy in July. We’re looking forward to having this dialogue this week. This is the beginning of a process, and we kept the dialogue relatively small in order to facilitate open and intensive discussion."

Access EPA's announcement on the endangerment finding (
click here). Access the endangerment finding published in the Federal Register on 4/24/09 (click here). Access the ACES summary (click here). Access the ACES full text (click here). Access an overview of the four-day ACES hearing schedule(click here). Access the Day 1 ACES hearing (click here). Access the Day 2 ACES hearing (click here). Access the Day 3 ACES hearing (click here). Access the Day 4 ACES hearing (click here). Access the NYT's article (click here). Access the actual industrial 25-page document (click here). Access the President's Obama's Earth Day energy speech (click here). Access the press briefing on the Major Economies Forum (click here).[*Energy, *Climate]

Friday, April 10, 2009

CBO Report Adds More Questions To The Benefits Of Ethanol From Corn

Subscribers & Readers Notice:
We are beginning our Spring publication break next week.
We resume publication on Monday, April 27, 2009.

Apr 9: Following on the heels of a major scientific study of biofuels’ impact on the global environment that questioned the value of ethanol production from both corn and cellulosic sources [See WIMS 4/7/09], the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has come to similar conclusions and provides new information on the costs of ethanol production from corn.

The CBO study released April 9 -- The Impact of Ethanol Use on Food Prices and Greenhouse-Gas Emissions -- finds that ethanol from corn has contributed to a 10-15 percent increase in food prices between April 2007 and April 2008 [Correction: accounted for about 10 percent to 15 percent of the rise in food prices between April 2007 and April 2008]; would add $600-$900 million to the Food Stamp program in fiscal year 2009; and would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector by less than 1 percent. CBO also notes that land use changes resulting from increased production of ethanol could more than offset any reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions. The scientific study goes further and indicates that, “The policy of using ethanol to reduce reliance on the fossil fuels that cause global warming is self-defeating because ethanol production actually increases net greenhouse gas emissions.”

While the CBO study indicated that the use of cellulosic ethanol, made from wood, grasses, and agricultural plant wastes rather than corn, might reduce greenhouse-gas emissions more substantially; the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) study even questioned the value of cellulosic production. Robert Howarth, professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University and the Project Chair for the SCOPE study said, “The SCOPE report agrees the cellulosic ethanol is better, but not better enough. The efficiency of making the ethanol is simply too low, requiring too much land and too much input of material.” The report suggests that biomass that does not compete with food production can be used much more efficiently (and therefore with less environmental impact) through direct combustion to generate electricity and heat, rather than being converted to liquid fuels such as ethanol.

The CBO report indicates that the use of ethanol in gasoline has increased substantially over the past decade. Currently, most ethanol in the United States is produced from domestically grown corn, and the rapid rise in the fuel’s production and usage means that roughly one-quarter of all corn grown in the United States is now used to produce ethanol. U.S. consumption of ethanol last year exceeded 9 billion gallons -- a record high. Mandates for increased usage included in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) are slated to keep ethanol production high in the future and call for ramping up to 36 billion gallons per year by 2022.

The CBO report also indicates the costs relating to federal subsidies for ethanol production. According to the report since 1978, firms that blend ethanol with gasoline have received a tax incentive from the federal government. The incentive has been adjusted periodically; today, ethanol blenders receive a tax credit of 45 cents for each gallon of ethanol blended into the supply of gasoline. The subsidy has helped keep ethanol competitive with gasoline, even when prices for corn are high. In 2007, the cost of the credit in forgone federal tax revenues was $3 billion.

The CBO report relies on research conducted at Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) to compare the life cycle of ethanol v. gasoline. CBO says that research, which has been widely accepted by federal agencies, found that the use of corn ethanol as it is
currently produced -- using coal-fired and natural gas-fired plants -- reduces life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions by about 20 percent when compared with the use of gasoline. Calculated on the basis of the volume of ethanol used in the United States last year, that percentage reduction is equivalent to about 14 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and equivalent gases, or CO2e. That amount is about 0.7 percent of the total greenhouse-gas emissions generated in the transportation sector during 2008.

Access the complete 26-page CBO analysis (
click here). Access a recent Senate hearing website for links to opening statements, all testimony and a webcast on the Renewable Fuels Standard (click here). Access the SCOPE report preface, and links to an executive summary, and individual chapters of the report (click here). [*Energy/Biofuels]

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Bonn Climate Talks Stall On GHG 2020 Reduction Targets

Apr 8: While many of the parties agree that greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets for 2050 should be in the 70%-90% range over 1990 levels, the latest meetings of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany, working toward a revised Kyoto Protocol, concluded with wide disparities and no agreement on interim targets for industrialized countries for the year 2020, which the experts say is critical to reversing the growth in emissions.

