Thursday, February 21, 2013

You Don't Have to Take Our Word For it: Americans Want Action on Climate Change

Pete Altman, Climate and Clean Air Campaign Director, Washington, D.C.

For years now, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental/health groups have known that Americans want tough action to curb carbon pollution, based on a long record of polls. Just last week, we released another poll showing just that, measuring reaction to President Obama's State of the Union speech.

Among other things, our latest survey found: "Sixty-five percent of Americans think that climate change is a serious problem and a substantial majority support Presidents Obama using his authority to reduce its main cause, dangerous carbon pollution."

Of course, it's easy to dismiss any poll as being "self-serving" in some way. And some people are very quick to make that kind of objection - since it's much easier than explaining away the actual findings.

That's why we were so interested to see the results out today from the Pew Center for the People and the Press. There's a big write-up on the survey in USA Today that explains the Pew poll's findings on what Americans think about key issues such as the budget deficit, gun policies, immigration ... and climate change.

Americans Support Action this Year

Here are the key Pew poll findings on climate:

  • Fully 62% favor setting stricter emission limits on power plants in order to address climate change while 28% oppose this, and nearly half (46%) of those who support emissions limits say that new climate policies are essential this year.
  • 73% say action on climate is essential this year or in the next few years; 34% say essential this year.

Young Adults and Independents Care About Climate

The Pew poll examined support for climate action by age group, and found something that should make our nation's political parties perk up and pay attention:

Young Americans between 18 and 29 are the most supportive of climate action: fully 70% of them support cleaning up power plants.

Nearly as many independents - 64% - favor stricter emission limits on power plants in order to address climate change, while only 26% oppose such limits - a margin of more than two-to-one in support of carbon limits on power plants. Consistent with what we've seen before, republicans are divided, with 42% favoring stricter emission standards while 48% are opposed.

On Climate, Advantage Obama

The Pew survey is also notable because it thoroughly debunks the notion that climate is a "loser" issue in terms of politics.

In fact, President Obama's strongest political advantage over republicans is on climate change. Asked whether Obama or Congressional Republicans have the best approach on climate, nearly half of Americans said Obama while just over a quarter said republicans. The gap - 21 points in Obama's favor - is the largest margin out of the issues examined.

So, there you have it. The highly respected independent research team at Pew is finding what NRDC has been finding: Americans want action on climate change and they want to tackle the nation's biggest source of carbon pollution, our nation's power plants.

Satellite Image Shows Tracks of Shipping Pollution

When ships cross bodies of water, they leave behind visible "tracks" of pollution. NASA has been using satellite imagery to collect data on ship tracks, and the results are mildly disturbing.

California ARB to hold public workshop on new GHG and emissions standards for heavy-duty engines and vehicles

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) will hold a public workshop on 11 March to discuss proposals for several regulations and regulation amendments related to on-road heavy-duty vehicles.

At this workshop, staff will be soliciting input on proposals multiple proposals: a new regulation to harmonize with GHG emissions standards for medium- and heavy-duty engines and vehicles that US EPA adopted in 2011; amendments to ARB's existing Heavy-Duty Vehicle GHG EmissionReduction Regulation to align with the proposednew GHG regulation; a new set of optional oxides of nitrogen (NOx) standards for heavy-dutyvehicle engines more stringent than the current 2010 model year standard; and amendments to the Airborne Toxic Control Measure (ATCM) to LimitDiesel-fueled Commercial Motor Vehicle Idling to expand compliance responsibility.

ARB intends that this workshop, to be held in Sacramento, be the only one prior to Board consideration of these proposals in October of 2013.

  • In September 2011, US EPA adopted a new regulation for controlling GHG emissions from new medium and heavy-duty engines and vehicles. (Earlier post.) ARB staff proposes aligning with the federal regulation in order to provide California with the ability to certify engines and vehicles to the new standards as well as enforce them. This new regulation would be the first California regulation to set GHG emission limits for heavy-duty truck and engine manufacturers.

    The federal regulation is currently in the implementation phase, with compliance requirements beginning with 2014 model year and extending through 2018 model year engines and vehicles.

  • In December 2008, ARB approved the Tractor-Trailer GHG regulation which reduces GHG emissions from long-haul tractor-trailer combinations by requiring them to utilize US EPA SmartWay verified or designated technologies that will improve fuel efficiency. The recently adopted federal regulation establishes national GHG emission standards for 2014 and newer model year heavy-duty tractors. To harmonize the tractor requirements of the federal and California regulations, ARB staff is considering modifications to its Tractor-Trailer GHG regulation.

  • ARB staff will be also propose optional NOx emission standards for California certified 2015 and later model year engines. Staff may propose more than one optional NOx emission standard that would be below the existing 2010 model year standard. If the optional standards are adopted, ARB's existing incentive programs such as the Carl Moyer Memorial Air Quality Standards Attainment program could be modified to give preference to engines certified to the optional standards.

  • In 2004, ARB adopted an ATCM to Limit Diesel-fueled Commercial Motor Vehicle Idling. The ATCM, among other things, requires that drivers of diesel-fueled commercial motor vehicles with gross vehicle weight ratings greater than 10,000 pounds not operate the vehicle's primary diesel engine at idle for more than five minutes at any location.

    ARB staff is proposing to extend responsibility for complying with the requirements of the idling ATCM to the owner of the vehicle. Specifically, the owner may be held responsible for violations by the driver in instances where the owner failed to provide the driver with a compliant alternative to engine idling during rest periods.

    In addition, staff's proposal would require California-based shippers and California-based brokers to share responsibility for compliance with the idling restrictions in the event that they utilized the services of motor carriers that violated the regulation and/or they did not settle their outstanding fines.

The workshop will be divided into three sessions to facilitate independent discussion of the individual rules.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Kansas Lawmaker With Ties to Oil and Gas Industry Introduces Bill Opposing Sustainable Development

Kansas State Rep. Dennis Hedke

Yet another thing the matter with Kansas: A legislator on the committee that recently introduced legislation that would force teachers to misinform students about the science of climate change has introduced a bill to prohibit use of public funds to promote sustainable development.

Amazingly, he claims to be unable to see how his ties to the oil and gas industry could present a conflict of interest, as the Topeka Capitol Journal reports:

Rep. Dennis Hedke, a Republican, brought the bill to the House Energy and Environment Committee of which he is chairman. He said Tuesday he saw no conflict of interest in the fact that he is a contract geophysicist whose client list includes 30 regional oil and gas companies.

"I can't see why," Hedke said. "I didn't think about that. It really never crossed my mind. I'd probably just say no."

The bill, HB 2366, prohibits public funds from being used "either directly or indirectly, to promote, support, mandate, require, order, incentivize, advocate, plan for, participate in or implement sustainable development" which it defines as "a mode of human development in which resource use aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come, but not to include the idea, principle or practice of conservation or conservationism."

According to Kansas Sierra Club spokesman Zack Pistora, the bill appears to be an extension of an anti-U.N. resolution driven by Agenda 21 conspiracy theories proposed by Rep. Hedke last year that was linked to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Americans for Prosperity(AFP) - both of which reportedly have funding ties to Kansas the oil and gas billionaires, the Koch brothers.

The House Energy and Environment Committee of which Rep. Hedke is chairman will also be hearing a proposal to roll back Kansas's renewable energy standards this week, despite their success at attracting new jobs and wind projects to the state. Both the proposal to roll back renewable energy standards and the bill that would force teachers to mislead students about the facts surrounding climate science also appear to have originated from ALEC.

