Monday, October 29, 2007

Weekly angst

Mass transit must expand; Chicago running in reverse

The “city that works,” has a problem. The state that doesn’t work right now (an intra-party feud I won’t get into) hasn’t come up with the money to keep mass transit running, so we are facing a so-called “doomsday scenario” Nov. 4, with plans to eliminate 39 bus routes and raise prices from $2 to $3 or more. And that will be followed by a double-dare doomsday in January with even more cuts and fare increases, if state leaders can’t get their act together.

This at a time when a new report with the cumbersome name “Public Transportation’s Contribution to U.S. Greenhouse Gas Reduction” tells us we should be increasing mass transit.

Greenhouse gases from transportation make up about one-third of the total emitted in the U.S.

Two-car households could cut their carbon footprint 30% by eliminating one car and using public transit instead, the report says. They could save more that way than by insulating their home and adjusting their thermostat (though they should do both).

Transportation emissions in 2005 were 6.9 million tons less than they would have been if everyone used private cars, the report says. Of that, 3 million tons was saved because of the additional traffic congestion and delays that were prevented. A single person saves 2 metric tons a year by using public transit.

Other benefits
Additional benefits of public transportation include less need for parking, both on- and off-street; more efficient use of roads; shorter commute times; and enabling higher-density land use, which leads to fewer miles traveled, the report says.

In the period 1990-2004, vehicle emissions grew 29%. SUVs and light trucks grew the most, with emissions up 64%, compared with 1.8% for cars.

Daily commuting time in cars has increased 7.5% per year, largely because of congestion, causing stress to workers and their families, as well as wasted gas. Nationwide, 78% of commuters drive to work alone, though that figure varies state-to-state. In New York it’s 56%, in Michigan 85%.

What can be done?
Even with increased corporate auto fuel economy (CAFE) standards (higher mpg), emissions from transportation won’t decline in the future because of the continuing increase in vehicle miles traveled (VMT). VMT closely tracks GDP in the U.S., not to mention the coming increase in cars in developing countries like China.

Gas prices do seem to make a difference. Part of the reason for increased driving in recent decades was a decline in gasoline prices after 1975. But in May this year, prices hit a new high of $3.26/gallon, so that may slow things down.

King County in Washington state is a paragon of mass transit, according to the report. It has plans to switch to biodiesel and expects to reduce CO2 emission by 22,000 metric tons. It also plans to increase ridership significantly. Other good examples are Grand Rapids, Mich., and New York City. The latter is switching buses to compressed natural gas and hybrids. (Last week at LaGuardia Airport I saw two hybrid buses and a hybrid cab in the course of a few minutes). NY hopes to have 40% hybrid buses by 2010.

Increasing mass transit ridership is the key to reducing emissions and at the same time cutting traffic congestion. In NYC, the MTA increased ridership 8.5% on subways between 2000-2006. Cities can stimulate additional mass transit use by making less parking available, charging fees to enter the downtown and collecting tolls, the report concludes.

Meanwhile, in Chicago we’re going the opposite direction. If you live in Illinois, tell your elected reps – including the governor – to get on the ball and fund the CTA. NOW. Go to

Congressional round-up

• Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) blocked a formal Conference Committee on the energy bill last week, because she objected to the plan to take billions in tax breaks from the oil companies and give them to clean energy. Negotiations continued informally, however, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she hopes to wind things up before the Nov. 16 recess and have a vote either that week or Dec. 3.
• Citigroup called the fuel economy (CAFE) standards in the Senate-passed energy bill “tough but attainable” in a report last week. Auto lobbyists are asking for a weaker version, saying they can’t attain the standards in the Senate bill.
• Senate Environment Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) pushed to move along the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill quickly, in the hope it would be out of committee when she leads a Congressional delegation to Bali for international talks in December. She doesn’t want the Bush administration to be the only ones representing the U.S. in these important negotiations about a post-Kyoto agreement, and she would like to be able to show some progress.
• Lieberman-Warner picked up an important vote in subcommittee when Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) offered his support. It’s the first time Baucus has been in favor of cap-and-trade and his vote is a key one. Now they need one more, either from the left or from the right.
(Sources: E&E Daily, E&E News PM, Sierra Club)

Take action

Tell your Senators in Washington to support a strong energy bill. Go to the Environmental Law and Policy Center’s Web site at: and add your name.

