Sunday, July 22, 2007

News brief extra

1. Warming could trigger hurricanes in the Mediterranean
Historically, hurricanes have formed the North Atlantic or North Pacific (where they’re called typhoons) and followed pretty much the same paths. But now, as the climate warms, some storms are starting up in new places and that could be a threat to the Mediterranean, a group of European scientists is saying. In 2005, Hurricane Vince formed near the Madiera Islands and was the first ever to make landfall in Spain. A year earlier, Catarina had formed in the South Pacific and hit Southern Brazil, which was unusual. An increase of 5.4 degrees F could threaten the Mediterranean in this century, according to scientists in Spain and Germany. Combined with rising sea levels, hurricanes could put highly populated coastal areas at serious risk, the scientists, from the University of Castilla-LaMancha and Max Planck Institute, said in a paper published recently in the American Geophysical Union Journal. (Source:

2. Northeast faces extreme temperature change, few lobsters
Under a business-as-usual scenario, the Northeast U.S. could have average temperatures 8-12 degrees F higher in winter and 6-14 higher in summer by the end of the century, according to a study released last week by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Boston, New York and Atlantic City would see severe flooding. Coastlines would erode and the fishing industry would be decimated. Already the once-profitable lobster catch off Long Island has taken a serious hit and could be all but finished by century’s end. UCS points to some efforts, such as the multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, as holding some promise for avoiding the most serious repercussions, if strong action is taken soon. To read the report, go to Click under Highlights, on New Report on Climate Impacts. There also are individual states reports to download. (Source: Greenwire)

3. Small melting glaciers will add most to sea-level rise this century
The hundreds of thousands of small glaciers all over the world will likely account for 60% of sea-level rise this century as they melt from Global Warming. These smaller melting glaciers will likely add 4-10 inches to sea level, researchers said in the journal Science Express last week. Combined with continuing melt from the ice sheets of Greenland (projected to contribute 28%) and Antarctica (12%), plus the expansion of warming water, they could raise seas about a foot and pose a serious danger to the 100 million people who live less than 3.3 feet above sea level. Glaciers of Alaska, Russian, Canada and Scandinavia are of most concern, because of the way they move, the study said. They are thinner and slide more rapidly into the sea. Greenland and Antarctica, of course, are viewed as the biggest long-range threat to rising seas because of their tremendous volume. (Source:

4. Sweet. Dow Chemical to use sugar ethanol to make plastic
The Dow Chemical Co. announced Thursday it has reached agreement with Brazilian biofuels company Crystalsev to turn sugarcane ethanol into polyethylene, the most widely used plastic in the world. A plant will be built in Brazil – not near the rainforest – with a capacity to produce about 350,000 metric tons a year. Dow sees it as cost- effective as well as a curb on greenhouse gases, since plastic is commonly natural gas- or petroleum-based. The plant is expected to be up and running by 2011. (Source: Greenwire)

5. Renewables bill gathers steam in House as sponsors sign on
With support from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, advocates for a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) in the House are optimistic about passing a bill before the Aug. 2 break. The bill (H.R. 969), which would be offered as an amendment by Reps. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Todd Platts (R-Pa.), would require utilities to get 20% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. Opponents include representatives from coal states and Energy Chair John Dingell (D-Mich.), who wanted to put off “controversial” legislation till fall. But with 135 co-sponsors last week, according to Udall’s office, advocates were hoping to pass the bill in the House to get it into Conference. An RES bill was blocked in the Senate and never came to a vote. Environmental groups urge those concerned about Global Warming to call their representative in support of Udall-Platts, to try to swing more votes. The Congressional Switchboard number is (202)225-3121. (Source: E&E Daily)

6. Fuel economy gets muddied in House, with several bills
Over the objections of auto-industry ally John Dingell (D-Mich), Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Todd Platts (R-Pa.) developed an amendment to mandate a corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) of 35 mpg by 2018, slightly stronger than the Senate-passed bill. In response, the auto industry threw its support behind a bill by Reps. Baron Hill (D-Ind.) and Lee Terry (R-Neb.), which set separate standards for cars and light trucks, with a slow ramp-up and an overall average of 32 mpg by 2022. Hill-Terry (H.R. 2927) contains many escape hatches and pre-empts any stronger tailpipe laws states have passed or might want to pass. Auto dealers were out in force on Capitol Hill last week lobbying for that bill and signing up co-sponsors. Then, at week’s end, a third bill, from Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and others, was thrown into the mix, calling for 35 mpg for cars and 27.5 for light trucks by 2022. Environmental groups strongly support Markey-Platts (H.R. 1506) and dislike the other bills, which they say are a step backward. They’re asking supporters to call their reps. (Sources: E&E Daily, E&E News PM, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists)