To indicated the disparities between various developed countries, Greenpeace released a table on April 6, summarizing various countries announced or discussed GHG reduction targets over 1990 levels by the year 2020. According to the table some of the key targets are as follows: Australia (minus 4-14%); Canada (+2%); European Union (minus 20-30%); Japan (+4% to – 25%); Russia (not available); United States (0%) [See WIMS 4/7/09].

With just 241 days until the Copenhagen meeting in December, significant pressure is now on an upcoming UNFCCC meeting in June to begin narrowing the differences and refining the reduction targets. In addition, President Obama has invited the leaders of 17 "major economies" and the Secretary General of the United Nations to participate in a preparatory session at the Department of State on April 27-28 in Washington, DC [
See WIMS 3/30/09].

According to the official press release from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) the talks captured "the essential elements of strengthened international climate change action to be reflected in first negotiating texts for the next round of talks in June." Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of UNFCCC said, "Countries have narrowed gaps in many practical areas, for example on how to strengthen action for adapting to the impacts of climate change. They now have the necessary clarity to move into intensified negotiations based on texts. The negotiating texts for the Climate Change Talks in June will further pinpoint the details of cooperative international climate change action, as well as focus work on the financial support needed to unleash action in developing countries. This is important progress given the very limited time negotiators have to get to an agreed outcome in Copenhagen in December this year."

Briefing journalists on the final day of the Bonn Talks, de Boer reported that solid progress had been made. He said the meeting had given important guidance on what a Copenhagen agreement must contain, and a first round of discussions had been held on what legal form an agreed outcome might take. However, he emphasized that with regard to emission targets for industrialized countries, the numbers discussed so far "fell well short" of the 25-40% reduction over 1990 levels by 2020 range recommended by the IPCC, and stressed the need for these countries to show "greater ambition." He pointed out that developing countries were willing to undertake mitigation actions if the promised financial and technical support were delivered, while some already had climate change strategies in place.

The Bonn Talks incorporated the 5th session of the Ad hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA 5) and the 7th session of the Ad hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP 7). Under the AWG-LCA, countries discussed how to strengthen international cooperation on reducing emissions, including from deforestation; adapting to climate change impacts; financing action and the governance of finances.

Michael Zammit Cutajar, Chair of the AWG-LCA, noted that, "These Climate Change Talks have been increasingly tactical in nature. There have been positive discussions on a range of issues, including on technology cooperation between industrialized and developing countries, as well as on the specificities of reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries." Preparing for what he called the "real negotiations" in June [June 1-12 in Bonn], Cutajar indicated that countries have the opportunity to provide input to the draft negotiating text and must provide their input to the climate change secretariat by April 24, 2009, so that their views can be incorporated.

Discussions under the Kyoto Protocol on emissions reductions to be achieved by industrialized countries after 2012 focused on issues such as the scale of the reductions, improvements to emissions trading and the project-based mechanisms, and on options for the treatment of land use, land-use change and forestry. UNFCCC said agreement was reached to provide the Chair of the group with a mandate to prepare negotiating texts on emission reductions to be achieved by industrialized countries after 2012, as well as on other issues such as improvements to the project-based mechanisms. Harald Dovland, Chair of the AWG-KP said, "I am extremely pleased that we have agreement to prepare these texts. Things are certainly moving forward. The June session will finalize these negotiating texts, which will be proposals for amendments to the Kyoto Protocol."

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) representing some 200 companies from 35 countries issued a report -- Towards a Low Carbon Economy -- on April 7, recommending among several other recommendations that, "A future framework must enable countries to collectively work towards a low-carbon economy with the urgency needed. This includes emissions reduction targets for developed countries and supporting infrastructure to enhance the financial and technology flows to developing countries to slow emissions growth and work towards net emission reductions in the longer term."

Carroll Muffett, Greenpeace USA deputy campaigns director said, “The diplomats and negotiators in Bonn have been treading water for two weeks, while back in the real world ice caps have continued to melt at alarming rates and flash floods have devastated parts of Australia. As it stands, this exact same meeting will be repeated in June. Heads of State must now inject leadership and direction into the talks in order to avert catastrophic climate change. . . the United States must come back to the process with solid proposals in June and the rest of the industrialized world must knuckle down and close the gap between what is on the table and what is needed." Greenpeace is calling on developed countries to agree to an aggregate emissions reduction target of 40 percent by 2020 and provide $140 billion annually to assist the developing world tackle climate change.

