The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, believes the recently announced U.S. climate change plan can be a critical move forward towards a new, global climate agreement. "When the United States leads action, it also encourages more rapid international efforts to combat climate change by strengthening political trust, building business momentum and driving new technology solutions," Ms. Figueres said in a statement.
The U.S. announcement comes amid ongoing UN-led negotiations on a universal treaty on climate change by 2015, which would enter into force starting in 2020. One of the goals is to keep global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
"I applaud the fact that the U.S. intends to play a leading role by helping to forge a truly global solution to climate change that galvanizes international action to significantly reduce emissions, prepares for climate impacts, and drives progress through the international negotiations. It is significant that the new plan aims to start up rapidly and covers the full menu of solutions to climate change: clean energy, renewable energy, energy efficiency and the many actions that all countries need to take to adapt to accelerating climate change."
A fact sheet provides a short summary of President Obama's plan to address climate change and cut carbon pollution.
On Wednesday, June 27, 2013, the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) published an assessment finding that the United States had the capacity to store up to 3.7 trillion metric tons of carbon dioxide in 36 geological basins located throughout the country. The assessment followed the unveiling of President Obama's Climate Action Plan that proposed to offer up to $8 billion in loan guarantees for advanced fossil energy projects, including carbon sequestration projects. The assessment did not, however, evaluate the economic or technical viability of accessing and storing carbon dioxide in these geologic basins. Please click here to go to DOI's website that contains more information on this assessment.
U.S. EPA had already proposed to exempt carbon dioxide streams injected into the these geologic basins from the purview of federal hazardous waste regulations. However, the President has yet to act on the proposed rule, which has been under White House review since April. DOI's assessment, in conjunction with the proposed rule exempting these waste streams from hazardous waste regulations, will likely be relied upon by the both the Obama administration and U.S. EPA to justify requiring carbon capture and storage in any proposed NSPS for new coal facilities.
Since President Obama's speech on Tuesday at Georgetown, there has been tremendous response and reaction to his proposed plan to address climate change. As to be expected, some support President Obama's proposals while others do not. The threefold approach includes: 1) reducing U.S. carbon pollution; 2) preparing for climate change impacts; and, 3) leading international emission reduction efforts.
In a recent survey of 37,653 respondents in 39 countries by the Pew Research Center in D.C., climate change and fiscal volatility are seen as the top global threats. The greatest concern was expressed by those in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Asian-Pacific region. In contrast, only four in 10 Americans said the issue poses a major threat.
In a different report published by Pew Research, only 28% of Americans think climate change should be a top priority for the Administration but 69% of U.S. citizens now believe there is solid evidence to support global warming. While 42% of Americans attribute climate change to human activity, it still rates lower than the deficit, immigration and gun control in terms of issues the public want government to address.
Yahoo News reports a number of voices in the scientific community calling his attitude toward climate change bold, and critically important, as well as suggesting paths and strategies the president might follow to better combat climate change.
Mark Tercek, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy, expressed the importance of protecting natural defenses against climate change like flood plains, healthy forests and coastal features like oyster reefs. He went on to say: "We recommend some important next steps in the challenge to deal with climate change, such as putting a price on carbon; conserving forests and keeping the carbon they store out of the atmosphere by reducing deforestation; investing in research and development that can lead to discoveries applicable in other countries like China and India; and coping with the impacts of climate change by promoting the use of natural defenses."
Certain energy industry sectors have been critical of Obama's plan.
A USA Today report showed coal stocks dropped significantly yesterday, tied to fears of how profits will be affected by the cost of the Administration's new rules.
Mike Duncan, the president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said in a statement, "Taking America's most significant source of electricity offline would have disastrous consequences for our nation's economy."
While environmental groups and industry have responded to the proposal, the reaction of the American public is less clear at this point. The recent surveys discussed above confirm that Americans do not always view climate change and global warming as priorities given other critical concerns they want government to focus on first.
