Friday, March 29, 2013

EPA Moves To Cut Sulfur In Gasoline, Reducing Emissions Further

"Cleaner cars need cleaner fuels"--that's the message from a group of automakers in support of new EPA rules to clean up gasoline. The Environmental Protection Agency will today move ahead with rules requiring cleaner gasoline nationwide, with huge potential environmental benefits. According to a senior Obama administration official (via The...

EPA hopes to tighten emissions standards on cars

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Obama administration will unveil a proposal Friday to clean up gasoline and automobile emissions, a step that officials say will result in cleaner air across the U.S. and slightly higher prices at the pump.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the rule to reduce sulfur in gasoline and tighten emissions standards on cars beginning in 2017 could increase gas prices by less than a penny per gallon and add $130 to the cost of a vehicle in 2025.

But the agency says it will yield billions of dollars in health benefits by slashing smog- and soot-forming pollution come 2030.

The oil industry, Republicans and some Democrats had pressed the EPA to delay the rule, citing higher costs. An oil industry study says the rule could increase gasoline prices by 6 to 9 cents per gallon.

The so-called Tier 3 standards would reduce sulfur in gasoline by more than 60 percent and reduce nitrogen oxides by 80 percent, by expanding across the country a standard already in place in California. For states, the regulation will make it easier to comply with health-based standards for the main ingredient in smog and soot. For automakers, the regulation allows them to sell the same autos in all 50 states.

Continue Reading...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Denier Déjà Vu: Conspiracy Theories In The Blogosphere In Response To Research On Conspiracy Theories

The results of {the study "NASA faked the moon landing - Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax"} implied that conspiratorial thinking is linked to climate denial, and hence might emerge in turn to defend climate denial against cognitive analysis - and that's what happened, as we document in "Recursive Fury."

by John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky via Skeptical Science

Our paper Recursive fury: conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation has been published. The paper analyzed the public discourse in response to an earlier article by Lewandowsky, Oberauer, and Gignac (LOG12 for short from here on), which has led to some discussion on this blog earlier.

Refreshingly, the journal Frontiers makes all papers available for free with no paywall. Another unique feature of this journal is that readers can post comments directly beneath the abstract. Unfortunately this has led to the posting of a number of misrepresentations of the paper.

In this post, I'll be addressing some of these misconceptions (but being careful to practise what I preach, will adopt the principles of the Debunking Handbook when I debunk the misconceptions). So here are some key facts about the Recursive Fury paper:

Conspiracy theorists are those who display the characteristics of conspiracy ideation

Yep, just stating the obvious, right? Recursive Fury establishes, from the peer-reviewed literature, the traits of conspiracist ideation, which is the technical term for a cognitive style commonly known as "conspiratorial thinking". Our paper featured 6 criteria for conspiratorial thinking:

  1. Nefarious Intent: Assuming that the presumed conspirators have nefarious intentions. For example, if person X assumes that blogger Y colluded with the New York Times to publish a paper damaging to X, then X presumes nefarious intent on the part of Y.
  2. Persecuted Victim: Self-identifying as the victim of an organised persecution.
  3. Nihilistic Skepticism: Refusing to believe anything that doesn't fit into the conspiracy theory. Note that "conspiracy theory" here is a fairly broad term and need not involve a global conspiracy (e.g., that NASA faked the moon landing) but can refer to small-scale events and hypotheses.
  4. Nothing occurs by Accident: Weaving any small random event into the conspiracy narrative.
  5. Something Must be Wrong: Switching liberally between different, even contradictory conspiracy theories that have in common only the presumption that there is something wrong in the official account by the alleged conspirators. Thus, people may simultaneously believe that Princess Diana faked her own death and that she was assassinated by MI5.
  6. Self-Sealing reasoning: Interpreting any evidence against the conspiracy as evidence for the conspiracy. For example, when climate scientists are exonerated of any wrong-doing 9 times over by different investigations, this is reinterpreted to imply that the climate-change conspiracy involves not just the world's climate scientists but also the investigating bodies and associated governments.

We then went on to identify responses to LOG12 that exhibited these criteria. Our analysis was entirely based on whether or not public statements conformed to the criteria just listed-we made no comment on the merit of any criticism (except in cases where speculations were plain wrong).

A common misrepresentation of Recursive Fury is articulated by one commenter who says "conspiratorial ideation is defined in such a way that any criticism of LOG12, whether true or false, comes under that heading." Actually, our criteria for conspiracist ideation come from a number of peer-reviewed examinations of conspiratorial thinking and have nothing to do with the substance of any criticism of LOG12. Our objective in Recursive Fury was to demonstrate that some of those criteria arguably applied to the public discourse surrounding LOG12. It does not follow that any criticism of LOG12 involves conspiratorial thinking. Of course not. But if some (not all) critics of a paper on the role of conspiratorial thinking in science denial engage in, well, conspiratorial thinking in response, that's of scholarly interest.

The criteria for conspiracist ideation are applicable without regard to a statement's truth or falsity. Recursive Fury is not about defending LOG12. On the contrary, this latest paper puts on the scholarly record many criticisms of LOG12 that had previously been limited to blogs, and it did so without evaluating or rebutting the substance of those criticisms. Some defence!

A few critics have complained that we didn't include their methodological critiques of LOG12. Such critiques do not fit the conspiracist criteria, which is why they weren't included. Those critics are welcome to submit rejoinders or comments on LOG12 to the journal in question.

A range of different conspiracy theories are posted in Recursive Fury

Recursive Fury reports and analyzes a number of conspiracy theories regarding LOG12. These range from "global climate activist operation" to "ringleader for conspiratorial activities by the green climate bloggers," to Stephan Lewandowsky receiving millions of dollars to run The Conversation.

Some folk are able to overlook these many documented instances and insist that "There is no 'conspiracy' Mr. Lewandowsky - no matter how many times you try to manufacture one." Recursive Fury documents a whole spectrum of conspiracy theories. As you get further into the paper, the conspiracy theories become broader and more extreme until you get to my personal favourite - maths professor Kevin Judd being the grand poobah of the "global climate activist operation" at the University of Western Australia. Somehow, those who insist "there are no conspiracies" manage to skip over entire sections of the paper.

It appears that "conspiracy denial" may be another phenomenon associated with climatedenial. One blogger cannot see that his claim that climate scientists "colluded with government officials to avoid the law" is conspiratorial. Similarly, another blogger thinks accusing the University of Western Australia of being "a base for this global climateactivism operation" is not a conspiratorial hypothesis because he didn't use the word "conspiracy".

The Supplementary Material is "raw data"

As well as the Recursive Fury paper, we also published Supplementary Material containing excerpts from blog posts and some comments relevant to the various observed recursive theories. In the paper, we characterise this as "raw data" - all the comments that we encountered that are relevant to the different theories. In contrast, the "processed data" are the excerpted quotes featured in the final paper, where we match the various recursive theories to the conspiracist criteria outlined above.

One misrepresentation of Recursive Fury is that we accuse Professor Richard Betts of the Met Office of being a conspiracy theorist because one of his quotes appears in our raw data. This inclusion of a relevant comment in the raw data of a Supplementary Material document was reported in hyperventilating fashion by one blogger as aspectacular carcrash. However, there is no mention of Professor Betts in our final paper and we are certainly not claiming that he is a conspiracy theorist. To claim otherwise is to ignore what we say about the online supplement in the paper itself. The presence of the comment in the supplementary material just attests to the thoroughness of our daily Google search.

Nevertheless, I can see how this misunderstanding arose. The Supplementary Material features the heading "Excerpt Espousing Conspiracy Theory" referring to the excerpted quotes that we pasted into the spreadsheet. In hindsight, the heading should have been "Excerpt relevant to a recursive theory", because the criterion for inclusion was simply whether or not they referred to one of the hypotheses. The analysis of conspiracist ideation occurred after that, and involved the criteria mentioned at the outset.

In this context, it is important to point out that one reason we made the raw data available is for other scholars to be able to cast an alternative interpretative light on the public discourse relating to LOG12. As we note explicitly in the abstract, it is possible that alternative scholarly interpretations can be put forward, and the peer-reviewed literature is the appropriate forum for such analysis.

