August 28, 2009
In This Issue
As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prepares to formalize its finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health, the US Chamber of Commerce has filed a petition with the agency, calling for a proceeding in which the science behind the finding would be put on trial. The chamber, which represents 3 million American businesses, argues that EPA lacks the science to support its position and is calling for a trial with witnesses, cross-examinations and a judge who would rule on whether climate change is the result of human activity, and whether greenhouse gases pose a threat to human welfare.
The chamber’s filing argues that an endangerment finding should be based on the connection between rising temperatures and mortality rates in the US, and that the temperatures forecasted in accepted climate projections would result in lower net mortality. Indeed, “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States,” a report released this June by 13 federal agencies, projects lower winter mortality rates during the next few decades. But supporters of the endangerment finding have countered that warmer seasons would, according to the report, see an increase in deaths, including many from the indirect impacts of climate change, such as the spread of infectious diseases.
The EPA endangerment finding is the result of a 2007 Supreme Court ruling — for more information on the finding, see the April 23 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/04232009.php
If EPA rejects the petition, the chamber has threatened a lawsuit. According to Bill Kovacs, the chamber’s vice president for environment, regulatory and government affairs, litigation is certain, no matter how EPA decides to proceed.
Agency leadership, meanwhile, has asserted its confidence in the science behind the finding. The agency has hosted two public hearings on the matter earlier this year, and has called the proposed hearing a “waste of time.”
A White House-appointed task force is working to craft an overarching national ocean policy that would bring together the 20 federal agencies and 140-plus laws currently dealing with marine management. The group is comprised of two dozen agency and White House officials and is led by Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
The efforts come five years after two major national oceans commissions called for unifying policy to address the impacts of overfishing, overdevelopment, pollution, and climate change on the marine environment.
“It is commonly understood that the lack of a cohesive policy, the lack of mechanisms to ensure the health of the ecosystem, is one of the reasons we’re seeing so many problems in the oceans,” said Jane Lubchenco, administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Marine advocates say the work could lead to some of the most significant federal efforts on ocean conservation, and have lauded President Obama for his support. Key members of the task force have reiterated the President’s investment in oceans. Sutley says that the effort is a top priority for the Administration, and Lubchenco says that Obama, having lived in Hawaii has a keen interest in the ocean and shares many of her priorities.
The policy would address marine projects ranging from offshore energy development to marine conservation, and could significantly change how these projects are planned and managed. Ecological matters of particular concern include wind farm siting, shipping lanes that intersect with marine mammal migration routes, and fish deaths from agricultural runoff in the Gulf of Mexico. More challenges may arise in coming years, as businesses turn to the ocean for renewable energy projects, and as melting in the Arctic opens up new areas for resource development.
The policy could also provide a means for zoning the ocean — delineating areas for activities such as fishing, shipping, recreation, and energy development.
The task force will proceed as follows:
- Right now: Hold a series of public hearings on the plan throughout the country. The task force began their tour in Anchorage, Alaska, where they also took time to visit Arctic science centers, climate observatories, oil production facilities, and a village forced to relocate due to climate change. Additional hearings are planned in San Francisco, New Orleans, Rhode Island, Ohio and possibly Hawaii.
- September: Release recommendations for a national ocean policy that centers on the protection of the marine environment, as well as the sustainability of associated economies.
- Before the end of 2009: Establish a framework for a federally managed marine spatial planning system, including guidelines for addressing ocean development and conservation at the ecosystem — rather than agency — level.
The recommendations will go to President Obama for approval. If all goes smoothly, Obama could use them to craft an executive order requiring agencies to work together in addressing ocean conservation, the ecological impacts of marine projects, and other ocean issues. . Under current policies, agencies tend to focus on meeting their own targets, and have little incentive to shift priorities and collaborate.
On August 20, the Obama Administration approved a management plan banning the expansion of commercial fishing into areas exposed by Arctic melting. The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council crafted the new Arctic Fishery Management Plan, which bars industrial fishing in US waters north of the Bering Strait, at least until researchers can establish sustainability thresholds.
“As Arctic sea ice recedes due to climate change, there is increasing interest in commercial fishing in Arctic waters,” said Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. “We are in a position to plan for sustainable fishing that does not damage the overall health of this fragile ecosystem. This plan takes a precautionary approach to any development of commercial fishing in an area where there has been none in the past.”
In total, the plan will protect roughly 150,000 square nautical miles — an area larger than California. Although there are currently no significant commercial fishing operations in the protected region, it will likely become a target as warming waters drive fisheries north. Currently 60 percent of US commercial landings come from Alaska’s Bering Sea, just south of the area protected by the plan.
