Thursday, December 22, 2011

WIMS Environmental News Blogs

While we're on break it's a great time to check out our WIMS Environmental News Blogs -- 24/7 Environmental News. . .
We'll be back on Tuesday, January 3, 2012.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Happy Holidays

Subscribers & Readers Note:
WIMS will be off the next two weeks for our annual Christmas/New Year's holiday break and return on Tuesday, January 3, 2012, to begin our 32nd year.
We wish all of our subscribers & readers a happy and safe holiday season and wish you well in the coming new year. Thank you all for your continuing support.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Spending Bill Deal Should Avoid Shutdown; Some Riders Removed

Dec 16: House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) issued a statement after meeting with House Republicans this morning regarding the vote expected later today on a "bipartisan, bicameral government funding agreement." The Speaker said, "The House will vote today on bipartisan, bicameral legislation that funds our government and -- for the first time in modern history -- cuts discretionary spending for the second year in a row. Congress is leading by example by cutting our own budget -- again -- and saving taxpayer dollars by eliminating federal programs. The bill provides for a pay raise for our troops. And there are no earmarks in this bill.

    "Above all, this funding bill reflects our ongoing commitment to creating a better environment for job growth. It stops several excessive government regulations on job creators. And it includes provisions that will help speed up the development of new American energy. I want to thank Chairman Rogers and his team for all the great work they've done – sometimes under difficult circumstances. This is a bipartisan bill – put together in a bipartisan way – and I expect it to pass with bipartisan support."

    Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) issued a statement on the spending bill which she said has been "agreed to by congressional and White House negotiators" and should avert a government shutdown. She said, "Thanks to President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders, dozens of anti-environment 'riders' sought by the radical Tea Party and the House Republican leadership have been kept out of the omnibus spending bill. That's a victory for the American people. We've stopped the extremists from blocking restrictions on air pollution, fouling our waters, threatening endangered species and despoiling our public lands.

    "Unfortunately, the bill still contains some damaging riders, including one that will weaken air pollution controls in the Arctic and another that will block funding to enforce new light bulb efficiency standards that were signed into law by George W. Bush. Meanwhile, negotiations are continuing on the payroll tax-cut extension bill, to which Republican leaders have attached two major anti-environmental assaults, one short-circuiting review of the Keystone XL pipeline and the other blocking mercury limits on industrial boilers. So the fight is not over. And all this was so unnecessary. If Republican leaders had just let Congress do its job of writing spending and tax bills, lawmakers could have completed their work weeks ago -- without having put the country through another manufactured crisis."

    Regarding the payroll tax-cut extension bill, Speaker Boehner's office release a statement saying that "bipartisan support for the Keystone energy project has only continued to grow in the week since President Obama said he would 'reject' legislation supporting the job-creating pipeline. " The statement indicated that, "Yesterday, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) told reporters that Keystone 'has the backing of several Democrats.'  'It's always had more Democratic support than people thought,' she said.  All told, as many as 14 Senate Democrats are reportedly supportive of Keystone.  That's in addition to the 47 House Democrats who voted earlier this year to require the administration to act quickly act on the project. " The statement includes a number of supporting quotes from Senate and House Democrats.

    Regarding the light bulb standards rider, Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, Chaired by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) issued a statement saying, "This decision may have little practical consequence on which incandescent light bulbs are available in stores because, starting Jan. 1, it will be illegal to produce or import the inefficient, wasteful bulbs in the United States. The five major bulb manufacturers have already switched to making and selling the better bulbs. If America is to have a rational energy policy, we need to make progress in efficiency.  Blocking funds to enforce minimum standards works against our nation getting the full benefits of energy efficiency."

    Yesterday evening, House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) announced that the final fiscal year 2012 Appropriations legislation "will move forward with the approval of House and Senate conferees." He said, "The House and Senate have reached a final agreement to move forward on the final fiscal year 2012 Appropriations legislation. I am hopeful that the House and Senate can pass this bill tomorrow to prevent a government shutdown, fund critical programs and services for the American people, and cut spending to help put the nation's finances on a more sustainable path. In spite of many unnecessary obstacles, it is good to see that responsible leadership and good governance can triumph." The appropriations bill is, H.R.2055, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012 (MilCon VA Omnibus).

    Today on the House Floor, Chairman Rogers presented the final Fiscal Year 2012 Appropriations legislation, which includes the Conference report for the remaining nine Appropriations bills, as well as two other bills that provide funding for disaster recovery and assistance. He said the package cuts federal government spending "to the tune of some $95 billion." He thanked Representative Norm Dicks (D-WA), the Ranking Member and said, "I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan effort to reduce federal spending, responsibly fund our troops and government programs, and provide crucial disaster aid funding."

    Media reports indicate that the House is expected to adjourn Friday and return next week to finish the payroll tax legislation. The Senate is expected to work over the weekend on the appropriations bill.

    Access the release from Speaker Boehner on the funding bill (click here). Access the statement from NRDC (click here). Access the statement from the Speaker's office on the Keystone XL pipeline (click here). Access the statement from Senator Bingaman (click here). Access yesterday's statement from Rep. Rogers (click here); and today's Floor statement (click here). Access legislative details for H.R.2055 (click here). Access the Conference Report (click here). Access a report from The Hill on the latest activities (click here). [#HR2055, #KeystoneXL, #budget #GOP #DEMS, #taxcut]