Keya Chatterjee, deputy director of the climate program at World Wildlife Fund (WWF), issued a statement saying “The urgency of a global response to climate change has never been greater. As negotiations have continued since Bali in December 2007 and Poznan last year, the Earth has continued to warm and the impacts of climate change -- from the South Pole to the North Pole -- have become more apparent. In just the last two weeks, a chunk of ice the size of Connecticut broke off of Antarctica [See WIMS 4/6/09] and NASA announced that this winter’s Arctic sea ice was thinner than at any point in recorded history [See WIMS 4/3/09].

"The good news is we are seeing positive movement. Energy legislation with a draft climate change section was released in the House last week by Chairmen Waxman and Markey [
See WIMS 3/31/09]. It is vital that Congress move quickly in passing a strengthened cap and trade bill that will stabilize our climate and enable a global climate deal while laying the foundation for a secure, sustainable and prosperous clean energy economy. . . Resolving these issues prior to the December meeting in Copenhagen will require strong and determined leadership. For the sake of future generations and vulnerable communities and ecosystems, I hope the U.S. is ready, willing and able to lead that charge.”

In concluding remarks at the Bonn meeting, U.S. Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing, said, "There is a wide range of views among Parties on basic issues, and it is our hope that June will be a time when views start to converge. But time is short, and we must reach agreement in Copenhagen. We must be pragmatic, because it does not seem clear that we will be able to manage these issues if we wait until Copenhagen to find areas of commonality. . .

"As our presentation in the mitigation workshop noted, the United States will be taking a whole range of actions to further the climate effort; at the core of our effort we seek an economy-wide cap-and-trade system that will establish a mandatory target through the year 2050, when emissions will be reduced by 80%. . ." Pershing did not discuss targets for 2020.

Access a release from UNFCCC (click here). Access the Bonn UNFCCC meeting website for complete information and documents (click here). Access a release from WBCSD and link to their latest report (click here). Access a release from Greenpeace (click here). Access a release from WWF (click here). Access the IISD daily reporting from the Bonn meeting with a final summary expected to be posted on April 11 (click here). Access the Greenpeace target table (click here). Access the concluding comments from Jonathan Pershing (click here). Access links to various media reports on the Bonn meetings (click here). [*Climate]

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Groups Focus On President's Goal To End Nuclear Weapons

President Obama In Prague

Apr 8: Following up on the President's call for a world without nuclear weapons in Prague, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a report calling for fundamental changes to U.S. nuclear war planning, a vital prerequisite if smaller nuclear arsenals are to be achieved. The report, From Counterforce to Minimal Deterrence -- A New Nuclear Policy on the Path Toward Eliminating Nuclear Weapons, calls to abandon the almost five-decade-long central mission for U.S. nuclear forces, which the groups say has been and continues to be “counterforce,” the capability for U.S. forces to destroy an enemy’s military forces, its weapons, its command and control facilities and its key leaders.

Ivan Oelrich, vice president of the Strategic Security Program at FAS and one of the report authors said, “The current rationale for maintaining an arsenal of nuclear weapons no longer exists. And to get future reductions in the number of weapons, we have to eliminate the missions they are assigned.” According to a release from the groups, the nuclear mission flows from directives and guidance given by the President, through the Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Strategic Command where it is implemented into elaborate war plans. The report calls for eliminating all but one mission for nuclear forces.

Robert Norris, senior research associate with NRDC and report co-author said, “President Obama has already taken the first step by stating America’s commitment to a world without nuclear weapons. We present the radical changes needed in U.S. policies to make disarmament a reality.” According to the report, "That sole mission is deterrence, narrowly defined, to mean the certain capability to retaliate if any nation was unwise enough to use nuclear weapons against the United States or certain allies. Hans Kristensen, director of the FAS Nuclear Information Project and report co-author said, “Under minimal deterrence, all requirements for war planners to achieve an advantage in a nuclear exchange or limit damage to ourselves will disappear, leaving only in place the most basic mission of a sure retaliatory response."

In a related action, the Nuclear Weapons Complex Consolidation Policy (NWCC) Network, a collaboration of six national and regional groups, released another study that provides the roadmap for a large and swift reduction in the nation’s nuclear weapons and the sprawling government complex that develops and produces them. The study -- Transforming the U.S. Strategic Posture and Weapons Complex for Transition to a Nuclear Weapons-Free World -- outlines the case for a tenfold reduction in the nation’s active nuclear weapons stockpile, to 500 deployed nuclear warheads by 2015, supported by a weapons complex reduced from the current eight sites in seven states to just three sites in two states, Texas and New Mexico.

