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Policy News Update

June 16, 2006

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]

CALIFORNIA SUES U.S. CARMAKERS FOR CONTRIBUTING TO CLIMATE CHANGE

California filed a lawsuit against the six largest automakers operating in the United States, contending that car and truck emissions are causing global warming, injuring the state's environment and economy, and endangering public health.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court in Oakland, is the latest escalation in an ongoing clash between states and the U.S. auto industry over global warming. The California complaint contends that under federal and state common law the automakers have created a public nuisance by producing millions of vehicles that collectively emit massive quantities of carbon dioxide. The auto industry has sued the state of California in U.S. District Court in Fresno to block implementation of a greenhouse-gas emissions law.

The lawsuit does not seek a specific claim for damages. The complaint said the state is spending millions of dollars on planning, monitoring and making infrastructure changes to address “a large spectrum of current and anticipated impacts.”' The complaint blames global warming for raising sea levels along the state's coastline, increasing ozone pollution in big cities, increasing the threat of wildfires and reducing the fresh water flowing from mountain snow packs.

CALIFORNIA LAW IMPOSES FIRST US CAP ON GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a sweeping global warming initiative that imposes the nation's first cap on greenhouse gas emissions, saying the effort kicks off “a bold new era of environmental protection.”

California's efforts on global warming have been in the spotlight since Schwarzenegger and the state's legislative Democrats reached an accord last month on the Democrat-authored bill to cut greenhouse gases.

It imposes a first-in-the-nation cap on emissions from utilities, refineries, and manufacturing plants to help curb the gases that scientists blame for warming the Earth. Two years ago, a state board adopted tight regulations on automobile tailpipe emissions, an initiative that is being challenged in federal court by automakers.

ROBERTS' RECUSAL MAY HINDER EPA'S SUPREME COURT STRATEGY

The Bush administration's looming decision on whether to seek a Supreme Court review of a key air pollution regulation gained an added wrinkle earlier this month when Chief Justice John Roberts recused himself from the case.

Roberts did not provide a reason for his voluntary departure, and a spokesman for the high court declined further comment. But two Supreme Court experts said Roberts likely would remain out of the case should it proceed. Such a move could hamper the administration's strategy.

Finalized in the fall of 2003, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule sought to give major industries an exemption from the Clean Air Act's New Source Review program before the plants have to install modern pollution controls. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia earlier this year unanimously rejected this controversial rule, giving a victory to New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (D) and a coalition of states, cities, local governments and environmental groups that had sued the Bush administration.

Roberts' recusal could have repercussions if EPA were successful in convincing the Supreme Court to take the case. While eight of the nine Supreme Court justices can rule on a case, their opinion would not set a precedent for other lower courts to follow if it ends in a 4-4 deadlock. A tie vote also would uphold the D.C. Circuit's decision against EPA.

CONGRESS DELAYS FINAL ACTION ON SCIENCE FUNDING BILLS

Congress is leaving town with almost all of the FY 2007 funding bills still unfinished. With the exception of the now-passed FY 2007 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill, and perhaps the funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security, current funding will continue through November 17 for all other departments and agencies. This is good news for agencies slated for cuts to their budget yet bad news for agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, slated for increases. The new fiscal year started on October 1.

When Congress is unable to pass one or more appropriations bills by the start of a fiscal year it passes a continuing resolution to maintain funding. Under the continuing resolution that will be implemented, the funding rate is the lowest figure in the House or Senate-passed bills, or the funding level now in place. The only bills to have passed both the House and Senate are the Defense and Homeland Security bills. For a review of the current status of FY 2007 appropriations bills, see www.aaas.org/spp/rd/

BUSH CALLS FOR GLOBAL BAN ON BOTTOM TRAWLING

President Bush called for a worldwide ban on deep sea bottom trawling and other environmentally destructive fishing practices, as the United Nations (UN) prepares to vote on fishing recommendations for international waters.

Bush issued a memorandum telling the secretaries of State and Commerce to work with international organizations to stop "unregulated destructive fishing practices that jeopardize fish stocks and the habitats that support them.” Bush's directive comes as the United States hosts the U.N. meeting, at which a fisheries working group is drawing up recommendations this week on ocean fishing practices.

The full United Nations is expected to vote on the recommendations at the beginning of November. A U.N. ban on bottom trawling "would be the single most significant act of marine habitat protection in history," said Josh Reichert of the Pew Charitable Trust. No U.S. boats use bottom trawling gear on the high seas; most boats that do come from the European Union; 40 percent are from Spain.

Bush's memo sets forth a goal to eliminate fishing practices that jeopardize marine life and their habitats or provide an unfair commercial advantage. It targets "unregulated bottom trawling, explosives and chemicals that destroy the long-term productivity of ecosystems such as seamounts, corals and sponge fields."