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Upheaval Continues

Dec 15: The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a fascinating 3.5 hour hearing which addressed the incredibly complex and divergent points of view related to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and disagreements between the Chairman of the Commission Gregory Jaczko (a Democrat) and the remaining four Commissioners (2 Republican & 2 Democrats). The only way to capture the depth of the issue is to watch the video of the hearing. What is so fascinating, is that the facts, allegations and information presented by the two sides are so dramatically different.
    WIMS has provided previous background on the issue which again has Republicans and Democrats divided [See WIMS See WIMS 12/13/11 & WIMS 12/14/11]. The intent of the hearing was to deal with a "Review of the NRC's Near-Term Task Force Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century"; however, much of the hearing dealt with the disagreements between the Commissioners and the Chairman.
    Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) lectured the four Commissioners saying, ". . .at our last NRC hearing on August 2, four of you made the commitment to me that you would move forward on some or all of the Near-Term Task Force recommendations within 90 days. To my great disappointment, that hasn't happened. Although Chairman Jaczko repeatedly asked you to keep your commitment to move expeditiously on safety, you are more than a month overdue in that commitment. It doesn't appear to me that such action is set to occur any time soon. Colleagues, less than a week after the Task Force delivered its report to the NRC, Chairman Jaczko laid out a road map to address the lessons learned from Fukushima, and he set a deadline of October 21 for action on those recommendations. He was proactive, because without a specific timetable for those common-sense safety measures, the NRC will not live up to its mandate to require nuclear power plants to be safe and reliable. . ."
    Chairman Boxer commented on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on NRC Leadership, Chaired by Darrell Issa (R-CA) which was held yesterday (December 14). She said, "Yesterday, instead of focusing on nuclear plant safety, a House Committee conducted a witch hunt and attempted to assassinate the character of a dedicated public servant [i.e. Chairman Jaczko]. Frankly, I was shocked and appalled. One of you Commissioners even said in written testimony that the Chairman was abusive to women. I asked my staff to check out this accusation, and let me tell you what they found. They found the opposite -- in fact that the Chairman, according to one respected female staffer, was 'the most fair person' she has ever met. She went on to say 'he treats everyone equally.' Other comments include 'he invites people to dissent and I have never seen him mistreat others.' One woman said 'what I am floored by is the conduct of the other Commissioners.'"
    She said, "The American people's faith in nuclear power was shaken by the Fukushima crisis, and the American public rightly expects the NRC to redouble its efforts to ensure that our nuclear plants are the safest in the world, but that has not happened yet. Let me tell you what happens when people lose confidence in the NRC and the nuclear industry. Right now, there is a petition being circulated for a ballot initiative that would effectively shut down the two nuclear power plants in California. I believe we will see more of that across the country if America doesn't have confidence in the NRC. . ."
    Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) said in an opening statement, "I believe events over the last week have once again shown that nuclear safety is bipartisan: in this case two Democrats and two Republicans. I am dismayed by the numerous reports of Chairman Jaczko's intimidation and retaliation against senior agency staff, attempts to fundamentally undermine the collegial function of the Commission to forward his own objectives, and his efforts to withhold information from his fellow commissioners. However, I must say I am not surprised, given what I have learned through previous oversight hearings.
    "What does surprise me is that the White House appears to condone such behavior, dismissing it as mere 'management differences'.  Well, the 'management differences' we have here are serious: we have one Chairman who believes that bullying staff is acceptable in an effort to further his own agenda and four Commissioners who disagree. In 2006, the late Commissioner Ed McGaffigan, well-known and admired by members of this committee on both sides of the aisle, gave a speech to NRC employees about the importance of speaking the truth to those in power. 
    "Here is what he said: 'You come to an institution, NRC, that is routinely subject to baseless attacks by groups opposed to nuclear power that call themselves "nuclear watchdogs." These groups need to demonize NRC, you and me, to fund themselves and their anti-nuclear agenda. When I arrived at NRC in 1996, I had spent two decades working on national security issues first as a Foreign Service Officer, and then as an aide to Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). I did not know that I was a demon, but it did not take long for me to cast votes, based on my scientific, technical, and policy judgment, that were not to the liking of the anti-nuclear zealots and so I became a demon." He went on to say: ''Honor' often involves telling people, perhaps colleagues, perhaps supervisors, what they do not want to hear... And it may make you enemies. But stories I could tell you from my own career would persuade you that you can afford such enemies, but you cannot afford to compromise your honor, your personal compass.'
    "What we saw this weekend was an immediate, concerted and very public attempt to demonize four public servants whose only crime is to conduct themselves with honor; to seek assistance, as a last resort, from the White House to address problems they had not been able to resolve on their own. Risking their professional reputations, they came forward on behalf of the employees who now work in a hostile environment; employees who are forced to choose between what they believe is right and what Chairman Jaczko wants them to do.
    "Chairman Jaczko's actions simply can't be ignored. However, the White House appears willing to ignore the warning of 4 Commissioners, resting on their statements that his actions haven't impaired the Commission's ability to execute its mission to protect public health and safety...yet. Is the President waiting to act until it does? After all that we've learned, how can President Obama still believe that Mr. Jaczko remains the single best possible person to serve in this post? What will it take for him to change his mind?"
    Access the hearing website for links to the testimony and statement and a video (click here). Note: WIMS is also including the House hearing website which includes testimony from the four Commissioners and background information. Access the House hearing website and link to the testimony (click here). Access the House Hearing Ranking Member Elijah Cummings' (D-MD) statement (click here). Also: Access the December 9 letter to the White House from Representative Issa and the October 13 letter from the NRC Commissioners (click here). Also: Access a lengthy release from Rep. Markey with links to additional information and video (click here). Access the complete 45-page Markey investigation report (click here). [#Energy/Nuclear]

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

NAS Report Calls For "System Safety" Approach In Offshore Drilling

Dec 14: A report from the National Academy of Sciences' Engineering and National Research Council -- Macando Well-Deepwater Horizon Blowout: Lessons for Improving Offshore Drilling Safety -- indicates that to reduce the risk of another accident as catastrophic as the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, companies involved in offshore drilling should take a "system safety" approach to anticipating and managing possible dangers at every level of operation -- from ensuring the integrity of wells to designing blowout preventers that function "under all foreseeable conditions."  In addition, an enhanced regulatory approach should combine strong industry safety goals with mandatory oversight at critical points during drilling operations. 


    The report says the lack of effective safety management among the companies involved in the Macondo Well-Deepwater Horizon disaster is evident in the "multiple flawed decisions that led to the blowout and explosion," which killed 11 workers and produced the biggest accidental oil spill in U.S. history.  Regulators also failed to exercise effective oversight.  


    Donald Winter, former secretary of the Navy, professor of engineering practice at the University of Michigan, and chair of the committee that wrote the report said, "The need to maintain domestic sources of oil is great, but so is the need to protect the lives of those who work in the offshore drilling industry as well as protect the viability of the Gulf of Mexico region. Industry and regulators need to include a factual assessment of all the risks in deepwater drilling operations in their decisions and make the overall safety of the many complex systems involved a top priority."


    The report indicates that despite challenging geological conditions, alternative techniques and processes were available that could have been used to prepare the exploratory Macondo well safely for "temporary abandonment" -- sealing it until the necessary infrastructure could be installed to support hydrocarbon production. In addition, several signs of an impending blowout were missed by management and crew, resulting in a failure to take action in a timely manner. And despite numerous past warnings of potential failures of blowout preventer (BOP) systems, both industry and regulators had a "misplaced trust" in the ability of these systems to act as fail-safe mechanisms in the event of a well blowout.


    The report indicates that BOP systems commonly in use -- including the system used by the Deepwater Horizon -- are neither designed nor tested to operate in the dynamic conditions that occurred during the accident. BOP systems should be redesigned, rigorously tested, and maintained to operate reliably. Proper training in the use of these systems in the event of an emergency is also essential. And while BOP systems are being improved, industry should ensure timely access to demonstrated capping and containment systems that can be rapidly deployed during a future blowout. 