This Saturday is Climate Action Day across the country. Join a Step It Up action near where you live. Get the details at

News in brief

CO2 going into atmosphere 35% faster, as land and sea absorb less
Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere grew 35% faster than predicted from 2000-2006, a new British-Australian study reveals. While some of the speed-up is caused by rapid global economic growth, half the unexpected increase is due to less absorption of CO2 by the land and oceans, likely because of changing wind patterns and droughts, the authors found. The study, published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was based on data collected by the UN and NOAA. A second study, by the University of East Anglia, showed the uptake of CO2 in the North Atlantic dropped by half from the mid-90s to the period 2000-2005. (Source: Greenwire, BBC)

Get ready for a world with less oil, many experts caution
Some say worldwide oil production has peaked; others say it will do so soon. In either case, the impact on economies and lifestyles will be extreme. A German study by Energy Watch, a think tank with ties to the Green Party, says oil peaked in 2006 and now will go down 7% a year, falling more than 50% by 2030. The Editor of Petroleum Review, Chris Skrebowski, sees the peak coming in 2010 or 2011. Energy Watch gave its report recently at the Association for the Study of Peak Oil-USA conference. There, some of the talk was about “peak exports,” with predictions that oil-producing countries will soon hold back more for themselves, including for future generations. Meanwhile, the oil industry glosses over such dire predictions and most of the public is unaware. How will the impending energy gap be filled? Energy Watch says it will be hard to produce enough alternative fuel fast enough and gas pumps will run dry. Others say the answer is in Canada’s vast tar sand deposits and coal-to-liquid, both of which are ecologically dirty. (Sources: PlanetArk, The Guardian, Falls Church News-Press)

Global demand seen for more smaller, cheaper cars
Automobile companies are increasingly developing smaller, low-cost cars, as they see global demand for them rising 30% by 2013. While gasoline prices are a factor, most of the growth will be in developing countries where first-time buyers want small, inexpensive cars. SUV growth is seen as dropping 4% in that time. Toyota has said it may have a $7,000 car by 2010. Electric cars would work well in France, the company says, because 80% of electricity comes from nuclear power. But in China electricity comes from coal, so electric cars won’t help much with greenhouse gases. Mazda research is focused on hydrogen as a fuel. (Source: Greenwire)

Xtreme weather watch

Whether the recent California fires are the result of climate change is in some dispute. Some of the causes had nothing to do with Global Warming – increased building in wooded areas, the Forest Service’s habit of putting out fires too fast and leaving underbrush as fuel, and of course the notorious Santa Ana winds. But the California fires, like other mega-fires of the past few years that are much bigger and hotter and harder to fight, took place in an environment that had:
• An average yearly temperature increase of 1 degree F in the West.
• A fire season that is now 78 days longer than in the late ‘80s, due to early spring melt and runoff.
• 9 fewer inches of rain this year than normal.
• Triple-digit summer temperatures.
(Christian Science Monitor, CBS 60 Minutes)

Georgia’s dispute with Alabama and Florida over how much water should be released from Lake Lanier, Atlanta’s main source of drinking water, is heating up. All three states have appealed to the president – Georgia to cut the flow and the other two states to keep it as usual. Florida says a cutback will damage fisheries and the oyster/shellfish business in the Panhandle, while Georgia is worried Atlanta won’t have enough to drink (though Macon has offered to truck some in for a price). The three states have squabbled over water rights since the early ‘90s, but the extreme drought facing them all has pumped up the volume. (Greenwire)

Meanwhile, Georgia’s weather forecast for next year isn’t very encouraging. The state climatologist said last week it will be drier and hotter in 2008, though how much so will depend on the strength of La NiƱa. With less rain than normal, the record drought now troubling the northern part of the state is likely to last into spring and summer, David Stooksbury said. (Greenwire)

North and South Carolina, as well as Tennessee, are affected by drought as well. In S.C., the town of Rock Spring has been dry for a month, with pickups bringing in water to keep the cattle alive. A Baptist minister has even put baptisms on hold. In N.C., the governor has asked for a voluntary cut of 50% in consumption until month’s end, to see how much conservation they can accomplish voluntarily. (Greenwire)

Autumn leaves are duller now in New England, where fall colors brought 3.4 million people to Vermont in 2005. “It’s nothing like it used to be,” said U. of Vermont biologist Tom Vogelmann, because autumn is too warm now for rich, vibrant colors. Cold nights are needed to stem the flow of water to the leaves, and warmth has brought fungus to attack the usually dazzling red and sugar maples. Of course, the tourism industry is slow to admit the problem. Just wait, they say, and come in late October, rather than the second week, which used to be the peak. (Associated Press)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Weekly angst

Congress has chance to lead on climate -- or not

Will automakers have to build more fuel-efficiency cars and SUVs? Will electric companies have to draw more of their power from clean sources like wind and solar instead of just coal? Will huge tax breaks be shifted from fossil fuels to renewable energy to give them a fighting chance of competing? And will the U.S. finally take a leadership role in the fight against Global Warming by mandating a cap on GHG emissions? Or will we just sit by and watch the world get warmer, the weather more extreme and the seas higher?