Contributors to the study include two national organizations, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), and four regional groups located in the vicinity of major weapons complex sites: Nuclear Watch New Mexico, near the Los Alamos and Sandia National Labs; Tri-Valley CAREs, near the Lawrence Livermore National Lab; the Greater Kansas City Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, near the Kansas City Plant (KCP); and JustPeace of Texas, near the Pantex Plant.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Robert Civiak, a physicist and former OMB budget examiner for DOE nuclear weapons programs, commented, “As a matter of overriding policy, the United States should view its strategic force for one purpose and one purpose only -- to deter the use of nuclear weapons by others until the world is free of nuclear weapons. The Department of Defense and the National Nuclear Security Administration should structure U.S. nuclear forces and the weapons complex accordingly.” Christopher Paine, Director of NRDC’s Nuclear Program and a co-author of the report, added, “The U.S. government has wasted hundreds of billions in the 20 years since the Cold War ended maintaining nuclear forces and a make-work weapons laboratory complex far larger than needed for deterring a nuclear attack on the United States or its allies.”

In yet another related matter, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) applauded President Obama's "bold new approach to addressing the threat posed by nuclear weapons," as outlined in his groundbreaking speech on Sunday, April 5 in Prague. UCS said in a release, "Although the cold war ended some 20 years ago, Obama is the first U.S. president to commit to making significant changes in U.S. nuclear weapons policy to reflect new global realities."

UCS said the President "laid out several concrete, pragmatic steps his administration will take. These include reducing the role that nuclear weapons have in overall U.S. security policy; negotiating a new U.S.-Russian treaty to reduce nuclear arsenals, now on a fast-track to completion by the end of the year; pursuing Senate ratification of the international treaty banning the explosive testing of nuclear weapons; and initiating a new program to secure all nuclear weapons material around the world within four years. UCS strongly supports all these steps, which will reduce the risk of an accidental Russian nuclear launch, and the likelihood that more nations and terrorists will acquire nuclear weapons. These steps will make the U.S. public, and the world, far safer."

In his Prague speech, the President laid the groundwork for change and discussed the magnitude of the threat. He said, ". . .The existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War. No nuclear war was fought between the United States and the Soviet Union, but generations lived with the knowledge that their world could be erased in a single flash of light. Cities like Prague that existed for centuries, that embodied the beauty and the talent of so much of humanity, would have ceased to exist.

"Today, the Cold War has disappeared but thousands of those weapons have not. In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up. More nations have acquired these weapons. Testing has continued. Black market trade in nuclear secrets and nuclear materials abound. The technology to build a bomb has spread. Terrorists are determined to buy, build or steal one. Our efforts to contain these dangers are centered on a global non-proliferation regime, but as more people and nations break the rules, we could reach the point where the center cannot hold.

"Now, understand, this matters to people everywhere. One nuclear weapon exploded in one city -- be it New York or Moscow, Islamabad or Mumbai, Tokyo or Tel Aviv, Paris or Prague -- could kill hundreds of thousands of people. And no matter where it happens, there is no end to what the consequences might be -- for our global safety, our security, our society, our economy, to our ultimate survival.

"Some argue that the spread of these weapons cannot be stopped, cannot be checked -- that we are destined to live in a world where more nations and more people possess the ultimate tools of destruction. Such fatalism is a deadly adversary, for if we believe that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable, then in some way we are admitting to ourselves that the use of nuclear weapons is inevitable.

"Just as we stood for freedom in the 20th century, we must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the 21st century. (Applause.) And as nuclear power -- as a nuclear power, as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it.

"So today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. (Applause.) I'm not naive. This goal will not be reached quickly -- perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change. We have to insist, 'Yes, we can. . .'"

Access a release on the "Minimal Deterrence" report with links to the full report and additional information (click here). Access a release on the "Transforming" report with links to the full report and related information (click here). Access a release from UCS (click here). Access the UCS Nuclear Weapons & Global Security for more information (click here). Access the full text of President Obama's Prague speech (click here). Access the video of the President's complete Prague speech (click here).

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Major Study Questions Both Corn & Cellulosic Biofuels' Impact

Apr 2: An international team of scientists released what they say is the first critical science-based consensus assessment of biofuels’ impact on the global environment. The assessment says that synthetic nitrogen fertilizer used in corn-ethanol production will increase emissions of nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide in its ability to warm the planet. The report predicts that nitrous oxide emissions may be four times greater than estimates made in 2007 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) Biofuels Project Chair Robert Howarth, professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University said, “The policy of using ethanol to reduce reliance on the fossil fuels that cause global warming is self-defeating because ethanol production actually increases net greenhouse gas emissions.” The report indicates that biofuels production will also worsen water quality,. As conservation lands are increasingly converted to corn production for ethanol, more runoff from chemical fertilizer is ending up in U.S. lakes, streams and marine environments, robbing them of the oxygen they need to survive. Howarth said, “That risks expanding these so-called ‘dead zones, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay."

Additionally, the report indicates that biofuels may also increase water scarcity at a time of increasing drought. Roughly 45 billion cubic meters of irrigation water were used for biofuel production in 2007, or some six times more water than people drink globally.