LOG12 is in press

The original "Moon Landing" paper (referred to as LOG12) is still in press and due to be published soon. The fact that there was a long delay between acceptance and publication is one of the quirks of the peer-review publication process. Sometimes a paper can move from acceptance to publication with surprising speed (as was the case with Recursive Fury). Sometimes it can take months.

However, this random timing has been over-interpreted by many parties, consistent with the "Nothing occurs by Accident" criteria. For example, one commenter argues that"LOG12 was fundemenatlly [sic] flawed from the start, and throughout. It offered no valuable insight or understanding as a result. It is clear to any rational outside observer it had one purpose - to be used to promote the authors advocacy of catastrophicanthropogenic global warming - and to demean and denigrate those who do not believe as he does. The fact this paper has never been published, as Lewandowsky's repeatedly claims, confirms this finding." It will be interesting to see whether this commenter resists the "Something Must Be Wrong" urge when LOG12 is published or continue to assert that the research is "a fraud".


Hindsight is always 20:20 but perhaps we should have anticipated the response to LOG12. The results of LOG12 implied that conspiratorial thinking is linked to climatedenial, and hence might emerge in turn to defend climate denial against cognitive analysis - and that's what happened, as we document in Recursive Fury.

- John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky, reprinted with permission from Skeptical Science

Reduced Reliance on the San Francisco Bay-Delta Means Taking Less Water Than Today

Kate Poole, Senior Attorney, San Francisco

A couple weeks ago, the State of California released the first of three installments describing its new draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) for restoring the Bay-Delta estuary. The second installment is scheduled for release this week, with the final batch due the week of April 22nd. This plan has been many years in the making, and must meet several important benchmarks. One of these benchmarks was imposed by the State Legislature in the Delta Reform Act of 2009, which states that: "The policy of the State of California is to reduce reliance on the Delta in meeting California's future water supply needs through a statewide strategy of investing in improved regional supplies, conservation, and water use efficiency." This directive recognizes that we need to take less water out of the Bay-Delta in order to restore the estuary and the fishing and farming communities that rely on it, as well as the 25 million Californians who get some portion of their water supply from the Delta. The Legislature recognized that the State can manage reduced reliance by investing in sustainable regional water supply options like expanded water recycling and conservation. The portfolio alternative being advanced by NRDC and others is designed to implement this approach in the BDCP process.

Whether the new BDCP meets the test of reduced reliance is not hard to determine. As the Deputy Director of the Natural Resources Agency stated this past week, "the average amount of water we move through the Delta in a typical year is 4.8 million acre feet (though it varies by year)." So BDCP needs to take less water than 4.8 million acre feet, on average, in order to meet the State's policy to reduce reliance on the Delta. The State Water Board, Delta Vision Strategic Plan, Public Policy Institute of California, independent scientists and many others have already recognized that failing to reduce exports and increase flows through the Delta as compared to today, at least until native fish recover, will simply not do the job of restoring the Delta.

But, inexplicably, in the documents released by the State on March 14, 2013, was this "Q&A":

Is this project about getting more water from the Delta? How much water will be exported? No. BDCP is about water reliability and habitat restoration. During the last 20 years, we have exported an average of 5.3 million acre feet (MAF). The modeling for this project shows a potential average export ranging between 4.8 MAF to 5.6 MAF, but this could be refined as more modeling is completed.

Future Delta exports in the range of 4.8 MAF to 5.6 MAF do not reduce reliance from a level of 4.8 MAF today. And there's no dispute about the level of today's exports - that 4.8 MAF number comes from the Resources Agency. So the answer to the bolded question is actually "yes." The new draft plan does not include reduced exports in the range of possible outcomes, despite overwhelming scientific information demonstrating the need for increased flows to restore the Delta. Instead, the plan intends to take more water from the Delta and increase reliance on the Delta as compared to today, contrary to the stated policy of California and the Legislature's directive in the 2009 Delta Reform Act.

In claiming that the new BDCP is not about "getting more water from the Delta," the State seems to be asserting that the lower end of the anticipated export range falls below the 5.3 MAF average level of exports that the State calculates for the last 20 years. But what's the rationale for using the last 20 years, as opposed to the export levels that were in effect in 2009, when the Legislature passed its edict to reduce reliance, and that continue to be in effect today? The last 20 years include the period of the Delta's demise - a time of historically high water exports that coincided with the utter environmental collapse of the ecosystem. There is no question that we need to improve flows dramatically from that 20-year baseline, a job that the Delta biological opinions had already begun by the time the Legislature passed the 2009 Delta Reform Act. But those biological opinions are stopgap measures, designed to keep our native species from going extinct while a longer-term recovery plan is developed. BDCP is supposed to be that long-term recovery plan, which means it must devote more flow to help fish recover than we do today.

Our colleagues at the Nature Conservancy recently penned an eloquent op-ed explaining that "A successful BDCP cannot be about exporting more water from the Delta. We recognize the need to reduce reliance on the Delta as a water supply source, and that is the intent of California's 2009 water reforms." It's time for the State to develop a BDCP that satisfies this fundamental requirement. Our portfolio alternative offers one viable approach. No doubt there are many other viable options out there. It's not too late for the State to take a serious look at these other alternatives - it simply needs to commit to doing so.

New Oceans Study: Global Warming Accelerated in Past 15 Years

Perhaps the most important result of this paper is the confirmation that while many people wrongly believe global warming has stalled over the past 10-15 years, in reality global warming has not paused, it has accelerated.

EPA Finds California South Coast air basin meets health standard for coarse particulate matter

The US Environmental Protection Agency has proposed to find the California South Coast air basin in attainment for the coarse particulate matter standard (PM10). EPA is also proposing to approve the state's maintenance plan that demonstrates how the area will continue to achieve the standard for at least the next ten years.

The finding is based on PM10 data collected since 2008 that shows the South Coast air basin meets the 150 micrograms per cubic meter federal particulate standard established in 1987. This milestone was achieved by implementing control measures to reduce dust from paved and unpaved roads, certain livestock activities, gravel operations and wood burning.

This is a significant achievement in the South Coast air basin's ongoing effort to reduce air pollution. It will take that same kind of commitment to also reduce fine particle pollution and smog.

-Jared Blumenfeld, EPA's Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest

Particle pollution is a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets in the air. EPA's proposal deals with coarse particulates that range from 2.5 to 10 micrometers. Fine particulates range up to 2.5 micrometers. The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. Exposure to particle pollution is linked to a variety of significant health problems, ranging from aggravated asthma to premature death in people with heart and lung disease.

The EPA requires three years of clean data prior to proposing to find an area in attainment. The data are reported to the EPA from the South Coast air district's official air monitoring network. The network consists of 23 monitoring sites from Santa Clarita to Banning, operated in accordance with the EPA's regulations and guidelines to ensure precision and accuracy.

EPA is also proposing to approve the state's maintenance plan that demonstrates continued achievement of the PM-10 standard for at least ten additional years. This plan includes control measures already adopted by the state and local air district.

EPA is providing a 30-day public comment period on this proposed action.

Shanghai clearing the air with rental of electric cars

Like some developed countries, owning a car in a big city in China is almost a status symbol which only the well heeled can afford. Even with heavily subsidized rates, the rental for an electric car ranges between 100 yuan (US$16) and 150 yuan a day ...
See all stories on this topic »


Friday, March 22, 2013

March 22 News: NOAA Predicts Warmer-Than-Average Spring For Most Of U.S. And Little Drought Relief

NOAA says this spring will be warmer than average for most of the U.S., with expanded drought conditions for large portions of the South and West, and river flooding expected to be worse than last year in the upper Midwest [NPR, Climate Central]

NOAA issued the three-month U.S. Spring Outlook today, stating that odds favor above-average temperatures across much of the continental United States, including drought-stricken areas of Texas, the Southwest and the Great Plains. Spring promises little drought relief for most of these areas, as well as Florida, with below-average spring precipitation favored there. Meanwhile, river flooding is likely to be worse than last year across the country, with the most significant flood potential in North Dakota.