February 20 News: China Will Introduce A Carbon Tax

According to a senior official with China's Ministry of Finance (MOF), the country is preparing to introduce a new set of new taxation policies designed to preserve the environment and conserve resources, including a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. [XinHua]

The government will collect the environmental protection tax instead of pollutant discharge fees, as well as levy a tax on carbon dioxide emissions, Jia Chen, head of the ministry's tax policy division, wrote in an article published on the MOF's website....

The government is also looking into the possibility of taxing energy-intensive products such as batteries, as well as luxury goods such as aircraft that are not used for public transportation, according to Jia.

To conserve natural resources, the government will push forward resource tax reforms by taxing coal based on prices instead of sales volume, as well as raising coal taxes. A resource tax will also be levied on water.

The Koch brothers' political network is doing some serious self-assessment in the wake of the 2012 election - but they're not waiting for the final report for heads to roll. [Politico]

BP has won an agreement from the Justice Department that there will be no penalties on the barrels of crude oil the company was able to recapture during the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill, cutting the company's potential Clean Water Act fines by $900 million to $3.5 billion. [WaPo]

A bill introduced in the Kansas House would require the state's schools to provide evidence in classrooms both for and against the existence of climate change. [SFGate]

A senior Environmental Protection Agency official overseeing states in the West and Great Plains resigned Friday, amid intense congressional scrutiny over how EPA appointees have used personal e-mail addresses to conduct official business. [NYTimes]

A major snowstorm is poised to deliver much-needed precipitation to areas from central and southern California to the Rockies and Plains states during the next several days. Parts of Kansas and Nebraska may pick up more than a foot of snow. [Climate Central]

The environmental committee of the European Parliament voted to reduce the number of carbon emitting permits to be auctioned over the next three years, in order to shore a crash in the price of carbon caused by a surplus of the allowances. [NYTimes]

The Importance (or not) of Climate Change Rallies

Seems every day there is a new rally related to the environment. But in the 21st century, should we re-evaluate the effectiveness of a rally?

How the US Navy is Leading the Charge on Clean Energy and Climate Change

Damn the do-nothing Congress. The Navy is going full steam ahead on green energy.
USNS Henry J. Kaiser delivers a 50-50 blend of advanced biofuels. Official U.S. Navy Imagery/Flickr

USNS Henry J. Kaiser delivers a 50-50 blend of advanced biofuels. Official U.S. Navy Imagery/Flickr

Increasingly, the US Navy is leading the charge towards clean energy, which can in turn impact national security and even climate change. Through investments in biofuels, construction of a more energy-efficient fleet, forward thinking about issues like rising sea levels and a melting Arctic, and commitments to reduce consumption and reliance on foreign oil, the Navy is leading the charge of a vast energy reform effort to "change the way the US military sails, flies, marches, and thinks."

Please join host Chris Mooney for the next installment of Climate Desk Live on Wednesday February 27 at 9:30a.m, where he'll discuss the Navy's charge towards energy independence with Dr. David W. Titley, retired naval officer who led the US Navy's Task Force on Climate Change, Capt. James C. Goudreau, Director, Navy Energy Coordination Office, and Julia Whitty, environmental correspondent for Mother Jones whose cover story on this topic appears in latest issue of the magazine.

Event Details:
Date: February 27, 2013, 9:30 a.m.
Location: University of California Washington Center, 1608 Rhode Island Avenue, NW, Washington, DC
Please RSVP to
About Dr. David W. Titley:

Dr. David W. Titley is a nationally known expert in the field of climate, the Arctic, and National Security. He served as a naval officer for 32 years and rose to the rank of Rear Admiral. Dr. Titley's career included duties as Oceanographer and Navigator of the Navy and Deputy Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance. While serving in the Pentagon, Dr. Titley initiated and led the US Navy's Task Force on Climate Change. After retiring from the Navy, Dr. Titley served as the Deputy Undersecretary of Commerce for Operations, the Chief Operating Officer position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Dr. Titley has spoken across the country and throughout the world on the importance of climate change as it relates to National Security. He was invited to present on behalf of the Department of Defense at both Congressional Hearings and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meetings from 2009 to 2011.

About Captain James C. Goudreau:

Captain James C. Goudreau serves as the Director of the Navy Energy Coordination Office. His sea duty and overseas assignments include: Assistant Supply Officer onboard USS REASONER (FF 1063) and USS NIMITZ (CVN 68), Supply Officer, USS THE SULLIVANS (DDG 68) and Supply Officer, Joint Maritime Facility, St. Mawgan in Cornwall, United Kingdom. His most recent assignment was as the Assistant Chief of Staff for Logistics at Expeditionary Strike Group Seven and Amphibious Force Seventh Fleet Based in Okinawa, Japan. Captain Goudreau's ashore tours include: Naval Air Station Key West, FL; Naval Inventory Control Point, Philadelphia, PA as the P-3 Weapons Team Lead and Director of Aviation Industrial Support; Fleet and Industrial Supply Center San Diego as Site Director, Fleet Readiness Center Southwest; and Commander, Defense Logistics Agency North Island. Captain Goudreau is a member of the Defense Acquisition Corps (formerly the Acquisition Professional Community) and is qualified as a Naval Aviation Supply Officer and as a Surface Warfare Supply Corps Officer. He has been awarded the Meritorious Service Medal (three awards), Navy Commendation Medal (five awards), Navy Achievement Medal (two awards), and various campaign and unit awards.

Yikes! Without Top Predators, CO2 Emissions Skyrocket

Wolves and bears do a lot more than hunt.
Dennis from Atlanta/Flickr

Dennis from Atlanta/Flickr

Top predators do more than regulate prey populations (think wolves and deer). They also regulate carbon dioxide emissions. At least they do in freshwater ecosystems-where if you take away the top predators CO2 emissions rise a staggering 93 percent.

This according to a new paper in the latest Nature Geoscience that holds ramifications for a lot more than marshes. "Predators are disappearing from our ecosystems at alarming rates because of hunting and fishing pressure and because of human induced changes to their habitats," said lead author Trisha Atwood, at the University of British Columbia.

I wrote in an earlier post here on research showing how the loss of biodiversity (itself often a function of the loss of top predators) likely alters CO2 dynamics and other issues of global change as much as greenhouse gases.

To keep reading, click here.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Environmentalists occupy National Mall

Environmentalists packed several blocks around Washington's National Mall on Sunday, hoping to spur President Barack Obama to take strong measures against climate change.

USA Today On Keystone XL Rally: 'Tens Of Thousands Demand Action On Climate Change'

So that was a heck of a rally. I welcome readers who attended to share their thoughts and pics.

If you missed it, you can get details from USA Today's story "Tens of thousands demand action on climate change." Or from the Sierra Club news release, "More Than 35,000 Strong March on Washington for Climate Action."

And then there's always the Climate Progress twitter feed - my first mass tweeting from an iPhone.

I loved the combination of passion and knowledge that was driving the day. I had the chance to talk to a bunch of the speakers and was impressed by the strength of their commitment on climate in general and Keystone XL in particular.

Van Jones made clear that all of President Obama's other accomplishments would be wiped away if he approves Keystone, since future generations are going to judge all of us on the basis of the actions we take on climate.

I was very impressed with the celebrities who came, that they had substance to go with the style. How great to have Rosario Dawson explain that it is called "tar sands" and not "oil sands." And in chatting with her afterwards, it's clear she also understands the spectrum of clean energy solutions.