These things will probably be decided in the next few weeks. And you can help determine the outcome by telling your representatives in Washington how you feel. For sure, the auto and oil industries are making their wishes known.

So Capitol Hill is where the important Global Warming action is right now. And they really need to wind things up by the end of the year, with primary season looming in January. Here’s a weekly update:

• After starting informal negotiations Monday in an effort to reconcile the two summer energy bills, Democratic leaders are on the verge of launching a formal Conference Committee as GOP objections are withdrawn.
• The three main issues for Dem leaders and environmental groups are the Senate’s 35 mpg by 2020 CAFE standards, the House-passed 15% renewable electricity standard (RES) by 2020, and $15 billion in efficiency and renewable energy tax incentives funded by repeal of oil tax breaks.
• Opponents are demanding changes in the CAFE standards, especially different requirements for cars and light trucks (SUVs).
• The White House has threatened a veto unless some items are removed, including oil taxes, and CAFE standards and the biofuels mandate are modified.
• The Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill was finally introduced Thursday with two main changes: a 15% cut in GHG by 2020 (instead of 10%), and no more free credits to manufacturers after 2036 (formerly 2050). Some subcommittee members find the bill too strong and others find it too weak, so prospects are uncertain. Environmental groups are split on this “compromise” bill.

More about the energy bill
Bipartisan, bicameral negotiations started this week with some of the less controversial items, such as efficiency, and went day and night after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared there’d be no formal Conference due to GOP objections. By week’s end those objections were being withdrawn and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seemed poised to announce a Conference.

President Bush asked for the following:
• Separation of cars and trucks in the CAFE provision
• No renewable electricity standard
• Alternative fuels of about 35 billion gallons by 2017, including coal, natural gas and hydrogen.
• No removal of oil tax breaks
• No reduction of domestic oil and gas production
• Removal of “price-gouging” penalties and the ability to bring anti-trust action against OPEC.
Absent these changes, he threatened to veto the bill. Some lawmakers countered he is “too cozy” with the oil interests.

Bipartisan opponents of the CAFE standards in the Senate include Michigan’s two Democratic Senators, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, and Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), who sent a letter to leaders saying the bill is “overly stringent.” They asked for something more like the industry-approved Hill-Terry proposal of 32 mpg by 2022, with separate requirements for cars and light trucks and credit for flex-fuel vehicles. Also signing the letter were Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Kit Bond (R-Mo.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.).

House Speaker Pelosi said she is looking to wrap up negotiations on this bill by Nov. 16, before a two-week recess, and vote Dec. 3.

More on Lieberman-Warner (S.B. 2191)
The “compromise” cap-and-trade bill from Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.) was finally introduced this week. It draws from nearly a dozen other bills and mandates an overall GHG reduction of 63% by 2050, from power plants, transportation and manufacturing. Instead of mandates for residential and commercial buildings, it sets new efficiency standards for buildings and appliances.

It begins by auctioning 24% of the credits in 2012, up to 73% by 2036. The rest would be allocated free, mainly to manufacturers affected most by the law. That seems to be the main point of contention for those who want stronger action. Global Warming subcommittee Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called for auctioning more credits and insisted the federal law not pre-empt states from taking stronger action (which it doesn’t at this point).

Some environmental groups – Clean Air Watch and U.S. PRIG – are disappointed and want 100% of the credits auctioned, while others, such as Environmental Defense, Natural Resources Defense Council and World Wildlife Federation, praised the bill as a strong step in the right direction. The Sierra Club called for 20% by 2020 and more credits auctioned. The president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change said, “This is the breakthrough we’ve been waiting for – a bill with a real chance of passing.”

Environment Chair Barbara Boxer has promised hearings, but the prospects for the bill are unclear at this point. A group of power companies have asked for a “safety valve,” a cap on the price they would have to pay for credits. Lieberman-Warner does not have a “safety valve” but does allow for flexibility if prices are too high for too long.

Original co-sponsors of the 200-page bill are Sens. Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

Lieberman’s Global Warming subcommittee will hold hearings on the bill this Wednesday. He plans on markup Nov. 1. If it gets out of committee, the bill will need 60 votes to pass the Senate.
(Sources: E&E Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire)

Take action

Call your senators and rep
in Washington and tell them why it’s urgent to come up with an energy bill that has both strong CAFE standards and RES. The Congressional switchboard number is (202)224-3121. Also tell your senators you want to see Lieberman-Warner strengthened and passed before year’s end.