Before President Obama's climate change announcement yesterday, U.S. and worldwide news reported on numerous climate change-related issues on an almost daily basis. An overview of recent climate change news includes:
- Resilient Communities for America Agreement – 45 U.S. mayors recently pledged to take action to protect their communities from disasters and disruptions caused by climate change. The campaign hopes to have leadership commitments from 200 local elected officials within 12 months and from 1,000 by 2015. Four organizations–U.S. Green Building Council, the National League of Cities, the World Wildlife Fund, and Local Governments for Sustainability–will coordinate the multi-year campaign. More information on the Resilient Communities for America Agreement is available at http://www.resilientamerica.org/.
- World Day to Combat Desertification – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called upon the international community to address the global threat from drought and water scarcity and advocated for more disaster preparedness. He noted that droughts are projected to become more widespread, intense and frequent as a result of climate change. More information on the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification is available at http://www.unccd.int.
Homeland Security/Critical Infrastructure – U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that climate change will be one of the factors to be considered in updates to its national plan for ensuring the security of critical infrastructure. First released in 2006, the National Infrastructure Protection Plan is a blueprint that guards infrastructure against terrorist attacks. Public comments on areas that need to be changed must be received by July 8. The DHS notice published June 6 is available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-06-06/pdf/2013-13427.pdf.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Authority – In testimony before a congressional committee, the Corps Regulatory Chief Jennifer Moyer advised that the Corps lack authority to consider the climate impact of burning hundreds of millions of tons of U.S. coal in Asia in evaluating permits for coal export terminals. Opponents of coal exports and the proposed terminals want the Corps to conduct area wide EIS vs. the site specific EIS process, hoping for more analysis of indirect and cumulative impacts. Ms. Moyer's comments were made on June 18.
President Obama's new plan will foster even more discussion and commentary about climate change. While many continue to disagree about the causes, effects, consequences and timing of climate change impacts, President Obama's announcement this week will initiate a meaningful, national dialogue about climate change that will have repercussions around the world. We can expect even more news stories in the coming days, weeks and months as a result.
Just before President Obama made waves on the climate change front, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to step into another contentious air pollution debate. On Monday, June 24, 2013, the Supreme Court agreed to review the D.C. Circuit decision to vacate EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (the "Transport Rule") in the case of EME Homer City Generation, LP v. Environmental Protection Agency, et al., Case No. 11-1302.
As previously discussed in this blog, EPA promulgated the Transport Rule to address sulfur dioxide ("SO2") and nitrogen oxide ("NOx") air pollution that crosses state lines. On August 21, 2012, the D.C. Circuit vacated the Transport Rule, holding that EPA had exceeded its authority.
A key issue in the appeal will be the level of deference the D.C. Circuit and the Supreme Court give the administrative agency to interpret and implement the complex requirements of the Clean Air Act. EPA will argue to the Supreme Court that the D.C. Circuit overstepped its authority when it vacated the Transport Rule. In its petition for Supreme Court review, EPA argued that the D.C. Circuit opinion "creates a substantial impediment to the EPA's authority to implement the [Clean Air Act]".
The Supreme Court's decision in this case will have a significant and direct impact on how EPA regulates cross-state air pollution. The decision may also impact the way EPA regulates greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. EPA's greenhouse gas regulations were upheld by the D.C. Circuit (previously discussed in this blog), a decision that was also appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether to accept the appeal regarding the greenhouse gas rules. In both the greenhouse gas and cross-state air pollution cases, EPA argues that it must have discretion to implement the Clean Air Act in a practical and effective manner. The Supreme Court is now poised to provide some guidance on the limits of that discretion in the coming term.
In a speech today at Georgetown University, President Obama unveiled his Climate Action Plan which focuses, at least in part, on promulgating greenhouse gas (GHG) rules for new and existing power plants. More specifically, the President directed U.S. EPA to promulgate regulations that limit GHG emissions at existing power plants. The President also directed U.S. EPA to re-propose New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for newly constructed power plants. U.S. EPA had previously issued proposed NSPS rules in April 2012; however, U.S. EPA had missed its one-year deadline for issuing a final NSPS for new coal- and natural gas-fired utilities.