And Evangeline Lilly (aka Kate Austen from Lost) was there as a Canadian to apologize to all the Americans in the audience for her country's ceaseless efforts to send the dirtiest of fuels our way. I have seen every episode of Lost but lost my nerve to tell her how much I enjoyed her show except for the last five minutes, that is. It's not like she was one of the writers.... But I digress.

I had a long talk with Tom Steyer, the billionaire hedge-fund manager who helped lead the "No on Prop 23″ campaign to save California's climate law in 2010. He is also on the board of CAP. He is full throttle that we have to act - and act now - if we are to avert catastrophe. He said to the crowd that he has spent a lot of time reviewing investments and Keystone is a bad investment for this country.

It is good to see a movement with passion from the top all the way down to the roots.

Protecting Mother Earth: Forward on Climate Rally

Denée Reaves, Program Assistant, International, Washington, D.C.

Despite the cold windy day today, more than 35,000 people came out for the Forward on Climate rally on the national mall to support action being taken on climate change. Groups representing every walk of life showed their solidarity in a peaceful friendly environment. Chants, dancing and bands abounded. Signs calling for a denial of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, limits on carbon pollution from power plants, and investment in renewable energies could be seen everywhere you looked. But although the atmosphere was jovial, the issues we are fighting for are not. Reverend Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus said it best when he compared this rally to the one attended by Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years ago; people came out to the mall then to fight for equality, but we are here now fighting for existence.

The rally, organized by, Sierra Club, NRDC and many others was graced by speakers such as founder Bill McKibben, Rebuild a Dream President and NRDC Trustee Van Jones, actor Rosario Dawson, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, and many representatives from First Nations, including Chief Jacqueline Thomas representing the Yinka Dene Alliance from British Columbia, Canada. Each speaker that approached the podium revved up the crowd with their heartfelt words and important messages. But as I was listening to these wonderful speakers, what struck me most were not the people on the stage, but the people in the audience. The crowd was overwhelmingly filled with Millennials.

Every way I turned I saw the people of my generation standing, shouting, stomping and screaming for a change in the way we look at and deal with climate change in our country. It is of the utmost importance to me that those of my generation are taking the issues of climate change to heart, and they did not disappoint today. One girl stopped me as I was walking in my bright red NRDC Forward on Climate hat, and asked me where I got it from. I replied that I work with the organization. This girl had worked one summer in our Santa Monica office and claimed it was the best summer she had ever had, and further went on to tell me I had the best job in the world. She was right.

The Forward on Climate Rally in DC was complimented by many sister rallies across the country. All of these rallies support the same cause: a better way of treating our planet, because as Chief Thomas' Medicine Woman grandmother put it when speaking about Mother Earth, "If you take care of the land, the land will take care of you."

Foward on Cliamte Rally.JPG

Photo Credit: Josh Mogerman, NRDC

More than 35,000 Rally to Protect Our Climate

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, Director International Program, Washington, D.C.

Fwd on Climate Rally US and Canada Flags Credit Josh Mogerman NRDC.JPG

On February 17, more than 35,000 braved the icy temperatures to take a message of hope for our climate to the President's doorstep. Marching in a human pipeline around the White House, people from across America and Canada also showed what real solidarity and neighborliness looks like.

Good neighbors don't push dirty energy projects such as the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that hurt communities, water and climate. Good neighbors and allies work together to bring leadership to tackle climate change and build a clean energy future. Good neighbors build solidarity around a common vision of the world we want for ourselves and our children: one without the threats of ever worsening climate change causing droughts, wildfires, floods and violent storms. That solidarity exists with the people of Canada and yet is overshadowed in the press by the latest attempt to push the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in our national interest for many reasons and should not be built. This is something that both Canadians and Americans are saying. At the rally today, Crystal Lameman from the Beaver Lake Cree Nation in Alberta put it very well: "We can't eat money and we can't drink oil." And Chief Jacqueline Thomas of the Yinka Dene Alliance in British Columbia said, "We have faith that people will do the right thing to protect Mother Earth."

Over time, the oil industry has found many ways to push the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. We have seen wildly exaggerated jobs numbers that falsely raised hope in areas that need work. We have seen arguments about energy security which were unbelievable considering this is a pipeline meant mostly for export. We have seen claims that if the US didn't take the tar sands it would go to Asia even though Canadians were saying "no" to pipelines to their west coast. And the latest? Today, a New York Times article focused on the foreign relations dynamic of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline decision. Posing the decision on this dirty energy project as something that is a choice between the environmental community and Canada is a false way of looking at it. Several points are worth considering:

  • Canada and the United States have been friends and allies for a long time and will continue to be friends and allies long into the future. A single project that is in the interest of the oil industry, but not of Americans or Canadians, will not damage that relationship.
  • Canada is already our largest supplier of oil. And Canada is our number one trade partner. A rejection of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will not erase the massive trade connections that we already enjoy.
  • The current Canadian federal government unapologetically speaks for the tar sands oil industry. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is from Alberta and has moved Canada and the province of Alberta away from earlier Canadian goals of fighting climate change to developing the economy based on oil.
  • Many provinces in Canada are concerned about expansion of tar sands and are working hard to diversify their energy sources with clean energy, as well as with energy efficiency and conservation.
  • The general public in Canada is very concerned about climate change and many people and First Nations in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec who have experienced tar sands extraction, refining and the threat of tar sands pipelines are raising concerns in the same way that we in the United States are.

A rejection of the tar sands pipelines and of tar sands expansion is in the best interest of both Americans and Canadians. It will show tremendous leadership on the part of both of our countries to move together to tackle the climate change challenge by rejecting dirty fuels and moving forward with clean energy.

So let me come back to the wise words of Chief Jacqueline Thomas, immediate past Chief of the Saik'uz First Nation in British Columbia and co-founder Yinka Dene Alliance ("People of the Earth"): The Yinka Dene Alliance of British Columbia is seeing the harm from climate change to our peoples and our waters. We see the threat of taking tar sands out of the Earth and bringing it through our territories and over our rivers. The harm being done to people in the tar sands region can no longer be Canada's dirty secret. We don't have the billions of dollars that industry has. But we do have our faith that people will do the right thing to protect Mother Earth. The Forward on Climate Rally shows that we are not alone in the fight to stop tar sands expansion and tackle climate change.
NRDC_climate rally-5 Chief Jackie Thomas credit MBlanding.jpg

Chief Jacqueline Thomas, Saik'uz First Nation, British Columbia

President Obama, Did You Hear Us?: Let's Move #ForwardOnClimate!

Elizabeth Shope, Advocate, Washington, D.C.

Today, I joined a crowd of more than 35,000 people including thousands of NRDC members and activists at the #ForwardOnClimate rally calling on President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, set carbon standards for dirty power plants, and move forward with clean energy solutions.

Forward on Climate rally Shope and NRDC sign credit Sung Hwang.JPG Photo credit: Sung Hwang, NRDC.

Hip Hop Caucus President & CEO Reverend Lennox Yearwood MCed the speaker program, and kept the crowd pumped up despite the frigid temperatures and strong, icy winds. Before setting out on our march around the White House, we heard from inspiring speakers including NRDC Trustee and Green for All Founder Van Jones; Chief Jacqueline Thomas, Immediate past Chief of the Saik'uz First Nation in British Columbia and co-founder of the Yinka Dene Alliance; Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree First Nation; Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse; Latinovations Founder and Dewey Squre Group Principal Maria Cardona; Tom Steyer, Investor and founder of the Center for the Next Generation; Mike Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director; and President Bill McKibben.