Tell Toyota to stop lobbying against a strong CAFE provision. They just want to keep selling outsize trucks in the U.S. If you are a Toyota owner or thinking of becoming one, let them know that. Go to

News in brief

Coal-fired plant in Kansas is first to be rejected based on CO2
The Kansas Dept. of Health and Environment is the first government agency to turn down a permit for a coal-fired electric plant citing the risks posed by carbon dioxide. Referring to the recent Supreme Court decision defining CO2 as a pollutant, the agency rejected Sunflower Electric Power’s proposal for twin 700-megawatt plants. In doing so, the agency overruled its staff’s recommendation. The plants would have emitted 11 million metric tons of CO2 annually. Environmental groups fighting new coal plants around the country were heartened by the decision. (Sources: Greenwire, Washington Post)

Burning Amazon signals deforestation on the rise again
In August, more than 16,000 fires were spotted by satellite, burning their way across Brazil, mostly in the Amazon rainforest. Despite a government announcement the same month that Brazil had cut forest destruction 30% in the past few years, there are signs the economics of cattle ranching, illegal logging and soybean crops are too great a temptation to many in the area. Loggers say they will continue to cut down trees until the government gives them a viable economic alternative. (Source: The Guardian, UK)

World Bank sets up fund to pay countries to preserve forests
The World Bank, which has been criticized for funding some of the activities that lead to deforestation, announced last week it has set up a fund of $300 million to help stop the practice. The Bank will pay developing countries to protect and replant tropical forests. The Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, which will be part of post-Kyoto negotiations in Bali in December, will be tested on 3-5 countries. Deforestation is responsible for an estimated 20% of the greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. (Source: PlanetArk)

Wind project off Cape Cod denied permit by local board
The Cape Cod Commission last week denied the long-delayed Cape Wind project a permit to lay underwater transmission lines. The 130-turbine offshore wind farm proposed for Nantucket Sound would be in federal waters and a decision is expected from Washington next month. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), with family summer homes in the area, is a strong opponent. The state of Massachusetts approved the project last year after new Gov. Deval Patrick (D) replaced Mitt Romney (R), who opposed the plan. A state energy facilities board could override the local Cape Cod board. A statewide poll, taken this summer by the Patriot Ledger, found 84% favored the wind farm. Residents on Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard were 53% in favor. (Source: Greenwire,, Patriot Ledger)

Step it Up – Plan to participate in climate activities Nov. 3
A day of national action against Global Warming is being planned by StepItUp, which held actions all over the country last April. Go on to see what’s planned for your area. In Chicago, there will be a Education and Leadership Forum at High Risk Gallery, 1113 Belmont Ave., from noon-2:30 p.m. If you plan to attend, e-mail Tony Fuller at Several speakers from environmental groups and the city will talk about what’s happening now, followed by a forum for legislators. The event is co-sponsored by the Sierra Club, Climate Justice Chicago and Chicago Global Warming Meet-up.

Xtreme weather watch

Atlanta’s drought-plagued water source, Lake Lanier, drops a foot each week and could dry up in 3-4 months. So Georgia's governor has sued the Army Corps of Engineers for releasing too much water, some of which flows to Alabama and Florida. And now he’s asked the President to intervene. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s governor has warned he may have to declare a state of emergency soon if voluntary conservation efforts aren’t enough. The Southeast is living through an extreme drought. And unlike the Southwest, the area is not accustomed to dealing drought. (Atlanta Business Chronicle, New York Times, Greenwire, PlanetArk)

China, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam will send experts to a 3-month UN course on flood-protection next month. Participants will map risks of downpours, overflowing rivers and rising seas, expected to worsen because of climate change. They will learn about better dyke design, weather forecasting and flood warnings, focusing attention on large urban centers. Asia suffers more from flooding than other regions. (PlanetArk)

Many Central American countries were hit by torrential rains, deadly flooding and landslides in the past couple of weeks. In Nicaragua at least 4,000 were evacuated. A mudslide in Costa Rica buried 14. Haiti, most vulnerable because 90% of the forests have been cleared, was hardest hit, with a death toll of at least 31. (PlanetArk)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

News extra

GHG growth in atmosphere at critical level now – scientist
Worldwide economic growth has pushed greenhouses gases in the atmosphere to a level not expected for another 10 years – about 455 ppm of CO2 equivalents, a well-known scientist and author of “The Weather Makers” told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. last week. The scientist, Tim Flannery, has reviewed the data going into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report due out in November. He said climate-changing gases CO2, methane, nitrous oxide and hydrofluorocarbons have already passed a critical level and relief will depend on finding ways to extract the gases out of the air. He urged the developed world to pay countries to avoid more deforestation. (Sources: AP,

