US industry: saving energy is good business

By Nadine Lymn, ESA director of public affairs As someone who is mostly immersed in the world of science and environmental policy, either sharing ecological research related to climate change or tracking congressional efforts (or lack thereof) to develop policy to mitigate and adapt to global warming, it came as an eye-opening and pleasant change of pace to me this week to learn about US business and federal agency actions already underway. The Ecological Society of America (ESA) was invited to be a supporting partner of the 2013 Climate Leadership Conference. With the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the headline sponsor, the meeting drew some 500 leaders in business, government and non-governmental organizations to share their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve energy, water, and waste, and think about new opportunities. Too often, I find myself caught up in the frustrations felt by many in the scientific community in regard to congressional non-action in the arena of climate change.  A topic that often comes with some pessimism was instead cast in a much more positive light—well-known industries—Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, IBM, Hershey, Ford Motor Co.—taking positive steps to help address the problem, sharing best practices and ideas to continue to save energy, improving the efficiency of their operations and thereby also enhancing their bottom line. For example, Steve Tochilin, General Manager, Environmental Sustainability, with Delta Airlines, talked about the “elephant in the room for Delta and other airlines,” namely that about 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are from airlines, a figure that is expected to grow as aviation increases in Brazil, India and China.  “Fuel is killing us,” he said, referring to skyrocketing costs.  Since, so far, there is no viable alternative energy source for planes, every airline is looking to increase fuel efficiency, said Tochilin. Delta is working to reduce how much fuel it uses by some common sense steps to reduce the weight its planes must carry, including: moving to more fuel efficient jets, offering more direct flights (to avoid circling), ripping the “kitchens” out of planes (many routes no longer serve food so why fly around with the extra weight?), installing lighter seats, hauling only the water (water is really heavy) needed for a given flight, etc.  Delta was recently added to the Dow Jones sustainability index. Staples Inc., the office supply store and world’s second largest e-commerce site, has focused on reducing the carbon footprint of its buildings and vehicles, according to Mark Buckley, Staples’ Vice President for Environmental Affairs.  But while it’s had success in reducing its energy use in these areas, Buckley conceded that because the bulk of its carbon...

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ESA Policy News: February 15

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here.   STATE OF THE UNION: PRESIDENT URGES ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE, SEQUESTER President Obama’s fourth State of the Union address outlined a number of bold domestic priorities, including addressing climate change and diverting a series of automatic discretionary spending cuts set to occur in March as a result of congressional  failure to come to agreement on comprehensive deficit reduction. “Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense,” said President Obama. “We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.” With regard to budget sequestration, President Obama affirmed his support for a bipartisan, balanced approach to deficit reduction while contending that he would oppose an effort that unduly burden discretionary programs. “Now, some in this Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training; Medicare and Social Security benefits. That idea is even worse,” said the president. “We won’t grow the middle class simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are already struggling, or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers, cops, and firefighters.” Among solutions to avert the sequester, President Obama endorsed changes to Medicare and tax reform proposals such as those outlined in the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, commonly known as the Simpson-Bowles commission. Read or listen to President Obama’s full 2013 State of the Union address here. BUDGET: SENATE DEMOCRATS INTRODUCE LEGISLATION TO AVERT SEQUESTER On Feb. 14, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) unveiled a legislative proposal to avert automatic discretionary spending cuts to federal agencies. The deficit reduction in the bill is equally divided between spending cuts and new revenue. Members of Congress have until March 1 to pass a bill to avert the $1.2 trillion cuts to federal programs over the next ten years. The American Family Economic Protection Act would postpone the sequester for one year by canceling out the first year of the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, which total $85 billion. In total, the bill includes $110 billion in deficit reduction, $55 billion in revenue increases and $55...