Organizing for America, formed from Obama for America, has asked supporters to to sign a petition for a "clean budget" in the Senate, warning of Republican amendments "designed to destroy environmental protections and set back decades of progress." [The Hill]

Sally Jewell's nomination to become Secretary of the Interior was approved overwhelmingly by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee yesterday. [Washington Post]

Senator Roy Blunt filed a budget amendment requiring a 60-vote threshold for any carbon price legislation. [The Hill]

Another amendment filed by Senator Barasso would stop federal agencies from including greenhouse gas emissions from exporting fossil fuels in carbon rules. [The Hill]

The 2010 Icelandic volcanic eruption seeded the ocean with clouds of iron particles, which some geoengineering supporters say would reduce carbon dioxide levels, but a new study says it did no such thing. [Daily Climate]

Traffic increases carbon dioxide levels, and a new study finds it also increases chronic asthma cases in children. [LA Times]

Apple's largest data center is now running on 100 percent renewable energy, increasing the proportion of renewable energy used by the entire company to 75 percent. [Reuters]

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is urging China - along with other countries with high emissions - to price carbon and stop subsidizing fossil fuels. [Wall Street Journal]

Drought That Ravaged US Crops Likely to Worsen in 2013, Forecast Warns

NOAA predicts tough spring for already struggling farmers as growing demand for water leaves US more exposed dry seasons.

The historic drought that laid waste to America's grain and corn belt is unlikely to ease before the middle of this year, a government forecast warned on Thursday.

The annual spring outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted hotter, drier conditions across much of the US, including parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, where farmers have been fighting to hang on to crops of winter wheat.

The three-month forecast noted an additional hazard, however, for the midwest: with heavy, late snows setting up conditions for flooding along the Red and Souris rivers in North Dakota.

"It's a mixed bag of flooding, drought and warm weather," Laura Furgione, the deputy director of NOAA's weather service told a conference call with reporters.

To keep reading, click here.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Weather Extremes: Atmospheric Waves And Climate Change

Pakistani flood victims move to higher grounds in 2011. (Photo credit: AAP)

By Vladimir Petoukhov and Stefan Rahmstorf, via The Conversation

The northern hemisphere has experienced a spate of extreme weather in recent times. In 2012 there were destructive heat waves in the U.S. and southern Europe, accompanied by floods in China. This followed a heat wave in the U.S. in 2011 and one in Russia in 2010, coinciding with the unprecedented Pakistan flood - and the list doesn't stop there.

Now we believe we have detected a common physical cause hidden behind all these individual events: Each time one of these extremes struck, a strong wave train had developed in the atmosphere, circling the globe in mid-latitudes. These so-called planetary waves are well-known and a normal part of atmospheric flow. What is not normal is that the usually moving waves ground to a halt and were greatly amplified during the extreme events.

Looking into the physics behind this, we found it is due to a resonance phenomenon. Under special conditions, the atmosphere can start to resonate like a bell. The wind patterns form a regular wave train, with six, seven or eight peaks and troughs going once around the globe (see graph). This is what we propose in a study published this week together with our colleagues of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

Planetary waves

Normally, an important part of the global air motion in the mid-latitudes of the Earth takes the form of waves wandering around the planet, oscillating irregularly between the tropical and polar regions. So when they swing northward, these waves suck warm air from the tropics to Europe, Russia, or the US; and when they swing southward, they do the same thing with cold air from the Arctic. This is a well-known feature of our planet's atmospheric circulation system.

However, during several recent extreme weather events these planetary waves almost froze in their tracks for weeks. So instead of bringing cool air after having brought warm air before, the heat just stays. And stays. And stays. In fact, we detected a strong amplification of the usually weak, slowly moving component of these waves.

Time is critical here: two or three days of 30°C are no problem, but 20 or more days lead to extreme heat stress. Since many ecosystems and cities are not adapted to this, prolonged hot periods can result in a high death toll, forest fires, and devastating harvest losses.

The northward wind speed (negative values, blue on the map, indicate southward flow) in the mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere. During the extreme event (a record-breaking heat wave in the US), the normally weak and irregular waves were replaced by a strong and regular wave pattern. (Credit: Vladimir Petoukhov)

What does climate change have to to with it?

Climate change caused by greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning does not bring a uniform global warming. In the Arctic, the warming is amplified by the loss of snow and ice. This in turn reduces the temperature difference between the Arctic and, for example, Europe. Yet temperature differences are a main driver of air flow, thereby influencing the planetary waves. Additionally, continents generally warm and cool more readily than the oceans.

These two factors are crucial for the mechanism now detected. They result in a changing pattern of the mid-latitude air flow, so that for extended periods the slow waves get trapped. The irregular surface temperature patterns disturb the global air flow. This analysis is based on equations that our team of scientists developed, mathematically describing the wave motions in the extra-tropical atmosphere. The conclusions drawn from the equations were tested using standard daily weather data from the US National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP).

During recent periods in which several major weather extremes occurred, the trapping and strong amplification of particular waves - like "wave seven" (which has seven troughs and crests spanning the globe) - was observed. The data show an increase in the occurrence of these specific atmospheric patterns.

This analysis helps to explain the increasing number of unprecedented weather extremes. It complements previous research that already showed that climate change strongly increases the number of heat records around the world, but which could not explain why previous records were broken by such stunning margins. The findings should significantly advance the understanding of weather extremes and their relation to man-made climate change.

The new data show that the emergence of extraordinary weather is not just a linear response to the mean warming trend, and the proposed mechanism could explain that.

Still, things are not at all simple. The suggested physical process increases the probability of weather extremes, but additional factors certainly play a role as well, including natural variability. Also, the 32-year period studied in the project provides a good indication of the mechanism involved, yet is too short for definitive conclusions.

So there's no smoking gun on the table yet - but quite telling fingerprints all over the place.

Vladimir Petoukhov is a Professor of Earth System Analysis at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Stefan Rahmstorf is a Professor of Physics of the Oceans at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. This piece is reprinted with permission.

EXCLUSIVE: State Dept. Hid Contractor's Ties to Keystone XL Pipeline Company

A top expert who helped write the government's latest Keystone report previously consulted on three different TransCanada projects-a fact the State Department tried to hide.
Elvert Barnes/Flickr

Elvert Barnes/Flickr

Late on a Friday afternoon in early March, the State Department released a 2,000-page draft report downplaying the environmental risks of the northern portion of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would ferry oil from Canada's tar sands to refineries in Texas, passing through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma. But when it released the report, State hid an important fact from the public: Experts who helped draft the report had previously worked for TransCanada, the company looking to build the Keystone pipeline, and other energy companies poised to benefit from Keystone's construction. State released documents in conjunction with the Keystone report in which these experts' work histories were redacted so that anyone reading the documents wouldn't know who'd previously hired them. Yet unredacted versions of these documents obtained by Mother Jones confirm that three experts working for an outside contractor had done consulting work for TransCanada and other oil companies with a stake in the Keystone's approval.

When the Keystone report-officially known as a "draft supplemental environmental impact statement"-was released, environmental activists ripped it as shoddy and misleading. Russ Girling, TransCanada's CEO, cheered the report as "an important step" toward receiving President Barack Obama's final stamp of approval for the pipeline.

Outside contractors (managed by the State Department) wrote the Keystone report, which neither endorsed or rejected the Keystone pipeline. The contractor that produced the bulk of the report was Environmental Resources Management (ERM), an international consulting firm. On the day the State Department published the Keystone impact report, the agency also released a cache of documents that ERM submitted in 2012 to win the contract to produce the Keystone environmental report. That cache included a 55-page filing in which ERM stated it had no conflicts of interests writing the Keystone report.

But there was something strange about ERM's conflict-of-interest filing: the bios for the ERM's experts were redacted.

Here's what those redactions kept secret: ERM's second-in-command on the Keystone report, Andrew Bielakowski, had worked on three previous pipeline projects for TransCanada over seven years as an outside consultant. He also consulted on projects for ExxonMobil, BP, and ConocoPhillips, three of the Big Five oil companies that could benefit from the Keystone XL project and increased extraction of heavy crude oil taken from the Canadian tar sands.