Other key elements of the President's Climate Action Plan include:
- An end to public financing of coal-fired power plants abroad that do not include carbon capture and sequestration technology, except in developing nations where no viable alternatives exists;
- Setting a target for the Department of Interior to double renewable energy production on public lands (from 10 gigawatts to 20 gigawatts) by 2020;
- Directing federal agencies to streamline the siting, permitting and review process for electricity transmission projects;
- Directing U.S. EPA and the Department of Transportation to work on a second round of heavy-duty vehicle emission limits for post-2018 model years;
- Making available up to $8 billion in loan guarantees for advanced fossil energy projects that are intended to avoid, reduce, or sequester anthropogenic emissions of GHGs;
- Directing federal agencies to ensure that new roads and other taxpayer-funded projects are built to withstand extreme weather events and anticipated rising sea levels;
- Establishing a new energy efficiency standards goal for consumer products;
- Efforts to craft a free trade agreement on environmental goods and services that will seek to lower tariffs and other market barriers;
- Initiatives to curb emissions of hydrofluorocarbons and methane; and
- Directing agencies to focus on the impacts of climate change in key sectors, including health, transportation, food supplies, oceans and coastal communities and implement strategies to mitigate the impact of climate change on these key sectors.
Both sides of the debate are already weighing in with environmental groups praising the President's Climate Action Plan and industry groups arguing that the plan will hike energy costs and harm the poor while having little effect on GHG emissions globally. During his speech, the President also commented on the Keystone pipeline, noting that "our national interest will only be served if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon polllution" and "that the net effects of the pipeline's impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward."
A YouTube video posted by the White House on Saturday confirmed President Obama will outline plans to reduce carbon pollution in a climate change speech scheduled for Tuesday, June 25, 2013. Obama is expected to announce a series of executive actions to address global warming consistent with commitments he made in his inauguration address in January of this year.
Washington insiders anticipate his comments may address:
- new restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants;
- new efficiency standards for energy use; and,
- programs to promote development of renewable energy sources.
In the video released this weekend, Obama is quoted as saying:
"This Tuesday, I'll lay out my vision for where I believe we need to go - - a national plan to reduce carbon pollution, prepare our country for the impacts of climate change, and lead global efforts to fight it."
"This is a serious challenge - - but it's one uniquely suited to America's strengths."
"We'll need scientists to design new fuels, and farmers to grow them."
"We'll need engineers to devise new sources of energy, and businesses to make and sell them."
"We'll need workers to build the foundation for a clean energy economy."
"And we'll need all of us, as citizens, to do our part to preserve God's creation for future generations - - our forests and waterways, our croplands and snowcapped peaks."
"There's no single step that can reverse the effects of climate change. But when it comes to the world we leave our children, we owe it to them to do what we can."
"So I hope you'll share this message with your friends. Because this is a challenge that affects everyone - - and we all have a stake in solving it together."
Our blog this week will focus on President Obama's climate change speech, the plans proposed by the U.S. to address climate change and global warming as well as the various responses and debates that will emerge as a result.
On June, 17, 2013, Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation to regulate horizontal hydraulic fracturing (aka "fracking") in Illinois. The new legislation, which is the result of extensive negotiations between industry groups, environmental groups, state regulatory entities, and Illinois labor groups, has been characterized by some as providing the strongest protections against water pollution in the nation and by others as being too lenient. Key provisions of the new legislation include:
- Requirements that wastewater be stored in closed-loop tanks rather than in open surface impoundments;
- Well and surface water must be tested prior to commencement of fracking operations and on a periodic basis thereafter;
- Stringent well construction standards;
- Disclosure of chemicals contained in the fracking operations;
- Water management plan that describes the source, location, and volume of water that will be required for the fracking activities;
- A rebuttable presumption of liability for contaminated groundwater located in the vicinity of a well site;
- Both a public notice, comment and hearing process as well as citizen suit enforcement provisions; and
- Authorization of civil actions for personal injury and property damage claims (including recovery of attorney and expert witness fees).
To see the full text of the new legislation, please click here.
The Interagency Working Group on Social Cost of Carbon – a multiple federal agency initiative – has issued new guidance on the social cost of carbon to estimate the climate benefits of any rulemakings or other federal actions. Regulators are now assuming that it's worth about $36 to avoid an extra ton of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere up from the old figure of $22 per ton.