    The report says that operating companies should have ultimate responsibility and accountability for well integrity because only they possess the ability to view all aspects of well design and operation. The drilling contractor should be held responsible and accountable for the operation and safety of the offshore equipment. Both industry and regulators should significantly expand the formal education and training of personnel engaged in offshore drilling to ensure that they can properly implement system safety.  Guidelines should be established so that well designs incorporate protection against the various credible risks associated with the drilling and abandonment process. In addition, cemented and mechanical barriers designed to contain the flow of hydrocarbons in wells should be tested to make sure they are effective, and those tests should be subject to independent, near real-time review by a competent authority. 


    According to the report, the U.S. Department of the Interior's recent establishment of a Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS) program -- which requires companies to demonstrate procedures for meeting explicit goals related to health, safety, and environmental protection -- is a "good first step" toward an enhanced regulatory approach. Regulators should identify and enforce safety-critical points that warrant explicit regulatory review and approval before operations can proceed. Offshore drilling operations are currently governed by a number of agencies, sometimes with overlapping authorities. The U.S. should make a single government agency responsible for integrating system safety for all offshore drilling activities. Reporting of safety-related incidents should be improved to enable anonymous input, and corporations should investigate all such reports and disseminate lessons learned to personnel and the industry as a whole.


    Access a release from NAS (click here). Access the complete 124-page report and summary (click here). [#Energy/OilSpill]


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dispute Over Nuclear Regulatory Commission Leadership Gets Serious

Dec 13: On October 13, the four of the five Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Commissioners -- Kristine Svinicki, George Apostolakis, William Magwood IV and William Ostendorff -- sent a letter to the White House about Chairman Gregory Jaczko's behavior. In their letter, the Commissioners said, "We believe that Chairman Jaczko's actions and behavior area causing serious damage to this institution and are creating a chilled work environment at the NRC. We are concerned that this will adversely affect the NRC's essential mission to protect the health, safety and security of the American people." Svinicki and Ostendorff are Republicans and the other three Commissioners, including Jaczko, are Democrats. Jaczko is a former aide for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).
    On December 9, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) released his letter to White House Chief of Staff William Daley and the letter from the NRC Commissioners. Chairman Issa requested someone from the White House to testify at the Committee hearing scheduled for Wednesday, December 14, entitled, "The Leadership of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission." Today, apparently the White House refused to testify and Chairman Issa said, "With four bipartisan commissioners raising deeply troubling concerns about abuse and mismanagement at the NRC, it's hard to reach any other conclusion than the White House is in denial about the severity of the situation at the NRC."
    Yesterday, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), president and chief executive officer, Marvin Fertel issued a statement regarding the situation with the NRC and said, "Safe performance of nuclear energy facilities and the NRC's credibility are the two most important factors for policymaker and public confidence in nuclear energy. As such, the industry is concerned with anything that threatens the credibility of either. We are confident that Congress and the White House will take the steps necessary to ensure that the NRC is an efficient, effective regulator that provides oversight of commercial nuclear technology.

    "The issue that is of most concern is the question of a chilled working environment at the agency, including the possibility of staff intimidation and harassment, at a time when the senior management and staff are working on critical licensing activities and post-Fukushima safety recommendations. The industry takes safety culture issues seriously and we expect the same priority treatment of these issues by our regulator. The NRC functions best when it has a full complement of five capable commissioners to provide guidance and direction to the NRC staff. Safety is maximized when NRC and industry resources are focused on those matters that are most important to safety. It is important that the dynamics that exist within the commission be resolved professionally and expeditiously so that the important work of the agency can continue without interruption or distraction. The American people expect and deserve nothing less.

    "The industry's commitment to nuclear power plant safety is unwavering and we will not be distracted from this mission by events at the NRC. Of the top 20 performing plants in the world, 16 of them are American reactors. The industry exceeds federal safety standards and it is critical that our entire industry keep a sharp focus on safety. Furthermore, the industry is taking steps to make safe nuclear energy facilities even safer by applying the lessons learned from the accident in Japan at America's nuclear power plants."

    In addition to the December 14, hearing, all five of NRC commissioners are scheduled to testify before the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee on Thursday, December 15, for a hearing to review the Commission's actions related to the Task Force recommendations following the nuclear emergency in Japan. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the EPW issued a statement saying, "Instead of applauding the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for his swift and effective response to Fukushima, his fellow commissioners are attacking him. We must move away from the 'do nothing' culture of the NRC and support Chairman Jaczko as he translates the lessons of Fukushima into an action plan that will make America's nuclear plants the safest in the world."
    EPW Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK), issued a statement saying, "As Ranking Member of the committee of jurisdiction over the NRC, I am aware of the Commissioners' letter and taking their concerns very seriously. I commend the Commissioners for having the courage to raise these important issues, and I look forward to hearing from them when they testify before the Environment and Public Works Committee next week."  
    On December 10, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called on President Obama to address concerns raised by members of the NRC about the actions and management style of Chairman Jaczko. She said, "I have serious concerns about the ability of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to protect the safety of the nation's 104 commercial nuclear reactors under the divisive leadership of Chairman Jaczko. 
    "There have been signs for some time that the chairman's politicalization of matters crucial to the nation's energy security was disrupting the vital work of the commission, including resolving the issue of the permanent disposal of the nations' spent nuclear fuel and responding to safety concerns raised by the Fukishima accident. Now, reports have surfaced that Chairman Jaczko intimidated senior agency staff and ordered them to withhold information from other members of the commission and from Congress. If true, these actions represent a serious breach of the public's trust. Such behavior is unacceptable at any level of government and a response from the president is long overdue. The president needs to immediately address the concerns raised by the four commissioners if he wants members of Congress and the public to have faith in the agency."
    On December 9, Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), released a blockbuster new report -- Regulatory Meltdown: How Four Nuclear Regulatory Commissioners Conspired to Delay and Weaken Nuclear Reactor Safety in the Wake of Fukushima -- that he says details how the four Commissioners on the NRC "colluded to prevent and then delay the work of the NRC Near-Term Task Force on Fukushima." The Task Force was the entity tasked with making recommendations for improvement to NRC regulations and processes after the Fukushima meltdowns, the worst nuclear disaster in history. Representative Markey indicated in a release that, "The Near-Term Task Force members comprise more than 135 years of collective experience at the NRC, and with full access to expert NRC staff completed a methodical and comprehensive review of NRC's regulatory system."
    According to the release Markey's office reviewed thousands of pages of documents, including emails, correspondence, meeting minutes and voting records, and found "a concerted effort by Commissioners William Magwood, Kristine Svinicki, William Ostendorff and George Apostolakis to undermine the efforts of the Fukushima Task Force with request for endless additional study in an effort to delay the release and implementation of the task force's final recommendations. Documents also show open hostility on the part of the four Commissioners toward efforts of NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko to fully and quickly implement the recommendations of the Task Force, despite efforts on the part of the Chairman to keep the other four NRC Commissioners fully informed regarding the Japanese emergency."
    Representative Markey said, "The actions of these four Commissioners since the Fukushima nuclear disaster has caused a regulatory meltdown that has left America's nuclear fleet and the general public at risk. Instead of doing what they have been sworn to do, these four Commissioners have attempted a coup on the Chairman and have abdicated their responsibility to the American public to assure the safety of America's nuclear industry. I call on these four Commissioners to stop the obstruction, do their jobs and quickly move to fully implement the lessons learned from the Fukushima disaster."
    Access a release from Rep. Issa on the hearing and investigation (click here). Access the December 9 letter to the White House and the October 13 letter from the NRC Commissioners (click here). Access the response from Rep. Issa (click here). Access the statement from NEI (click here). Access the statement from Senator Boxer (click here). Access the statement from Senator Inhofe (click here). Access the statement from Senator Murkowski (click here). Access a lengthy release from Rep. Markey with links to additional information and video (click here). Access the complete 45-page Markey investigation report (click here). [#Energy/Nuclear]