7. NYC ‘congestion pricing’ plan revived after missing deadline
N.Y. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to charge fees for cars driving into the most heavily traveled part of Manhattan was left on the drawing board last week, when the state legislature failed to approve it before adjourning. But three days later a deal was stuck with state leaders to keep the proposal alive. It allows New York City to stay in the running for a pilot program that could bring $500 million in federal transit funds to the city. In the deal, a state commission will review the proposal and has committed to curbing traffic and pollution – if not by congestion pricing than by some other means. In Bloomberg’s plan, the fees collected – $8 for cars and $12 for trucks – would pay for other transportation projects to cut traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions as NYC grows in population. According to the Associated Press, the commission will be weighted toward those who approve the congestion pricing plan. (Source: E&E New PM, AP)

8. Computers must clean up act to save wasted energy
The EPA last week unveiled new Energy Star requirements for computer makers that could cut energy use by 60%. Personal computers use about 2% of the nation’s energy and are notoriously inefficient, wasting nearly half their power. The stricter regulations, which will apply to laptops, desktops, work stations and small servers, require power supplies to be 80% efficient and new computers to go to sleep after 30 minutes of inactivity. The announcement follows a deal Google and Intel announced in June with 25 universities, companies and environmental groups to set new computer efficiency goals. Their “Climate Savers Computing Initiative” requires 90% efficiency for power supplies. Dell, HP, IBM, Lenovo, Microsoft and the EPA all signed onto the Initiative, which Google says could cut 54 million tons of greenhouse gases and save $5.5 billion in energy costs. (Source: Greenwire)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Arctic melt sparks territorial disputes over oil, gas
So you think the Bush Administration, Russia and Canada aren’t focused enough on Global Warming? Think again. They’re definitely interested in the fast-melting Arctic – and salivating at the thought that 25% of the world’s oil and gas reserves may be there under the ice. The region also is rich in minerals like gold, diamonds and maybe uranium.

The three countries are scrambling to advance their interests as retreating ice – melting at twice the rate predicted – promises to change the geopolitical equation as it open up the area to oil and gas exploration and to shipping. As one U.S. Navy officer said, “This is the greatest unexplored bastion on the Earth.” The Arctic is losing more than 7% of its summer ice each decade, and the temperature there has risen 5 degrees in the past 30 years.

In recent weeks, all three countries have asserted their authority over parts of the area:
• In late June, Russian geologists returned from 45 days of Arctic exploration and proclaimed their right to an underwater ridge the size of France, Germany and Italy combined.
• Last week, the Canadian Prime Minister said Canada is converting 6 to 8 military ships to icebreakers to patrol and protect sovereignty over the Northwest Passage, which at this rate may be open to shipping year-round by 2050.
• Also last week, U.S. scientists, the Navy and Coast Guard held a 3-day meeting to map American strategy for the Arctic.

Who owns what
The U.N. Law of the Sea Convention gives the 5 Arctic countries surrounding the North Pole – Canada, the U.S., Russia, Norway and Denmark (through its territory, Greenland) an economic zone of 200 nautical miles off their coastline. This can be extended if a country proves the structure of the continental shelf has similar geology to their territory, which is Russia’s claim for the massive Lomonosov Ridge, which it estimates holds more than 1,000 metric tons of oil and gas. The Law of the Sea treaty also governs environmental regulations in common waters.

Under the convention, no one owns the North Pole itself.

Disputes over sovereignty
There have been, and continue to be, disagreements among countries over who is entitled to what, and that is heating up as the value become more apparent. The United States is at a slight disadvantage because it never ratified the Law of the Sea Convention, due to opposition from a handful of GOP lawmakers.

For the neophyte this all can be a bit confusing, because the disputes involve three seas, all starting with “B” – Barents, Bering and Beaufort.

• All the countries have disagreed with Canada over its claim to the Northwest Passage, parts of which border on the other 4. The passage will become increasingly important as the ice melts, for it can cut about 3,000 miles off a trip from England to Japan.
• Norway and Russia have had disputes about rights in the Barents Sea, which separates them, though they are now working on a natural gas project there together.
• The U.S. and Canada disagree about resources in the Beaufort Sea.
• Canada and Denmark both claim tiny Hans Island off Greenland, and each lands there periodically to plant its national flag.
• Denmark has tried to claim the North Pole as an extension of Greenland, and Stalin once proclaimed it was part of the Soviet Union, but the U.N. says it is international.
• Russia and the U.S. worked out an agreement dividing the Bering Sea, between Siberia and Alaska, but the Russian Parliament refused to ratify it, believing they were losing territory.