According to a release, many of the assessment participants are concerned about U.S. policies pushing ethanol, not only from corn, but from cellulose as well. Several previous reports have exposed the consequences of making ethanol from corn, which now dominates production in the U.S., but have held out hope that ethanol from cellulosic materials such as wood and grasses would be more environmentally friendly. Howarth said, “The SCOPE report agrees the cellulosic ethanol is better, but not better enough. The efficiency of making the ethanol is simply too low, requiring too much land and too much input of material.” The report suggests that biomass that does not compete with food production can be used much more efficiently (and therefore with less environmental impact) through direct combustion to generate electricity and heat, rather than being converted to liquid fuels such as ethanol.

The assessment reflects the work of the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) of the International Council for Science (ICSU). More than 75 scientists from 21 countries and diverse disciplines have taken part in the SCOPE Biofuels Project’s “rapid assessment” of the effects of biofuels on the environment.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) Midwest Vice President Craig Cox issued a commentary on the report saying, ". . .the report raises serious questions about how important a role liquid biofuels -- either current or next-generation -- can realistically play in the renewable energy economy that is vital to our prosperity and our environment. This timely report challenges the conventional wisdom that too often dominates the debate over biofuels policy in the United States and across the globe. Policymakers should pay close attention to the report as they move forward with climate change and energy legislation."

EWG summarized the key highlights of the report as follows: (2) Economic pressures on corn prices will likely limit corn-ethanol production to 15 billion gallons a year ¾ at best enough ethanol to replace 7 percent of the gasoline each year in the United States. (2) In 2007, the United States used 24 percent of its corn crop to produce ethanol, which supplied only 1.3 percent of U.S. liquid fuel. (3) New liquid hydrocarbon fuels produced from cellulosic biomass seem likely to offer several advantages, including more efficient yields and less environmental impact, over ethanol produced from cellulose. (4) Opportunities for biofuel production that maximize social benefits while minimizing environmental impacts are few, and those that exist are unlikely to make a significant contribution to society’s energy budget.

(5) Burning biomass itself as fuel to generate electricity and heat is likely a more efficient way to produce renewable energy than converting biomass to liquid fuel such as ethanol. (6) Current mandates and targets for liquid biofuels should be reconsidered in light of the potential environmental damage and impact on food prices. (7) A truly sustainable energy policy should first aim to reduce demand for energy through conservation and improved efficiency.

On April 1, the U.S. Senate Environment and Pubic Works Committee, Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, Chaired by Senator Tom Carper (DE) held an oversight hearing on U.S. EPA's Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The bipartisan energy bill in 2007 amended the Clean Air Act to greatly enhance the RFS by requiring 9 billion gallons of renewable fuels be blended into our gasoline starting in 2008, and ramping up to 36 billion gallons by 2022. The hearing raised serious questions about the viability of the RFS.

Access a release from SCOPE (
click here). Access the report preface, and links to an executive summary, and individual chapters of the report (click here). Access the statement from EWG (click here). Access the Senate hearing website for links to opening statements, all testimony and a webcast (click here).

Monday, April 06, 2009

European Union Outlines Ambitious Vision For Copenhagen

Apr 6: In a speech at a seminar on climate change, House of Europe in Stockholm, Stavros Dimas the European Union Environmental Commissioner outlined what he called the European Union's "comprehensive vision for the Copenhagen agreement." He summarized the vision's seven points as follows:

"Firstly, it has long been the EU's objective to limit average global warming to less than 2°C above the temperature in pre-industrial times. 2°C is widely considered the 'tipping point' beyond which irreversible and potentially catastrophic environmental changes will become far more likely. This translates into less than 1.2°C above the temperature today, so the window of opportunity for staying within this limit is closing fast. . . the world will need to cut global emissions to at least 50% below 1990 levels by 2050. Developed countries will have to go further, with cuts of 80-95%, to leave room for developing countries to lift themselves out of poverty. . .we will need to stabilize them before 2020. . .

"[2] Developed countries have a moral obligation and an historic responsibility to lead the way in cutting emissions, and the resources to do so. The science tells us that they need to reduce their collective emissions to 30% below 1990 levels by 2020. . .

"[3] . . .it is essential that the developing world takes appropriate action to contain its emissions growth. The latest science indicates that to keep within the 2°C temperature limit, developing country emissions will need to be some 15 to 30% below business as usual levels in 2020. Central to our proposals for developing countries are low-carbon development strategies which would cover all key emitting sectors while encouraging further economic growth. Developing countries would draw up these strategies setting out what they intend to do to mitigate emissions and identifying the actions for which they would need external financial and technological assistance. A mechanism to be established under the Climate Convention would then assess the adequacy of these actions and match up the identified needs with the necessary support.

