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]

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