Renewed interest
But most of these disputes have been fairly dormant. Only recently have the countries surrounding the North Pole realized its enormous value in a warming world. In 2001, Russia submitted a claim to the U.N. for the Lomonosov Ridge that was rejected. Now, however, Russian scientists may have the data to back up their claim, though some say Canada could make a similar argument. Russia also is newly re-asserting its right to the Northwest Passage, because parts are within its coastal borders.

In response, Canada announced last week it will patrol the Passage to prevent trespass in its Northern Territories. And the U.S. Navy said it will increase its presence there.

Conditions remain harsh for drilling – with darkness and extreme winter storms that prevent the use of floating platforms – but as oil and gas become harder to find elsewhere, the intensity of the rivalry for this territory has the potential to become explosive.

The U.N. sees itself as the arbiter among disputing parties in the Arctic, but some say there needs to be a solid, long-term agreement among the countries, as there is with the North Sea. And environmentalists are rightfully concerned about the ecological damage that can be done. Already, fisheries are moving north because of the warming. A crush of commerce and drilling could further damage the area if someone isn’t setting the rules and monitoring them.

"If there is to be an international regime in the Arctic, it's time to think about that," Mead Treadwell, head of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, said last week.
(Sources: E&E News PM, Greenwire, BBC, Guardian UK)

Congressional round-up

*Majority Leader wants fuel-economy in final energy bill
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) pledged last week that corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) would be in any energy bill that goes to the president. While the Senate passed a bill requiring 35 mpg by 2020, House Energy Chair John Dingell (D-Mich.) has said he wants to delay CAFE in the House until fall. But Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is poised to introduce a floor amendment similar to the Senate bill, calling for 35 mpg by 2018. Dingell, an auto company ally, said he prefers the weaker Hill-Terry bill that would increase mpg more slowly and pre-empt state tailpipe emissions laws. Hoyer suggested he might wait and iron all this out in conference. A Union of Concerned Scientists analysis said the Markey bill would save consumers $61 billion, boost jobs by 241,000 and cut oil use by 1.6 million barrels a day by 2020. (Sources: E&E Daily, E&E News PM)

* Bingaman, Specter offer cap-and-trade bill in Senate
Senate Energy Chair Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) announced a bill last week they said would satisfy both environmentalists and economic interests. S.B. 1766 would launch a cap-and-trade system in 2012 modeled on the EPA one that curtailed acid rain. It would cut greenhouse gases from power plants and other energy-intensive industry to 2006 levels by 2020 and to 1990 levels by 2030. Co-sponsors are Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), and the two Republic senators from Alaska, Lisa Murkowski and Ted Stevens. The latter said they signed on because the bill would help Alaska adapt to climate change already taking place. Several large utilities and labor organizations back the plan. Some environmental groups objected to a “safety valve” to hold down the price of carbon credits, as did House Environment Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), to whose committee the bill was referred. Already working cap-and-trade for that committee are Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.). Bingaman, who’s been working 3 years on his bill, said he hoped his provisions would be included in the Lieberman-Warner package. (Sources: E&E Daily, E&E News PM)

* Dingell to float steep carbon tax, expecting it won’t fly
House Energy Chair John Dingell (D-Mich.) said on CSPAN he will propose a big tax on gasoline and burning of other fossil fuels to show the public doesn’t want to pay the price to reduce Global Warming. "I sincerely doubt that the American people are willing to pay what this is really going to cost them," he said. Most Democrats think the idea of a carbon tax is politically untenable, though economists say it would be the simplest way to curb GHG emissions. In 1993, President Clinton tried a BTU tax on energy, which passed the House but failed in the Senate. Many think it contributed to the change in leadership the next year in the House. Dingell has also proposed a cap-and-trade system, which many in both parties favor. (Sources: New York Times, Greenwire)

* Electric utility trade group contributes to Dingell coffers
The Edison Electric Institute held a fund-raiser last week for Rep. Dingell, 81, who is the longest serving congressman and is expected to run for re-election in 2008. Since 1989, he has raised close to $1 million from electric utility PACs and individuals, according to E&E News PM. As chairman of the powerful House Energy Committee, he is a key player in any Global Warming legislation. (Source:
E&E News PM)

Do something

Time is running out for the House to pass strong Global Warming legislation before the August break. Support the Markey-Platts fuel economy bill (HB 1506) and the Udall-Platts renewable energy bill (HB 969) by going to and clicking on “Take Action Now.” Or, better yet, call your representative through the Congressional Switchboard at (202)224-3121. Markey-Platts is similar to the CAFE bill passed by the Senate and Udall-Platts calls for power plants to produce 20 of their fuel from renewables by 2020. The Union of Concerned Scientists and Sierra Club both support these bills. Udall is a Democrat from N.M., Platts a Republican from Pa.