"[4] . . .tropical deforestation accounts for around 20% of global emissions, the Copenhagen agreement must create incentives to at least halve tropical deforestation by 2020 and halt global forest cover loss by 2030. Furthermore, it must set targets for reducing emissions from international aviation and shipping. Both of these sectors are large and growing emission sources which have so far been excluded from international emission reduction commitments.

"[5] . . .adaptation to climate change is of crucial importance, particularly for vulnerable developing countries, and must be comprehensively addressed in Copenhagen. . . the EU has proposed a framework for adaptation action which has found wide support. . . Although the paper predominantly covers the EU it points to the importance of continuing efforts to facilitate adaptation in third countries especially in neighboring and the most vulnerable developing countries.

"[6] . . .can be summarized as 'no money, no deal'. It is absolutely clear that the developed world will have to substantially scale up financial, technological and capacity building support to help developing countries cope with the challenges of both mitigation and adaptation. The EU is committed to taking on its fair share of this financing, which we believe must come from a mix of public and private sources at bilateral and multilateral level, including an expanded international carbon market. . .

"[7] . . .the importance of expanding the international carbon market. This is an essential tool for achieving the deep emission cuts needed in the most cost-effective way. The carbon market can also be a major source of the additional financing needed. Member States have agreed that at least 50% of revenues from the auctioning of emission allowances in the EU should be used to combat climate change, both at home and abroad. Our vision is to build an OECD-wide carbon market by 2015 by linking the EU emissions trading system with compatible cap-and-trade systems being set up in other industrialized countries. The moves underway to introduce a U.S. federal cap-and-trade system, point to the real possibility that a transatlantic carbon market could be in place from around 2012, and this is enormously encouraging."

Dimas also indicated what could be an additional point saying, "We also want to see the Clean Development Mechanism reformed, and in the case of highly competitive sectors in advanced developing countries the need for a sectoral crediting mechanism that generates credits once a whole sector does better than an agreed emissions benchmark. This sectoral crediting mechanism should be a stepping stone to the introduction of cap-and-trade systems in the big emerging economies from 2020."

He indicated, "leadership by Europe alone is not enough. We need shared leadership by the developed world as a whole if we are to carry developing countries along with us. President Obama’s commitment to take international leadership on climate change, and the speech by his special climate envoy Todd Stern at the start of the negotiations now under way in Bonn, signal an immensely encouraging shift in America’s position. So does last week's proposal by Congressmen Waxman and Markey for a climate and energy bill, including a federal cap-and-trade system. Now we need to see how this will be reflected in the US negotiating positions. Clearly, we also want to see other developed countries rallying to this constructive attitude - particularly those that have hidden behind U.S. reticence until now."

Access the complete statement by Commissioner Dimas (
click here). Access a lengthy Q&A release and link to the complete EU white paper on a framework for adaptation (click here). [*Climate]

Friday, April 03, 2009

Sen. Feingold Bill To Restore Scope Of CWA Protected Waters

Apr 2: Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) reintroduced legislation which he says will "restore protections for waterways throughout the country that impact the drinking water of more than 100 million Americans." Feingold’s Clean Water Restoration Act (CWRA, S. 787) would ensure protections for rivers, streams and wetlands, which were long protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA), but "are now in jeopardy of losing protections as a result of two recent Supreme Court cases." He said, "Since those decisions, more and more waters continue to be stripped of protections previously provided by the CWA, which became law in 1972." Feingold is joined by twenty-three cosponsors including Senator Barbara Boxer, Chairman of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, and Senator Ben Cardin, Chairman of the EPW Water and Wildlife Subcommittee.

Feingold said, “The choice before us today is simple but urgent: If you support the Clean Water Act, you must also support this bill to restore the protections of the Clean Water Act. Every day Congress fails to reaffirm Clean Water Act protections, more and more waters are stripped of their protections, jeopardizing the drinking water of millions of Americans, as well as our nation's wildlife habitats, recreational pursuits, agricultural and industrial uses, and public health. I am pleased the bill has such broad support from governors, attorneys general, farming groups, outdoor recreation groups and others who recognize the great danger of leaving our waters and wetlands unprotected.”

According to a release, the CWA was enacted in 1972 to clean up and protect our nation’s waters, including isolated wetlands and headwater streams, which are critical to our environment and economy. However, two controversial, closely decided U.S. Supreme Court cases, Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. Army Corps of Engineers in 2001 and Rapanos v. United States in 2006, greatly reduced the scope of the CWA, undermining decades of clean water protections. Feingold said, "The decisions have also led to significant confusion, permitting delays and increased costs caused by uncertainty about which waters remain protected after the court decisions."