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ESA Policy News: December 14

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES REQUEST ACTION TO DETER ‘FISCAL CLIFF,’ SPENDING CUTS On Dec. 7, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) joined a host of other scientific societies, universities and business leaders in sending a letter, spearheaded by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), urging President Obama and Congressional leadership to reach a compromise deal that averts the ‘fiscal cliff’ while preserving federal investment in scientific research. ESA had sent the White House and Congress a similar letter late last month. The fiscal cliff includes a series of automatic discretionary spending cuts (sequestration) set to occur in January, if the Congress does not come up with an alternative plan to lower the deficit by $1.2 trillion before then either through spending cuts or revenue increases. Defense discretionary spending programs would be cut by 9.4 percent while non-defense discretionary spending programs would be cut by 8.2 percent under the automatic cuts.  The fiscal cliff also includes expiring tax cuts and unemployment benefits that, if left unaddressed, collectively threaten to plunge the economy into another recession. The letter encourages the president and congressional leaders to come up with a balanced approach to deficit reduction, noting the important role of science and technological investment. “It is important to recognize that federal research and development (R&D) investments are not driving our national deficits,” the letter notes. “These investments account for less than one-fifth of the current discretionary budget, but discretionary spending is the only place where deep cuts will be made. Placing a significant burden on these crucial areas, as sequestration would do, is nothing less than a threat to national competitiveness.  We recognize that the United States faces severe fiscal challenges, and we urge you to begin to address them through a balanced approach that includes tax and entitlement reform.” Both sides have put forward general plans that propose increased revenues and cuts to entitlement programs. However, despite several face-to-face meetings between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in the weeks since the election, Congressional Republicans and Democrats remain deadlocked over the particulars of a compromise proposal. With the holidays fast approaching, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has repeatedly asserted that the House will not adjourn until issues related to the fiscal cliff are resolved. The White House Office of Management and Budget has already begun directing federal agencies to begin planning for the sequester. To view the joint society letter, click here. To view the ESA letter, click here. DISASTER RELIEF: SENATE PROPOSES SANDY SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS LEGISLATION...

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ESA Policy News: August 17

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS AVOIDS FALL SHUTDOWN, SEQUESTRATION CUTS STILL LOOM On July 31, congressional leaders announced an agreement on federal appropriations funding that would avoid a government shutdown when current funding runs out at the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 on Sept. 30. The deal has the benefit of punting a contentious debate over federal spending levels for FY 2013 until after the November elections. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that Congress would take up a continuing resolution in September, reportedly free of riders, to fund the government through the end of March. Overall, the agreement would fund the government at $1.047 trillion for the six months beginning after Sept. 30. Politically, the move would give whichever party is in control of Congress and the White House next year the ability to set funding levels for the remainder of FY 2013. Given the closeness of the presidential election, both parties feel this works in their favor. The deal also takes an issue off the table for what could be a potentially busy and contentious lame duck session. In addition to needing to address a swath of tax cuts set to expire at year’s end, Congress has still not yet reached agreement on how to handle across-the-board sequestration cuts instituted under the Budget Control Act. If Congress does not act before January, discretionary spending programs will receive an eight percent cut in funding totaling $109 billion. SENATE: COMMITTEE HEARING REVIVES CLIMATE CHANGE DEBATE On August 1, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee convened for a hearing on climate change science. The hearing marked the first time the committee had dedicated a hearing specifically focused on the issue since 2009. In her opening statement, Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) referenced the National Academy of Sciences as well as reports from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautic Space Administration that state that humans are impacting climate change and that these changes are already having detrimental impacts on the environment including extreme weather conditions, droughts and melting glaciers. In her statement, Chairwoman Boxer also referenced a New York Times article by former climate-skeptic Professor Richard Muller who stated: “Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.” In the article’s opening sentence, Muller proclaims “Call me a converted skeptic.”...