Another ERM employee that contributed to State's Keystone report-and whose prior work history was also redacted-previously worked for Shell Oil; a third worked as a consultant for Koch Gateway Pipeline Company, a subsidiary of Koch Industries. Shell and Koch have a significant financial interest in the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. ERM itself has worked for Chevron, which has invested in Canadian tar sands extraction, according to its website.

Here is ERM's redacted filing as it appeared on the State Department's website (begin reading on page 30):

Here is the unredacted version:

So who hid ERM's connections to TransCanada?

ERM spokesman Simon Garcia directed all questions to the State Department. TransCanada spokesman Grady Semmens said that although the company paid for ERM's analysis (as is common practice), TransCanada did not control what State and ERM released to the public. "The Department of State was responsible for posting the conflict of interest statements and has complete control over all activities of ERM," Semmons wrote in an email. "TransCanada does not direct or control ERM's actions in any way. TransCanada does not speak for the State Department with respect to the details of how it manages its review process."

After a half-dozen inquiries, a State Department official emailed this statement: "Some information in the administrative documents that was required for State Department conflict of interest procedures has been redacted. This redaction protects the private information of ERM's previous clients." Asked who exactly made the redactions, the official said: "On background, I don't know."

The State Department appears to be responsible for the attempt to mask the ERM-TransCanada connection. When State first posted the redacted ERM filing, it was possible to digitally remove the redaction and read the ERM bios. But some days later, a new version of the filing was posted online in which the ERM bios had been scrubbed from beneath the redactions.

The State Department has faced heaps of criticism for potential conflicts of interests involving TransCanada and Keystone XL. In October 2011, Obama's reelection campaign hired Broderick Johnson, who had previously lobbied in favor of Keystone, as a senior adviser. Emails obtained by Friends of the Earth, an environmental group that opposes the Keystone pipeline, revealed a cozy relationship between TransCanada lobbyist Paul Elliott and Marja Verloop, an official at the US embassy in Canada whose portfolio covers the Keystone project. Before he lobbied for TransCanada, Elliott worked as deputy campaign manager on Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential bid. Clinton served as secretary of state until recently.

The State Department's inspector general disagreed with critics who cried foul over these apparent conflicts of interest. In February 2012, the IG found no evidence of bias in State's handling of the application to build the pipeline.

President Obama has the final say the fate of the Keystone XL. The president, who says he supports an "all of the above" energy policy, delayed a decision on the pipeline in November 2011 until after the 2012 elections, and has remained coy ever since. He has downplayed the idea that building the Keystone will create jobs, but has not ruled out building it.

The president is facing huge pressure from energy interests and environmental groups. TransCanada has spent millions of dollars lobbying for the pipeline. The environmental group and many other advocacy organizations have protested the Keystone in front of the White House and urged Obama to kill the project. A final decision on the Keystone XL remains months, if not a year or more, away.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Utah Schoolchildren Asked To Celebrate Fossil Fuels And Mining On Earth Day

Earth Day is April 22, and today is the last day children in Utah can send in their submissions for the state-sponsored Earth Day poster contest lauding fossil fuel production.

This year's theme is "Where Would WE Be Without Oil, Gas & Mining?"

Last year's theme was "How Do YOU Use Oil, Gas, and Mining?"

The contest is literally made possible by fossil fuel interests. This year's sponsors include the Salt Lake Petroleum Section of the Society of Petroleum Engineers and the Utah Division of Oil, Gas & Mining. Last year's sponsor list was longer, including Arch Coal, Anadarko Petroleum, and Rio Tinto/Kennecott Utah Copper.

Any child in Utah between Kindergarten and sixth grade is eligible. The contest's primary objective is "to improve students' and the public's awareness of the important role that oil, gas, and mining play in our everyday lives." Last year's contest winners made posters that detailed how dependent we have become on fossil fuels. To their credit, the grand prize winner detailed both ways we use products created by fossil fuels and ways we can reduce our consumption.

The children were not asked to make posters about the climate impacts caused by those same fossil fuels: drought, wildfires, and warmer winters.

Some parents are not happy, as this letter to the editor by Colby Poulson makes clear:

Why is the state backing an "Earth Day" contest that celebrates fossil fuels, while completely ignoring the adverse effects that their use and extraction can too often have on our air quality, water quality, public lands and the other organisms we share the world with? Shouldn't Earth Day be about championing things that can help reverse the negative impact of our dependence on fossil fuels?

Frankly, I'm disgusted that the state is backing propaganda like this in our schools.

Why allow a contest like this to run two years in a row? The state could be taking its cues from its Congressional delegation, one of whom runs the House Science subcommittee and denies the reality of human-caused climate change. Or its state legislature, which in 2010 adopted a resolution doubting the reality of climate change.

Perhaps they missed the Salt Lake Tribune's editorial, "A killing climate: Global warming unchecked," or those Utah scientists who reported:

Based on extensive scientific research, there is very high confidence that human-generated increases in greenhouse gas concentrations are responsible for most of the global warming observed during the past 50 years. It is very unlikely that natural climate variations alone, such as changes in the brightness of the sun or carbon dioxide emissions from volcanoes, have produced this recent warming. ...

Utah is projected to warm more than the average for the entire globe and the expected consequences of this warming are fewer frost days, longer growing seasons, and more heat waves.

Appropriately, the winners of the Earth Day poster contest will be notified on April Fool's Day.

Climate Science Denier Leads House Science Subcommittee

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee has named a climate science denier congressman as the new chairman of the subcommittee responsible for climate change issues. With Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) as subcommittee chair, House Science has no shortage of climate deniers making science their prime target.

Stewart uses familiar Republican tactics to argue against cutting our greenhouse gas pollution: He told Mother Jones he is unconvinced anthropogenic global warming is "based upon sound science" - despite 97 percent of climate scientists saying otherwise - "before we make any long-lasting policy decisions that could negatively affect our economy."

Stewart also told The Salt Lake Tribune:

"I'm not as convinced as a lot of people are that man-made climate change is the threat they think it is. I think it is probably not as immediate as some people do." [...]

"What is the real threat? What are the economic impacts of those threats? And what are the economic impacts of those remedies?" he asked, explaining his approach. "Some of the remedies are more expensive to our economy than the threat may turn out to be."

For more context of Stewart's views, just look at where he is directing the subcommittee's attention. At a hearing Wednesday, Stewart knocked the EPA's extensive review of rules that protect the air and lamented that industry-funded research play too small a role at the agency. Not surprisingly, oil and gas was a top player in funding Stewart's election to Congress.

Weeks ago, House Science attempted to hold a hearing stacked with climate deniers as witnesses (only to be foiled by bad weather that same day).

Back in Stewart's home state, The Salt Lake Tribune has urged Utah leaders to take the opposite action. In a strong editorial, the paper pointed fingers at lawmakers for their ignorance, "blind or willful," that has "transformed climate change into a political issue rather than the global threat it clearly is proving to be."

A milestone for new carbon-dioxide capture/clean coal technology

An innovative new process that releases the energy in coal without burning-while capturing carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas-has passed a milestone on the route to possible commercial use, scientists are reporting. Their study in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels describes results of a successful 200-hour test on a sub-pilot scale version of the technology using two inexpensive but highly polluting forms of coal.

Climate Change Denying Congressman to Head Subcommittee on Climate Change

Rep. Chris Stewart has written Glenn Beck-endorsed end times novels. Now he might be dealing with the real thing.
Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

As the new chairman of a key House subcommittee on the environment, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) will be one of the GOP's leading actors when it comes to the Environmental Protection Agency and the growing threats from climate change. So with his first hearing as chairman on tap for Wednesday, what does the freshman Republican-and end times novelist-think about anthropogenic global warming?

He's not sure.

In response to an inquiry from Mother Jones, Stewart's office emailed a statement suggesting that more study was needed before he could safely say whether-as 97 percent of scientists believe-humans are responsible for rising global temperatures. And even if they are, he explained, that doesn't mean we should act:

The world's climate is changing. That has always been true. Our global climate is always in flux, and always will be. So while I accept that our climate is changing, I also understand that a great deal of research still needs to be accomplished to understand why, as well as to discover the impacts man might be having on that change.