Pelosi will try for energy bill with a Conference committee
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) plans to reconcile the Senate and House energy bills without a formal Conference committee, sources told E&E Daily last week. Instead she will rely on party leaders to work out the differences. Other bills, such as ethics legislation, have been reconciled without a Conference. Democrats maintain they are following this strategy because Senate Republicans would block Conference action. And House GOP reps complain the bills don’t address domestic energy production, a reason President Bush gives for his threatened veto. Key provisions to be reconciled are the 35 mpg CAFE standards passed by the Senate and 15% renewables in the House version. (Source: E&E Daily)

Amazon deforestation could be stopped in 7 years, says NGO plan
Nine non-governmental organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, Greenpeace and World Wildlife Foundation, have announced a plan to achieve zero Amazon deforestation by 2015. The plan would require $550 million from Brazilian and international sources and would combine public policy and marketing to achieve annual targets. In 2006, 17% of the rainforest had been destroyed. Clearing trees for agriculture and ranching and other land-use changes have created 75% of Brazil’s GHG emissions. (Source: Environmental News Network)

Wetlands may be best way to get carbon out of atmosphere
Wetlands are a good carbon sink and could be a source of credits in a carbon-trading program, a University of Maryland scientist says. He is measuring the carbon in Chesapeake Bay wetlands planted four years ago and thinks he will find that the ability for salt marshes to attract CO2 exceeds that of trees and other plants. Maryland and 9 other Northeast states have agreed to start trading credits in 2009, in an effort to cut GHG 10%. At the local level, scientist Brian Needelman sees power companies buying credits to help restore marshes in the Chesapeake and revitalize wildlife there. But his findings could have much broader implications. (Sources:, Greenwire)

Futuristic, eco-friendly cars unveiled for Tokyo Motor Show
A hydrogen soft-body van that rotates inside so it doesn’t have to go into reverse and a 1-person electric stroller-shaped vehicle called iReal that can run on a sidewalk. These are just two futuristic autos that will star at the Tokyo Motor Show Oct. 26-Nov. 11. Electric cars that can move sideways will be there too. While the vehicles are years from commercial viability, the innovation and commitment to greener vehicles is real, say automakers Honda (the van) and Toyota (iReal). (Source: Greenwire)

Xtreme weather watch

This winter will be warmer than usual in most of the U.S., the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said last week. Above-average temperatures are forecast for the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, northern Alaska and Hawaii, while the Northern Plains and Northwest will be cooler. Persistent drought will continue in the South, while Hawaii, the Northern Rockies and the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys will be wetter than usual, said NOAA. Overall temperatures are expected to be nearly 3% warmer than the 30-year norm, but slightly cooler than last winter. (PlanetArk, E&E News PM)

If you can stand the heat, but not the humidity, be concerned. As the Earth gets warmer, humidity rises, which in turn causes fiercer tropical rainstorms, according to a study just published in the journal Nature. Water vapor, which itself is a heat-trapping gas, increased 2.2% between 1976-2004, as the temperature rose 0.9 degrees F, the study says. Hot, tropical regions are likely to see the greatest rise in humidity. (PlanetArk, E&E News PM)

Climate change is increasing ‘natural’ disasters, and countries need to pay more attention to risk reduction, a UN official said last week. More than 250 million people a year are now affected by climate-related disasters, one-third more than a decade ago, according to international relief agencies. In 2006 Red Cross and Red Crescent responded to 482 disasters, up from 278 just 2 years earlier. Floods increased in that time to 121 from 54, and this year has already passed to 100 mark. (PlanetArk)

Some of the worst flooding in decades swept through north-central Vietnam last week in the aftermath of typhoon Lekima. At least 67 were dead or missing and floods and landslides damaged 100,000 homes and 37,000 acres of rice. This follows flooding in August that killed 80. Vietnam is hit by an average of 10 storms per year. (PlanetArk)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Will we get a Global Warming law anytime soon?
What are the chances we’ll see significant action on climate change in Washington this year? There certainly is an urgency, and a lot of activity. But will we see any results?

Legislation is now on two tracks in Congress.
* The Senate and House bills passed in the summer could be reconciled in Conference, giving us fuel-efficiency standards for autos and/or renewable energy standards for power plants, as well as other less-significant provisions.
* A new cap-and-trade bill could mandate economy-wide greenhouse-gas cuts and set up a credit-trading system.