Monday, December 12, 2011

In Overtime, Durban Negotiators Salvage An Agreement

Dec 11: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP17/CMP7 meeting in Durban, South Africa, which was scheduled to conclude Friday, December 9, went into overtime and finally ended on Sunday, December 11. The outcome of the 2-week negotiations in now known as the "Durban Platform."
    According to a release from the UNFCCC, which definitely puts a positive spin on the outcome of the difficult negotiations indicates that the parties delivered a "breakthrough on the future of the international community's response to climate change," while "recognizing the urgent need to raise their collective level of ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to keep the average global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius." Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation and President of the Durban UN Climate Change Conference (COP17/CMP7) said, "We have taken crucial steps forward for the common good and the global citizenry today. I believe that what we have achieved in Durban will play a central role in saving tomorrow."

    Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of UNFCCC said, "I salute the countries who made this agreement. They have all laid aside some cherished objectives of their own to meet a common purpose - a long-term solution to climate change. I sincerely thank the South African Presidency who steered through a long and intense conference to a historic agreement that has met all major issues." In a Reuters media report of various reactions, Todd Stern, the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change indicated, "In the end, it ended up quite well. The (Durban platform) is the piece that was the matching piece with the Kyoto Protocol. We got the kind of symmetry that we had been focused on since the beginning of the Obama administration. This had all the elements that we were looking for."

    The UNFCCC release indicates that in Durban, governments decided to "adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change as soon as possible, but not later than 2015." Work will begin on this immediately under a new group called the "Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action." Governments, including 35 industrialized countries, "agreed a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol from January 1, 2013." To achieve rapid clarity, "Parties to this second period will turn their economy-wide targets into quantified emission limitation or reduction objectives and submit them for review by May 1, 2012." Figueres said, "This is highly significant because the Kyoto Protocol's accounting rules, mechanisms and markets all remain in action as effective tools to leverage global climate action and as models to inform future agreements."

    UNFCCC indicates that a significantly advanced framework for the reporting of emission reductions for both developed and developing countries was also agreed to, taking into consideration the "common but differentiated responsibilities" of different countries. In addition to charting the way forward on reducing greenhouse gases in the global context, governments meeting in South Africa agreed the full implementation of the package to support developing nations, agreed last year in Cancun, Mexico. Figueres said, "This means that urgent support for the developing world, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable to adapt to climate change, will also be launched on time." The package includes the Green Climate Fund, an Adaptation Committee designed to improve the coordination of adaptation actions on a global scale, and a Technology Mechanism, which are to become fully operational in 2012.

    While pledging to make progress in a number of areas, governments acknowledged the urgent concern that the current sum of pledges to cut emissions both from developed and developing countries is not high enough to keep the global average temperature rise below two degrees Celsius. They therefore decided that the UN Climate Change process shall increase ambition to act and will be led by the climate science in the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report and the global Review from 2013-2015. Figueres said, "While it is clear that these deadlines must be met, countries, citizens and businesses who have been behind the rising global wave of climate action can now push ahead confidently, knowing that Durban has lit up a broader highway to a low-emission, climate resilient future." The next major UNFCCC Climate Change Conference, COP 18/ CMP 8, is to take place November 26 to December 7,  2012 in Qatar, in close cooperation with the Republic of Korea. UNFCCC summarized the COP17 decisions as follows:

    Green Climate Fund

  • Countries have already started to pledge to contribute to start-up costs of the fund, meaning it can be made ready in 2012, and at the same time can help developing countries get ready to access the fund, boosting their efforts to establish their own clean energy futures and adapt to existing climate change.
  • A Standing Committee is to keep an overview of climate finance in the context of the UNFCCC and to assist the Conference of the Parties. It will comprise 20 members, represented equally between the developed and developing world.
  • A focused work program on long-term finance was agreed, which will contribute to the scaling up of climate change finance going forward and will analyze options for the mobilization of resources from a variety of sources.
  • The Adaptation Committee, composed of 16 members, will report to the COP on its efforts to improve the coordination of adaptation actions at a global scale.
  • The adaptive capacities above all of the poorest and most vulnerable countries are to be strengthened. National Adaptation Plans will allow developing countries to assess and reduce their vulnerability to climate change.
  • The most vulnerable are to receive better protection against loss and damage caused by extreme weather events related to climate change.
  • The Technology Mechanism will become fully operational in 2012.
  • The full terms of reference for the operational arm of the Mechanism - the Climate Technology Centre and Network - are agreed, along with a clear procedure to select the host. The UNFCCC secretariat will issue a call for proposals for hosts on January 16, 2012.
    Support of developing country action
  • Governments agreed a registry to record developing country mitigation actions that seek financial support and to match these with support. The registry will be a flexible, dynamic, web-based platform.
    Other key decisions
  • A forum and work program on unintended consequences of climate change actions and policies were established.
  • Under the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism, governments adopted procedures to allow carbon-capture and storage projects. These guidelines will be reviewed every five years to ensure environmental integrity.
  • Governments agreed to develop a new market-based mechanism to assist developed countries in meeting part of their targets or commitments under the Convention. Details of this will be taken forward in 2012.
    The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) International Climate Policy Director Jake Schmidt issued a statement saying: "The United States saw an opportunity to break down the wall blocking adoption of binding commitments by the largest emitting developing countries and took advantage of that. This outcome brings large countries like China and India into the room to negotiate meaningful commitments to address the urgent need to cut global emissions. This is important progress. Countries followed through on their agreements from Cancun by outlining detailed guidelines for more frequent reporting of their pollution and actions to combat global warming. This will mean greater transparency and accountability which is essential for ensuring that all countries are living up to their commitments. Countries now must follow through on the commitments they made in Durban. They must act at home, while also continuously working toward even more detailed international agreements in the near future."
    Jennifer Haverkamp, director of the international climate program for Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) said, "With tonight's agreement the world's climate polluters take the first small but essential steps toward creating a new global agreement to curb climate change. For the first time all major emitting nations, including China and India, have agreed on the need to move forward – and to do so together. The challenge is that we begin the talks from the lowest common denominator of every party's aspirations. For this effort to be successful, countries need to be ambitious in their commitments and to refuse to use these negotiations as just another stalling tool."
    Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) said, "While governments avoided disaster in Durban, they by no means responded adequately to the mounting threat of climate change. The decisions adopted here fall well short of what is needed. It's high time governments stopped catering to the needs of corporate polluters, and started acting to protect people. The impacts of climate change are ever more evident, and we pump ever more carbon pollution into the atmosphere each year. We are in grave danger of locking in temperature increases well above two degrees Celsius, which would foreclose our ability to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Powerful speeches and carefully worded decisions can't amend the laws of physics. The atmosphere responds to one thing, and one thing only -- emissions. The world's collective level of ambition on emissions reductions must be substantially increased, and soon."
    Access a release from UNFCCC (click here). Access links to the key text of the Durban documents (click here). [#Access the Reuters article which includes reactions from many key participants (click here). Access the statement from NRDC and link to additional details (click here). Access the statement from EDF (click here). Access the statement from UCS (click here). Access the U.S. State Department COP17 website for details on the U.S. activities (click here). Access links to complete information from the UNFCCC website (click here). Access the CO.NX digital diplomacy team website with the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) at the U.S. Department of State for a back-stage pass to COP17 (click here). Access more information and day-by-day coverage from International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) Reporting Services (click here, a summary & analysis will be available on Dec. 13). [#Climate]

Friday, December 09, 2011

Amidst Backlash, U.S. Forced To Defend Climate Position In Durban

Dec 8: As the various country representatives attempt to hammer out a "Durban Agreement" during the waning hours of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP17/CMP7 meeting being held in Durban, South Africa which concludes today, Todd Stern, the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change was dispelling rumors that the United States was proposing to delay action on climate change until 2020.
    Stern, who indicated he was heckled at the meeting, emphatically said, "It is completely off base to suggest that the U.S. is proposing that we delay action until 2020. Let's stop and think what's on the table over the next number of years. For one thing, countries -- whether it is the U.S., China, the EU, India, Brazil, whoever it is, and many, many other countries not in the category of majors -- are going to be working hard to implement targets or actions that they committed to in Cancun.

    "We are in the international context going to be, hopefully, and I believe that this will be the case, rapidly setting up the Green Fund, rapidly setting up the Climate Technology Center and Network, setting up the Adaptation Committee, among other things. We will also be working hard to ramp up the funding that is supposed to reach a 100 billion dollars a year by 2020. There's a ton of work to be done in the years. We have been doing a lot of work on this, this year, and we will be continuing to do that as are many other countries. And all at the same time, if we get the kind of roadmap that countries have called for -- the EU has called for, that the U.S. supports -- for preparing for and negotiating a future regime, whether it ends up being legally binding or not, we don't know yet, but we are strongly committed to a promptly starting process to move forward on that.

    "Take all of those things together; it's nonsense to suggest that what we are doing is proposing a kind of hiatus in dealing with climate change until after 2020. So, I just wanted to make that clear because, after I heard it about the fourth or fifth time in the last few days, and again I've heard this from everywhere from ministers to press reports to the very sincere and passionate young woman who was in the hall when I was giving my remarks. I just wanted to be on the record as saying that, that's just a mistake. It is not true."

    Following Stern's initial statement, a further hostile question was asked stating, "The young woman, the Middlebury student, Abigail Borah, [Note: the 21 year old student was ejected from the climate conference after she interrupted Stern accusing the United States of stonewalling an agreement] said we need an urgent path towards a fair, ambitious, and legally binding treaty. Mr. Stern, as you pointed out increasingly at this conference, the perception is that the U.S. is blocking any substantive progress towards legally binding agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Sixteen CEOs of environmental organizations in the United States said the same thing, that the U.S. is becoming the major obstacle here. Can you talk about the perception, as you've described it, of time out until 2020 when many of, for example, the African nations and the Island nations are talking about, they could be seeing very serious devastation. You yourself just pointed out there is a growing consensus here that the U.S. is blocking progress in any kind of serious commitment to a legally binding mandate here."
    Stern answered the question saying, ". . .so I will try to repeat what I said a minute ago on part of your question, then I'll take the other part. But it's not a time out. I mean, it's not remotely a timeout. We reached an important agreement last year. We reached an agreement, which although it is not legally binding, it is a COP decision under a legally binding treaty, which is very serious and which covers more than 80 percent of global emissions as compared to a Kyoto agreement, which people are hoping will cover something in the order of 15 percent this year. It's got nothing to do with the time out. What is embedded in the Cancun agreement is so much more meaningful in terms of potential emission reductions than anything that is in Kyoto that there is no contest.

    "So, I think again that that's a misconception plus, and I won't repeat everything that I just said a second ago about all of the various actions that are going to be taken promptly including the negotiation -- first the preparatory work and then the negotiation of a new regime which, you know, the EU has called for roadmap. We support that and we've -- I talked with the EU at length. I have also talked with my friends in -- from the BASIC countries and others. I mean, if there is a misconception, then it would be a good idea for the word to get out that it is just not accurate.

    "Now, it is also not accurate to say, to describe the U.S. as blocking a legally binding agreement. What we are saying -- we, in the first months after I came into this job, we made a proposal. You can look it up if you'd like in -- to the secretariat, to the COP -- for a full, legally binding agreement. We've got the whole thing in the record, which calls for a legally binding agreement that would actually apply to all the major countries and cover the emissions that need to be covered if we are going to have a chance to solve this problem. That is what we proposed. That is exactly where these negotiations ought to be going. That is exactly where the international climate effort ought to be going. I mean, you can run around and pretend that behind this firewall, you are going to take 30 or 35 percent of global emissions and fix the problem. But you know what? You're not. So what the U.S. has been doing over the last two years, with all due respect, has been showing the leadership necessary to try to drag this process into the 21st century."   

