November 20, 2009

In This Issue

NEGOTIATIONS: NO BINDING AGREEMENT AT COPENHAGEN; CLIMATE TALKS TO BE A “STEPPING STONE”

At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Singapore, top officials acknowledged that the United Nations (UN) climate negotiations in Copenhagen next month will not produce a final international deal to reduce emissions.

Denmark Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, who will host the December summit, proposed postponing binding emissions targets until the 2010 UN conference in Mexico City, calling instead for “precise language of a comprehensive political agreement covering all aspects of the Bali mandates: commitment of developed countries to reductions and of developing countries to actions; strong provisions on adaptation, finance and technology, including upfront finance for early action.” The “Bali mandates,” agreed upon at the 2007 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, provided a negotiation agenda and timetable for further international work on climate.

Although such an agreement falls short of hopes for a replacement Kyoto Protocol, Rasmussen warned that it may now be the international community’s only option for addressing climate change. The result of the Copenhagen talks, he said, should be global but sufficiently flexible to meet the needs of countries with different national circumstances. The overarching goal, although deferred to 2010, would remain the same: “to limit global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius as recommended by science.”

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the Copenhagen talks a “stepping stone” that would eventually lead to a legally binding international agreement. Clinton stressed the importance of moving forward even though no perfect solution exists. To make the talks a success, though, she called for:

  • all countries to do their fair share
  • a discussion of funding mechanisms to help developing nations
  • an agreement that addresses all climate-related issues, including adaptation, financing, forest preservation, and technology sharing and cooperation.

SENATE CLIMATE DEBATE: KERRY, GRAHAM, AND LIEBERMAN TAKE THE HELM; NO CLIMATE ACTION IN 2009; MIDTERM ELECTIONS NARROW WINDOW FOR FLOOR DEBATE IN 2010

Following a contentious partisan debate in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), a bipartisan group of lawmakers will attempt to craft a more moderate bill capable of garnering the support necessary for its passage. (For more information on the EPW vote, see the November 6 edition of the ESA Policy News at: www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/11062009.php). Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) will spend the next few weeks writing a legislative outline for a compromise bill that combines cap-and-trade with provisions such as nuclear industry incentives and wider offshore drilling. Kerry and Graham recently teamed up to draft an op-ed supporting climate legislation, marking the first sign of bipartisan support for the Senate’s current climate effort.

Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman are aiming to release the blueprint before the UN climate talks in Copenhagen, which will begin on December 7. The three senators plan to engage the White House from the onset, attempting to find areas where the Obama Administration is willing to make concessions to win over additional senators. To broaden support for the bill as much as possible, they will also spend the rest of the year meeting with key Democratic committee leaders, as well as with lawmakers who don’t sit on committees with jurisdiction.

Once they have weaved the various interests together and received the approval of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), the authors will send their bill to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for analysis. This analysis is expected to take about five weeks to complete, making quick action imperative for the authors if their bill is to be ready for a floor debate next spring. Kerry had suggested setting deadlines for committees to pass their respective parts of the bill, but he shifted gears after facing complaints from moderate Democrats. An artificial timeline, he concluded, would make it difficult to ensure that all participants’ ideas and concerns are heard.

Senate Democratic leaders now hope to hold a floor debate on climate and energy legislation next spring, after the chamber finishes its work on healthcare and financial regulatory reform. Several key players, including the bill’s lead author Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) support tackling financial reform first. “I think it’d be good if we do that first, because it helps to establish the rules of the marketplace,” Kerry said.

The UN recently acknowledged that Copenhagen will not be the culmination of international efforts as many once expected. Thinking of the summit more as a “stepping stone,” climate envoys are now setting their sights on the Mexico City conference scheduled for December 2010. This revised schedule gives those supporting US climate legislation some much-needed time to negotiate additional votes. Currently, they are between 15 and 20 votes short of the 60 needed for passage in the Senate. If the lawmakers do hit their spring 2010 target (and craft a bill capable of clearing the Senate) the US could be in a position to make firm commitments in Mexico City.

The spring deadline is also critical for Democrats facing re-election in 2010. As elections approach, lawmakers tend to shy away from controversial issues – many would prefer to complete a House-Senate climate conference bill before Memorial Day, meaning that the Senate would have to finish its work no later than March. But observers are now asking whether climate will come up at all before the November elections, since lawmakers will be under pressure to address voter concerns, most notably the economy and unemployment. Reid himself faces a difficult re-election campaign, and has been lining up the legislative calendar to focus on issues most important to the public, postponing the climate debate to focus on financial reform and floating the idea of an additional economic recovery bill.