President Bush doesn’t seem to like either one, and there are obstacles to even getting these bills to his desk. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who, as head of the Global Warming subcommittee, is championing a compromise cap-and-trade bill, said he thinks Congress will pass a limit on emissions with cap-and-trade by the end of 2008. He expects a floor debate in the Senate at the end of this year or early next year, though that gets him into the primary election season.

Senate Energy Chair Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who has championed Global Warming legislation, said last week he doubts Bush would sign a mandatory cap-and-trade bill. Manik Roy, from the Pew Center for Global Climate Change, called it a “very hard political call.” Certainly, Bush’s international position now is for a voluntary – not mandatory – agreement. Would pressure from GOP candidates force him to change his stance before he leaves office? I wouldn’t bet on it.

Reconciling the Senate and House bills
House Energy Chair John Dingell and the rest of the Michigan delegation oppose the 35 mpg corporate fuel economy (CAFE) standard passed by the Senate, and there is now a new round of lobbying against it by the auto industry. So the likelihood of keeping both that and the 15% renewable electricity standards passed by the House intact is in question – though environmental groups are hard at work to make it happen. Both chambers would have to approve a reconciled bill (the Senate with 60 votes) and quite likely have to override a veto to make it law.

Appointment of a Conference Committee has been delayed as negotiations go on behind the scenes between party leaders. It’s not clear if differences can be hammered out or if Congress will simply move on to other legislation, says Roy, Pew’s legislative director.

Cap-and-trade bills
Meanwhile, there are many cap-and-trade bills or proposals in Congress. The ones getting the most attention right now are the Lieberman-(John)Warner (R-Va.) “compromise” proposal in the Senate and the Dingell-(Rick)Boucher (R-Va.) one just unveiled in the House.

Leiberman-Warner, still in draft form, calls for electric utilities, major industrial manufacturers and oil importers/refiners to limit their greenhouse gas emissions to 2005 levels by 2012. Then they must cut them 10% by 2020, and ultimately 70% by 2050. More than half the credits to be issued in a U.S. carbon market would be distributed free to power companies and manufacturers most affected by the new requirements.

One reason Lieberman thinks he can get 60 votes and avoid a filibuster is that industry is increasingly coming onboard for mandatory cap-and-trade because they want the law to be fashioned by this Congress, rather than risk a more Democratic one after 2008.

“They want the rules of the road to be set by a Congress with the current political make-up,” Lieberman told the World Environmental Center’s Sustainability Forum recently, “… and by an administration that is viewed as a friend of the fossil-fuel industries.”

It’s likely to be a long process though. The Lieberman-Warner bill will be marked up in their Global Warming subcommittee of Environment and Public Works, likely in October. If it's approved, the full EPW Committee under Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) will hold hearings and hear other ideas. Finally, if approved by committee, the bill will go to the floor for debate and amendments.

In addition to the emissions-reduction mandate from Environment and Public Works, technology and verification standards will come from Energy and Natural Resources, and the plan for credit allocations and revenue distribution from Senate Finance. So three different committees must OK parts of the package.

Offsets and other cost-control provisions are likely to be in the final bill as well. A Federal Reserve-type board would monitor trading and likely provide some kind of relief if prices get too high, according to the Lieberman-Warner draft bill. Some environmentalist groups strongly oppose any kind of “safety valve.” They also question whether Lieberman and Warner can get a 60-vote majority.

Dingell, Boucher unveil House bill
After floating a stiff carbon-tax alternative a few weeks ago, House Energy Chair Dingell and Energy and Air Subcommittee Chair Boucher last week proposed a cap-and-trade bill with mandatory reductions of 60-80% by 2050. It would cover greenhouses gases CO2, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases.

A 22-page staff-written “White Paper” gives specifics, outlining the difficulties in determining who to regulate and how. A lot depends on how accurately measurements can be made and where to draw the line on tracking very small sources of emissions.

The two say that electricity generators can expect regulation, possibly with the same criteria as the EPA program for acid rain – all power plants of 25 megawatts or more, which would cover 99.6%.

On transportation, they prefer regulation “upstream,” on refiners and petroleum importers, not automobiles, but note there may need to be additional programs to promote auto efficiency. “Vehicles and fuels should be treated as a system,” they said. Seems to me that goes a long way to letting the auto industry off the hook.

Industrial emissions are harder to track, with several hundred thousand facilities, and may require decisions on which industries to regulate.

Additional white papers are expected in coming weeks, “to help focus debate.” They will cover emissions levels and a schedule for compliance, ways to control costs to the economy, carbon sequestration, offsets, the role of developing countries, and distribution of allowances. You can read the white papers at
(Other sources: E&E Daily, Greenwire, The Daily Report, American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Pew Center for Global Climate Change.)