The President and members of his administration have spoken in favor of restoring the scope of the CWA. During the campaign, President Obama’s campaign stated that if elected, he would support and sign into law legislation that effectively restores the historical scope of the CWA. During her nomination hearings, Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator, stated that if confirmed, she would assist Congress with legislation to clarify the scope of the CWA. And in April 2008, Carol Browner, who served as the EPA Administrator under President Clinton and who currently works on climate change issues in the Obama administration, testified in support of Feingold’s legislation.

Access a release with comments from supporters and link to a list of endorsements (click here). Access legislative details for S. 787 (click here). Access numerous WIMS-eNewsUSA blog postings on the Rapanos and Northern Cook County decisions and related matters (click here). [*Water]

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Major RFF Report On Reforming Regulatory Impact Analysis

Mar 31: A major and timely, 241-page report entitled, Reforming Regulatory Impact Analysis, has been put forward by the environmental think tank, Resources For the Future (RFF). The authors admit, "The federal rulemaking process will never be the subject of a great novel;" however, they say, "While the ponderous analyses and complicated calculations involved in federal rulemaking spark great passion and controversy among a hardy band of scholars and analysts, most citizens have little reason to think about the regulatory processes that affect much of modern commerce." In fact, the rulemaking process, incorporating regulatory impact analysis, is at the heart of most environmental issues, controversies and court cases.

Yesterday (April 1, 2009), the U.S. Supreme Court, in a split decision, upheld U.S. EPA use of controversial cost-benefit analyses in the case of Entergy Corp. v. Riverkeeper, Inc. [See related article above &
WIMS 4/2/09]. Additionally, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has just completed a public comment period seeking comments on how to improve the process and principles governing Federal regulatory review, prompted by Presidential Obama's Memorandum on "Regulatory Review" [See WIMS 2/4/09 & 3/19/09] (See link to comments received below).

A simple review of the chapter titles reveals the timeliness of the report: Chapter 1. Controversies Surrounding Regulatory Impact Analysis; Chapter 2. The Clean Air Interstate Rule; Chapter 3. The Technocratic and Democratic Functions of the CAIR Regulatory Analysis; Chapter 4. The CAIR RIA: Advocacy Dressed Up as Policy Analysis; Chapter 5. The Clean Air Mercury Rule; Chapter 6. The Mathematics of Mercury; Chapter 7. The CAMR: An Economist’s Perspective; Chapter 8. The Cooling Water Intake Structures Rule; Chapter 9. Improving the CWIS Rule Regulatory Analysis: What Does an Economist Want?; Chapter 10. Fish Tales; and Chapter 11. What We Learned.

The authors explain the diverse and controversial differences that divide various interests on the issues of regulatory impact analysis saying, "Two quite divergent groups of scholars find these matters important enough to fight about. One group believes that economic analyses are critical to sound regulatory decisionmaking. The other group questions both the premise that economic considerations should play a prominent role and the particular methods used to develop quantitative estimates of benefits and, to a lesser degree, of costs. Although federal regulators have relied on cost–benefit analyses of regulatory impact analyses (RIAs) for close to four decades, the practice has remained controversial from its inception in the 1970s.

"The differences between the proponents and opponents of economic analysis are many and profound, but perhaps the most important are the contrasting attitudes about the value of environmental improvement. In one camp are those, mostly economists, who believe that environmental outcomes can, in principle, be valued just as market goods and services can: by finding what households are willing to pay to improve the quantity, quality, or their own access to the good in question. In the other camp are those who believe that simply asking the willingness-to pay question lessens the environmental values at stake, and that the answers tend to leave important considerations entirely out of the decisionmaking calculus.

"Over the continued and often passionate objections of the cost–benefit opponents, the RIA requirement has become firmly embedded in rulemaking procedures. For their part, the cost-benefit advocates, within both government and academia, have been content to expand the methods and improve the technical content of the analyses, largely ignoring the opponents. Not surprisingly, much of the debate has been expressed in largely philosophical and rhetorical terms -- from both sides. Largely absent has been a practical nuts and bolts approach to the problem, asking quite basic questions: What are current practices, and how can they be improved?"

The authors develop a series of specific reforms which they say they believe would enhance the overall quality and usefulness of the substantial studies that are conducted as part of the regulatory development process. They develop a dozen recommendations addressing the content of the RIAs as well as the process by which they are prepared. The recommendations cover five overarching topics including: (1) technical quality of the analyses; (2) relevance to the agency decisionmaking process; (3) transparency of the analyses; (4) treatment of new scientific findings; and (5) balance in both the analyses and the associated processes, including the treatment of distributional consequences.