Van Jones reminded us why all 35,000 of us were here at this rally: "You elected this President," he told us. "You made history... he needs to give you a chance to have a future. Stop being chumps." In addition to calling on us to continue fighting for our future, he called on President Obama to make the right decision, saying "all the good work you've done will be wiped away if you approve Keystone XL," and that approving the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would be like jabbing a dirty needle into the U.S.

Crystal Lameman shared with us how tar sands development is affecting her community, and how industry is attempting to greenwash their dirty business. "Don't be fooled by their idea of what reclamation is," she said. "We can't eat money and we can't drink oil."

Keystone XL isn't the only tar sands pipeline currently under consideration that would facilitate an expansion of the tar sands - it is one of several. Chief Jacqueline Thomas spoke to us about Enbridge's Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline to British Columbia and the associated tanker traffic that would put the lands and waters of many First Nations at risk. More than 100 First Nations along the pipeline and tanker route have said their lands and waters are not for sale-that they will not allow the Enbridge Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline or similar tar sands projects to cross their lands, territories and watersheds, or the ocean migration routes of Fraser River salmon. Chief Jacqueline Thomas's speech highlighted the importance of protecting our lands and waters: "If we destroy the Earth, we destroy ourselves."

Maria Cardona's speech brought home the urgency of not just rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and curbing tar sands extraction, but of regulating our dirty power plants: "For millions of Americans, particularly minorities, clean air regulations are life-saving regulations."

We're going to have to keep fighting, though, and keep urging Congress and President Obama to stand up to polluters. As Senator Whitehouse told us, "Congress is sleepwalking through this crisis, and it's time to wake up... We're going to have the president's back and he's going to have our back... Let us be unshakeable."

Today, we were not just unshakeable but unified - young people and old people, Nebraska ranchers, members of First Nations and Native American tribes, environmental groups, labor activists, doctors and nurses, entrepreneurs, investors, and many more.

We marched. We danced to the marching bands that mixed themselves in with the crowds. We chanted. (And I have a favorite new chant from today: "Hey Obama don't be silly, we don't want no oil spilly.") And we have hope.

The way Tom Steyer put it in his remarks at the rally, it may not be easy, but there really is no choice: "The Keystone [XL] pipeline is not a good investment. We can't afford 40 more years of dirty energy. Today we have to dare to say no to the Keystone [XL] pipeline and create a clean energy future."

So President Obama, I hope you're listening- because it's time to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, set carbon standards for dirty power plants, and move #ForwardOnClimate.

Thumbnail image for Forward on Climate Rally and Wash Monument Credit Josh Mogerman NRDC.JPG Photo credit: Josh Mogerman, NRDC.

Fossil Fuel-Generated Energy Has Real External Costs

The Effects of Rising Energy Costs on American Families and Employers

Daniel J. Weiss testimony before the House Oversight Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care, and Entitlements (full PDF here)

Chairman Lankford, Ranking Member Speier, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify on "The Effects of Rising Energy Costs on American Families and Employers."

When considering energy prices, there are three primary considerations.

  1. Fossil fuel prices do not include the costs of their side effects such as air pollution and the associated health care costs for premature deaths or asthma attacks.
  2. The Obama administration has adopted important policies to reduce energy costs for middle- and lower-income families.
  3. Expanding domestic oil production in protected lands and waters will not lower gasoline prices, but high gasoline prices yield high oil company profits for companies receiving huge tax breaks.

Fossil fuel-generated energy has real external costs

  • When assessing the effects on rising energy costs, it is essential that this evaluation also include their external costs-and who pays them. This includes the following expenses:
  • Mercury and toxic pollution from power plants threaten children, senior citizens, and the infirm with brain impairment or respiratory illnesses. Reducing these pollutants will return $3 to $9 in health benefits for every $1 in cleanup costs.
  • Coal-fired power plants produce one-third of all the climate pollution in the United States.
  • Climate change has real costs to our economy. The National Journal, for instance, reported that the drought will reduce Mississippi River barge traffic, resulting in "losses of about $7 billion through the end of January, according to the barging industry."
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that in 2011 to 2012 there were 25 floods, droughts, storms, heat waves, and wildfires that each caused at least $1 billion in damages. Together, these severe events caused 1,100 fatalities and up to $188 billion in total damages.
  • Pollution reductions internalize some of these costs of pollution so that they are paid for by the fuel users rather than by everyone.

The Obama administration has adopted important policies to reduce energy costs

  • Doubling the fuel economy of passenger vehicles will reduce gasoline purchases by $8,000 over the life of a 2025 car. It will be like getting $1 off the price of a gallon of gasoline.
  • The Department of Energy set efficiency standards for nearly 40 different appliances that together will "save consumers nearly $350 billion on their energy bills through 2030."
  • The Weatherization Assistance Program weatherized its 1 millionth home in 2012. The Department of Energy estimates that this saves "a family up to $400 a year on heating and cooling costs."
  • I agree with Mr. Trisko that those concerned about the impact of energy prices on lower-income households should restore the recent funding cuts in the Weatherization and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Programs. Eliminating special tax breaks for the big five oil companies would provide $2.4 billion annually to offset them.

Expanding domestic oil production into protected lands and waters will not lower gasoline prices, even though the United States is already producing the most oil in 15 years

  • Oil prices are set on a world market not really affected by domestic production. Two-thirds of the gasoline price is based on the oil price. Therefore, higher U.S. oil production has little effect on gasoline prices here.
  • The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that federal lands and waters produced 2 billion barrels of oil from 2009 to 2011, and only 1.8 million barrels from 2006 to 2008-13 percent more.
  • The Associated Press tested whether more U.S. drilling would lower gasoline prices. After analyzing 36 years of monthly U.S. oil-production and gasoline-price data, the Associated Press found "no statistical correlation between how much oil comes out of U.S. wells and the price at the pump."
  • High oil and gasoline prices do benefit the big five oil companies: BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell. They made a combined profit of $255 billion in the last two years-an average of $1,000 in profit for each vehicle on the road.
  • Yet these big oil companies retain their special tax breaks, which annually are worth $2.4 billion, according to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.


To protect American families and businesses from high energy prices, we must:

  • Reduce the pollution caused by fossil fuel use
  • Continue to improve efficiency of vehicles, appliances, and buildings
  • Fully fund the Weatherization and Liheap programs
  • Eliminate unnecessary tax breaks for the big five oil companies, which are already swimming in profits

Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Related Post:

  • Economics Stunner: "Coal-Fired Power Plants Have Air Pollution Damages Larger Than Their Value Added; Natural Gas Damage Larger Than Its Value Added For Even Low CO2 Prices

Friday, February 15, 2013

Watch out for the Watch Dog: Climate Threat to the Federal Government.

Theo Spencer, Senior Advocate, Climate Center, New York

Earlier this week the Government Accountability Office (GAO) added Climate Change to its "High Risk" list. The agency biennially updates its list of programs and operations at "high" risk for waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement or needing broad-based transformations.

The agency noted:

Climate change poses significant financial risks to the federal government, which owns extensive infrastructure, such as defense installations; insures property through the National Flood Insurance Program; and provides emergency aid in response to natural disasters. GAO added this area because the federal government is not well positioned to address the fiscal exposure presented by climate change and needs a government-wide strategic approach with strong leadership to manage related risks.