    Back home in the U.S., the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works delivered completely opposite video messages to participants at the Durban meeting. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member and outspoken critic of climate science, delivered a YouTube address from Washington for a press conference organized by Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) held at the Durban meeting.  The press conference featured an analysis from Senator Inhofe on the prospects of a new climate treaty in the U.S. Senate and the release of Marc Morano's (editor in chief of ) new report "From A-Z" which Senator Inhofe indicated "details troubles and failings in what has been falsely proclaimed by global warming advocates to be a 'settled scientific consensus.'"
    Senator Inhofe said, "I am confident that the only person left talking about global warming is me. The message from Washington to the UN delegates in South Africa this week could not be any clearer: you are being ignored. And you are being ignored by your biggest allies in the United States: President Obama and the Democratic leadership in the Senate." He said the U.S. regulations being implemented and proposed are based "on the science of the now discredited UN IPCC." He indicated that the A-Z report, . . ."shows that on virtually every claim - from A-Z - the promoters of man-made climate fears are failing and the global warming movement is suffering a scientific death of a thousand cuts." In his release, he declared that the "Kyoto Process Is Dead."
    Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in her video message said, "Although I am not there with you in person, it in no way lessens my commitment to the work that you are doing in Durban and the importance of your mission to address climate change. This massive threat to the environment and human health that is posed by climate change requires us to put aside partisan differences, to find common ground, and to demand immediate international action. . . Climate scientists predict increased precipitation, stronger storms, and increased drought. In the U.S. this year we have seen a record number of weather-related disasters. . . greenhouse gas emissions rose 5.9 percent in 2010 - the largest jump in emissions in any year since the Industrial Revolution began. . . While time has grown short, it is not too late.
    "The message I have for climate deniers is this: you are endangering human kind. It is time for climate deniers to face reality, because the body of evidence is overwhelming and the world's leading scientists agree. . . Wishing that climate change will go away by clinging to a tiny minority view is not a policy - it is a fantasy. . . Climate change marches forward while special interests and their denier friends try to distract us from the work at hand. It is time for that to stop. . . I reaffirm my commitment to work as hard as I can to reduce the dangerous air pollution that causes climate change and harms the health and safety of people around the world. . . The nations of the world must work together to solve this problem, and I call on those gathered in Durban to work toward an international effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with transparency and accountability. . ."
    Access the complete transcript of the Todd Stern December 8 briefing (click here). Access a report from Think Progress with a video and picture of the Middlebury student disruption at the meeting (click here). Access a complete index of day-by-day briefing session webcasts on-demand including Todd Stern's December 8 briefing and others (click here). Access a release and video from Sen. Inhofe (click here). Access a release and video from Sen. Boxer (click here). Access the U.S. State Department COP17 website for details on the U.S. activities (click here). Access links to complete information from the UNFCCC website (click here). Access the CO.NX digital diplomacy team website with the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) at the U.S. Department of State for a back-stage pass to COP17 (click here). [#Climate]

Thursday, December 08, 2011

President Will Veto Keystone Attachment To Payroll Tax Cut

Dec 8: President Obama and the Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper met yesterday at the White House. They discussed an number of issue of importance to the two countries. Among the issues discussed was the Keystone XL pipeline and the Administration's recent decision to delay the project which could extend well into 2013, while the various agencies examine in-depth alternative routes that would avoid the Sand Hills area of Nebraska. [See WIMS 11/14/11 & WIMS 11/11/11]. The President also addressed directly the Republican's plan to attach Keystone XL and other environmental amendments to the payroll tax bill extending tax cuts for lower income workers.
    In a release from the White House of the full text of the press briefing following the meeting of the two, President Obama said, "We did discuss the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which is very important to Canada. And I think the Prime Minister and our Canadian friends understand that it's important for us to make sure that all the questions regarding the project are properly understood, especially its impact on our environment and the health and safety of the American people. And I assured him that we will have a very rigorous process to work through that issue."
    During the question and answer session, a reporter asked: I have Keystone questions for both of you. Mr. President, we've got some House Republicans who are saying they won't approve any extension of the payroll tax cut unless you move up this oil pipeline project. Is that a deal you would consider?  And also, how do you respond to their criticism that you punted this issue past the election for political reasons? And, Prime Minister Harper, you seemed to suggest the other day that politics is behind the way the Keystone issue has been handled. Do you really feel that way?
    President Obama's response: First of all, any effort to try to tie Keystone to the payroll tax cut I will reject. So everybody should be on notice.  And the reason is because the payroll tax cut is something that House Republicans, as well as Senate Republicans, should want to do regardless of any other issues. The question is going to be, are they willing to vote against a proposal that ensures that Americans, at a time when the recovery is still fragile, don't see their taxes go up by $1,000.  So it shouldn't be held hostage for any other issues that they may be concerned about.
And so my warning is not just specific to Keystone.  Efforts to tie a whole bunch of other issues to something that they should be doing anyway will be rejected by me.
    With respect to the politics, look, this is a big project with big consequences. We've seen Democrats and Republicans express concerns about it. And it is my job as President of the United States to make sure that a process is followed that examines all the options, looks at all the consequences before a decision is made.
    Now, that process is moving forward.  The State Department is making sure that it crosses all its t's and dots all its i's before making a final determination. And I think it's worth noting, for those who want to try to politicize this issue, that when it comes to domestic energy production, we have gone all in, because our belief is, is that we're going to have to do a whole range of things to make sure that U.S. energy independence exists for a long time to come -- U.S. energy security exists for a long time to come. 
So we have boosted oil production. We are boosting natural gas production.  We're looking at a lot of traditional energy sources, even as we insist on transitioning to clean energy. And I think this shouldn't be a Democratic or a Republican issue; this should be an American issue -- how do we make sure that we've got the best possible energy mix to benefit our businesses, benefit our workers, but also benefit our families to make sure that the public health and safety of the American people are looked after. And that's what this process is designed to do.
    Prime Minister Harper's response: I think my position, the position of the government of Canada, on this issue is very well known, and, of course, Barack and I have discussed that on many occasions. He's indicated to me, as he's indicated to you today, that he's following a proper project to eventually take that decision here in the United States, and that he has an open mind in regards to what the final decision may or may not be. And that's -- I take that as his answer.  And you can appreciate that I would not comment on the domestic politics of this issue or any other issue here in the United States.
    Follow-up Question to President Obama: Mr. President.  By rejecting a veto, would you veto any payroll tax cuts if it had something else on it?
    President Obama's response:  I think it's fair to say that if the payroll tax cut is attached to a whole bunch of extraneous issues not related to making sure that the American people's taxes don't go up on January 1st, then it's not something that I'm going to accept. And I don't expect to have to veto it because I expect they're going to have enough sense over on Capitol Hill to do the people's business, and not try to load it up with a bunch of politics.
    On December 8, At a press conference with Republican leaders, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) highlighted ongoing efforts to extend the payroll tax break for working families and help create new American jobs by taking action on the bipartisan Keystone XL energy project. He said, "We had a great conversation with our members about an agreement that we would move a bill that would extend and reform unemployment benefits, that would extend the payroll tax credit, while preserving the Social Security Trust Fund. It would also include some of our jobs initiatives, such as the Keystone pipeline and Boiler MACT.
    "You know the president says that the American people 'can't wait' on jobs. Well guess what - we agree wholeheartedly with the president. The Keystone pipeline project will create tens of thousands of jobs immediately.  It has bipartisan support in the House and Senate.  It's pretty clear that the president's decided to push this decision off for a year – conveniently until after his next election.  Well the American people 'can't wait,' as the president said, and at a time when the American people are still asking the question 'where are the jobs?' I think this is a bipartisan proposal that the president ought to endorse."
    Access the complete release and transcript (click here). Access a video of the press briefing (click here). Access the statement and video of the Speaker's comments (click here). Access a White House fact sheet on U.S.-Canada Beyond the Border and Regulatory Cooperation Council Initiatives (click here).[#Energy/Pipeline, #Energy/TarSands]