Climate change is also an extraordinarily complicated discipline. Because of this, it is vital that we ensure that policy decisions are based upon sound science. Before we make any long-lasting policy decisions that could negatively affect our economy, we need to be certain that the science behind our decisions is sound.

To keep reading, click here.

John Kerry Says 'The Science Is Screaming At Us' But Would Approving Keystone Destroy His Climate Credibility?

Secretary of State John Kerry delivered another set of powerful remarks on climate change last night. But all his poignant words will come to nought - indeed, they'll come back to haunt him - if he makes the wrong decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

How precisely could Kerry lobby other countries to join an international climate treaty (and move away from fossil fuels) - perhaps his primary goal as Secretary - after enabling the accelerated exploitation of one of the dirtiest sources of fossil fuels in the world?

I had thought that Obama's strong post-reelection words on climate, coupled with the choice of climate hawk Kerry as Secretary of State, might be a double signal that the administration was prepared to kill the Keystone XL pipeline. But last week, the White House started sending signals "the president is inclined to approve the Keystone XL pipeline."

Keystone is a gateway to a huge pool of carbon-intensive fuel most of which must be left in the ground - along with most of the world's coal and unconventional oil and gas - if humanity is to avoid multiple devastating impacts that may be beyond adaptation. That can't happen without some sort of international agreement (or multi-lateral or bilateral agreements). And such an agreement is not possible without the U.S. taking a leadership role, since we are the richest country and the biggest cumulative polluter.

Kerry certainly understands the risks posed by climate inaction. Yesterday at the National Geographic Society's Ross Sea Conservation Reception, he said:

I have seen this fragile ecosystem change before our very eyes, whether it's a problem of acidification, a problem of pollution and development, a problem of ice melt and potential ecosystem collapse, to the rise of the sea levels, which is happening in various parts of the world....

The entire system is interdependent, and we toy with that at our peril....

So climate change is coming back in a sense as a serious international issue because people are experiencing it firsthand. The science is screaming at us, literally, demanding that people in positions of public responsibility at least exercise the so-called "precautionary principle" to balance the equities and not knowing completely the outcomes at least understand what is happening and take steps to prevent potential disaster.

... I'm here to tell you that, proudly, President Obama has put this agenda back on the front burner where it belongs, that he has in his Inauguration Address and in his State of the Union Address and in the policies he's working on now said we are going to try to exercise leadership because of its imperatives.

[Well, figuratively, not literally....]

But I'm not sure if Kerry has thought through the international implications of approving Keystone. The United States has already undermined its standing to cajole other countries into climate commitments by expanding oil and gas drilling as well as coal exports. But none of those were Kerry's decision, whereas Keystone is.

Yes, the U.S. has a serious shot at hitting Obama's Copenhagen pledge of a 17% cut in CO2 emissions from 2005 levels - if the President embraces strong emissions reductions from existing power plants. But let's not pretend that target is either especially hard to hit or scientifically meaningful (see "Developed Nations Must Cut Emissions In Half By 2020, Says New Study").

That is to say, the fact Kerry can go to the other big emitters and commit to meeting Obama's pledge is a necessary minimum condition to achieve a climate agreement - but it is not sufficient. He needs some moral standing, he needs to be able to demonstrate to the world the U.S. understands that far deeper cuts are needed post-2020 and that means not sticking new spigots into huge, dirty carbon pools like the tar sands.

Kerry needs to show that his words are more than words, that he actually hears the screams from the science - and from generations yet unborn. Kerry must recommend to Obama that Keystone be killed. And Obama must agree - and no, Kerry will not gain anything if Obama were to over-rule him. Quite the reverse: That would be a vote of no-confidence in his Secretary of State on climate issues and make of Kerry a paper tiger.

Kerry starts as Secretary with clean hands on climate. But approving Keystone would be like dipping his hands into the dirtiest, stickiest tar imaginable - they could never be cleaned again.

Glaciers in the Himalayas Are Retreating -- But Why? | Climate Central

The glaciers in much of the region show signs of shrinking, thinning and retreating," said the study.

Secretary Kerry: Secure a Global Agreement to Reduce Aviation's Carbon Pollution

Jake Schmidt, International Climate Policy Director, Washington, DC

AeroplaneAviation is a major contributor to global warming with its pollution projected to grow significantly if left uncontrolled. With devastating droughts, floods, fires, and storms devastating communities around the world, we need all the global warming reductions we can get. The aviation sector shouldn't be left off the hook to help address global warming. Next week Secretary Kerry has the chance to help advance an international agreement to cut aviation's global warming pollution. It is time for his leadership on this issue.

Key countries will meet - on March 25-27 - in Montreal for a "High-Level Group" meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) - the U.N. body established in 1944 to regulate international aviation. This High-Level Group-which includes representatives from the U.S., Europe, China, India, Brazil, Japan, and Mexico - are tasked with developing a global agreement to reduce aviation's carbon pollution. Unfortunately the negotiations aren't going well as the U.S. has been resisting proposals that put in place a global approach. Instead the U.S. has been favoring an approach that would leave the vast majority of emissions uncontrolled - those over the high-seas. This is a position that John Kerry dismissed when he was Senator. The U.S. is a major player in global aviation, so other countries like China and India aren't feeling the heat to shift their position as the U.S. isn't pressuring them to secure a real global solution.

After 15 years of waiting for international action, Europe put in place a law to control the carbon pollution from flights using European airports. But that law was challenged by U.S. airlines - like United and American airlines - and other countries. Now the European program has been put on hold for one year to allow for ICAO to put together an agreement to reduce aviation's carbon pollution. Failure to act on a global solution will automatically lead the European's to reinstate their program as the European Parliament recently reinforced.

The aviation sector should not be exempt from standards to combat global warming. Aviation is a significant contributor to global warming - it would be the 7th largest emitter in the world if it were a country. Left uncontrolled its emissions are projected to almost double by 2030. More efficient airplanes, technologies to fly smarter, and sustainable biofuels are already available. Implementation of these measures will help decrease carbon and other air pollution, while also saving costs on fuel.

But a recent study by a preeminent aviation researcher found that even the most aggressive deployment of technical, operational, and biofuels measures would still result in a growth in aviation's pollution (see figure).

Aviation Emissions Growth with Measures.PNG

A global agreement will help spur airlines to quickly introduce these technologies into their fleet and ensure that the carbon pollution from aviation doesn't grow unchecked. We don't have the luxury of waiting for the industry to implement these measures on their own - they need a policy that encourages them to speed up the deployment of these technologies.

As a senator, John Kerry was a leading advocate for action on global warming. Now, as the new Secretary of State, he has the opportunity to help reduce aviation's growing global warming pollution. As he said as a Senator regarding aviation: "We've got to have an international agreement." We couldn't agree more.

Please tell Secretary Kerry to act now to help reduce aviation's growing carbon pollution and secure an international agreement.


Photo: Courtesy of Vox Efx under Creative Commons License.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Hiding the Impacts of Climate Change in South Carolina

Ben Chou, Water Policy Analyst, Washington, D.C.

As a near native of the Palmetto State, I often find myself reminiscing about the many years I lived there. From my childhood in Mauldin (near Greenville), to high school in Hartsville (near Florence), undergrad in Columbia (Go Gamecocks!), and a few months post-college in Charleston, I have lived in many areas of the state. I even return a few times a year to visit my in-laws in Myrtle Beach.

  • Sunset on Hilton Head Island (photo by Lee Edwin Coursey)

One of my favorite things about the state is a slogan that used to grace the license plate: Smiling Faces. Beautiful Places. I think it nicely sums up the warm and friendly disposition of the people and amazing natural beauty found in South Carolina. Unfortunately, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has kept under wraps a report that spells trouble for the state's beautiful places and could turn those smiles into frowns.

The DNR completed a climate change vulnerability assessment a few years ago but decided against releasing it for public review. The report was leaked to a major state newspaper and then published on their website. It seems like a waste of taxpayer money for a public agency to invest so much time and many resources into developing a study only to leave it collecting dust on a shelf somewhere, especially when it comes to an incredibly important topic that will impact all South Carolinians-climate change.