COALITION FORMS TO PROMOTE WASTE-GENERATED POWER

A broad coalition of U.S. mayors, engineers and waste processors formed a lobbyist group to call for increased public incentives to promote the development of landfill natural gas and other forms of waste-based energy.

The as-yet-unnamed group is comprised of the Integrated Waste Services Association, National Solid Wastes Management Association, Solid Waste Association of North America, American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The Washington-based coalition will urge Congress, federal agencies and states to provide additional incentives to stimulate the production of existing and new sources of waste-derived energy, said Ted Michaels, president of the Integrated Waste Services Association, a trade group that represents municipalities and businesses in the growing waste-to-energy sector.

Waste-based energy is a term used to describe all technologies that recover energy from waste. Technologies currently in use include deriving methane gas from landfills, as well as gasifying and combusting landfill waste or wood chips and other forms of biomass.

BISCUIT SALVAGE LOGGING PROJECTS LOSE MONEY

The Forest Service stands to lose about $2 million in its effort to salvage timber from the 2002 Biscuit Fire in an Oregon national forest, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said. The GAO report comes the day after President Bush plugged legislation that would accelerate the planning process for salvage logging and forest recovery projects after wildfires. But the Forest Service is facing problems funding such recovery projects, GAO found.

According to GAO, the Forest Service has spent or plans to spend $10.7 million on Biscuit Fire logging but will collect only $8.8 million. In addition "lack of specific funding and schedules" may inhibit wildlife habitat rehabilitation, fuel management zone monitoring and other recovery work, GAO said. The report adds that litigation played no role in delaying the Biscuit fire salvage projects.
Supporters of H.R. 4200, which would accelerate and increase salvage logging in national forests, say the Forest Service planning process for salvage projects often cause the trees to lose value to the point where projects are not cost effective. In California yesterday, President Bush attempted to raise the heat on Congress to pass H.R. 4200 after visiting with Forest Service firefighters.

Aside from H.R. 4200, the Bush administration is pushing its "Healthy Forests Partnership Act," a bill that would allow the federal government to enter partnerships with state, local and tribal governments to reduce wildfire risks and conduct restoration projects on adjacent federal lands.

In January, a report by an Oregon State University graduate student published in the journal Sciencexpress said salvage logging following the Biscuit Fire destroyed nearly three-fourths of seedlings that had regenerated naturally and increased the risk of future wildfires. The report, which received widespread positive media coverage after its release, implies that forests are better off without intervention from forest managers, either for salvage logging or replanting.

MARK MYERS CONFIRMED AS DIRECTOR OF U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY

Mark Myers was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the 14th Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) on September 15, 2006. He immediately began meeting with employees and stakeholders after he was sworn into office on September 26. Established in 1879, the U.S. Geological Survey is one of the nation's oldest science agencies. “It's incredibly important that the science is unbiased, that it is peer reviewed and objective,” Myers said to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources at his confirmation hearing on July 20.

Last fall, Myers was one of six Alaska officials who resigned their positions after a disagreement with Gov. Frank Murkowski (R). Myers resigned as Alaska State Geologist and Director of Alaska's Division of Oil and Gas. Myers previously served as Senior Staff Geologist for Exploration at ARCO Alaska, Inc. and Phillips Alaska, Inc. Earlier in his career, Myers was a Petroleum Geologist for the State of Alaska Division of Oil and Gas. An expert on North Slope sedimentary and petroleum geology, Myers served as survey chief or sedimentologist for 16 North Slope field programs.

Myers received his Ph.D. in geology from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks in 1994. He earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees in geology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

INDIA BECOMING HOTSPOT FOR WIND POWER

India is quickly becoming one of the hottest markets for wind power in the world as regional industry looks for a more reliable alternative to the country's haphazard energy network. Using power from state government-owned power networks is costly and subject to almost daily blackouts, particularly in the north. Hoping to ensure power supply and to dodge the high cost of power, many Indian companies are looking at constructing their own wind farms and turbines. The Esser Group of Mumbai, a large industrial firm that works in steel and construction, is developing a wind farm near Chennai. Tulsi R. Tanti, managing director of Indian wind-turbine manufacturer Suzlon, said that wind power in India would remain competitive as long as fuel prices remain above $40 per barrel, even without tax breaks or alternative energy subsidies. The high demand for turbines both in India and abroad has catapulted Suzlon into the world's fifth-largest producer, by installed megawatts of capacity, in less than four years. The firm is now doing test production at new factories in Minnesota and China.


Sources: GreenWire, Environment and Energy Daily, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The American Institute of Physics.

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