Take the pledge. If you haven’t done so already, join the millions all over the world who have signed the LiveEarth pledge. Go to

If you live in the Chicago area or plan to visit, make sure to see the Cool Globes outdoor art exhibit along the lakefront from Navy Pier to the Field Museum. Each is by a different artist and suggests a way you can help fight Global Warming. To pay a virtual visit, go to It’s something other cities may want to do. For more info, see

News briefs

1. Efficiency alone could cap U.S. GHG at current levels by 2020
If the United States were to become as energy efficient as Western Europe and Japan, efficiency alone could put GHG emissions at 2006 levels in 2020, says a new study by the McKinsey Global Institute. Americans emit twice as much CO2 as residents of Western Europe and Japan, with most of the waste in homes and transportation, the study says. Driving in the U.S. requires 37% more fuel than in Europe because of bigger autos and less efficient engines. Also, homes are bigger, with less insulation, inefficient lighting, and larger, less efficient appliances. Using existing technologies, the U.S. could cut residential energy use 30% by 2020, the study says. Industry could do more, as well, with heat recovery and motor-driven pumps and compressors. The study advocates policy changes and increased public awareness. (Source: Greenwire)

2. N.J. and Florida, take strong stand against Global Warming
New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) last week signed the strictest greenhouse gas bill in the nation, requiring a cut of 16% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. The law also called for better public transit and more shipping of goods by train. The largest utility, Public Service Enterprise Group, supported the law, but some warned it could be hard to enforce because N.J. has few renewable energy sources. In Florida, the state’s new governor, Charlie Crist (R) issued an executive order reducing CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by 2025 and then cutting them 80% by 2050. He also mandated adoption of California’s auto standards. Starting with the 2009 models, cars would have to cut emissions 25% and SUVs 18%. In addition, Crist ordered that utilities must cut GHG 20% (from 1990 levels) by 2050 and produce 20% of their energy from renewables. The Florida governor apparently can take these steps without legislation because they strengthen previous regulations. (Sources: Greenwire,

3. Britons flying less, taking the train more on local trips
Train travel from Manchester to London was up 18% so far this year, while domestic air travel at the Manchester Airport fell almost 9%. Fear of terrorism and tight security that slows down boarding are two reasons for the shift, authorities say. A failed airline plot in April made Britons jittery. And now there’s been a second attempt at Glasgow Airport. Also, people are increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of air travel, which emits somewhere between 4 and 10 times the CO2 of trains. And if that concern wasn’t enough, now they feel it in their pocketbook. New Prime Minister Gordon Brown, then finance minister, doubled the airline tax in February to cut GHG emissions. As more take the train, they’re seeing improvements. Trains are sleeker and faster and some provide WiFi. A potential north-south high-speed link could persuade even more to take the train, as is the case in other European countries. (Source:

Sunday, July 08, 2007

News brief extra

1. Temperatures soar into triple digits; fires break out in West
Phoenix was 115; Baker, Calif., topped 125; and Las Vegas hit 116 on
Thursday, overheating transformers and causing utility pole fires. Parts of Northeast Oregon reached 107 degrees, and Boise, Idaho, hit 105 Friday. Billings and Great Falls, Mont., at 104, were among several Montana cities reaching record highs. As a heat wave stalled over the West, authorities warned people to avoid outdoor activity except in early morning hours. And meteorologist Brandon Smith told the Associated Press at week’s end, “For as far out as we can see, there’s no relief.” By Saturday wildfires burned in Utah, California, Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, Arizona, Oregon and Washington. Longer and more severe heat waves, as well as more wildfires, are forecast as Global Warming continues. (Source: AP, AOL News)

2. Automakers will back weakened fuel-economy bill in House
The Alliance of Auto Manufacturers said last week it would drum up support for a corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) bill setting a standard of 32 mpg by 2022. The bill, unveiled by Reps. Baron Hill (D-Ind.) and Lee Terry (R-Neb.), would have separate standards for cars and light trucks, but the overall fleet sold in the United States would have to achieve at least 32 mpg. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she still favors the Senate version, requiring 35 mpg by 2020, and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has prepared a bill similar to that passed by the Senate. It is unclear whether CAFE will come to a vote before the August recess or wait until fall. House Energy Chair John Dingell (D-Mich.) wants to leave “controversial” matters such as CAFE for fall. (Source: E&E News PM)

