Blue Marble - February 2010

Cape Wind Site Not So Sacred After All?

| Fri Feb. 26, 2010 2:01 PM EST

Dirty energy interests have been leading a campaign for nearly a decade to block Cape Wind, the country’s first offshore wind farm in the Nantucket Sound. They have been successful in delaying the project, but their real hope for conquering the wind farm didn’t come until last year, when two local Native American tribes requested that the sound be declared off-limits for development.
The turbines would disrupt their ritual of greeting the sun rise and impose on ancestral burial grounds, the tribes argued. The National Park Service determined last month that the sound could be considered for listing in the National Register of Historic Places in response to the tribes’ request.
But one tribe member says that appeal is a fabrication. "I never participated in, witnessed or even heard of a sacred spot on the horizon that is relevant to any Aquinnah Wampanoag culture, history or ceremony,” wrote Jeffrey Madison a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head in a letter to Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar obtained by the Martha's Vineyard Gazette. "The notion that locating wind turbines in Nantucket Sound will impose on, impact or harm any cultural tradition is just plain false … I believe it to be a fabrication, invented by a small number of tribal members, who happen to be involved in tribal government and who happen to be opponents of Cape Wind who wish to derail the project."

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More Dems Join EPA Block

| Fri Feb. 26, 2010 12:07 PM EST

Two House Democrats are joining the assault on the coming greenhouse gas regulations from the EPA. On Thursday, Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Armed Services Chair Ike Skelton (D) introduced a resolution to overturn the agency’s finding that emissions threaten human health. Missouri Republican Jo Ann Emerson is cosponsoring the legislation.

Their measure mirrors the Senate attack on EPA regulations from Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who is using a resolution of disapproval--an obscure procedural maneuver to overturn agency regulations--to block the agency’s scientific conclusion that planet-warming gases endanger humans. The House trio introduced a separate piece of legislation earlier this month to amend the Clean Air Act, but has now synched its efforts with those in the Senate. Murkowski’s measure has 40 cosponsors, including Democrats Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Mary Landrieu (La.).

The EPA's finding has triggered the regulation of gases, with rule for automobiles expected next month and major stationary sources like power plants coming in April. With Senate debate on a carbon cap stalled out, the EPA rules are seen as the last hope for regulating emissions this year.

In announcing the House resolution, Skelton challenged whether the EPA has the authority to regulate emissions, and the Supreme Court’s decision that yes, they in fact do have that authority. He also argues that the House should drop it’s own plan to regulate emissions, which he voted for last June. He said that he hopes the House "will set aside cap and trade in favor of a more scaled back bipartisan bill." In the meantime, said Skelton, the disapproval resolution will "keep EPA from threatening Congress with its own greenhouse gas policy as we write legislation."

Peterson, who has also reversed his position on the House bill after wringing a litany of incentives for Big Ag out of the measure last summer, said the disapproval resolution will prevent the EPA from imposing "unwarranted regulations on all of us."

Murkowski cheered the House resolution in a statement on Friday, calling it evidence of the bipartisanship. "The Administration has urged members of Congress to work together and across party lines," she said. "This action adds to the evidence that we are doing just that, and we do not want EPA imposing economically-harmful climate regulations."

Somehow, I’m pretty sure this isn’t the kind of bipartisan action the Obama team has in mind.

Eco-News Roundup: Friday February 26

| Fri Feb. 26, 2010 8:39 AM EST

Waste of Time? That's the takeaway of one blogger on healthcare summit so far.

Pre-existing Debate: If Obama can get GOP to admit pre-existing conditions are unfair, it'll go a long way.

Movers and Swimmers: Galapagos seals exploit warmer waters and move. [MongaBay]

Bloom Box: A new, supposedly green energy device is confusingly vague.

Non-Story: Reconciliation isn't some controversial new technique to get bills passed.

Ho Hum: GM considers new buyers for CO2-spewing Hummer brand. [Bloomberg]

Zombie Bill: An explanation of why the public option will stay dead.

Hill Scrum: Due to healthcare reform, there are now 8 health lobbyists per lawmaker.

New Ban in Town: Nebraska tries to ban late-term abortions on basis of fetal pain. [LA Times]

Fed Shocker: Federal government is investigating a school that disciplines with electric shocks.

Green Closet: Glenn Beck is surpisingly green, at least in private.

Pre-Storm Sham: Why the healthcare summit isn't really an effort at bipartisanship.

 

Most Credible Climate Skeptic Not So Credible After All

| Fri Feb. 26, 2010 7:00 AM EST

Patrick Michaels has more credibility than your average climate skeptic. Unlike some of the kookier characters that populate the small world of climate denialists—like Lord Christopher Monckton, a sometime adviser to Margaret Thatcher who claims that "We are a carbon-starved planet," or H. Leighton Steward, a retired oil executive and author of a best-selling diet book who argues that carbon dioxide is "green"—Michaels is actually a bona fide climate scientist. As such, he's often quoted by reporters as a reasonable expert who argues that global warming has been overhyped. But what Michaels doesn't mention in his frequent media appearances is his history of receiving money from big polluters.

Michaels, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, has some impressive-sounding credentials. He has a PhD in ecological climatology and is a senior fellow in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University. He's a past president of the American Association of State Climatologists and a former program chair for the Committee on Applied Climatology of the American Meteorological Society. He regularly touts his work as a contributing author and reviewer of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. (Almost every climate scientist in the world has at some point contributed to or reviewed an IPCC study.) Unlike climate skeptics who implausibly claim that there's no such thing as global warming, Michaels accepts that it's happening, but downplays the severity of the problem and the role that human activity plays in the phenomenon.

With climate science increasingly under siege, Michaels has been getting plenty of airtime lately. Following reports of errors and sloppy research procedures with the reports produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Michaels featured prominently in a CBS News report last month, claiming that there is "no doubt the trust in the UN panel has been undermined." And after hacked emails revealed that a group of climate scientists had tried to block skeptical views from academic papers and journals, Michaels appeared on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 to debate Bill Nye (the "Science Guy"). Michaels said he was "troubled" that scientists at the heart of the controversy might have tried "to hide things" from Freedom of Information Act requests. He was also featured prominently in a New York Times piece calling the controversy "a mushroom cloud" for climate science, and appeared several times in the Wall Street Journal complaining that scientists said mean things about him in the emails. (It's worth emphasizing that while the incident revealed scientists behaving unprofessionally, nothing in the emails undermined the underlying science of climate change.)

But Michaels' credibility on climate is called into question by a trove of documents from a 2007 court case that attracted almost no scrutiny at the time. Those documents show that Michaels has financial ties to big energy interests—ties that he's worked hard to keep secret. Here's the back story:

Americans Like Conservation, Just Don't Do It

| Thu Feb. 25, 2010 9:31 PM EST

Most Americans like the idea of conservation. But few practice it in their daily lives. That's according to the results of a national survey by researchers at Yale and George Mason Universities.

A majority of Americans say it's "very important" or "somewhat important" to turn off unneeded lights (92 percent), to lower the thermostat in winter (83 percent), and to use public transportation or carpool (73 percent), among other conservation behaviors. Yet:

  • though 88 percent of Americans say it's important to recycle at home, only 51 percent "often" or "always" do
  • though 81 percent say it's important to use reusable shopping bags, only 33 percent "often/always" do
  • though 76 percent say it's important to buy locally grown food, only 26 percent "often/always" do
  • though 76 percent say it's important to walk or bike instead of drive, only 15 percent "often/always" do
  • though 72 percent of Americans say it's important to use public transportation or carpool, only 10 percent say they "often" or "always" do

Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change, tells George Mason University:

"There are many possible explanations for the gap between people’s attitudes and their actual behavior. For example, public transportation may not be locally available or convenient. Overcoming barriers such as these will make it much easier for people to act in ways consistent with their values."

The survey also found that in the past year about 33 percent of Americans rewarded companies taking steps to reduce global warming by buying their products, while slightly fewer refused buying products of companies they perceived as recalcitrant on the issue. Finally, 11 percent of Americans have contacted government officials in the past year about global warming, with seven in 10 urging officials to take action to reduce it.

"When it comes to taking a stand against global warming, concerned Americans are much more likely to take action through consumer purchases rather than as citizens," says Edward Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at Mason. "This lack of citizen engagement may help to explain why Congress is being so timid in addressing climate change."

A copy of the report is available here.


 

EPA Block Bad for Auto Industry, Says DOT

| Thu Feb. 25, 2010 6:27 PM EST

Efforts underway to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse-gas emissions would "profoundly" harm the already-ailing auto industry, warned the Department of Transportation in a letter.

A measure from Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to block the EPA’s finding that greenhouse gases threaten public health puts in peril a deal on automobile emissions made between state governments, the Obama administration, and the auto industry, both the DOT and EPA administrator Lisa Jackson warned this week. The EPA, DOT, and the White House last year worked out a deal to unify the higher state auto standards, first adopted by California, and the federal standard into one program that takes into account both miles per gallon of gasoline and the amount of emissions from a vehicle.

The deal was significant, as the auto industry had been a major opponent of the tougher state rules. The Auto Alliance and others in the industry have been supportive of the endangerment, as it would eventually subject other companies to rules it is already preparing to follow.

A federal plan is better than “the pre-existing patchwork of standards that would have required companies to build separate fleet for different states,” wrote O. Kevin Vincent, chief counsel at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in a letter to the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) provided to Mother Jones. The EPA is expected to announce the first rules for vehicles by the end of next month for model year 2012 vehicles, but that announcement is rooted in the finding that Murkowski’s effort intends to block.

Murkowski maintains that her effort is a response to fears that EPA rules will be economically catastrophic. But DOT's argument is that her block will be problematic for at least one major industry, too.

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McCain Goes Off the Nuclear Deep End

| Thu Feb. 25, 2010 1:22 PM EST

The Obama administration’s $54.5 billion plan to ignite the nuclear power industry might seem like the shot in the arm that nuclear advocates have been demanding for some time. But it’s apparently not good enough for John McCain.

One might think that McCain, who has long touted nuclear as the ideal low-carbon fuel source, would be enthused about Barack Obama’s State of the Union statement that creating clean energy jobs "means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country." But apparently not. McCain told The Hill:

During the campaign, I said, 'Look, the only way we're going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and eliminate, over time, our dependency on foreign oil is nuclear power.’ I said it over and over and over again. So what did this administration just do? They say, 'We're for nuclear power, but we're shutting down Yucca Mountain,' in which we invested $16 billion. They keep saying, 'Yes, we're for nuclear power,' but the rhetoric is contradicted by their actions. So I cannot engage in serious contemplation, serious discussion, until nuclear power is a viable option. It is not viable when you announce the only place you can store is closing, and they're not recycling. So it's a non-starter.

McCain must be living in an alternate universe if $54.5 billion in support for the industry does not live up to the administration's rhetoric. And while the administration has decided to shut down Yucca, that was largely because it has long been clear that there was very little support for efforts to locate the waste facility there. The Department of Energy has formed a new commission to look at options for waste disposal and recycling, as there are a lot of questions about how exactly that can be done.

McCain's buddy Lindsey Graham has taken the lead on efforts to pass a nuclear-friendly climate bill this year and calls the Obama administration "very pro-nuclear." Yet while the Obama administration is holding out nuclear support as an incentive for Republicans to support a climate and energy bill, it looks like that won't be enough for McCain.

Reid Bullish on Climate Bill

| Thu Feb. 25, 2010 12:05 PM EST

Does John Kerry have good reason to be so optimistic about a climate bill? The Washington Post reports that he’s getting strong signals that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants a bill ASAP, indicating that senators might be closer to a deal on climate and energy than many people around Washington have assumed.

Kerry indicated to reporters Tuesday that an energy package is still atop Reid’s agenda for the year. And in a statement to the Post, Kerry said that Reid is “deadly serious about making progress this year on climate and energy reform.” Reid met with Kerry on Tuesday after a he huddled with Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) to discuss the anticipated measure.

"Senator Reid made it clear to me the other day that he wants a bill and he wants it soon," Kerry said. "I can't give you an exact timeline, but we are working very very diligently with our colleagues and all of the stakeholders to think this through carefully and get this done right, and get it done in a way that can pass the Senate."

Finance Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has been less enthusiastic about moving on a bill this year, saying earlier this week that he doesn’t think it stands much of a chance of going anywhere. His committee has jurisdiction over some key elements of the bill, like permit allocation and any revenues it may bring in.

Sources close to the climate debate at environmental and energy industry lobbying groups indicate that they, too, are getting positive signals that the Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman are getting close to a deal. Kerry indicated that they’ve close to agreement on key elements like a nuclear energy title, but the outstanding issue remains what kind of mechanism they will use to price carbon.

Barack Obama’s appeal to industry leaders to support a cap also seems to have revived hopes that something will move forward soon. So we might well see the fruits of Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman's efforts some time soon.

Hurricanes Begat Warming, and Vice Versa

| Wed Feb. 24, 2010 8:27 PM EST

More frequent hurricanes (and typhoons and tropical cyclones) in Earth’s past contributed to persistent El Niño-like conditions, which in turn made more hurricanes.

According to a new paper in Nature, tropical cyclones were twice as common during the Pliocene epoch 3 to 5 million years ago, when temperatures were up to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than now. The storms also lasted two to three days longer than now. Unlike today, they occurred across the entire tropical Pacific Ocean. Co-author Christopher Brierley tells Yale:

"The Pliocene is the best analog we have in the past for what could happen in our future. We wondered whether all these storms could have contributed to the warmer climate."

Apparently they did. Cyclone and climate models revealed a positive feedback loop between tropical cyclones and upper-ocean circulation in the Pacific—which explains the increase in storms leading to permanent El Niño-like conditions.

We don't have a permanent El Niño today because cold water off California and Chile skirts the region of tropical cyclones, forming a "cold tongue" stretching west from South America. But during the Pliocene the cold tongue was repeatedly hit by one of many tropical cyclones, churning it with warmer waters. This equatorial warming led to changes in the atmosphere that in turn created more tropical storms.

Next step for the Yale/MIT team is to study how much of that kind of mixing might be happening with today's tropical cyclones.
 

Obama to CEOs: A Carbon Cap is Good for You

| Wed Feb. 24, 2010 7:17 PM EST

Barack Obama made a business case for cap-and-trade to CEOs on Wednesday, arguing that cutting carbon pollution is necessary for the future of American companies.

"A competitive America is also an America that finally has a smart energy policy," Obama told the 100 corporate leaders gathered at the Business Roundtable, noting that he will "not accept second place for the United States of America" when it comes to energy. The roundtable's executive board include a number of CEOs of companies key in the climate fight, like Rex Tillerson of ExxonMobil., Michael Morris of American Electric Power, and Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric.

Obama reaffirmed the need for a cap and price on carbon, noting that "many businesses have embraced this approach." "I am sympathetic to those companies that face significant transition costs, and I want to work with organizations like this to help with those costs and get our policies right," he said.

But failure to act, he said, would present more uncertainty for businesses:

What we can’t do is stand still. The only certainty of the status quo is that the price and supply of oil will become increasingly volatile; that the use of fossil fuels will wreak havoc on weather patterns and air quality. But if we decide now that we’re putting a price on this pollution in a few years, it will give businesses the certainty of knowing they have time to plan and transition. This country has to move towards a clean energy economy. That’s where the world is going. And that’s how America will remain competitive and strong in the 21st century.

There has been some concern of late that the White House might not be backing off calls for a carbon cap, but Obama has made a point of reemphasizing his support for it in recent weeks. He also called on Senate Democrats to keep it a cap in legislation.