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Economic & Employment Contributions Of Shale Gas In The U.S.

Dec 6: A report by IHS Global Insight, commissioned by the America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), indicates that the natural gas "shale gale" that has "dramatically transformed the outlook for U.S. energy supplies is also having profound economic impacts -- creating jobs, reducing consumer costs of natural gas and electricity, stimulating economic growth and bolstering federal, state and local tax revenue, according to a new IHS Global Insight study." The study found that shale gas production supported more than 600,000 jobs in 2010, a number that is projected to grow to nearly 870,000 by 2015.

    The study, The Economic and Employment Contributions of Shale Gas in the United States, is reportedly the most definitive study to date tracking the long-term economic impact of U.S. shale gas production. It presents the economic contributions of shale gas in terms of jobs, economic value and government revenues through 2035, as well as the broader macroeconomic impacts on households and businesses. The report is the first of three on the economic effects of unconventional gas and oil development in North America. IHS Vice President John Larson, the lead author of the study said, "The rapid growth in shale gas production -- currently 34 percent of total U.S. production -- is one of the most significant energy developments in recent decades and is having a significant impact on the nation's economy in terms of stimulating job creation and economic growth. This study further informs the discussion with a greater understanding of the economic potential from this vast American energy source." Among the study's key findings:

  • Shale gas had grown to 27 percent of U.S. natural gas production by 2010; it is currently 34 percent and will reach 43 percent in 2015 and more than double by 2035 to 60 percent
  • In 2010, the shale gas industry supported more than 600,000 jobs; by 2015 the total will likely grow to nearly 870,000 and to more than 1.6 million by 2035
  • Nearly $1.9 trillion in cumulative capital investments are expected to be made between 2010 and 2035
  • Annual capital expenditures, especially strong in the early years, will grow to $48.1 billion in 2015
  • The shale gas contribution to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) was more than $76.9 billion in 2010; in 2015 it will be $118.2 billion and will triple to $231.1 billion in 2035
  • Over the next 25 years, the shale gas industry will generate more than $933 billion in tax revenues for local, state and the federal governments
  • Savings from lower gas prices, as well as the associated lower prices for other consumer purchases, equate to an annual average addition of $926 in disposable income per household between 2012 and 2015, and increase to more than $2,000 per household in 2035 on an annual basis

    According to a release, the report's findings reflect the dramatic impact of shale gas production in the United States. As recently as 2007, it was believed that the country would soon need to import large volumes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) for domestic consumption. Instead, shale gas production has more than doubled the size of the discovered natural gas resource in North America -- enough to satisfy more than 100 years of consumption at current rates. A key reason for the shale gas industry's profound economic impact is its high "employment multiplier" -- the indirect and induced jobs created to support an industry. For every direct job created in the shale gas sector, more than three indirect and induced jobs are created, a rate higher than the financial and construction industries.

    The study also found that shale gas and related jobs pay higher wages on average -- currently $23.16 per hour -- than those paid to workers in manufacturing, transportation and education. The IHS Global Insight study measured the broader impact of lower natural gas prices, finding that over the 2010-2035 period prices on average would be at least two times higher absent shale gas production. This impact is even greater now and over the next few years when prices would have been two-and-a-half to three times higher. The lower natural gas prices have resulted in a 10 percent reduction in electricity costs nationally and that flows through the economy to lead to lower prices for many other consumer purchases.

    Lower gas prices also boost the international competitiveness of domestic manufacturers, resulting in 2.9 percent higher industrial production by 2017 and 4.7 percent higher production by 2035. Larson said, "Absent the added supply from shale gas production, large volumes of LNG imports would be required and U.S. consumers would be paying European or even Asian prices which are two to three times what they are today here in the U.S. The benefits of that savings reverberate through the wider economy."

    In measuring the economic contribution of shale gas, the study fully "sized" the economic influence of the industry by capturing all the supply chain and income effects associated with shale gas activity in the U.S. The results of the production and capital expenditure profile analysis were integrated into a customized modeling approach developed by IHS Global Insight. This approach links Input-Output modeling techniques – similar to those used by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Congressional Budget Office– with the dynamic modeling capabilities of proprietary IHS models to capture the industry's comprehensive contribution and impact on the economy. ... indicated that, "The results represent a conservative estimate."

    Speaking at the "West Virginia: Energy Powering Economic Development" summit called by WV Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, on December 6, American Chemistry Council President and CEO Cal Dooley reinforced the economic and employment opportunities from shale gas development. Dooley said, "While many experts have focused on the jobs and revenues that could come from exploration and production of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, the manufacturing story is just beginning to be told. Shale gas could generate thousands of new jobs in the chemical industry and its supply chain. It's one of the most promising developments for new manufacturing jobs in at least a decade."

    He said, "Affordable, abundant shale gas is creating a global competitive advantage for the domestic petrochemical industry. After years of high, volatile natural gas prices that helped lead to the loss of 140,000 chemical jobs, the industry is expanding once again. Chemical manufacturers make a key product, ethylene, from the ethane found in shale gas, giving U.S. companies a significant edge over Western European competitors using a more expensive, oil-based feedstock. New chemical business can spur growth in supplier sectors, help produce more materials for export, and create jobs." Dooley noted. A recent ACC study found that the $3.2 billion investment in a major ethylene production complex in West Virginia would generate 12,000 jobs in chemical and supplier industries, $729 million in wages and $95 million in state tax revenue. Nationally, a 25 percent increase in ethane production would result in nearly 400,000 new jobs. He said, "Shale gas is a game changer."