3. Mt. Everest base camp changed by Global Warming
Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the first to climb to Mt. Everest’s summit a half-century ago, would not recognize the site today, their sons, Peter Hillary and Jamling Norgay, said recently. Base camp, which was at an elevation of 5,320 meters then, is sinking each year because of melting ice and is now just 5,280 meters high, they said. The glacier where they made camp in 1953 has retreated 3 miles in the past 2 decades. All glaciers in the Himalayas are endangered, scientists say, and as they melt they form lakes that are at risk of breaking through their banks and flooding the areas below. Peter Hillary said he has seen glacial lakes burst their banks. “It’s like an atomic bomb has gone off. There is rubble everywhere. The floods of the past are nothing compared to the size we’re threatened with,” he said. (Sources:, Agence France-Presse)

4. Peat bogs, heavy in carbon, could be next ‘black gold’
Peat bogs, those dense swamps full of rotted trees, roots and leaves, are emitting 8% of worldwide CO2 as they are drained or burned to make way for agriculture and timber. And Indonesia, with 60% of the world’s threatened tropical peat bogs, stands to make an estimated $39 billion from selling credits if peat is added to the carbon-trading scheme under discussion for the post-Kyoto era. With 50 million acres of the stuff, Indonesia would be the prime beneficiary, as other countries and companies having trouble reducing GHG seek to buy credits from those who have reduced or prevented emissions. Like deforestation, peat and was excluded from the first Kyoto accord, but could be included in carbon trading as early as next year, according to Wetlands International. Worldwide, peat stores more carbon than all other vegetation combined. Thailand and Malaysia also have peat. (Sources: Reuters, Greenwire)

5. Heavy industry could be 25% more efficient, IEA says
Heavy industry, which uses nearly half the world’s energy and emits 36% of the CO2, could be much more efficient, the International Energy Agency said in a new study. Improvements such as upgrading engines, recycling materials, and combining heat and power could reduce CO2 emissions by as much as a third, it said. Manufacture of chemicals, petrochemicals, cement, paper, iron and steel, and other metals and minerals account for most of the emissions. Manufacturers need to do more, IEA said. Some of the developing countries have the most efficient plants – such as aluminum smelting in Africa and cement manufacturing in Brazil, the study said. (Source:

6. Swiss will tax carbon in effort to meet its Kyoto goals
After failing to meet its 2006 Kyoto target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Switzerland will levy a tax on imported fossil fuels beginning Jan. 1, 2008, as an “incentive” to conserve energy. The country cut its emissions 4.5% by 2006 instead of the goal of 6% (from 1990 levels). If it fails to reach its targets in the future, the carbon tax will increase in 2009 and 2010. Businesses can get an exemption if they agree to cut their own emissions, a step more than 600 companies have taken. Switzerland has good reason to worry about Global Warming. Its temperatures have increased twice as fast as the world average since the 1970s. Scientists say this may be because of its high latitude and distance from major oceans. Northern Sweden and Russia have experienced a similar phenomenon. (Source: E&E News PM, Greenwire)

7. Transportation Department lobbies against California waiver
The Department of Transportation interfered in the EPA’s decision on whether California can to regulate tailpipe GHG emissions. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), calling it “inappropriate, if not illegal,” released 71 memos and e-mails showing DOT contacted lawmakers from states with auto plants urging them to file comments of opposition with the EPA. The documents show DOT employees, working from a script, told governors and Congressmen that letting California set its own restrictions would lead to a “patchwork of regulations” damaging to the auto industry. One week after the calls, 7 Michigan reps submitted comments objecting to the waiver. California has sought EPA’s OK for two years, so it could start enforcing a law cutting GHG 25% from cars and 18% from SUVs. Another 11 states have followed its lead and are watching to see if EPA gives California the waiver. (Source: AP)

8. Tree-planting plan born in Kenya tops 1 billion in pledges
The U.N. has pledges surpassing its goal in the Billion Tree Campaign, started by a Nobel Peace Prize winner in Kenya. And 32.9 million of those trees have already been planted, according to the campaign’s Web site,, which shows a running total. The campaign is the idea of Wangari Mathaai, who launched it last November, saying there’s too much talk and not enough action. “Tell the world to go dig holes and plant seedlings,” she said. Pledges have come from countries, companies and individuals. Ethiopia said it would plant 60 million trees in celebration of its millennium. Forest cover in the Horn of Africa was 4% in 2000, down from 35% in the early 20th century. (Source: