December 3, 2018
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Federal Government Releases National Climate Assessment, Warns of Dire Ongoing Impacts of Climate Change
On the Friday after Thanksgiving, the federal government released its fourth National Climate Assessment. Altogether, the report is a grim warning of the on-going and anticipated impacts of climate change in the U.S.
The full report is over 1,600 pages long and includes chapters on the sectoral impacts of climate change – i.e., impacts to agriculture, coasts and oceans and forests – and the impacts in each region of the U.S. Around 1,000 scientists from across the federal government, state governments, academia and industry contributed to the report.
Some of the overarching findings show the impacts of climate change are already being felt across the country, and these impacts threaten quality of life and exacerbate existing social and economic inequalities. Without significant mitigation and adaption efforts, climate change could cause the U.S. economy to shrink by 10 percent by 2100. Extreme weather associated with climate change could cause thousands of deaths a year, and climate change will facilitate the spread of pests and insect-borne diseases. Regionally, climate change will bring increased flooding in coastal areas, stronger hurricanes to the eastern states, and drought and larger wildfires to the western U.S.
The report chapter on ecosystems, ecosystem services, and biodiversity notes that climate change is “reconfiguring ecosystems in unprecedented ways,” allowing invasive species to spread and forcing species to adapt to new conditions or go extinct if they cannot.
The 2018 report contains much of the same information as the last National Climate Assessment, released in May 2014, with a few significant differences. Many of the impacts predicted in previous climate assessments are now a reality. The 2018 report features a chapter on the interconnected impacts of climate change on multiple sectors and systems. For example, the report points to Hurricane Harvey as an example of a situation where an extreme weather event caused cascading impacts on infrastructure and public health. Furthermore, development patterns in the Houston area worsened the flooding impacts of Hurricane Harvey. The report also notes that the implementation of climate adaption measures have increased but are not yet “commonplace.” One such adaption project is the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild by Design Program, which awarded $930 million to green infrastructure projects that addressed vulnerabilities exposed by Hurricane Sandy.
Federal agencies initially scheduled the report’s release for early December. Critics suggested that the Trump administration released the report on Black Friday to ‘bury’ its findings. This strategy was largely unsuccessful – national newspapers, including The Washington Post and The New York Times,featured stories about the report on their front pages Saturday and many local papers wrote articles about the regional impacts of climate change described in the report.
President Donald Trump renounced the report. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the report is “not based on facts.” Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler accused the Obama administration of directing the report’s authors to focus on “the worst case scenario.”
Outside of the administration, some Republican senators said that the report highlighted the need for ‘innovation,’ and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) took to Twitter to endorse a “market-driven strategy to combat the impacts of climate change.” House Democrats said that the report reinforces the need for a revived select committee on climate change.
The National Climate Assessment is mandated by law – the Global Change Research Act of 1990 requires the federal government to submit a report to Congress and the White House on the current state of climate science, the impacts of climate change, trends in climate change and projected trends for the next 25-100 years. The National Climate Assessment is intended for a non-scientific audience and does not recommend specific policy changes. The intent is that policymakers can use the information in the National Climate Assessment in decision-making.
Farm Bill: The chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees announced Nov. 29 that they have reached an “agreement in principle” on the 2018 Farm Bill and that they are still working to finalize “legal and report language.” Both the House and Senate passed versions of the farm bill this past summer, and negotiators from both houses have been working to resolve differences between the House and Senate bills since then. Most recently, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue pressed lawmakers to include National Environmental Policy Act exemptions for some forest management projects in the final farm bill. Senate Agriculture Chair Pat Roberts (R-KS) told reporters that the final bill would not include these provisions.
USDA Confirmation Hearing: The Senate Agriculture Committee held a confirmation hearing for Scott Hutchins, President Trump’s nominee for undersecretary for research, economics, and education and chief scientist of the Department of Agriculture. This position oversees the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Hutchins is an entomologist who recently retired from the agricultural section of DowDuPont Inc. When asked about climate change and the National Climate Assessment, Hutchins told Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) that he accepts the report’s findings and believes that agriculture can play a role in sequestering carbon. He also told senators that he supports the goals of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s plan to move the NIFA headquarters away from Washington, DC but does not want the move to impact scientific work. Fourteen organizations and scientific societies, including ESA, sent a letter of support for Hutchins’ nomination to Senate leaders in October.
Infrastructure Hearing: Democratic members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee pushed for legislation that incorporates climate concerns during a committee hearing on surface transportation. Citing the 2018 National Climate Assessment, Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) said that lawmakers should take projected climate risks into account to ensure that infrastructure projects are useful and resilient in the long-term. Rising sea levels, severe storms, and extreme temperatures have already put bridges, airports, tunnels, and roads at risk. Republican committee members largely focused on how to finance an infrastructure package.
Carbon Fee Legislation: A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation (H.R. 7173) that would impose a $15 per ton carbon fee on the oil, gas, and coal industries. The bill would then redistribute the revenue from this fee to households. The fee would increase $10 a year until the country reduces its emissions by 90 percent of 2015 levels. Supporters of the bill say that the bill is intended to be a starting point for climate policy in the 116th Congress.
BLM: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is working toward abandoning its current management plan for the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska to allow oil and gas leases in areas that are off-limits. The plan, developed during the Obama administration, prohibits drilling in 11 million acres of the reserve, including areas of important habitat for migratory birds, caribou, bears, and wolves. The agency has posted a notice of intent to prepare a new plan in the Federal Register and is accepting preliminary, scoping comments through Jan. 7, 2019.
USFWS: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed the candy darter (Etheostoma osburni), a brightly colored freshwater fish, as an endangered species. The candy darter is found in three watersheds in West Virginia and Virginia. In the final rule, USFWS writes that the primary threat to the species is hybridization – or cross-breeding – with the variegate darter, a non-native species. USFWS has also proposed designating 370 miles of streams as critical habitat for the species. That rule is open for comment on the Federal Register through Jan. 22, 2019.
USGS: Another report released on Black Friday concludes that about one-quarter of U.S. carbon emissions come from oil, gas, and coal extraction on public lands and waters. The Obama administration asked the U.S. Geological Survey to create the report and a publicly available database of greenhouse gas emissions associated with fossil fuel production on public lands in January 2016.
Dusky Gopher Frog: The Supreme Court ruled unanimously to return a case about habitat protections for the endangered dusky gopher frog to the 5thCircuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. In this case, timber company Weyhauser and other landowners sued after USFWS after designated 1,500 acres of their land as ‘critical habitat’ for the dusky gopher frog under the Endangered Species Act in 2012. Dusky gopher frogs do not currently live in this area, but USFWS determined that the area would be essential if the species recovers. Plaintiffs argued that the land does not qualify as habitat because it would need modifications to support a population of frogs. In the ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts writes that the Endangered Species Act defines the term ‘critical,’ but does not provide a ‘baseline definition’ of habitat. Roberts directs the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to consider the definition of habitat.
District of Columbia: The City Council unanimously approved to advance legislation that would require the city to receive 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2032. If this bill passes a second vote in late December and is signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), it would put the District on the nation’s fastest timeline for adopting fully renewable energy.
New York City: City Councilman Costa Constaninides (D-Queens) introduced a bill that would require large buildings in the city to reduce their carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030. The legislation also creates an Office of Building Energy Performance and an advisory board to recommend further carbon emissions. Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) and Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) support the legislation.
Europe: Officials from science funding agencies released more details on their open access initiative for scientific publishing, called ‘Plan S.’ A guidance document from the funders, known as cOAlition S, says researchers funded by their organizations will be in compliance if they 1) publish their work in an open access journal, 2) upload their papers to an open access repository, or 3) publish in journals working towards becoming open access. Authors may publish their work in hybrid journals – that is, journals that contain a blend of open access and non-open access articles — but the cOAlition S organizations will not cover the cost of publishing these articles. The group is soliciting feedback on the plan through Feb. 1, 2019 via its website.
Iran: Over 300 scientists and conservationists, including Jane Goodall, sent a letter to the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemning the arrests of nine individuals employed by the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation and calling for a fair and transparent trial for the conservationists. The Iranian government accused the group of using camera traps, intended to monitor the country’s wildlife, as a pretext to spy on military activities.
U.N. Environment Program: The United Nations released its 2018 Emissions Gap Report. The report finds that global carbon emissions increased in 2017, after staying flat for three years between 2014 and 2016. Only 57 countries are on track to reduce their carbon emissions by 2030. It is unlikely that the world be able to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement if countries do not close the ’emissions gap’ by 2030. The U.N. defines the emissions gap as the gap between “where we are likely to be and where we need to be” in order to limit emissions to 2 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, one of the overarching goals of the Paris Agreement.
Separately, the United Nations’ environment chief, Erik Solheim, resigned after an internal audit found that he had spent $500,000 of U.N. money on travel and hotels over 22 months. Several donor counties, including the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden halted their funding for UNEP until Solheim’s ethics issues could be resolved.
‘Protecting Science at Federal Agencies’: A coalition of 16 organizations, including the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Environmental Protection Network, have released a report entitled “Protecting Science at Federal Agencies.” The report details how Congress can protect scientific integrity in the federal government and ensure that agencies meet their legal responsibilities.
Public Meetings, many of which are live-streamed:
- BLM – Northwest Colorado Resource Advisory Council. (Dec. 6)
- BLM – Arizona Resources Advisory Council. (Dec. 11 & 12)
- BLM – Meeting of the California Desert District Advisory Council. (Dec. 14 & 15)
- EPA – Public Meeting of the Chartered Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC). (Dec. 12)
- EPA – Meeting of the National Drinking Water Advisory Council. (Dec. 6-7)
- NASA – NASA Advisory Council STEM Engagement Committee Meeting. (Dec. 4)
- NOAA NMFS – Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council Meetings on State Management of Recreational Red Snapper. (Dec. 3 – Jan. 17)
- NOAA NMFS – South Atlantic Fishery Management Council Meetings. (Dec. 3-7)
- NOAA NMFS – New England Fishery Management Council Meeting. (Dec. 4)
- NOAA NMFS – Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council Scientific and Statistical Committee Meeting. (Dec. 6)
- NOAA NMFS – Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council – Ad Hoc Red Snapper Charter For-Hire Advisory Panel. (Dec. 10)
- NOAA NMFS – Caribbean Fishery Management Council Meeting. (Dec. 11 & 12)
- NOAA NMFS – Pacific Fishery Management Council and Northwest Fisheries Science Center Webinar – Cabezon Stock Assessment. (Dec. 14)
- NOAA OAR – Public Meeting of the National Sea Grant Advisory Committee. (Dec. 10)
- NPS – National Park System Advisory Board Meeting. (Dec. 5)
- NPS – Gateway National Recreation Area Fort Hancock 21st Century Advisory Committee Meeting. (Dec. 7)
- NPS – Na Hoa Pili O Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park Advisory Commission Meeting. (Dec. 7)
- USFWS – Meetings of North American Wetlands Conservation Council and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Advisory Group. (Dec. 11 & 12)
- USGS – National Geospatial Advisory Committee Meeting. (Dec. 6)
Opportunities for Public Comment and Nominations:
- EPA – Integrated Science Assessment for Particulate Matter. Comments are due Dec. 11, 2018.
- Interior Department – Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Public Advisory Committee; Call for Nominations. Nominations are due by Dec. 17, 2018.
- NOAA NMFS – Coastal Migratory Pelagics Resources in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Region; Amendment 31. Comments are due Dec. 10, 2018.
- NOAA NMFS – Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; Coastal Migratory Pelagic Resources of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Region; Amendment 31. Comments are due by Dec. 10, 2018.
- NOAA NMFS – Recovery Plan for the Blue Whale and Notice of Initiation of a 5-year Review. Comments and information are due Dec. 11, 2018.
- NOAA NMFS – Draft 2018 Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Reports. Comments must be received by Dec. 17, 2018.
- NOAA NMFS – Nominations to the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee. Nominations are due Dec. 24, 2018.
- NOAA NMFS – Identification of Nations Engaged in Illegal, Unreported, or Unregulated Fishing, Bycatch, or Shark Fishing. Information is due on or before Dec. 31, 2018.
- NOAA National Ocean Service – Request for Nominations – Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee. Nominations are due Dec. 1, 2018.
- NPS – Request for Nominations for the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission. Nominations are due by Dec. 17, 2018.
- NRCS – Notice of Recommended Standard Methods for Use as Soil Health Indicator Measurements. Comments on the draft technical note are by Dec. 13, 2018.
- State Department – Call for Expert Reviewers To Contribute to the U.S. Government Review of the Second and Third Special Reports To Be Undertaken by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) During the Sixth Assessment Report Cycle. To be considered for inclusion in the U.S. Government submission, comments on either of the two Special Reports must be received by Dec. 19, 2018, in the proper format.
- USFS – Payette National Forest (ID) – Granite Meadows Project. Comments are due Dec. 17, 2018.
- USFS – Amendments to Land Management Plans for Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation for National Forests in Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado. Comments on the draft LMPA/EIS are due Jan. 3, 2019.
- USFWS – Designation of Critical Habitat for the Spring Pygmy Sunfish. Comments are due Dec. 5, 2018.
- USFWS – Threatened Species Status With Section 4(d) Rule and Critical Habitat Designation for Slenderclaw Crayfish. Comments are due Dec. 10, 2018.
- USFWS – 12-Month Petition Finding and Threatened Species Status for Eastern Black Rail With a Section 4(d) Rule Comments are due Dec. 10, 2018.
- USFWS – Threatened Species Status for Black-Capped Petrel With a Section 4(d) Rule. Comments are due Dec. 10, 2018.
- USFWS – Threatened Species Status for Coastal Distinct Population Segment of the Pacific Marten. Comments are due Dec. 10, 2018.
- USFWS – Threatened Species Status With Section 4(d) Rule and Critical Habitat Designation for Atlantic Pigtoe. Comments due Dec. 10, 2018.
- USFWS – Designation of Critical Habitat for the Black Pinesnake. Comments are due Dec. 10, 2018.
- USFWS – Updated Collision Risk Model Priors for Estimating Eagle Fatalities at Wind Energy Facilities. Comments are due Dec. 13, 2018.
- USFWS – Initiation of a 5-Year Status Review of the Wood Bison. Comments and information due Dec. 24, 2018.
- BLM – Notice of Intent for the Potential Amendment to the Approved Resource Management Plan for the Buffalo Field Office, Wyoming, and To Prepare an Associated Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. Comments are due Dec. 28, 2018.
- BLM – Notice of Intent for the Potential Amendment to the Approved Resource Management Plan for the Miles City Field Office, Montana, and To Prepare an Associated Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. Comments are due Dec. 28, 2018.