February 26, 2010

In This Issue


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is urging Senator John Kerry (D-MA) to finish work on a draft climate and energy bill as soon as possible.  Kerry is working with Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to produce a sweeping measure that is expected to couple a carbon-pricing mechanism with incentives for nuclear power and domestic oil and gas production in an effort to garner the necessary bipartisan support.  The climate debate’s divisive nature makes timing critical—a bill’s chances of passing will fade dramatically as the November elections approach.  But 2010 may be one of the best times to negotiate broad support for a climate bill, since industry is calling for increased regulatory certainty in the face of looming regulatory action from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Kerry reassured Reid that “a lot is happening behind the scenes” as he and his colleagues continue to meet with undecided senators and Obama Administration officials to iron out the details and win additional votes.  He is aiming to release the bill in March, which would provide adequate time for a spring debate after the roughly five weeks of EPA analysis needed before the bill can head to the floor.  He and his colleagues will spend the coming weeks building support with the help of former President Clinton, who has expressed interest in speaking to the Senate Democratic Caucus on the issue. 

Meanwhile, President Obama continues to urge Congress to pass a comprehensive climate bill before the year is out.  In contrast to the healthcare debate, the Administration is not planning to put together a legislative proposal on the issue, but will instead support congressional efforts and allow lawmakers freedom to negotiate a politically viable bill.  Obama’s main priority, he says, is putting a price tag on greenhouse gas emissions; to achieve this, he has indicated his willingness to compromise on a variety of issues, including nuclear energy, something that has earned criticism from some of his longtime supporters.

Pricing emissions is perhaps the biggest sticking point in current negotiations, with lawmakers weighing a number of different options beyond the cap-and-trade approach included in the House-passed bill (HR 2454).  For more information on these options, see the January 22 edition of the ESA Policy News at: www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2010/01222010.php

Still, a resolution may be close: the bill’s authors are, according to Graham, currently leaning towards a power plant-only approach. 

Moderates on both sides of the aisle are increasingly doubtful about passing a climate package this year.  Key players like Finance Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) and Commerce Chair Jay Rockefeller (W-WV) say there is simply not enough time in an agenda already dominated by jobs and healthcare.  And, as in the healthcare debate, many lawmakers point to public understanding as a substantial hurdle.  More time is needed, they say, to educate citizens on the complex issue.  An energy-only bill could gain more traction because of its narrow scope, and many lawmakers are pushing those leading the climate push to shift gears.

The three authors of the Senate package have largely dismissed an energy-only bill, though, saying that it would not adequately address climate change  concerns and would not contribute to green economic stimulus efforts.  Graham has been perhaps the most outspoken in his opposition to an energy-only approach, although his interests are primarily energy-related.  The Republican senator says capping emissions is a necessary part of the nation’s energy goals—that is, without supplements from revenue generated from a carbon-pricing scheme, renewable energy mandates would be economically impractical.  Before joining forces with Kerry and Lieberman, he had been working on an energy measure of his own, which he hopes to incorporate into the final package—the two other senators have reviewed the bill, which Graham recently released, but have not decided if and how to include it.

The bill would provide financing for up to 60 additional nuclear reactors and would require the US to generate an increasing percentage of clean energy over the next 15 years, starting at 13 percent in 2012 and working up to 25 percent by 2025.  Notably, Graham’s definition of “clean energy” includes energy from new nuclear plants and coal-fired plants that capture and sequester at least 62 percent of their emissions—both nuclear and “clean coal” do not count toward the renewable standard established in the House-passed bill, HR 2454.  Furthermore, by including nuclear power, the proposal represents a significant departure from the energy bill passed last summer by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (S 1462).  Lawmakers have generally assumed that S 1462 would represent the bulk of the energy language in the Senate’s final package.  In the committee-passed bill, nuclear power is part of the renewable standard only minimally—S 1462 allows utilities to meet up to a fourth of the standard with efficiency offsets, including improved efficiency at existing nuclear reactors. 


Congressional budget hearings are providing lawmakers with a new means of disputing greenhouse gas emission regulations from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Following its much-discussed “endangerment finding,” EPA plans to roll out initial regulations this March.  President Obama’s budget request includes $10 billion for EPA, which—although $300 million less than 2010 levels—includes $43 million in new funding for regulatory programs to reduce emissions.

Opponents of the regulations could use the appropriations process to zero out funding that would have gone toward curbing emissions.  Climate skeptics are now claiming that global warming data have been thrown into doubt and that the endangerment finding should be reconsidered.  But EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson countered these arguments during a recent Senate hearing, affirming that “the science behind climate change is settled, and human activity is responsible for global warming.  That conclusion is not a partisan one.”

Still, facing mounting pressure from Congress, the agency has toned down its original plans, now vowing to more gradually phase in the regulations.  Under the revised approach, EPA will not regulate emissions from stationary sources before 2011 and will not subject small sources to regulation before 2016.  In addition, Jackson said that the agency will likely set a much higher emissions threshold in its “tailoring rule,” which is aimed at protecting small-scale emitters from the economic burden of new regulations.  The final tailoring rule is expected next month. 