   Dooley pointed out, "However, the full potential from shale gas will only be realized with sound state regulatory policies that allow for aggressive production in an environmentally responsible way. America's chemistry industry supports efforts to continually improve production processes, including the use of best practices. We make many of these advanced production technologies possible." 

    Access a release from IHS Global Insight (click here). Access a required registration form to download the complete report (click here). Access the ANGA website for additional information (click here). Access a release from ACC (click here). [#Energy/NatGas]


Tuesday, December 06, 2011

U.S. Climate Change Envoy Details U.S. COP17 Agenda

Dec 6: The U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, Todd Stern, arrived in Durban, South Africa for the beginning of the second week of the major United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP17/CMP7 meeting being held from November 28 – December 9, 2011. In this critical second week the parties will attempt to decide the future of an international agreement on climate change and the details of methods to assist developing nations and halt the rise of the Earth's temperature. Stern held a press briefing on December 5, outlining the U.S. position and responded to questions from reporters.
    Stern said in part, "The U.S. is committed to working with our partners to make Durban a success, and for us a balanced package in Durban includes two main elements, two main elements of this negotiation, I think, in general. One is to carry out the agreements that were reached in last year's Cancun negotiation which was a very important negotiation that included for the first time, in an agreement adopted by the COP, undertakings by all the major economies, and many players beyond that, actually, to reduce their emissions as well as a transparency regime, an agreement to set up a Green Climate Fund, a technology center network, an adaptation committee and so forth. So there are important elements of what should become the architecture of an international climate system, and we did those things last year in the sense of agreeing to do them and now we need to follow through and do them. And what can happen this year in Durban is to take important steps to do the guidelines of the transparency system, get the Green Fund going, get the technology center going and so forth, and there will obviously still be further work in the coming year to make those, to get those things fully up and running. But there is important work to be done in that regard here, and that's probably the highest priority for the United States.
    "The second set of issues swirls around the Kyoto Protocol, what happens with respect to a potential second commitment period and the closely related issue of what might or might not be said about some future regime. So that's also an issue of a good deal of intensity and focus, and there will be a lot of discussion about that as we go forward this week." He then responded to questions. A sampling of the Q&A is included below.
    Question: Can you explain how, how the U.S. hopes to reach that or when we might see an explanation of how the U.S. hopes to reach that goal without a domestic legislation. And secondly, and until that is produced, why should other countries, you know adhere to, to, or answer to the things that the U.S. is concerned about until they show how you're going to cut carbon yourself.
    Answer: "There has been very aggressive action taken with respect to the entire transportation sector, which is more than a third of our total emissions. . . EPA is also in the process of doing regulations for stationary sources under the Clean Air Act. Those are things like power plants and so those are two very important elements. . . investment in green technology, some $90 billion, which has gone for renewables, for efficiency, for building a smart grid. . . I think it's quite plausible that there will need to be legislation on the road to 2020. . . I think we are trying to help move this negotiation into a paradigm that makes sense for the future. . . the U.S is a big player, and there are a lot of other big players, and there's a lot of small players who are very important, so I think that negotiation will continue. . ."
    Question: Over the weekend, Minister Xie of China said, and repeated again this morning, that China was willing to enter into a binding international treaty on climate after 2020 if five conditions were met, I think you're familiar with the five. Do you consider this a step forward, a step back, or a step sideways for China?
    Answer: "This is what I would say generally about a legally binding agreement. What matters in order for there to be a legally binding agreement at such time as that might happen, whenever that may be, it's going to be absolutely critical that all the major players, and China obviously is one of them. At this point China is 70 percent larger than the United States in carbon from energy, which is not everything, but it's most of greenhouse gases, and rising rapidly, which is just a testament to their extraordinary economy. It's no criticism, it's just a fact.

    "So, in order for there to be a legally binding agreement that makes sense, all the major players are going to have to be in with obligations, with commitments that have the same legal force. It doesn't mean they have to be exactly the same thing, but they have to apply with the same legal effect to all parties. And that means there's no conditionality, they're not conditional on receiving technology or financing, there's no trap doors, there's no Swiss cheese in that kind of an agreement. So that's imperative, and there are many parties who talk about a legally binding agreement, which would be kind of consistent with the structure that they see in the Bali Roadmap under which developed countries have legally, mandatory obligations, and developing countries have what are called in the somewhat arcane lexicon of this business, NAMAs -- Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions -- which are understood to be voluntary actions. So a legally binding agreement that is premised on that kind of division would not make any sense.

    "China has not been willing to do the kind of legally binding agreement that I'm talking about. It would also incidentally -- any future legally binding agreement -- could not be premised on a 1992 division of countries. It just doesn't make any sense. The world has changed dramatically since 1992, so to the extent that there is any division of countries in an agreement going forward, it would have to evolve dynamically to reflect the changes in economic and emissions growth over the years."

    On December 6, Stern held another briefing. In response to a question regarding the future of the Kyoto Protocol he said, ". . .it is very kind of normal in this climate change world from the perspective of press, observers, and sort of everybody who is involved to think about the legal-bindingness as the kind of sole indicator of what is important or significant. And we don't agree with that.

    "It is an element and, in the right circumstances, it might be a good element. But it is certainly not the only element. And you know, as I have said on many occasions, when you look at Cancun, you look at Kyoto right now, let's assume, as I said that Kyoto goes forward in some fashion in Durban, it is likely to cover somewhere in the vicinity of 15 percent of global emissions.

    "Cancun includes submissions, either targets or actions from developed and developing countries. I have lost track of the exact number of countries, but it is upwards of 80 or more countries, who made submissions and more than 80 percent of global emissions being covered. And these weren't kind of casual, you know, we'll think about doing X, Y or Z. These were, it was first of all made under the, in the context of a decision of the COP last year. Made under a legally binding treaty—the Framework Convention—and they are serious submissions that I think all the countries who made them intend to carry them out. . ."

    Access the complete December 5 transcript of the press briefing and the Q&A's (click here). Access the complete December 6 transcript of the press briefing and the Q&A's (click here). Access a complete index of day-by-day briefing session webcasts on-demand including Todd Stern's December 5 & 6 briefing (click here). Access the U.S. State Department COP17 website for details on the U.S. activities (click here). Access links to complete information from the UNFCCC website (click here). Access the CO.NX digital diplomacy team website with the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) at the U.S. Department of State for a back-stage pass to COP17 (click here). [#Climate]