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Court upholds EPA climate rules

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst  During a week of landmark (some might call “supreme”) judicial rulings at the federal level on issues concerning immigration and healthcare, another pivotal ruling was issued from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that gave legitimacy to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The three-judge panel unanimously denied industry and state petitions that sought to invalidate the federal agency’s position that greenhouse gases pose a health risk and should be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The court held that EPA’s endangerment finding and tailpipe rules on greenhouse gases are “neither arbitrary nor capricious and found the agency’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act to be “unambiguously correct.” Challengers to the EPA rules included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Mining Association, the National Association of Manufacturers as well as the states of Texas and Virginia. Judges on the panel consisted of two appointees from President Clinton and one (the Chief Justice) from President Reagan. The ruling will in no way slow continued attempts from the legislative branch to prevent EPA from implementing regulations that seek to curb greenhouse gas emmissions. A host of riders included in the House Interior Appropriations bill that would seek to prevent funding a host of EPA initiatives that seek to regulate everything from greenhouse gas emissions and asbestos to pesticide labeling and lead paint. The Republican-controlled House has already passed bills that seek to stifle EPA’s regulatory reach, including a bill from Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), who was highly critical of the court ruling. To date, President Obama has not had to wield his veto pen for the bills his administration opposes because the Democratic-controlled Senate’s key leaders have supported EPA’s regulatory efforts.  However, because Senate Democrats lack a strong supermajority, it is difficult to get partisan legislation through the Senate, whose rules often require 60 votes to counter a filibuster whereas the House generally runs under a simple majority rule. For better or worse, the court system is not held by policymakers as the final arbiter over whether an existing law or statute is legal or constitutional. However, there is a consensus that once a court has ruled on a given issue, overturning such a ruling is difficult given the diverse interests (and individuals), which must all be in strong unison among the legislative and executive branch to do so. Photo Credit:...

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ESA Policy News: January 13

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. INTERIOR: GRAND CANYON HARDROCK MINING PROHIBITION ENACTED On Jan. 9, the Department of Interior (DOI) announced its decision to ban new hardrock mining claims on more than one million acres around Grand Canyon National Park for the next 20 years. The order was signed by Sec. of Interior Ken Salazar. The withdrawn area includes 355,874 acres of U.S. Forest Service land on the Kaibab National Forest; 626,678 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands; and 23,993 acres of split estate – where surface lands are held by other owners while subsurface minerals are owned by the federal government. The affected lands, all in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon or Grand Canyon National Park, are located in Mohave and Coconino Counties of Northern Arizona. The process for approving withdrawal involved an extensive public comment period in which a wide array of stakeholders, including the Ecological Society of America, participated. To view the ESA letter, click here. For more information on the Interior’s withdrawal, click here. INTERIOR: NEW ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTERS SCIENCE PANEL CREATED On Jan. 6, the Department of Interior (DOI) announced the creation of the Strategic Sciences Group, a team intended to improve federal responsiveness to environmental disasters. The creation of the group is authorized under a recent order signed by DOI Secretary Ken Salazar. Interior officials contend the need to improve communication and coordination between federal scientists representing DOI, the United States Geological Survey and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, among others, led to the creation of the new group. The Strategic Sciences Group will be co-led by Gary Machlis, Science Adviser for the National Park Service Director and David Applegate, United States Geological Survey Associate Director for Natural Hazards. The group was given three months to establish an operational plan describing its organization and high-priority crisis scenarios. Rhea Suh, Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget, is in charge of implementing the order. More information on the DOI order can be found here. PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: WHITE HOUSE RELEASES DRAFT OCEAN PLAN On Jan. 12, the White House National Ocean Council released a draft of its National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan. The plan outlines a series of actions the federal government will take to improve environmental stewardship of the nation’s oceans, Great Lakes and coastal areas. The report instructs federal agencies to post all non-confidential data on ocean research to a new centralized ocean data website over the next three years. It also directs the federal government to streamline ocean and coastal permitting processes and call...

