Policy News Update

December 22, 2009

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The UN climate summit in Copenhagen concluded on December 19, with the world’s largest emitters vowing to cut emissions and help developing countries adapt to the changing climate, and with the almost 200 countries present agreeing to “take note” of this pledge.

Just before midnight the day prior, President Obama and leaders from Brazil, India, South Africa and China emerged from 13-some hours of last-minute negotiations, unveiling an outline for future action to be pursued by more than two dozen major emitters. The agreement established an overarching goal of limiting increases in global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius or less.

Immediately, many smaller countries objected strongly at having not been included in the drafting process. Some also criticized the 2-degree goal, which they said would not prevent catastrophic climate change in their countries. Lumumba Di-Aping, the Sudanese diplomat, was particularly critical, calling the deal “nothing short of climate change skepticism in action."

Coming out of the negotiations, few look at what has been dubbed the “Copenhagen Accord” as a success. Still, while the non-binding agreement is far from where the international community initially hoped to be at the end of the summit, many observers were relieved that any form of consensus was reached, given how tumultuous the talks became. Indeed, negotiators were deadlocked until past dawn the day after the talks were scheduled to end.
Although a binding agreement is still long ways away, many countries have made independent pledges to reduce emissions, with major developing nations positioned to make a significant contribution. The countries pledged to implement reductions “in the context of sustainable development,” and to submit reports on these reductions to the UN climate office every other year. If realized, the proposed climate goals of these fast-developing countries could reduce global emissions to 28 percent below business-as-usual levels over the next 10 years.

In addition to dealing with emissions targets, the Copenhagen Accord addresses another question central in the negotiations: how to help the world’s poorest countries adapt to climate change. Negotiators made solid progress in reaching the short-term financing goal of $30 billion - participating countries have so far committed to contributing $23 billion over three years. As was expected, no long term funding goals emerged, although the agreement acknowledges the possibility of increasing contributions to $100 billion annually by 2020 "in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation."
The accord also include some language on REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), calling for the “immediate establishment of a mechanism including REDD-plus” (“REDD-plus” includes additional forest-related reductions, such as reforestation and sustainable forest management).  Since deforestation is responsible for between 12 and 25 percent of global greenhouse emissions each year, REDD will be integral to meeting the international emissions goals.  Although leaders left the summit without a formal agreement or hard targets on REDD, many see the negotiations as an important step and expect to finalize an agreement in 2010, possibly independent of the broader climate talks. The Kyoto agreement did not address forest offsets and deforestation.

In spite of these modest strides, the accord, which Obama spearheaded, has faced criticism from many climate advocates who view it as a face-saving but largely insignificant gesture. Obama, however, maintains that his goal in the negotiations was to commit the US to climate action, while making sure the commitment was something the country could keep (per the accord, a 2020 emissions reduction of 14-17 percent below 2005 levels). Still, the President said that this commitment represents only a first step, acknowledging that the proposed reductions would not keep greenhouse gas concentrations from exceeding the scientifically established thresholds.

On the domestic front, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), who is leading the push for climate legislation in the Senate, called the Copenhagen Accord a “catalyzing moment” that would allow Congress to pass a climate bill in early 2010. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader (D-NV) positioned the agreement as a source of momentum for the climate debate, which he noted would still be challenging. Although the senators’ remarks do not echo prevailing sentiments about the summit, they demonstrate the close connection between climate action in Congress and international negotiations. Many lawmakers have so far hesitated to act, expressing concerns that developing nations would not be interested in cooperating and would therefore have a competitive advantage over the US. But according to some experts, the agreement forged at Copenhagen makes a strong case against this argument, demonstrating the willingness of India and China to cooperate, even if a legally binding treaty is not yet within reach.

World leaders hope that a treaty will be possible in 2010, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he would "closely coordinate" with Mexican President Felipe Calderón in preparation for the 2010 climate conference, scheduled for November 8-19 in Mexico City.


On December 10, Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) released a framework for the climate legislation on which they’ve been working.  This effort comes at the heels of a similar bill from Kerry and Environmental and Public Works Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA), which failed to win bipartisan support.  For more information on the Kerry-Boxer bill, see the October 9 and October 23 editions of the ESA Policy News at: www.esa.org/pao/policy_news.php.

The framework contains few specifics, but rather lays out a foundation on which committees with jurisdiction can build.  Kerry said that both the Agriculture and Finance committees are planning to hold hearings next year, giving leaders time to “pull this language together in January or February.” He, Lieberman, and Graham will also draw from existing legislation, including the Kerry-Boxer climate proposal, the energy bill passed by the Natural Resources Committee earlier this year, and agricultural measures recently released by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has scheduled floor time for a climate and energy bill next spring, giving lawmakers time to tackle the controversial matter before the 2010 elections.  But it’s still unclear if, when the Senate does take it up, this effort will have a better shot at reaching 60 votes. New industry incentives and protections, while necessary to win the support of Republicans and conservative Democrats, may drive away some of the more liberal senators.  In addition, lawmakers could have several other options to consider, including bills that would regulate only emissions from power plants (a strategy that many moderate Republicans see as more palatable) and a cap-and-dividend bill recently introduced by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME). 

A cap-and-dividend (aka “cap-and-refund”) approach would set a price for carbon emissions and direct 75 percent of the revenue back to the consumer, with the remainder going toward clean energy research and development.  The system proposed by Cantwell and Collins would auction off 100 percent of emission allowances—a significant departure from the other proposals on the table (the House-passed bill, for example, would initially give away all but 18 percent of the allowances, gradually reducing the number given away for free so that 70 percent would be auctioned off by 2031) but in line with what Obama put forth in his 2010 budget request.  Like the Kerry-Boxer bill, the Cantwell-Collins bill sets the 2020 emission reduction target at 20 percent below 2005 levels, rather than 17 percent, as included in the House bill and proposed in the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham framework.  Although Kerry and Graham both spoke positively about the lawmakers’ shared interest in pricing carbon, Kerry made it clear that he does not support a cap-and-dividend approach.  Still, several lawmakers (notably Energy and Natural Resources Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) who represents an important swing vote) and prominent advocacy groups (e.g.  AARP, MoveOn.org and Greenpeace) have spoken in favor of the Cantwell-Collins approach. 


The “Framework for Climate Action and Energy Independence in the US Senate,” sent by Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to President Obama, lays out guiding principles aimed at curbing emissions while addressing the diverse economic concerns that have thus far dominated the climate debate.  The authors establish eleven goals, many of which include energy-related compromises—nuclear power incentives and expanded offshore drilling, for example—to attract the support of moderate Democrats and Republicans:

Better jobs, cleaner air: Emphasizes the importance of a swift but economically feasible emissions reduction plan and states that “a robust investment in the development and deployment of clean energy technologies will ensure that as pollution reduction targets become more rigorous, companies will be better equipped to meet their obligations in a cost-effective manner.” The authors set a 2020 emissions reduction target of 17-percent below 2005 levels—although slightly less ambitious than the 20-percent goal included in the Kerry-Boxer proposal, this figure matches the President’s budget request and the target set by the House-passed bill (HR 2454).  Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), one of the important swing votes on the issue, has called for a more modest target of 14-percent, echoing a request common within the coal industry.

Securing energy independence: Points to the nation’s $1 billion daily expenditure in foreign oil, and emphasizes the importance of developing domestic energy resources both on- and offshore, investing in clean energy technology and energy efficiency projects, and maintaining the nation’s refining capacity—something that the authors say is compatible with environmental goals.  Positioning energy independence as imperative to both the economy and national security, the framework states that “we must keep the entire energy cycle right here at home.” Graham would like to consider the drilling provisions endorsed by the bipartisan "Gang of 10" last year.  The group, which later expanded to 20, proposed a reduction of the no-leasing buffer in the eastern Gulf of Mexico (as well as along Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia, if the states allowed it) to 50 miles off the coast.  The broad energy bill passed by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in June already includes some scaling back of the Gulf’s buffer zone.  Much of this bill will likely be integrated into the final Senate climate and energy and package.

Creating regulatory predictability: Warns against relinquishing control of emissions to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or state and regional decision makers.  Legislation, the authors say, is best suited for “providing the business community with as much certainty as possible…to attract investment, create jobs and generate the confidence necessary to reach our goals.”

Protecting consumers: Pledges to assist companies in transitioning to a low-carbon economy (so that additional costs are not passed on to the consumer), support energy efficiency programs, and provide additional protections for low- and middle-income households.  The authors say that they are “considering a number of mechanisms, including a price collar and strategic reserve, to moderate the price of carbon and prevent extreme market volatility.”

Encouraging nuclear power: Positions nuclear power as “essential” in efforts to reduce emissions.  Stating that “America has lost its nuclear technology manufacturing base,” the authors propose to improve the country’s competitiveness by financing the construction of new plants, making the licensing process for traditional and small modular reactors more efficient, and supporting research into ways to minimize nuclear waste.

Ensuring a future for coal: Affirms coal’s place in the nation’s energy portfolio, while reiterating the need for a “healthier environment.” The framework proposes to “commit significant resources to the rapid development and deployment of clean coal technology, and dedicated support for early deployment of carbon capture and sequestration.”

Reviving American manufacturing by creating jobs: Highlights the decline of American manufacturing due to international outsourcing and says that an emissions reduction scheme will create new opportunities for both those developing and those building and maintaining green technologies.  The authors also point to expanded nuclear and wind power development as a driver for growth in the steel industry.

Creating wealth for domestic agriculture and forestry: Says that agricultural emissions will not be regulated, but that a domestic and international offsets program will provide farmers and foresters with the opportunity to benefit from climate legislation while contributing to its goals.

Regulating the carbon market: Vows to “support vigilant carbon market oversight, real-time transparency, adequate settlement requirements to control risk in the market and strong quality controls to ensure maximum effectiveness and clarity.”

Climate change is a global problem and requires a global solution: Says that the United States has a role to play in assisting developing countries with climate change adaptation, and supports international technology cooperation, so long as it protects intellectual property rights.  The authors also say they will “include strong measures” to ensure that America remains competitive with countries that do not adequately reduce emissions.

Building consensus: Invites collaboration and input from fellow lawmakers, stakeholders and constituents.


On December 16, President Obama signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010 into law, solidifying the 2010 appropriation for the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $6.925 billion (6.7 percent above 2009 levels, not counting the $3 billion NSF received from the 2009 stimulus money).  This amount, although less than NSF’s requested $7.045 billion, is consistent with the initiative to double its budget over 10 years.  To remain on this track, NSF would, according to the conference report, need to see an increase of at least seven percent in 2011 appropriations.

Below are some of the funding highlights—(year-to-year comparisons do not include additional funds from the 2009 stimulus package).

Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction: $117.3 million (roughly 23 percent less than 2009 levels, but consistent with the amount requested by NSF.) This amount includes $14.28 million for the Ocean Observatories Initiative.

Education and Human Resources: $872.7 million (3.2 percent above 2009 levels, more than double NSF’s requested increase of 1.5 percent).  The conference report provided funding above the agency’s request to support “additional work in experiential learning as directed by the House with a substantial portion of the initiative focused on K-6 STEM education.” Of the additional funding, the report recommends $10 million go toward K-12 discovery research, $2.5 million go toward researching and evaluating science and engineering education, and $2.5 million go toward improving curriculum and laboratories.


On December 16, the House voted 217-212 in favor of HR 2847, a jobs bill with roughly $48.3 billion in funding for transportation infrastructure, clean water projects, and renewable energy loans, bolstering amounts supplied by the $800 billion economic stimulus package 10 months ago.  This latest effort passed by a much narrower margin, however, with 38 Democrats voting with Republicans in opposition to the bill.
Environment-related funding in the bill includes:

Although the bill will face even steeper opposition in the Senate early next year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said she is optimistic that President Obama will be able to sign it into law before his State of the Union address in late January or early February.

The House is now in recess until January 12, 2010.


In an effort to address bark beetle infestations in the Rocky Mountain Region, the Forest Service will direct $40 million toward federal, state and local government efforts to reduce dead branches and other material that increase the risk of wildfire, and to maintain roads and trails where falling trees are a problem.  Over 2.5 million acres of forest in the region have been affected by the beetles, significantly increasing the risk of fire and therefore falling trees.  As he announced the funding, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack highlighted the drastic impact that beetle infestations can have on watersheds—dead trees increase erosion and flooding, while reducing the ability of forests to act as reservoirs. 

$23.6 million of the new funds will come from a federal allocation process recently completed by the Forest Service; $10 million will be reallocated from the Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Region; $5 million will come from 2009 stimulus package funding for wildfire threat reduction; and $2 million will come from leftover allocations from prior years.  Some of the region’s lawmakers have expressed concerns that the reallocation of funds take a toll on other areas (for example, by forcing campgrounds to close).  Vilsack has responded to these concerns by saying that contributions from the regions that are most impacted will be necessary in light of the tight budget.  “I think we’ve struck a good balance,” he said. 


On December 14, House Science Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) announced that he would retire at the end of 2010, saying he planned to spend more time with his family. In his announcement, the Congressman pointed to the America COMPETES Act and the 2007 energy bill as the highlights of his career.

The highest-profile Democrat to voluntarily leave the Hill, Gordon has served on the Science and Technology Committee since his career as a congressman began in 1985, and he’s chaired the panel since 2006. No clear replacement has emerged—Representatives Jerry Costello (D-IL) and Eddie Bernice (D-TX) are next in line in terms of seniority, having served 11 terms and 9 terms, respectively, but Costello is much more active in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Bernice is considering retirement herself. Subcommittee chairs are also an option—possibilities include Representatives David Wu (D-OR), Brad Miller (D-NC), Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) and Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). Representative Brian Baird (D-WA), who chairs the Energy and Environment Subcommittee, is also planning to retire at the end of this term.

Besides Gordon and Baird, two other moderate Democrats—Dennis Moore (D-KS) and John Tanner (D-TN)— have recently announced their retirement from the House. Meanwhile, freshman Democratic Representative Parker Griffith (AL) plans to switch to the Republican party. Griffith, whose district voted heavily in favor of Republican candidate John McCain in the 2008 elections, had one of the most conservative voting records of any House Democrat.



On December 16, the House Natural Resources Committee cleared several public lands measures:

Also on December 16, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a number of bills by unanimous consent, including several for new wilderness areas, national parks, wild and scenic river designations and water transfers.

On December 17, the Senate Commerce Committee approved three oceans bills:

Sources: Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, ClimateWire, Politico, the Washington Post, the New York Times, Science, Yahoo! News, Carbon News and Info, American Institute of Physics

Send questions or comments to Piper Corp, Science Policy Analyst, piper@esa.org or Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs, Nadine@esa.org

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