The Arctic Fishery Management Plan has received support from both environmental groups and Alaska’s major commercial fishing group, the Marine Conservation Alliance, which represents roughly 70 percent of the state’s groundfish and crab industry. The group hopes that US action will pressure Russia and other Arctic nations to follow suit, preventing a rush to new fishing grounds that could lead fish populations to crash.
On August 18, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent its final greenhouse gas registry rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget. The rule would require reports from facilities with direct emissions above a certain level. According to EPA, this threshold would spare the majority of small businesses from disproportionate financial burdens, while still accounting for 85 to 90 percent of US emissions.
Climate legislation advocates have long considered such a registry to be critical for developing nationwide emissions regulations. But many industry groups are concerned that the new rule will increase costs and regulatory burdens, and potentially compromise proprietary business information. The groups are pushing for rules that will allow facilities to supply the “best available data” for the first year or, should facilities be unable to install the necessary monitoring equipment, several years.
EPA expects to finalize the rule in October, requiring industry data collection to commence in January. The first reports would be due to the agency in March 2011.
As the Senate gears up for its climate debate next month, much attention is on the 20 senators identified as fence sitters. With 31 lawmakers supporting climate legislation, and 13 likely to sign on, the bill will need at least another 16 votes to pass.
The undecided lawmakers break down as follows:
Facing re-election in 2010 (11 — all Democrats):
- Evan Bayh (IN) — Would like to see cap-and-trade revenues go toward payroll tax reductions
- Sherrod Brown (OH) — Was supportive of climate action while in the House, but is concerned about job loss in his economically troubled state.
- Kent Conrad (ND) — Seeking more funding for carbon sequestration and alternative fuel technologies, but has also expressed concerns about the bill’s cost. Signed the letter questioning the 2008 Senate climate bill.
- Byron Dorgan (ND) — Shares Senator Conrad’s concerns and interests. Also signed the 2008 letter.
- Tim Johnson (SD) — Signed the letter questioning the 2008 Senate climate bill.
- Carl Levin (MI) — Concerned about Michigan’s auto industry, opposes the California emissions waiver.
- Blanche Lincoln (AR) — Has expressed reservations about the climate portion of the bill, favoring a narrower plan that deals only with renewable energy.
- Claire McCaskill (MO) — Pushing to have agricultural interests addressed
- Mark Pryor (AR) — Concerned about bill’s impact on the struggling US economy
- Jay Rockefeller (WV) — Pushing “clean coal” technology
- Debbie Stabenow (MI) — Seeking additional offsets and a nationwide auto standard (in response to the California waiver)
Democrats not facing re-election in 2010 (3):
- Mark Begich (AK) — Supported 80-percent cuts by 2050 during his campaign; organized a Senator fieldtrip to Alaska to examine the impacts of climate change.
- Arlen Specter (PA) — Recently said he would back cloture on climate legislation, helping prevent a filibuster.
- Jon Tester (MT) — Has so far avoided weighing in; may be concerned about re-election in 2012.
- Lindsey Graham (SC) — Seeking nuclear provisions
- Judd Gregg (NH) — Mixed record on past climate bills, but may be an important GOP ally in this debate
- Richard Lugar (IN) — Has expressed reservations about transparency and enforcement of cap-and-trade system. Seeking more attention for biofuels, global food production, and adaptation efforts.
- Mel Martinez (FL) — Has stayed largely quiet, although in 2008 he flagged himself as a potential GOP cosponsor for future climate legislation. Retiring in 2010.
- John McCain (AZ) — Seeking more nuclear, has co-sponsored climate legislation in the past.
- Lisa Murkowski (AK) — Like McCain, is seeking more nuclear and has co-sponsored climate legislation in the past. Also seeking additional funding for adaptation in Alaska.
Senators supporting the bill have been engaging their undecided colleagues in a variety of ways — over August recess, several key swing voters signed up for climate-related trips.
Five senators, including fences-sitters Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Mark Begich (D-AK) plan to visit Alaska for a first-hand look at oil fields, renewable energy projects, and the impacts of climate change: retreating glaciers, insect-infested forests, drying wetlands, and displaced communities. The trip was postponed so the lawmakers could attend memorial services for Senator Ted Kennedy. Begich, who organized the trip, says he hopes to reschedule. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) — all important voices in drafting the bill — also plan to attend.
Meanwhile, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Mark Udall (D-CO) recently concluded a four-day tour of the national parks. The senators concluded that the parks are at risk from the impacts of climate change and that climate legislation is necessary. But both said that lawmakers should first finish their work on health care reform. Udall also joined McCain in his support for nuclear power. Acknowledging his change of position, the senator said that as he’s learned more about the program, “it’s clear that if we want to respond to the threat of climate change, nuclear energy has to be part of the solution.”
Sources: Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, ClimateWire, Politico, the New York Times