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Policy News: April 8

  Here are some highlights form the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: NO COMPROMISE IN SIGHT HOURS BEFORE POTENTIAL SHUTDOWN As of the morning of Friday, April 8, repeated meetings at the White House fostered no definitive agreement between House and Senate leaders to fund the government through the remainder of Fiscal Year 2011. Lawmakers and the president have until Friday evening at midnight to avoid a shutdown of the federal government. On Thursday, April 7, 2011, the House passed H.R. 1363, a bill that would fund the Department of Defense through the remainder of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2011 and fund all other federal agencies for an additional week through April 15. The legislation would cut discretionary spending by $12 billion. It also includes language that would bar the District of Columbia from using local government funds to pay for abortion services. The bill passed by a vote of 247-181. Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) offered an alternative measure that would provide a clean extension of government spending at current levels for an additional week. The measure came to a vote and failed completely along party lines 236-187. The abortion restrictions, which serve to rally conservative House Republicans, ultimately helped doom the bill’s chances of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) planned to offer an amended Senate version of the House one-week extension, similar to Hoyer’s measure. In the process of considering the latest funding bill, the House Rules Committee voted to waive a requirement included in House Rules stating that a measure must be introduced three days before it is considered on the House floor. The temporary rule gives the Speaker of the House additional capacity to avert or shorten a government shutdown. While both President Obama and Congressional leaders seem to agree that talks were “progressing” as of Thursday evening, no definitive number or compromise had yet been reached. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has called on the White House to sign the temporary funding measure. However, President Obama reaffirmed his veto threat against the bill. Majority Leader Reid blamed the stalemate on a partisan dispute over Planned Parenthood and other controversial riders that were included in the House-passed bill. As of April 8, the numerical differences amounted to $5 billion, roughly 0.14 percent of the $3.5 trillion annual budget. Speaker Boehner is pushing for a deal that would include about $39 billion in spending cuts compared to fiscal year (FY) 2010. Reid and Obama are pushing for about $34 billion in cuts, although there have also been recent...

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When you can’t have the moon, start a rock collection

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA’s science policy analyst. Many proponents of efforts to address climate change went into the beginning of the 111th Congress thinking they were going to make some significant headway. For the first time since 1994, Democrats had the rare fortune of holding the White House coupled with substantial majorities in both the House and Senate. But, while the House was indeed successful in squeezing through comprehensive climate legislation, Senate negotiators could not come to an agreement and the bill died. Efforts to pass legislation curbing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions seemed less likely when the House gained 63 Republican seats and Senate Republicans gained six seats after the Nov. 2010 mid-term elections. However, a dissection into the backgrounds and ideologies of individual members of the new Republican majority on energy and environmental issues suggest that  while any major climate change legislation is unlikely, there may exist a few opportunities for incremental successes in decreasing GHG emissions. During a recent event I attended that was sponsored by the National Journal, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, revealed  a glimpse into his priorities as well as his take on what type of legislation may move forward in the 112th Congress. Chairman Upton could be referred to as a “born-again” climate skeptic. During the briefing, he stated that while he accepts that the climate is changing, he does not believe the changes are man-made. Upton has joined with Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) in sponsoring legislation that would limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases. Last year, in his attempt to win the committee’s chairmanship and appear more conservative, he removed from his website language stating that climate change is a “serious problem that necessitates serious solutions.” Delving further into Chairman Upton’s background reveals a somewhat more complex stance on energy and environmental issues. Upton in 2007 successfully spearheaded legislation to phase out incandescent light bulbs in favor of the more energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs, a move that put his prospective chairmanship in jeopardy. Additionally, Upton was among 26 Republicans to vote in favor of the New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security and Consumer Protection Act, an omnibus energy bill that contained a clean energy standard. Others in the new House majority have also demonstrated support in the recent past to expand the nation’s energy portfolio beyond fossil fuels.  On Aug. 4, 2007, Tom Udall (D-NM) and Todd Russell Platts (R-PA) sponsored an amendment to the Energy Independence bill calling for a 15 percent national renewable electricity standard by 2020. Upton was not among the 32 Republicans...

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