News in brief

Fires ravage Amazon rainforest; ranching, World Bank blamed
Large areas of Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia are thick with smoke as wildfires rage in the Amazon rainforest. The fires were first set by ranchers and farmers to “renovate” their pastures before the rains came. But an increase in cattle ranches and climate change have combined to create a tinderbox and thousands of fires are now out of control, racing across 2 million square kilometers of forest. Conservation groups blame the ranchers, as well as funding from the World Bank and Brazil’s Development Bank, which during the past three years have poured money into the area now choked with smoke. Thanks to the funding, new slaughterhouses and 4 million additional cattle have come into the area where the fires rage. (Source: The Independent UK)

Year-round Arctic sea ice declined 23% in past two years
We’ve read about the steady reduction in summer Arctic ice that will soon open up the area to summertime shipping. Now comes word from NASA that thicker, permanent all-year ice has also declined a dramatic 23% since 2005. The rare loss of permanent ice contributed to the lowest level of Arctic ice in September since records began in 1979 – 39% below average – and a likely decline of 50% since 1950. Warmer temperatures and unusual polar wind patterns are blamed. (Source: E&E News PM)

EPA should regulate CO2 from shipping, petitioners say
Earthjustice and a coalition on environmental groups filed a petition last week asking the EPA to regulate shipping emissions under the April Supreme Court decision putting greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Jerry Brown, Attorney General of California, has filed a second petition on behalf of his state. Marine vessels – both cargo and cruise ships – contribute at least 3% of GHG and the amount has grown over the past few decades. The petition asks the EPA to require increased efficiency and cleaner fuels, and cover all cargo vessels entering U.S. waters. About 90% of trade is conducted by ship. (Sources: Environmental News Network, The Times UK)

China, biggest light bulb producer, to phase out incandescents
China, which produces 70% of the world’s light bulbs, will phase out incandescent bulbs by 2017, according to an agreement with the Global Environment Facility, which will supply $25 million as part of its effort to rid the world of the power-guzzling bulbs. China is the first developing nation to make such a pledge. GEF says the action could eliminate 500 million tons of carbon dioxide. (Source: Greenwire)

Xtreme weather watch

More than 30 U.S. cities had record heat Monday, including New York (87) and Washington, D.C. (91). On Sunday, more than 70 cities set record highs for that date. Detroit (90) and Indianapolis (91) both were in the 90s later in the year than at any time since records began in the 1870s. (USA Today)

Heat and humidity stopped the Chicago Marathon in mid-stream Sunday, when the temperature reached 88 by 11:30 a.m. and race organizers cancelled out of concern for runners’ safety. One runner died from a heart condition, several others were still critical Monday, 49 went to the hospital and 250 were treated on-site. Temperatures were well above the average 72 degrees for Oct. 7 and runners complained about insufficient water. The previous record for the marathon was 84 in 1979. (AP,, Chicago Sun-Times)

Greece had its hottest summer in 50 years. The country suffered through an unprecedented three heat waves, with the one in June bringing 115-degree F temperatures to Athens. Average maximum temperatures for June-August were the highest in a half-century. The third heat wave contributed to widespread and disastrous forest fires. (Kathimerini Newspaper in Greece)

Take action

Tell your reps we need a Conference bill with CAFE standards, 15% renewables and a transfer of subsidies from oil to clean energy. Go to send a message today.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

News extra

Melting in Greenland speeds up; Arctic ice much thinner
This summer’s melt in Greenland was 150% above average, according to NASA. The amount of snow that melted this year could cover the U.S. twice over, according to the Geophysical Union’s Eos newspaper. Especially startling was the melting above 1.2 miles in altitude, with the fastest thaw in two decades. If all the ice in Greenland were to melt, it could raise sea levels 20 feet. In related news, large tracts of Arctic ice are now just 1 meter (3 feet) thick, according to a Norwegian survey. In 2001 the same areas were 2 meters (6 feet) thick. (Sources: Greenwire,, PlanetArk)

Chicago adds hybrids, plans bike drop-off program like in Paris
Chicago is making plans to increase its fleet of hybrids and start a program of bike drop-offs like the one that’s been popular in Paris. The city will replace old Crown Victorias with 300 new Toyota hybrids, adding to the 202 hybrids it now has. The bike program likely will be free for up to 30 minutes and $1.50 per half-hour after that. (Chicago Sun-Times)

British to turn off inefficient incandescent light bulbs
Britain will cut an estimated 5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases by 2012 by eliminating incandescent light bulbs. The phase-out begins next year through voluntary agreements with manufactures, retailers and electric companies. European Union competition laws require that the plan be voluntary. (Source: E&E News PM)