The GAO acknowledged that policymakers see climate adaptations measures as a risk management strategy to protect people and businesses, "but, as we reported in 2009, the federal government's emerging adaptation activities were carried out in an ad hoc manner and were not well coordinated across federal agencies, let alone with state and local governments."

The GAO is the federal government's non-partisan watchdog agency, and its investigations are taken very seriously. Thus it was sobering to read in the GAO release this week that:

In May 2011, we found no coherent strategic government-wide approach to climate change funding and that federal officials do not have a shared understanding of strategic government-wide priorities At that time, we recommended that the appropriate entities within the Executive Office of the President clearly establish federal strategic climate change priorities, including the roles and responsibilities of the key federal entities, taking into consideration the full range of climate-related activities within the federal government. The relevant federal entities have not directly addressed this recommendation.

So what does the GAO say is at stake here?

The federal government as property owner/manager-- The federal government manages about 650 million acres-29 percent of the 2.27 billion acres of U.S. land- for a wide variety of purposes, such as recreation, grazing, timber, and fish and wildlife.

Agriculture and housing-- The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation don't factor climate change into their planning and decision making. GAO in its release this week noted that they had warned as far back as 2007 these two massive insurance programs were at much greater financial risk due to climate impacts like increased extreme weather events, and that the agencies responsible for them had done next to nothing to better understand these risks. Those agencies have said little about their increased financial exposure since then.

Increased risk to states and localities-They don't have enough local data on things like temperature and precipitation projections to justify spending money to prepare for a changed future, the GAO reported in 2009. The GAO called on the White House to develop plans to help states and towns get this much needed data. Very little of that data is currently available.

Appropriate Disaster Response-Disaster relief money comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but Congress woefully underfunds the agency's relief budget, leaving the government with vast financial exposure. To wit, the GAO reported in September of 2012 that disaster declarations have increased to a record of 98 in fiscal year 2011 compared with 65 in 2004. Over that period, FEMA obligated more than $80 billion in federal assistance for disasters. FEMA currently does not require states to consider climate change in the emergency management plans they must file to be eligible for federal funding. NRDC has petitioned FEMA to change that, and we are still waiting for a response.

Dangerous Disorganization-In 2009 GAO recommended the White House produce a over-arching climate adaptation plan, "including the establishment of clear roles, responsibilities, and working relationships among federal, state, and local governments." Yet in 2011 the watchdog agency found "no coherent strategic government-wide approach to climate change funding and that federal officials do not have a shared understanding of strategic government-wide priorities." Not much has changed since then.

So what does GAO recommend the feds do to limit the financial exposure of the government to climate impacts? More of the same, but some items are worth repeating:

  • A government-wide strategic approach with strong leadership and the authority to manage climate change risks that encompasses the entire range of related federal activities and addresses all key elements of strategic planning.
  • More information to understand and manage federal insurance programs' long-term exposure to climate change and analyze the potential impacts of an increase in the frequency or severity of weather-related events on their operations.
  • A government-wide approach for providing (1) the best available climate-related data for making decisions at the state and local level and (2) assistance for translating available climate-related data into information that officials need to make decisions.
  • Improved criteria for assessing a jurisdiction's capability to respond and recover from a disaster without federal assistance and to better apply lessons from past experience when developing disaster cost estimates.

We'll see what happens.

There is some good news coming from some parts of the government, though. On Tuesday President Obama in his State of the Union speech said:

I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago

But if Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct -- (applause) -- I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take now and in the future to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

That means the Environmental Protection Agency continuing to protect the air we breathe and the environment we live in by limiting climate pollution from the number one single source: power plants.

As my colleague Dan Lashof recently wrote:

There are many, many actions the executive branch can take in the near term to help fight global warming. The most important of them is limiting pollution from the nation's existing fossil-fuel power plants. They're responsible for almost 40 percent of our country's carbon pollution. And an NRDC proposal released in December shows how, using its existing authority under the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency can cut power plant carbon dioxide emissions by 26 percent by 2020 and 34 percent by 2025 compared to 2005 levels.

Let's hope we see some action soon. The risks are very clear.

Thanks to Kelly Henderson for her assistance in preparing this blog entry.

Obama Makes Case For Curbing Carbon Pollution From Existing Power Plants, Also Vows To Use 'Bully Pulpit'

The President has (finally) been talking hawkish on climate. Turns out he now realizes that is part of his job! (Duh?)

In his second inaugural address, Obama said failing to respond to the threat of climate change "would betray our children and future generations." In his State of the Union, Obama vowed to take executive action if Congress fails to pass a climate bill.

The most important action he can take without further Congressional approval is restricting emissions from existing coal-fired power plants using his authority under the Clean Air Act.

While he didn't announce specific plans for such regulations in the SOTU, he did make the case for them during a recent Google+ hangout:

"The truth is if you produce power using old power plants, you're going to be emitting more carbon - but to upgrade those plants, energy's going to be a little bit more expensive, at least on the front end. At the core, we have to do something that's really difficult for any society to do, and that is to take actions now where the benefits are coming down the road, or at least we're avoiding big problems down the road,"

Watch it:

During the online video chat, he also said that speaking out on climate change is part of his job:

"Part of my job is to use the bully pulpit to help raise people's awareness, because if the public cares about it, eventually Congress acts. If the public doesn't care about it, it's very hard to get big stuff done because legislators respond to their constituents sooner or later."

That is quite a reversal from the climate silence Obama has practiced for much of the past years - a flawed strategy that team Obama actually pushed others to adopt starting back in March 2009. Let's hope this is all more than rhetoric, something we will find out relatively soon - when he makes the final Keystone XL tar sands pipeline decision.

Senators Sanders, Boxer propose legislation to institute GHG price on large stationary sources and remove support for fossil fuel industries

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) introduced legislation that would set an escalating fee on greenhouse gas emissions from large stationary sources to fund investments in energy efficiency and sustainable energy technologies and also provide rebates to consumers to offset increases in energy prices. The legislation also proposes numerous actions against financing and support for fossil fuel industries.

The proposal was drafted as two measures, the Climate Protection Act-which sets the carbon price and finance programs for sustainable technologies-and the Sustainable Energy Act-which ends federal support for fossil fuel companies and research and extends tax incentives for renewables. Among the financing provisions of the legislation are:

  • Price on carbon. The legislation would enact a fee of $20 per ton or carbon or methane equivalent, rising at 5.6% per year over a 10-year period. Applied upstream, the fee would apply to 2,869 of the largest stationary sources, covering about 85% of US greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Congressional Research Service.

    The Congressional Budget Office estimates this would raise $1.2 trillion in revenue over 10 years and reduce GHG emissions by approximately 20% from 2005 levels by 2025.

  • Investment in energy efficiency and sustainable energy. A portion of the revenues raised would be used to weatherize 1 million homes per year; triple the budget for ARPA-E; create a sustainable technologies finance program to leverage $500 billion for investments; invest in domestic manufacturing; and fund $1 billion per year in worker training.

  • Rebate program. The Family Clean Energy Rebate Program would use 60% of the funds from the carbon fee and use the model developed by Alaska's oil dividend to provide a monthly rebate to every legal US resident to offset potential energy price increases.

  • International sources. Imported fuels and products would also be charged the same carbon fee that domestic fuels and products play, unless the exporting nation has similar climate program and already charges a fee on carbon.

  • Debt reduction. Approximately $300 billion would go to debt reduction over 10 years.

The Sustainable Energy Act eliminates a number of areas of financial benefit for fossil fuel companies and research, including the elimination of royalty relief. It also repeals sections of existing energy legislation dealing with ultra-deepwater and unconventional natural gas and other petroleum resources; removes limits on liability for offshore operations and pipeline operators; rescinds all unobligated funds to the World Bank and the Ex-Im Bank for financing projects that support coal, oil, or natural gas; terminates the DOE Office of Fossil Energy Research and Development; prohibits the use of DOT funds to award any grant, loan, loan guarantee, or provide any other direct assistance to any rail or port project that transports coal, oil, or natural gas; terminates fossil fuel tax breaks; and institutes numerous other accounting and tax changes on the fossil fuel industries.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Contiguous United States warmer and wetter than average for January

According to NOAA scientists, the average temperature for the contiguous U.S. during January was 32.0°F, 1.6°F above the 20th century average, tying with 1958 as the 39th warmest January on record. Drought conditions remained entrenched across the Southeast, Great Plains, and the mountainous West.

Secret Funding Helped Build Vast Network of Climate Denial Thinktanks

Anonymous billionaires donated $120m to more than 100 anti-climate groups working to discredit climate change science.
World of Good/Flickr

World of Good/Flickr

Conservative billionaires used a secretive funding route to channel nearly $120m (£77m) to more than 100 groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change, the Guardian has learned.

The funds, doled out between 2002 and 2010, helped build a vast network of thinktanks and activist groups working to a single purpose: to redefine climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarising "wedge issue" for hardcore conservatives.

The millions were routed through two trusts, Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund, operating out of a generic town house in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC. Donors Capital caters to those making donations of $1m or more.

Whitney Ball, chief executive of the Donors Trust told the Guardian that her organisation assured wealthy donors that their funds would never by diverted to liberal causes.

To keep reading, click here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

EPRI calculates technically recoverable US riverine hydrokinetic potential at 3% of annual electricity demand

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) recently completed a mapping and assessment of hydrokinetic resources in rivers of the continental United States and found that the technically recoverable resource estimate for the continental United States is 120 TWh/yr, which represents approximately 3% of annual US electricity consumption.

The assessment is part of an effort by the US Department of Energy to characterize US hydrokinetic waterpower resources including river, wave, tidal, ocean thermal, and ocean current. EPRI completed an ocean wave energy mapping and assessment in 2011.

The assessment analyzed 71,398 river segments across the 48 contiguous states and additional river segments in Alaska. It yielded a total theoretical resource estimate of 1,381 TWh/yr for the continental United States, which is equivalent to approximately 25% of annual US electricity consumption.

The theoretical estimate provides perspective on the magnitude of river resources in the United States. We then broke that number down further to a technically recoverable estimate because there are constraints to developing the resource.

Although the practically recoverable resource is an unknown fraction of the technically recoverable resource, the assessment shows that hydrokinetic generation could be an important renewable energy option for the United States.

-Paul Jacobson, project manager for EPRI's waterpower research

The results show that the Lower Mississippi region contributes almost half (47.9%) of the technically recoverable resource estimate; Alaska 17.1%, the Pacific Northwest region 9.2%, and, the Ohio region 5.7%. Collectively these four regions represent 80% of the technically recoverable hydrokinetic resource in the continental United States.

By comparison, EPRI's 2011 wave energy assessment, which calculated ocean wave potential, found an estimated 2,600 TWh/yr and 1,120 TWh/yr of theoretically and technically recoverable resources respectively.

Jacobson also noted that these assessments are a major improvement over estimates for hydrokinetic waterpower resources EPRI completed in 2007, noting that better data and analytical tools are now available that provide a more accurate picture of these resources.

Satellite data reveal major loss in volume of Arctic sea-ice since 2003

Arctic sea ice volume has declined by 36% in the autumn and 9% in the winter between 2003 and 2012, an international team of scientists has found. The researchers used new data from the European Space Agency's CryoSat-2 satellite spanning 2010 to 2012, and data from NASA's ICESat satellite from 2003 to 2008 to estimate the volume of sea ice in the Arctic.

They found that from 2003 to 2008, autumn volumes of ice averaged 11,900 cubic kilometers (2,855 cubic miles). But from 2010 to 2012, the average volume had dropped to 7,600 cu. km. (1,823 cu. mi.) a decline of 4,300 cu. km (1,032 cu. mi.) The average ice volume in the winter from 2003 to 2008 was 16,300 cu. km. (3,911 cu. mi.), dropping to 14,800 cu. km (3,551 cu. mi.) between 2010 and 2012-a difference of 1,500 cu. km. (360 cu. mi.).

The data reveals that thick sea ice has disappeared from a region to the north of Greenland, the Canadian Archipelago, and to the northeast of Svalbard.

- Dr. Katharine Giles, a research fellow at the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at University College London (UCL)

Giles and her colleagues report their findings in a paper that has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. AGU has posted the manuscript online as an accepted article.

The findings confirm the continuing decline in Arctic sea-ice volume simulated by the Pan-Arctic Ice-Ocean Modelling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS), which estimates the volume of Arctic sea ice and had been checked using earlier submarine, mooring, and satellite observations until 2008.

Other satellites have already shown drops in the area covered by Arctic sea ice as the climate has warmed. Indeed, sea-ice extent reached a record minimum in September 2012. But CryoSat-2, launched in April 2010, differs in that it lets scientists estimate the volume of sea ice-a much more accurate indicator of the changes taking place in the Arctic, the researchers said.

While two years of CryoSat-2 data aren't indicative of a long-term change, the lower ice thickness and volume in February and March 2012, compared with same period in 2011, may have contributed to the record minimum ice extent during the 2012 autumn.

-Professor Christian Haas of York University, Canada Research Chair for Arctic Sea Ice Geophysics

CryoSat-2 measures ice volume using a high-resolution synthetic aperture radar altimeter, which fires pulses of microwave energy down towards the ice. The energy bounces off both the top of sections of ice and the water in the cracks in between. The difference in height between these two surfaces let scientists calculate the volume of the ice cover.

The team confirmed CryoSat-2 estimates of ice volume using measurements from three independent sources-aircraft, moorings, and NASA's Operation IceBridge.

The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, the European Space Agency, the German Aerospace Center, Alberta Ingenuity, NASA, the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation.


  • Seymour W. Laxon, Katharine A. Giles, Andy L. Ridout, Duncan J. Wingham, Rosemary Willatt, Robert Cullen, Ron Kwok, Axel Schweiger, Jinlun Zhang, Christian Haas, Stefan Hendricks, Richard Krishfield, Nathan Kurtz, Sinead Farrell, Malcolm Davidson (2013) CryoSat-2 estimates of Arctic sea ice thickness and volume. GRL doi: 10.1002/grl.50193

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Permafrost melt to boost atmospheric CO<sub>2</sub> faster than thought

The more CO2, the more global warming; the more global warming, the more CO2

A new study has shown that melting Arctic permafrost will "release climate-warming carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere much faster than previously thought," the University of Michigan warns....

Monday, February 11, 2013

EPA Climate Change Adaptation Plan sees likely increase in tropospheric ozone, with more difficulty in attaining NAAQS in many areas

Among the many climate-related vulnerabilities that can impact its mission, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cites a likely increase in tropospheric ozone pollution as potentially making it more difficult to attain National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) in many areas with existing ozone problems. The analysis comes in a draft Climate Change Adaptation Plan that the agency has released for public comment.