Finally, the authors conclude, ". . .based on our review of the RIAs examined in this report, as well as other evidence, it is our judgment that recent RIAs have fallen well short of the mark in generating information and analyses that are truly useful to decisionmakers. We appear to be at a crossroads: either we fix the current system or we accept it without major reform. The recommendations developed here represent our judgment on an agenda for the former effort.We hope to spur further debate on these issues to stimulate constructive change."

RFF is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that conducts independent research -- rooted primarily in economics and other social sciences -- on environmental, energy, natural resource and public health issues. It prides itself in improving environmental and natural resource policymaking worldwide through objective social science research of the highest caliber. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the organization was founded in 1952, and became the first think tank devoted exclusively to natural resource and environmental issues. RFF neither lobbies nor takes positions on specific legislative or regulatory proposals, although individual researchers, speaking for themselves and not for RFF, do formulate specific policy recommendations based on the findings in their work.

Access the complete report (
click here). Access the extensive list and comments received on OMB's regulatory review notice(click here). Access the original February 26, OMB FR announcement (click here). Access the March 17 OMB FR extension announcement (click here). Access the RFF website (click here). [*All]

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

House Republicans Roll Out Budget Alternative: Energy Focus

Apr 1: As the debate on the budget begins in the House and Senate, House and Senate Republicans held a press conference on the East Front Steps of the U.S. Capitol to discuss the Democrats’ budget and the Republican alternative. The complete document is available from the link below, however, the following focuses only on the Republican's Energy proposals.

Republicans said their budget: Spends $4.8 trillion less than the Democrats’ budget over 10 years; Brings debt under control, borrowing $3.6 trillion less than the Obama budget over 10 years; Does not raise taxes; Creates 2.1 million more Jobs than the Democrats’ Budget; and Funds National Priorities.

The Republican Energy budget indicates that, "Despite abundant domestic resources, the Federal government has adopted policies that largely prevent domestic production of oil and natural gas. Significant reserves are believed to be located in the Outer Continental Shelf, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Intermountain West, and various other Federal lands. Most of these resources remain off limits due to the misguided notion that America cannot produce oil and gas in an environmentally responsible way. . . The substitute budget assumes increased revenues from bonus bids, rents, royalties, and fees from more domestic development of abundant U.S. reserves of oil and gas. . . U.S. environmental laws and regulations have recently been abused by special interest groups to block or delay otherwise safe energy projects. . . Many of these suits are brought by special interest groups that are opposed to all forms of domestic energy production, regardless of their merit. . . To address this problem, this budget calls for a review and streamlining of environmental laws and regulations that apply to energy production within 360 days of adoption."

The Republican Energy budget indicates, "The U.S. cannot ignore the strategic value that coal provides. The U.S. must aggressively pursue the development and deployment of clean coal technologies so that our cheapest, most abundant energy source remains a vital component of our energy mix. The substitute budget assumes a significant level of new funding for a clean energy technology fund, part of which will invest in new clean coal technology. . . This budget assumes funding for supporting new nuclear energy technologies and the adoption of policies that encourage more development of nuclear power.

The Republican budget "rejects the President’s and the Majority’s proposed cap-and-trade scheme. The budget also rejects the President’s philosophy that 'electricity prices would necessarily skyrocket' under his cap and trade plan. There is nothing more unnecessary than artificially causing power prices to skyrocket, especially for a policy that can be accomplished without draconian prices increases."

The budget also "rejects the President’s proposed $31 billion-$80 billion tax increase on domestic oil and natural gas producers. Studies show that every $1 billion invested in the oil and gas industry creates 5,400 jobs that pay an average of $45 per hour versus the national average of $17 per hour. On that basis, the President’s tax increases could cost the economy 167,000 to 432,000 jobs, and would undoubtedly increase U.S. dependence on foreign oil."

The Republican budget indicates, "Recent studies show, however, a much greater revenue potential for expanded oil and gas production than assumed by CBO. The American Energy Alliance [AEA] predicts that as much as $11.1 billion in annual Federal revenues, and $4.8 billion in State revenues, would accrue during the pre-production phase of expanded oil and gas development, leading to 270,000 additional jobs. Once full-scale production is achieved, AEA predicts up to 1.2 million new jobs will result, leading to $69 billion in annual Federal revenue and $18.7 billion in State revenue."

The Republican budget indicates, "The substitute budget offers a clear path forward toward ending dependence on foreign oil, deploying clean energy technologies, improving highways, and addressing deficit reduction, all without raising a single dollar of new taxes or causing energy prices to 'skyrocket,' which would kill jobs and harm the economy."

Access a video from the press conference (
click here). Access a 2-page summary of the Republican budget proposal (click here). Access the complete 64-page Republican budget proposal (click here). Access additional information on the Republican budget proposal (click here). [*Energy, *Climate]