Americans see dismal record here on Global Warming curbs
People in the U.S. want leaders to move boldly to cut greenhouse gases, but only 1 in 5 approve of how President Bush, the Congress and private industry are handling the problem, a new poll shows. Only 1 in 10 think there has been strong public action in the past year, according to the Associate Press-Stanford University poll taken in late September. More Democrats and Independents disapprove of Bush’s performance, while Republicans are more likely to think Bush and business have caused little harm. But anxiety about the environment exists across party lines, with 80% saying Global Warming is already under way. (Source: AP)

BBC poll shows worldwide support for bold steps on emissions
In another, worldwide, poll by BBC, 90% said Global Warming should be curbed. BBC and the University of Maryland questioned 22,000 people in 21 countries this summer and found 79% think human activity is a significant cause of climate change. And 65% said major steps should be taken very soon. While 68% of Chinese said poor countries should cut emissions too, only 36% in India did. Pollsters determined there is a relationship to the amount of publicity given to the issue, with 36% of Indians surveyed saying they have heard little or nothing about Global Warming. Poll results were released last week. (Sources: BBC, Greenwire)

Bush Summit seen by some attendees and producing little
The Bush summit for major polluting countries last week accomplished little, according to several delegates. John Ashton from the U.K. told the New York Times the voluntary measures called for by President Bush would be ineffective in curbing Global Warming. Advanced technology, also touted by Bush, is good but needs government commitment and investment, he added. Everton Vargas from Brazil complained that “the whole agenda was set by the American government [and they] didn’t bring any new ideas.” The German Environment Minister said he spent 2 days talking with Democratic Congressional leaders, with an eye toward a post-Bush future. There was little applause for the president’s 15-minute speech, except among U.S. Cabinet and other Administration officials. The international community will next meet in Bali in December to discuss what happens when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. (Sources: New York Times, Greenwire)

FP&L pledges massive solar plant at Clinton Initiative meeting
Florida Power & Light announced plans for a $1.5 billion solar plant that will reduce CO2 emissions by 2 million metric tons over the next 5 years. This was just one of the pledges to fight Global Warming at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting last week in New York. Others included:
• 1Sky and a coalition will raise $50 million to push for U.S. goals and policies to match those of the European Union, which is committed to cutting GHG by 20% (from 1990 levels).
• Coca-Cola will spend $13.5 million to work with local farmers and non-profits on reforestation in Brazil.
• A group of utilities said they would eliminate 20 million tons of GHG a year through increased efficiency. Included are Duke Energy, Consolidated Edison, Edison International, Great Plains Energy, Pepco, PNM, Sierra Pacific and Xcel Energy.
• Standard Chartered Bank will underwrite $4 million to $5 million in debt for clean energy projects in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. (Sources: PlanetArk, E&E News PM, Greenwire)

Transportation Dept. lobbies again California EPA waiver
Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-Calif.) investigation of Administration efforts to block California’s tailpipe-emissions law, has turned up e-mails showing Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, with White House approval, launched a lobbying campaign among governors and House members to stop the EPA from granting the state a waiver to set its own standards. DOT was working with the Michigan delegation, the documents show, because the auto industry strongly opposes the effort by California – and 12 other states – to cut auto emissions 30% by 2016. California, which has waited nearly two years to implement its law, asked for the waiver from EPA under the Clean Air Act. Other states are watching with interest because it will affect their ability to implement their laws. Meanwhile, 89 legislators wrote the EPA that a recent Vermont court ruling on vehicle emissions should clear the way for the EPA to grant the waiver. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has threatened to sue if the EPA doesn’t grant the waiver. (Sources: PlanetArk, San Francisco Chronicle, E&E News PM, E&E Daily)

Xtreme Weather Watch

Torrential rains and floods have swept through East and West Africa in recent weeks, destroying thousands of acres of farmland, and affecting a million people from Ethiopia to Senegal. Northern Ghana, the food basket of that nation, suffered unprecedented rains, causing 300,000 to flee their homes. (Reuters)

Uganda is reeling from the heaviest rains in 35 years, as floods affected hundreds of thousands and swept away 30 bridges, hampering relief work. Lack of drinking water and cases of diarrhea and malaria have overwhelmed medical workers. The UN’s World Food Program is calling for $65 million to feed 1.7 million facing shortages. (PlanetArk)

Extreme drought in Australia is cutting grain crops by 30% or more, causing a serious threat to the country’s important beef industry. Many feedlots that fatten cattle before export have had to be shut down. Australia has been the No. 1 beef exporter by value and No. 2 by volume. (PlanetArk)