In the plan, EPA examines the different ways in which its programs are vulnerable to a changing climate and how it might adapt to continue meeting its mission of protecting human health and the environment. Every program and regional office within the EPA is currently developing an Implementation Plan outlining how each considers the impacts of climate change in its mission, operations, and programs, and carrying out the work called for in the agency-wide plan.

Many of the outcomes EPA is working to attain (e.g., clean air, safe drinking water) are sensitive to changes in weather and climate. Until now, EPA has been able to assume that climate is relatively stable and future climate will mirror past climate. However, with climate changing more rapidly than society has experienced in the past, the past is no longer a good predictor of the future. Climate change is posing new challenges to EPA's ability to fulfill its mission.

It is essential that EPA adapt to anticipate and plan for future changes in climate. It must integrate, or mainstream, considerations of climate change into its programs, policies, rules and operations to ensure they are effective under future climatic conditions. Through climate adaptation planning, EPA will continue to protect human health and the environment, but in a way that accounts for the effects of climate change.

EPA has not yet conducted a detailed quantitative assessment of the vulnerability of its mission to climate change. This Climate Change Adaptation Plan uses expert judgment, combined with information from peer-reviewed scientific literature on the impacts of climate change, to identify potential vulnerabilities. It then presents priority actions the Agency will take to begin integrating climate adaptation planning into its activities.

-Draft Climate Change Adaptation plan

The Clean Air Act (CAA) requires EPA to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment.
EPA has set National Ambient Air Quality Standards for six principal pollutants, which are called "criteria" pollutants: carbon monoxide (CO); lead; nitrogen dioxide (NO2); ozone; particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5); and sulfur dioxide (SO2).
Under the CAA, each state must develop a plan describing how it will attain and maintain the NAAQS-the State Implementation Plan. In general, the SIP is a collection of programs (monitoring, modeling, emission inventories, control strategies, etc) and documents (policies and rules) that the state uses to attain and maintain the NAAQS. A state must engage the public in approving its plan prior to sending it to EPA for approval.
In some cases where the EPA fails to approve a SIP, the Agency can issue and enforce a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP) to ensure attainment and maintenance of the NAAQS.

The relationship between temperature changes and tropospheric ozone formation is well understood, EPA notes in the draft. Higher temperatures and weaker air circulation will lead to more ozone formation even with the same level of emissions of ozone forming chemicals. Studies project that climate change could increase tropospheric ozone levels over broad areas of the country, especially on the highest-ozone days.

Climate change might also lengthen the ozone season and increase individuals' vulnerability to air pollution.

Increases in ozone due to climate change may make it more difficult to attain or maintain ozone standards that the EPA establishes; this will need to be taken into account when it designs effective ozone precursor emission control programs, the agency noted.

A related concern in terms of air quality is potential that climate change will affect PM levels through changes in the frequency or intensity of wildfires. The potential increase in PM resulting from wildfires may increase the public health burden in affected areas and also complicate state efforts to attain the PM NAAQS and address regional transport of air pollution.

Additionally, climate change may alter the effects of and strategic priorities within EPA's regulatory and voluntary programs to help restore the stratospheric ozone layer, the agency notes. Climate change affects the ozone layer through changes in chemical transport, atmospheric composition and temperature. In turn, changes in stratospheric ozone can have implications for the weather and climate of thetroposphere.

EPA recognizes that the integration of climate adaptation planning into its programs, policies, rules, and operations will occur over time. This change will happen in stages and measures should reflect this evolution. The earliest changes in many programs will be changes in knowledge and awareness (e.g., increase in the awareness of EPA staff and their external partners of the relevance of adaptation planning to their programs). Building on this knowledge, they then will begin to change their behavior (e.g., increase their use of available decision support tools to integrate adaptation planning into their work). As programs mature, there will be evidence of more projects implemented as a result of increased attention to climate-related programmatic issues. Finally, in the long-term, adaptation planning efforts will lead to changes in condition (e.g., percentage of flood-prone communities that have increased their resilience to storm events) to directly support EPA's mission to protect human health and the environment.

-Draft Climate Change Adaptation plan

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Key to Climate Preparedness: Building Social Capital &amp; Strong Towns

Deron Lovaas, Federal Transportation Policy Director, Washington, D.C.

Is climate preparedness and resilience mostly if not entirely a question of costly investments in physical infrastructure? Safe to assume if we keep in mind bits of pithy wisdom like Churchill's: "We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us." Efficiently and wisely located and designed infrastructure should therefore be the most important factor in determining resilience in the face of disruptive climatic changes.

Then I came across the story of Village de L'Est, a Vietnamese community located logically on the eastern end of New Orleans, in the National Academy of Sciences report on disaster resilience. This remarkable community and its Mary Queen of Vietnam Church worked was an active hub of recovery activities after Katrina. Emergency supplies were gathered and distributed thanks to the church. Rebuilding commenced soon after the hurricane, and community leaders reached out to evacuees in shelters in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas to maintain connections. This New Orleans neighborhood has experienced an astounding 90 percent population recovery.


8/29/05 photo of Katrina courtesy of NASA's Earth Observatory

Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy describe similar successes in rebounding from disaster in their fun and enlightening book Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back. The book is full of bracing and inspiring stories like the amazing commitment to recovery by Hancock Bank in New Orleans after Katrina, as described by Zolli himself in the video below:

The book's last chapter has specific recommendations for building resilience, which are useful for climate preparedness:

  • "Mapping fragilities, thresholds and feedback loops": Zolli notes that "surprisingly few communities or organizations have any kind of structure in place to think broadly and proactively about the fragilities and potential disruptions that confront them."
  • "Embracing Adhocracy," which means complementing plans and procedures of bureaucracies with innovations and coordination that connects them (I wonder how many metropolitan long-range transportation plans are thoroughly meshed with the thousands of disaster plans required since 2000?)
  • "The Fierce Urgency of Data," which may sound boring but which is arguably the most crucial part of the resilience equation. The book covers how recovery from the Haiti earthquake was aided immensely by a massive data collection effort that used social media to map clusters of incidents. Rescue organizations, and the U.S. Marines, found this to be an invaluable tool. Not covered by the book, but particularly relevant to transportation, is the increasing amount of data that can be collected from computers in cars like the one sitting my driveway (a 2012 Toyota Plug-In Prius) in order to assess the functionality of highways, roads and bridges subsequent to a disaster. For the first time ever, after the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan just a couple of years ago, Toyota and the other two big Japanese automakers combined forces to provide a real-time map of the road network for government, companies and the public. ITS-Japan has some details here.
  • "Rehearsing the Future" is basically scenario-planning, which is specifically authorized as "optional" in the MAP-21. Such planning should not be "optional," however, for regions serious about climate preparedness (unlike federal transportation policymakers, evidently). It's not just the product that matters, as Zolli points out when quoting one of the scientists behind a particular coastal resilience software platform called "Marine InVEST": "In many ways, these renewed relationships [between community members] are the sofware's deliverable...the models get better every time we engage with nonscientists do their relationships with one another."