Many lawmakers expressed relief at the new approach, although some still plan to move forward with efforts to block the agency’s regulatory authority.  Meanwhile, other stakeholders (e.g. industry groups, conservative think tanks, and several states) will attempt to block the regulations via lawsuit.


On February 18, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released draft guidance that will require federal agencies to consider greenhouse gas emissions and climate change effects when conducting National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews of projects such as landfills or coal-fired power plants.  The proposal would apply only to projects that could produce more than 25,000 metric tons of emissions annually. It would also call on agencies to consider how proposed projects might be affected by the impacts of climate change (e.g.  how projected sea level rise could impinge on planned coastal development.)

CEQ has faced opposition from both parties, with some opponents seeing the draft guidance as what Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) called “a backdoor tool to regulate greenhouse gases”—an approach to reducing emissions that, like other climate-related regulations in the works, could take a hefty economic toll on certain emitters without including some of the more nuanced provisions that legislation could use to smooth the transition.  Others are concerned that the added requirements will further complicate what can already be a lengthy NEPA process.

CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley has stressed that the proposal should not be seen as an attempt to regulate emissions or as a substitute for comprehensive climate and energy legislation.  Further, she said that it will not likely slow NEPA evaluations, since many agencies have already voluntarily incorporated similar factors into their evaluations.  The Council will seek public comment on the proposal for 90 days.  To read or comment on the full draft guidance, visit: www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ceq/initiatives/nepa


The top United Nations climate diplomat, Yvo de Boer, has announced that he will resign July of this year.  De Boer was at the center of the often contentious Copenhagen climate summit, and has shouldered much of the blame for its lackluster outcome: the non-binding “Copenhagen Accord,” which remains on shaky ground, though more than 50 countries—including the world’s heaviest emitters—have since filed pledges to reduce emissions under the accord.  Combined, the countries account for about 78 percent of the world’s total energy users.

Although some are calling de Boer’s resignation “a death knell for the UN process,” it was generally expected, since he received a one-year term extension last summer so that he could serve through the Copenhagen conference and into 2010.  Although he has expressed disappointment about the summit, he has been clear that it was not the reason for his departure.

De Boer was instrumental in elevating the status of the climate debate around the world, urging countries to send their heads of state to Copenhagen.  The resulting high expectations and high intensity of the event (the 120 leaders vying to be heard ranged from President Obama to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez) likely contributed to the summit being regarded by some as a failure.

But others are quick to point out how far the world has come during de Boer’s four-year term.  “He got big players to play,” said Ned Helme, the head of the Center for Clean Air Policy.  “He got targets.  Who’d have said in August that all these guys would have come forward with these kinds of targets?” Todd Stern, the State Department’s special envoy for climate change, was similarly supportive of de Boer’s contributions.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will likely begin interviewing for a replacement in the near future, with hopes of having a new executive secretary in place well before the 2010 summit in Mexico (beginning November 30).  The deputy executive secretary, Canadian Richard Kinley, will serve during the transition if necessary.  Since de Boer and his predecessor came from wealthy nations, observers expect that the position will be filled by someone from a developing country. 


In mid-February, the Ecological Society of America(ESA) joined the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) in submitting comments on the Notice of Intent for management of the National Forest System (74 Federal Register 67165-67169, December 18, 2009).   The two scientific societies underscored the merits of a scientifically credible rule change that integrates ecological sustainability with well-accepted approaches in climate change planning.   The letter encouraged the Forest Service to use the best available science in meeting its stated objectives with respect to restoration, watershed protection, climate change resilience, and wildlife conservation.   SCB and ESA suggested four core planning principles that should be included in all planning alternatives: (1) population viability assessments for focal species and other target species in order to help meet the agency’s obligation to sustain diversity and reduce impacts from forest management and climate change; (2) plan for ecological sustainability using a broad suite of measurable biological indicators such as ecological integrity; (3) prepare for climate change by protecting intact ecosystems (e.g. roadless areas) to facilitate climate-forced wildlife migrations and carbon dense ecosystems (e.g. mature forests) for long-term carbon storage while reducing existing stressors to enable adaptation of species (and, in the aggregate, ecosystems); and (4) conduct effectiveness monitoring using a rigorous approach.   To read the letter, see: www.esa.org/pao/policyStatements/Letters/SCB%20and%20ESA%20letter%20on%20forest%20planning.pdf


On February 24, the House Natural Resources Committee easily cleared a number of public lands bills, including:

  • Washington wilderness (HR 1769): Would add more than 20,000 acres to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in western Washington.  HR 1769 was introduced by Representative Dave Reichert (R-WA) and is being touted as “a great bipartisan success story” after earning strong support from the state’s Democrats.  Washington Senators Patty Murray (D) and Maria Cantwell (D) have introduced companion legislation (S 721).
  • Hudson River Valley (HR 4003): Would direct the Interior Department to study sections of New York’s Hudson River Valley for inclusion in the National Park system. 
  • Stornetta Public Lands (HR 4192): Would designate the Stornetta Public Lands as an Outstanding Natural Area to be administered as a part of the National Landscape Conservation System.
  • California water resources (HR 4252): Would direct Interior to conduct a study of water resources in Southern California’s Rialto-Colton Basin.

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