Indeed, voter interest in the economy has prompted supporters of climate change legislation to frame the debate in economic rather than ecological terms, focusing on the potential for job growth as well as support from large utilities and businesses. During the EPW markup, Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) called attention to a “game changing” November 3 letter of support from the US Chamber of Commerce. One of the fiercest opponents of the House bill, the Chamber vowed in the letter to work with Congress on climate legislation and highlighted its priorities, including expanded offshore drilling. Lawmakers’ interest in industry support was further demonstrated during the EPW pre-markup hearings, where witnesses were predominantly industry representatives, both for and against the bill. The business sector is still divided on its stance in the climate debate; although many groups could benefit, others (such as the refining and manufacturing industries) stand to take a hit. Conservative and industry critics continue to argue that the bill would lead to job losses, while supporters contend that shifting to alternative energies would, among other things, spur job growth. According to Kerry, “The proposals we are discussing will create millions of jobs, lower energy bills and reduce dependence on foreign oil imports. They will also invest significantly in 21st century clean energy technologies to make America more competitive.”

SENATE CLIMATE DEBATE: COMMITTEE PROGRESS REPORT

Working to build consensus and establish a timeline, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) recently met with the chairs of the six committees with jurisdiction over the climate bill. The group will meet again before December’s international climate summit in Copenhagen.

Aside from the Environment and Public Works Committee – which recently advanced its portion of the bill, amid partisan controversy – only the Energy and Natural Resources Committee has produced specific language.

  • Environment and Public Works: For information on the EPW legislation, see the November 6 edition of the ESA Policy News at: www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/11062009.php
  • Energy and Natural Resources: Chair Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) ushered a broad bipartisan energy bill (S 1462) through his committee earlier this year, before the House finished working on its climate bill, HR 2454. Bingaman continues to be active in the climate debate, and recently launched a series of hearings, including one on global diplomacy and the intersection of domestic and international emissions reduction policies. For more information on S 1462, see the June 19 edition of the ESA Policy News at: www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/06192009.php
  • Finance: Chair Max Baucus’s (D-MT) committee will figure prominently in the climate debate, as it will be responsible for making decisions on a number of divisive issues, ranging from the distribution of emission allocations to a possible tax on imports from countries without adequate emission standards. In addition, several important swing-vote Senators sit on Finance, including Bingaman, Rockefeller, and Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) , Kent Conrad (D-ND), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Mike Crapo (R-ID). Baucus is currently holding hearings on the job implications of climate and energy legislation, and has said he plans to hold a markup on his portion of the bill in the first part of 2010, although he has yet to provide specifics.
  • Commerce, Foreign Relations: Kerry, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, and Commerce Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) have both said they will be able to move on their parts of the bill quickly, although Commerce continues to be occupied with the healthcare debate.
  • Agriculture: Chair Blanche Lincoln, has pledged to hold hearings on the climate bill but has yet to set a markup schedule. So far, Lincoln has been largely critical of the legislation.

NEGOTIATIONS: US-CHINA AGREEMENT EXCEEDS EXPECTATIONS

On November 17, President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao announced the launch of a broad collaborative effort to tackle climate change and encourage a positive outcome at Copenhagen. Together, the US and China are responsible for more than 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The effort includes a spate of corporate agreements, as well as specific provisions for:

  • Clean energy research center: The center, which will be jointly funded at $150 million over five years, will be a clearinghouse for Chinese and American researchers, as well as a place to launch clean energy technology projects.
  • Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS): In their announcement, the presidents said that they will run a technical cooperation program for CCS through the research center. In the past month, at least four major reports from experts and stakeholders have called for joint CCS projects between the US and China. This follows a trend of growing international emphasis on CCS technologies. The International Energy Agency recently released a report stating that 2,000 CCS plants will be necessary by mid-century to avert catastrophic warming.
  • Greenhouse gas inventory: The US Environmental Protection Agency and China’s National Development and Reform Commission signed an agreement as part of an initiative to help China develop a system for inventorying greenhouse gas emissions.

Many advocates of a global treaty say they were pleasantly surprised about the treaty, particularly the funding levels for the research center, which climbed from an initial agreement of $15 million in October. They say the agreement will provide a practical basis for any political commitments the countries make at upcoming climate talks. The leaders did not discuss specific emission targets, however, and neither country has set a timetable for emissions reduction.