According to the report, there have been several observed changes in the state's climate and across the Southeast region:

  • Since 1970, a general warming trend has been observed in the state's three major geographic divisions.
  • Water temperatures in Charleston Harbor have shown a steady warming trend since 1985.
  • Across the Southeast, there have been observed increases in heavy downpours in many areas even though moderate to severe drought conditions also were widespread.

Over the next 70 years, average temperatures are projected to rise 4.5°F to 9°F depending on future greenhouse gas emissions. And as if summers were not already hot enough (and extremely humid might I add), the greatest temperature increases are projected to occur during the summer months. By the 2080s, summers are projected to be about 11°F hotter. Just imagine summer highs well into the triple digits being the norm instead of the exception. Drought conditions also are expected to become longer, more frequent, and more intense as temperatures and rates of evapotranspiration rise.

The report only focuses on direct impacts to natural resources, which also will affect natural resource-dependent industries like tourism and recreational fishing and hunting-tourism alone contributes approximately $17 billion annually to the state economy. There are also untold impacts to people, homes, businesses, communities, and the economy that are not included in this assessment.

These are a few of the likely consequences of climate change for natural resources in the state from the report:

  • Rising sea levels will impact beaches, wetlands, and other coastal habitat, threatening sea turtles, birds, and commercially-important fisheries like shrimp and blue crab.
  • Increasing salinity in river systems due to sea level rise will force freshwater and diadromous fish (fish that spend portions of their life cycles in freshwater and saltwater) to move upstream, where possible, to find better habitat.
  • Warmer water temperatures could cause a shift in the distribution of anadromous species (fish that live in saltwater but return to freshwater to spawn) like striped bass and sturgeon and cause coldwater fishes like brook trout and smallmouth bass to become locally extinct.

While this report is a critical first step towards planning for climate change impacts, the state still has much work to do. Given that the places and wildlife that people love so much are at great risk, the DNR should formally release this report for public review. The state also should take immediate steps to examine what the likely impacts of climate change are for other sector areas as part of the development of a statewide climate preparedness plan. Approximately 20 percent of states in the U.S. have developed such a plan. The state can and should join these ranks to preserve its beautiful places and keep the smiles on the faces of future generations of South Carolinians.

Friday, March 15, 2013

How Arctic Ice Loss Amplified Superstorm Sandy - Oceanography Journal

We've written extensively about how global warming worsened the impact of Superstorm Sandy.

Now a new article, "Superstorm Sandy: A Series of Unfortunate Events?" (PDF here) connects the dots even more explicitly:

Cornell and Rutgers researchers report in the March issue of Oceanography that the severe loss of summertime Arctic sea ice - attributed to greenhouse warming - appears to enhance Northern Hemisphere jet stream meandering, intensify Arctic air mass invasions toward middle latitudes, and increase the frequency of atmospheric blocking events like the one that steered Hurricane Sandy west into the densely populated New York City area.

Figure 1a. Atmospheric conditions during Hurricane Sandy's transit along the eastern seaboard of the United States, including the invasion of cold Arctic air into the middle latitudes of North America and the high-pressure blocking pattern in the northwest Atlantic.

The lead author is Charles H. Greene, director of Cornell's Ocean Resources and Ecosystems program. Coauthor Jennifer A. Francis of Rutgers University's Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences has written extensively on how arctic ice loss is driving extreme weather:

The piece notes "there is increasing evidence that the loss of summertime Arctic sea ice due to green- house warming stacks the deck in favor of":

  1. Larger amplitude meanders in the jet stream,
  2. More frequent invasions of Arctic air masses into the middle latitudes, and
  3. More frequent blocking events of the kind that steered Sandy to the west

Figure 1b. After the convergence of tropical and extra-tropical storm systems, the hybrid Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New Jersey and New York, bringing strong winds, storm surge, and flooding to areas near the coast and blizzard conditions to Appalachia.

So while this does appear to have been the perfect storm, we can, unfortunately, expect many more as we move toward ice-free arctic conditions in the coming years (see "Experts Warn 'Near Ice-Free Arctic In Summer' In A Decade If Volume Trends Continue").

Related Posts:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Canadian Arctic May Lose 20% of Glaciers by 2100, Study Shows ...

An increase in average global temperatures of 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit) would be sufficient to melt the ice from glaciers on Canada's northern islands, according to a statement e-mailed today by the British Antarctic ...

NY Times Editorial Makes The Climate Case Against Keystone

The March 11 editorial in the New York Times says the overriding reason President Obama should reject the Keystone XL pipeline is climate change.

A Google Glass app I want made: carbon emissions viewer

Google showed off a few sample apps for its augmented reality Google Glass at the SXSW festival this week, and the apps were pretty obvious ones, including being able to view select headlines from the New York Times, checking out your Path photos and being able to read your emails. And while I know most of the early apps built are going to be like this - services help people manage their digital communication - I really want an app that helps people see the world differently and potentially help with important global issues like climate change.

That's why I really want a concerned and passionate developer to build a carbon emissions viewer for Google Glass. The concept could be pretty simple. The app would take objects - from cars to buildings to cell phones - that use electricity or oil and overlay them with data or imagery about how much carbon, or greenhouse gases, they are emitting.

Depending on how the developer wanted to visualize the data, the app could show an infographic, graphics that look like smoke clouds, or just a couple of basic data points. Most of this type of data is out there and being collected by energy software companies, government institutions, nonprofits utilities and others.

Companies that collect such data have long tried to figure out creative ways to make data about carbon emissions interesting, provocative, compelling and cool. Grist's David Roberts blogged about the rare non-sucky infographic on climate change this week. The Victorian Government created this video campaign to illustrate carbon emissions as black balloons a few years ago.

If there was a super compelling visual rendering of greenhouse gas emissions, perhaps that would help more people galvanize around carbon emissions reducing projects and technologies, like lower emissions cars, and energy efficient buildings. These types of projects and technologies are pretty boring, and unless there's some way that they can be made more compelling, they'll continued to be under investigated and under funded.

Another inherent problem with climate change and carbon emissions is that emissions can't be seen by the human eye, so they are easy for people to dismiss. Pollutants that produce smog, or smoke, or make water dirty, are far easier to get people to rally behind, because there's constant visual proof. There's proof for carbon emissions, of course too, but you need instruments like Picarro's emissions detecting sensors.

There's already some websites and smart phone apps that are trying to make a similar idea to this carbon emissions viewer. There's CO2GO, a mobile app that calculates in real-time the carbon emissions of a user while you're on the go. And there's 3D visualizations like the carbon emissions globe. But placing this data over the eye, so that it becomes ingrained in daily life, could be even more powerful.

O.K., so such a carbon emissions app wouldn't be something you'd want to use or wear all the time. Or very often. It'd be more like an educational tool or a art project. But I think it would be important.

So calling all developers. There's some data sourcing and UI work you'd need to figure out, but anyone up for a carbon emissions viewer Google Glass app?

Related research and analysis from GigaOM Pro:
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Monday, March 11, 2013

The Manpollo Project series on the Climate Change debate

Are you confused by the debate about climate change? Wonder why, with widespread scientific agreement saying human caused climate change is a serious danger, the political sphere claims there's a lot of doubt? Want some guidelines on &quot...

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A key part of the climate change debate is the nature of science, and the role of science in helping us understanding the physical world. There's a strong tendency for climate change deniers to have a low...

State Efforts To 'Reclaim' Our Public Lands Traced To Koch-Fueled ALEC

By Jessica Goad and Tom Kenworthy via CAP

Despite the many problems that states and municipalities face today-from budget shortfalls to unemployment-seven western states have decided to embark on unconstitutional and quixotic battles attempting to force the federal government to turn millions of acres of public lands over to the states. Doing so, however, would result in the eventual exploitation for private profits of these beautiful parks, refuges, forests, and other lands because the leaders driving such efforts would prefer to see quick economic gains from resource extraction rather than prioritizing these areas' more sustainable economic uses such as recreation.

Rather than being managed so that all Americans can enjoy them, turning our public lands over to states would result in their management on the whims of governors and state legislatures, who in the West are often quite conservative and tend to ideologically favor limited regulation and private profits. According to one state lands commissioner, these bills would be "catastrophic" to the public lands that Americans know and love.