And this is exactly the point. Strong social relationships in our communities matter most. This brings us to what scientists including most notably Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone , call "social capital." And more specifically, it brings us to a denser, more robust book by Daniel Aldrich of Purdue University (formerly of Tulane, where he moved shortly before Katrina struck New Orleans), called Building Resilience. Here's Aldrich himself describing his work:

Aldrich examines qualitative and quantitative data sets detailing recovery patterns and causes after four catastrophic events: Massive earthquakes in Tokyo (1923) and Kobe (1995), the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (2004) and of course Hurricane Katrina (2005). The book is rich with findings:

  • First, social capital matters most to speedy recovery in each of these disasters.
  • Second, a combination of different kinds of social capital is crucial; areas need "bonding" capital, meaning ties within the community, "bridging" capital connecting to other communities, and "linking" capital connecting to helpful outsiders such as government representatives and nonprofit service organizations.
  • Third, social capital can have negative effects, most memorably in India where Dalits (the lowly caste of so-called "untouchables") were excluded from social networks and in New Orleans where well-organized communities shunned temporary trailers thereby slowing citywide recovery efforts.

He concludes the book by explaining why social capital was key to "effective and efficient recoveries" from these crises:

  • "First, deep levels of social capital serve as informal insurance and promote mutual assistance after a disaster." Connected communities can serve as the real first-responders, even before professionals arrive on the scene.
  • "Next, dense and numerous social ties help survivors solve collective action problems that stymie rehabilitiation." Coordination of data collection and aid distribution is made possible by strong networks.
  • "Finally, strong social ties strengthen the voices of survivors and decrease the probability of their leaving." Voice, not exit is something Aldrich cites as important for community recovery. Like a big rubber band, when feel attached to a community, and see hope for its future, we can be pulled back there after a disaster.

Both Zolli and Aldrich are skeptical about rigid, centralized, expensive programs for recovery. And this brings me to Chuck Marohn, whose recent book made up of a compilation of his blogs from his site has been favorably reviewed by NRDC's master-blogger Kaid Benfield. For years, Chuck has been preaching the gospel of Strong Towns, underpinned by five principles, most of which focus on fiscal conservatism vs. fiscal waste and the last of which is most salient here:

5. [Strong towns] Must have the courage and leadership to plan for long-term viability. Does your town have a long-term plan for success? Do the leaders in your community understand that plan and embrace it? Are short-term decisions made through the prism of the long-term viability of the community? Are the members of the town engaged in a broad and comprehensive way in the planning of the community?

This principle, it seems to me, is all about bonding social capital. And it's crucial to climate preparedness, moreso than physical infrastructure. Sure, we need to harden, redesign and even relocate our structures and infrastructures. But hats off to Chuck because strong towns, socially speaking, are even more important in a world with a changing climate.

Let's get to work building them.

House GOP Rejects Calls For Climate Hearings - But Democrats Will Keep Pressing

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA)

Between President Obama's surprisingly hawkish second inaugural address, and the confirmation of John Kerry as Secretary of State, moves to combat climate change may be afoot in Washington.

That momentum extends to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where ranking minority member Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and his fellow Democrats have been pushing to move hearings on climate change onto the group's agenda for this congressional session. Unfortunately, Republicans still control the House and thus the committee, and have already shot down Democrats' efforts twice, according to a report in The Hill.

On Wednesday the Committee, along party lines, voted down Democratic amendments to its formal oversight plan for the 113th Congress....

One defeated amendment, from Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), would have required hearings on the role of climate change in drought, heat waves, wildfires, reduced crop yields and other effects....

A second defeated amendment, by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), called for hearings on climate-related coastal threats including sea-level rise, more frequent and intense storms, and ocean acidification. Both proposals called for witnesses including National Academy of Sciences members.

The good news is that Waxman intends to keep pressing, in order to get the GOP on record refusing to investigate an issue that is rapidly moving to the forefront of the American public's concern:

More votes - with a similar outcome - are expected when the meeting to approve the oversight plan resumes next week.

Waxman is offering a third amendment calling for a hearing on recent reports that warn, "the window for action to prevent irreversible harm from climate change is closing rapidly."

The need for American lawmakers to come to grips with the reality of climate change and global warming is pressing. In January, the Federal Advisory Committee released its draft of the third National Climate Assessment, and its prognostications were grim: If the United States remains on its current emissions path, most of the country will see a rise of 9 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit over the coming century, with ever-worsening extreme weather, heat waves, deluges and droughts as the result.

Encouragingly, there are signs President Obama will call for new policy pushes in next week's State of the Union address. Even without new laws from Congress, the executive branch has numerous regulatory tools with which it can combat climate change, including having the Environmental Protection Agency move to curb carbon emissions from both new and existing power plants. Nor are Waxman and other Democrats sitting idle - they've announced the formation of a new Bicameral Climate Change Task Force, "dedicated to focusing Congressional and public attention on climate change and developing effective policy responses."

As for where the Republicans are at, the House Science and Technology Committee is set to hold a hearing that appears destined to degenerate into a forum for climate denialism. The committee's new chair, Rep. Lamar Smith's (R-TX), has criticized "the idea of human-made global warming, railed against the media as "lap dogs" for not devoting enough airtime to climate deniers, and taken $500,000 from the oil and gas industries over his political career.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Carbon Capture and Storage FutureGen 2.0 Project Moves Forward Into Second Phase

The Energy Department today announced the beginning of Phase II of project development with a new cooperative agreement between the FutureGen Industrial Alliance and DOE for an innovative CCS project in Illinois.

February 6 News: New Report Says White House Has The Tools To Combat Climate Change

A new report from the World Resources Institute has concluded that while the U.S. is not currently on track to meet its international commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020, the Obama Administration has the tools to reach that target. [WRI]

  • Without new action by the U.S. Administration, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will increase over time. The United States will fail to make the deep emissions reductions needed in coming decades, and will not meet its international commitment to reduce GHG emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
  • The U.S. EPA should immediately pursue "go-getter" emissions reductions from power plants and natural gas systems using its authority under the Clean Air Act. These two sectors represent two of the top opportunities for substantial GHG reductions between now and 2035.
  • The U.S. Administration should pursue hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) reductions through both the Montreal Protocol process and under its independent Clean Air Act authority. Eliminating HFCs represents the biggest opportunity for GHG emissions reductions behind power plants.
  • U.S. states should complement federal actions to reduce emissions through state energy efficiency, renewables, transportation, and other actions. States can augment federal reductions.
  • New federal legislation will eventually be needed, because even go-getter action by federal and state governments will probably fail to achieve the more than 80 percent GHG emissions reductions necessary to fend off the most deleterious impacts of climate change.

A White House official has confirmed that President Barack Obama will today nominate Sally Jewell, president and CEO of the outdoor and recreational retailer REI, to be the next Secretary of the Interior. [Politico]

Greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants fell 4.6 percent in 2011 from the previous year as plants burned less coal, according to a new report by the Environmental Protection Agency. [HuffPo]

BP has deemed the $34 billion in claims by states and local governments for economic and property damages from the Macondo oil spill to be "substantially" overstated. [Reuters]

The Government Accountability Office has concluded that the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington State "has not been a well-planned, well-managed or well-executed major capital construction project." [NYTimes]

Data from freight railroad operators showed a major decline in the amount of coal transported by train in the U.S. in 2012. Most of the coal burned by U.S. power plants is shipped via rail, so the drop clearly reflects broader market trends. [Climate Central]

A new multimedia show and exhibit in the Compton-Goethals Art Gallery at The City College of New York is dedicated to educating the public about climate change and data. [Climate Central]

A study from the Department of Agriculture just concluded that rising temperatures could cost farmers millions as they battle new pests, faster weed growth, and endure smaller yields as climate change continues. [USA Today]