EMISSIONS: EPA SENDS FINAL ENDANGERMENT FINDING TO WHITE HOUSE

On November 6, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent its final endangerment finding to the White House. The Office of Management and Budget will have 90 days to review it, although many expect a decision to come before the climate negotiations in Copenhagen, set to begin December 7. If approved, the finding would open the door for EPA regulation of greenhouse gasses and facilitate a number of other federal climate regulations. For more information on the endangerment finding, see the April 23 edition of the ESA Policy News at: www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/04232009.php

EMISSIONS: REGIONAL CARBON REGULATORS MAY COMBINE EFFORTS TO FORM NATIONWIDE EMISSIONS CAP

As Congress struggles to move forward with a cap-and-trade bill, three regional carbon dioxide regulators are considering joining forces to form a “de facto” federal cap on carbon. The programs cover 23 states – comprising the majority of the nation’s economy and populations – and 4 Canadian provinces. The large-scale effort would create a single market for pollution permits, standardizing the price tag on emissions and allowing participants to trade permits freely.
The three groups are at different stages of development. One is currently limiting emissions on power plants; the remaining two plan to begin in 2012, when they will extend cuts to other sectors, such as the automobile and manufacturing industries.

  • The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI): The only program currently limiting CO2 emissions, RGGI includes 10 states between Maine and Maryland and focuses exclusively on emissions from power plants.
  • The Western Climate Initiative: Includes seven states between Arizona and Washington and four Canadian provinces. The initiative will begin monitoring emissions in 2010 and lowering emissions in 2012, aiming for reductions of 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
  • The Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord: Includes Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the province of Manitoba. Before the accord can go into effect, each state must pass a model rule via a process that will likely begin this December. The program would cut emissions 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050.
    Participating states and provinces all have a great deal to gain from auctioning emissions allowances – in five auctions since last September, states in RGGI have already earned more than $430 million, which they’ve used to fund energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Officials from the three groups are therefore concerned about being pre-empted by Congress, and have expressed hopes that they will be viewed as “partners.”

PUBLIC LANDS: NORTH AMERICA LAUNCHES FIRST CONTINENTAL WILDERNESS AGREEMENT

On November 7, the US, Canada, and Mexico signed an agreement to work together in protecting North American wilderness. The memorandum of understanding, signed at the WILD9 international conference, is the first continental wilderness agreement. It will remove restrictions on cooperation across borders – by making it easier for land managers from different jurisdictions to collaborate, the agreement strives to improve connectivity between protected areas. The signatories acknowledged that the fence recently erected along a large portion of the US-Mexico border will make it difficult to realize some of the goals of the collaboration. Some hope to see cross-boundary wildlife passageways incorporated into future efforts.

PUBLIC LANDS: TENSION BETWEEN DEMOCRATS, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION OVER PUBLIC LAND BILLS

The House National Parks Subcommittee recently held a hearing to promote a number of public lands bills. The Forest Service and National Park Service recommended three be postponed for further study, prompting criticism from the bills’ supporters.

  • Oregon monument expansion (HR 2889): Would expand the Oregon Caves National Monument by transferring roughly 4,000 acres of the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest from the Forest Service to the National Park Service. Proponents of the bill said the transfer is necessary to protect the monument from Forest Service actions that have been inconsistent with its conservation mandate. The Forest Service and the Park Service would prefer to work on a joint management plan, which they say would meet the bill’s management goals while keeping the land under the Forest Service. A transfer, they said, wouldn’t encourage inter-agency cooperation to the degree that their plan would. The agencies made a similar request during a Senate hearing on companion legislation (S 1270) this summer, asking to have until January 2010 to complete the plan.
  • California wilderness expansion (HR 3444): Would make Pinnacles National Monument a national park and expand the wilderness designations within it. The Park Service said that while it supports the expansions, the monument does not meet the resource criteria necessary for a national park designation. The agency asked that the re-designation portion of the bill be postponed until the designation system for public lands has been streamlined. Under the new system, the monument could be eligible for national park status. The bill’s sponsor, Sam Farr (D-CA), urged the subcommittee to move ahead in spite of the Service’s recommendations, pointing to reasons why the land should already qualify.
  • Virgin Islands historic site (HR 3726): Would designate the Castle Nugent site – 11,500 acres of land and seafloor on the island of St. Croix – a historic site. The Park Service said it could support designating the area, which contains a coral reef, beaches and historic settlements, but would first like to complete a special resource study for the site.

Sources: Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, ClimateWire, Politico, the Washington Post

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