Clashes between states and the federal government over their respective authorities have long been a regular feature of our politics, especially when it comes to issues regarding control over federal public lands in the West. More than 700 million acres of federal public lands, including national parks, national forests, and national monuments, belong to all Americans, and are tremendous economic generators-the Department of the Interior stimulated $385 billion in economic development and more than 2 million jobs in 2011 alone. At times, conflicts over ownership of the federally managed parks, forests, refuges, and other properties have grown into a regional cause in the West, as they did during the "Sagebrush Rebellion," a political movement demanding the turnover of federal lands to the states that arose in the 1970s but eventually fizzled out in the late 1980s.

We are now seeing yet another iteration of that hardy but misguided western impulse. These state legislative efforts are nothing more than corporate-backed messaging tools that can be traced to conservative front groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, and Americans for Prosperity, as we discuss further below. The proposals run directly contrary to abundant evidence that Americans and westerners support federal management of their public lands and value the economic benefits those lands provide, especially when they are protected from mining and drilling and are used instead for recreation and other more sustainable purposes.

In the past year, legislatures in seven western states - Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Idaho - have passed, introduced, or explored legislation demanding that the federal government turn over millions of acres of federal public lands to the states. If successful, these bills could be disastrous: Rather than being managed for the benefit and use of the American public, these lands will instead be managed in whatever way each state wants to use them-which generally means maximizing private profits through mining, drilling, and other resource extraction.

These lawmakers are waging a losing battle that amounts to little more than political grandstanding to rally their extreme conservative base and feed an antigovernment narrative. Such bills contradict the majority of public opinion in these states, as well as economic realities and constitutional precedent dating back to the mid-19th century.

ALEC and Americans for Prosperity have been fanning the fire under these efforts to "reclaim" federal public lands. ALEC is a conservative corporate front group funded by fossil-fuel interests such as the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil that develops model legislation for state legislators to introduce in their legislatures, and it has endorsed many of the bills turning public lands over to the states. As the Associated Press reported, "Lawmakers in Utah and Arizona have said the legislation is endorsed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that advocates conservative ideals, and they expect it to eventually be introduced in other Western states."

That should come as little surprise, considering that one of ALEC's "model bills" - those that it drafts and develops to shop to various state legislators - is the "Sagebrush Rebellion Act," which was "designed to establish a mechanism for the transfer of ownership of" non-state lands "from the federal government to the states."

Further evidence that ALEC is the puppet master behind these performances: Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory (R), who is leading the charge for states to "take back" public lands through his "American Lands Council," has been presenting the idea of turning federal land over to the states at ALEC conferences such as the one in Salt Lake City last summer. Additionally, Rep. Ivory has been promoting this idea to various state legislatures - he spoke, for example, with Wyoming's Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee in October 2012.

Proponents of these bills claim that the states do not receive tax revenue from federal lands and argue that the proceeds from turning the land over to the states to then be further developed can help fund essential state services such as education. They also argue that the federal government promised to turn public lands over to the states at the establishment of their statehoods more than 100 years ago.

This issue brief provides an overview of each state's attempt to force the turnover of public lands, and then describes why this is not only bad policy that is not in accordance with what westerners actually believe, but is also unconstitutional based on numerous Supreme Court decisions.

State efforts to 'reclaim' public lands

In this section, we provide an overview of each of the bills in seven western states and detail where they are in the legislative process.


The Outdoor Industry Association, the trade organization for outdoor recreation companies, notes that the outdoor economy - in part based on protected public lands - stimulates $12 billion in consumer spending and more than 122,000 jobs for Utah every year. This extraordinary economic resource will be threatened if the state succeeds in its attempt to take over public lands and instead use them for resource extraction.

Despite this, Utah has been leading the charge when it comes to state attempts to reclaim public lands. Rep. Ivory sponsored the Transfer of Public Lands Act and Related Study, a bill that passed both the state House and Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert (R) in March 2012. The bill established a deadline of December 31, 2014, for the federal government to turn over Utah's nearly 20 million acres of public lands to the state, or it will sue.

Utah's Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel noted that the case law with regard to public lands going back to the 1870s gives the bill "a high probability of being declared unconstitutional." And the Salt Lake Tribune has called Utah's effort "tilting at windmills."
Despite this, the Utah state legislature has already appropriated nearly $3 million to cover expected state legal expenses and has set up the Utah Land Commission to oversee the process of returning the lands to the state.

While the bill exempts Native American lands, national parks, and military installations, it still could have a major impact on some of Utah's most special places. One Utah publication, for example, notes that "While [Ivory] doesn't say this will happen, it is possible that the huge coal fields now off limits because of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in southern Utah could be developed by the new state land commission."


The outdoor recreation economy in Arizona creates $10.6 billion in consumer spending and supports nearly 104,000 jobs in the state. Yet State Sen. Al Melvin (R) introduced S.B. 1332 in the spring of 2012 requiring Congress to turn over 25 million acres of public lands to the state by the end of 2014, or it would sue. Similar to the legislation in Utah, the Arizona bill would have exempted Indian reservations, national parks, and military lands.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), however, vetoed the bill in May 2012, surprising many observers due to her conservative background. She justified her veto by saying she was "concerned about the lack of certainty this legislation could create for individuals holding existing leases on federal lands. Given the difficult economic times, I do not believe this is the time to add to that uncertainty."

Arizona voters also took to the polls to fight against a ballot initiative that similarly would have turned public lands over to the state. Proposition 120, supported by state Republican legislators, would have amended the state's constitution to "declare Arizona's sovereignty and jurisdiction over the 'air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife and other natural resources within the state's boundaries.'" This measure would have included turning the Grand Canyon over to the state, but the ballot measure was defeated 68 percent to 32 percent.


Although the Outdoor Industry Association released data noting that the outdoor economy creates $4.5 billion in consumer spending and 50,000 direct jobs in Wyoming, State Rep. David Miller (R) introduced a bill in early February 2013 demanding state ownership of public lands. The bill - H.B. 0228, known as the Transfer of Federal Lands Study - would require the state attorney general to study "possible legal recourses available to compel the federal government to relinquish ownership and management of specified federal lands in Wyoming," and would establish a task force focused on the land transfer. The bill passed both houses of the state legislature earlier this year and now awaits the governor's signature.

Rep. Miller is also the CEO of a uranium mining company and told WyoFile, a local news outlet, that he got the idea for his bill in Wyoming from Utah Rep. Ivory's presentation at last summer's ALEC conference in Salt Lake City.

Notably, however, the Wyoming attorney general's office wrote an opinion stating that Utah's federal land transfer laws relied on "a repeatedly rejected reading of the United States Constitution and a strained interpretation of Utah's statehood act."

New Mexico

The state of New Mexico sees $6.1 billion in consumer spending stimulated by the outdoor recreation industry, as well as more than 68,000 jobs every year. Nevertheless, New Mexico State Rep. Yvette Herrell (R) and State Sen. Richard Martinez (D) introduced the Transfer of Public Land Act in early 2013, calling on the federal government to turn 23 million acres of New Mexico's public lands over to the state by the end of 2015. It also would create a public lands transfer task force to study the process of taking ownership of these federal lands.

Jumping into this fray is the Koch-backed conservative group Americans for Prosperity, which called the bill "an exciting change" and urged its members to call the state legislature to express support. On the other hand, the state's lands commissioner stated that the bill would be "catastrophic," and noted that a fiscal impact analysis shows that if public lands were transferred to the state, the office would "need 2,000 more employees and an additional $218 million to administer the land at the same level as the federal government."

The bill is currently in the legislative process, and it is unclear what New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez's (R) position is on it.


Colorado is a hotspot for the outdoor recreation economy, which stimulates $13.2 billion in consumer spending and nearly 125,000 direct jobs to the state. But a handful of members in the Colorado state legislature are attempting to revive a failed attempt of last year's legislative session by introducing a bill - known as S.B. 13-142 - which would require the federal government to turn over all "agricultural lands" to the state. The law's broad definition of agricultural lands certainly includes the more than 14 million acres of national forests in the state and likely includes its Bureau of Land Management lands.

State Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R) and State Sen. Scott Renfroe (R) introduced the bill in late January 2013, requiring the federal government to turn these lands over to the state by December 31, 2014. The bill, however, failed in committee in early February.
A similar bill failed in last year's legislative session after much criticism from public and statewide opinion leaders. As a Denver Post columnist put it at the time, "We are all hoping this goes away very quickly."


Nevada sees $14.9 billion created by the outdoor recreation industry every year, as well as 148,000 direct jobs. And yet Nevada Assemblyman John Ellison (R) and State Sen. Pete Goicoechea (R) are drafting a bill for the 2013 legislative session that would create a committee "to help broker the transfer of federal land to the state," according to the Elko Daily Free Press. Legislation is still being drafted as of late February.

Specifically modeled after the Utah bill, the Nevada bill would create a Nevada Land Management Implementation Committee appointed by county commissioners, which would conduct a study anticipating the effects that a land transfer would have on the state "in contemplation of Congress turning over the management and control of those public lands to the State of Nevada on or before June 30, 2015."


The outdoor recreation economy creates $6.3 billion in consumer spending in Idaho per year, as well as 77,000 direct jobs. While the Idaho legislature has not yet officially considered a bill to turn some or all of the state's 33 million acres of public lands over to the state, discussions and preparations to do so are in the works. State Rep. Lawerence Denney (R), chairman of the state's Resources and Conservation Committee, has expressed interest in introducing such a bill. Utah Rep. Ivory addressed a joint meeting of the state's House Resources and Conservation Committee and Senate Resources and Environment Committee in late January 2013, lauding the Utah bill and its merits.

The idea of selling off public lands has not, however, seen political success in Idaho. The Associated Press reports that in the state's 2006 gubernatorial race, now-Gov. Butch Otter (R) was forced to withdraw his support for federal legislation that would sell off public lands in the West to offset costs of Hurricane Katrina - only after "getting bruised by his political challengers and voters irritated by the possibility of losing some of Idaho's prized backcountry."

State efforts are seriously misguided

This section outlines the three main reasons why state attempts to "take back" public lands are misguided: People in these states do not believe there is a problem; the economic arguments don't pan out; and the efforts are unconstitutional.

People in these states don't think there is a problem

Central to the intent behind and promotion of these bills is the notion that people living in these seven states are upset about the job that the federal government is doing when it comes to managing public lands, and that there is too much public land preventing resource development. But conservative ideologues are wrong in this regard, which is indicated in the data below.

A recent poll from Colorado College's State of the Rockies Project, for example, asked western voters whether they think having "too much public land" is a problem. Here are the answers-either that it is a "serious" problem or that it isn't a problem-by state:

While this poll did not cover Idaho and Nevada, recent polls in those states show similar sentiments. A poll in Idaho, for instance, determined that 73 percent of Idahoans agree that "One of the things our federal government does well is protect and preserve our national heritage through the management of forests, national parks and other public lands." And in Nevada, two-thirds of small-business owners believe that allowing private companies to develop public lands "would limit the public's enjoyment of them."

Despite what conservatives want to think, the western public understands that there is a role for the federal government in managing public lands and doesn't want to see the land turned over to states or private interests.

Economic arguments don't pan out

Another key argument that proponents of such bills make is that the federal government is "locking up" public lands that could be used for economic development such as mining and drilling. To make this argument more appealing, some of the bills transfer a portion of the funds from selling or developing lands to state public education funds and send the rest to relieve the national debt. As Utah Rep. Ivory put it, "If we unleash those resources in a responsible, sustainable manner, that's a matter of national employment. That's a matter of national economic GDP growth; that's a matter of national deficit and debt reduction."

But conservatives miss two key points in making these economic arguments. First, public lands already provide an extraordinary economic impact, both from traditional resource development currently allowed on the lands such as mining, drilling, and timber, and from outdoor recreation on protected lands. Second, they fail to note that adequately managing millions more acres of land will be very difficult for states facing budget constraints.

Public lands provide tremendous economic impacts. The Department of the Interior-the agency that manages most public lands - stimulated $385 billion in economic development and more than 2 million jobs in 2011 alone. This number includes the extraction of oil, gas, coal, and other minerals from public lands, in addition to timber, grazing, and recreation. Recreation-related activities alone created 403,000 jobs and nearly $49 billion in economic activity across the country. The U.S. Forest Service, which manages national forests, also has major economic impacts - visitor spending on recreation in and near national forests, for example, added $13 billion to gross domestic product and sustained 200,000 jobs across the country in fiscal year 2011.

The fact that public lands create jobs is echoed in public sentiment. In six western states, for example, 79 percent of voters believe that public lands support the economy, while only 15 percent believe they "take land off the tax rolls, cost government to maintain them, and prevent opportunities for logging and oil and gas production that could provide jobs."

Regarding the second point about states likely not being prepared for the burden of managing an influx of public lands, Jodi Peterson of High Country News, a publication based in Paonia, Colorado, says it best:

If that transfer ever does occur, the old adage "Be careful what you wish for" might apply. Cash-strapped states would have trouble covering even minimal management of former federal land ... [and] there aren't ready buyers for these millions of acres.

The attempts are unconstitutional

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that these attempts are unconstitutional, according to case law dating back to the 1800s, and therefore will only serve to waste state taxpayers' money. Each of the state attempts to force Congress to turn over public lands references the state's enabling act-the language that made it a state to begin with. Proponents say the federal government has not kept its promise to give the public lands back to the states.

But in reality this is just not true. Each of these enabling acts that the states agreed to in order to become members of the union renounced their claims to federal public lands. Here are the relevant sections of each state constitution or enabling act:

  • Utah: "That the people inhabiting said proposed State do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof"
  • Arizona: "That the people inhabiting said proposed State do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated and ungranted public lands lying within the boundaries thereof and to all lands lying within said boundaries"
  • Wyoming: "The people inhabiting this state do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof"
  • New Mexico: "That the people inhabiting said proposed state do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated and ungranted public lands lying within the boundaries thereof"
  • Colorado: "That the people inhabiting said Territory do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said Territory"
  • Nevada: "That the people inhabiting said territory do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States"
  • Idaho: "And the people of the state of Idaho do agree and declare that we forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof"

In even further proof that these are attempts are unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken many times on this issue. Ironically, the case law in this regard was discussed by Utah's own Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel in its opinion on the Utah bill, stating:

The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that "[w]ith respect to the public domain, the Constitution vests in Congress the power of disposition and of making all needful rules and regulations. That power is subject to no limitations. Congress has the absolute right to prescribe the times, the conditions, and the mode of transferring this property, or any part of it, and to designate the persons to whom the transfer shall be made. No State legislation can interfere with this right or embarrass its exercise; and to prevent the possibility of any attempted interference with it, a provision has been usually inserted in the compacts by which new States have been admitted to the Union, that such interference with the primary disposal of the soil of the United States shall never be made." Gibson v. Chouteau, 80 U.S. 92 (1872).

Additionally, a Congressional Research Service report in 2007 on the history of federal land management and the Constitution noted that:

The U.S. Constitution addresses the relationship of the federal government to lands. Article IV, § 3, Clause 2-the Property Clause-gives Congress authority over federal property generally, and the Supreme Court has described Congress's power to legislate under this Clause as "without limitation." The equal footing doctrine (based on language within Article IV, § 3, Clause 1), and found in state enabling acts, provides new states with equality to the original states in terms of constitutional rights, but has not been used successfully to force the divestment of federal lands. The policy question of whether to acquire more, or to dispose of any or all, federal lands is left to Congress to decide.


Despite the fact that those living in these seven states do not fundamentally agree with the attempts to "take back" public lands, that the economic arguments for it are incomplete, and that the efforts are unconstitutional, conservatives in these state legislatures across the West have still introduced bills demanding the federal government turn federal public lands over to the states. Efforts in Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Idaho are misguided and merely serve to fan the fire of extreme and fruitless rhetoric at the taxpayers' expense.

Jessica Goad is Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. Tom Kenworthy is a Senior Fellow at the Center. This article was reprinted from CAP with permission.

Endnotes and citations are available in the PDF version of this issue brief.