The social cost of carbon–the marginal external costs resulting from enhanced climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions–is an important concept in environmental policy. It is closely related to the Pigou tax, the price that should apply to emissions if the aim is to maximize global welfare. The social cost of carbon could therefore theoretically inform assessment of the desirable intensity of climate policy, and it plays a crucial role in any cost-benefit analysis of emission abatement initiatives.
There are two major challenges to estimating the social cost of carbon. First, everything about climate change and its impacts is uncertain. This is partly because climate change is primarily a problem in the future; and partly because both the human and natural components of the Earth system–and thus both the drivers and the impacts of global climate change–are complex and only partially understood. Second, any assessment of the seriousness of climate change requires value judgments about the relative importance of temporal impacts: those that occur now and in the future; spatial impacts: those that impact people near and far across the globe; and the risk aversion of society for uncertain impacts: the more severe damages that may occur less likely, but still plausible, futures.
According to the guidance, the social cost of carbon is an estimate of the monetized damages associated with an incremental increase in carbon emissions in a given year. It is intended to include (but is not limited to) changes in net agricultural productivity, human health, property damages from increased flood risk and the value of ecosystem services due to climate change.
A new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) seeks to bring climate change concerns back on top of the policy agenda by demonstrating that the dilemma can be tackled at no net economic cost. The IEA's Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map report said that carbon dioxide emissions grew at a rate of 1.4 percent in 2012, reaching a record high of 31.6 gigatons released into the atmosphere. The world's average temperatures are on track to increase between 6.5 and 9.5 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, said the IEA, an independent research group established by the world's industrialized nations.
Emissions of greenhouse gases have fallen in the U.S. recently to levels not seen since the mid-1990s, largely because of a natural gas boom that has prompted a shift in power generation away from coal. The IEA report noted "China experienced the largest growth in CO2 emissions, but the increase was one of the lowest it has seen in a decade," driven in part by the greater deployment of renewable energy.
The group recommended curtailing the use and construction of inefficient coal-fired plants and boosting use of renewable energy and natural gas.
To learn more about the IEA's work and this report, visit www.worldenergyoutlook.org/energyclimatemap.
The USGS has released a new report, Prioritization of Constituents for National and Regional Scale Ambient Monitoring of Water and Sediment in the United States, that addresses the methodology used to prioritize constituents to be assessed. This effort was undertaken in preparation for the third decade of the National Water – Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA) including the time period 2013-2023.
Constituents were prioritized by the NAWQA National Target Analyte Strategy Work Group on the basis of available information on physical and chemical properties, observed or predicted environmental occurrence and fate, and observed or anticipated adverse effects on human health or aquatic life.
The constituents were ranked in three tiers:
- Tier 1 with those having the highest priority on the basis of their likelihood of environmental occurrence in ambient water or sediment, or likelihood of effects on human health or aquatic life;
- Tier 2 for constituents of intermediate priority on the basis of their lower likelihood of environmental occurrence or lower likelihood of effects on human health or aquatic life; and
- Tier 3 of those with low or no priority for monitoring.
Overall, 2,541 constituents were assessed with 1,081 constituents identified for ranking in Tier 1. Constituent groups included volatile organic compounds in water; pesticides in water or sediment; pharmaceuticals and hormones in water or sediment; trace elements and other inorganic constituents in water or sediment; cyanotoxins in surface water; lipophilic organic compounds in sediment; disinfection byproducts in water; high-production-volume chemicals in water; wastewater-indicator and industrial compounds in water; and radionuclides in water.
USGS began the NAWQA program in 1991 to develop long-term and consistent information on U.S. streams, rivers, and groundwater, how the conditions are changing over time, and how natural features and human activities affect these features, according to the USGS website.
The USGS report is available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2012/5218/sir12-5218.pdf.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge this week, calling on others across the food chain – including producer groups, processors, manufacturers, retailers, communities, and other government agencies – to join the effort to reduce, recover, and recycle food waste. Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe were joined at the event by representatives from private-sector partners and supporters including Rio Farms, Unilever, General Mills, the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, Feeding America, and Rock and Wrap It Up!
Food waste in the United States is estimated at roughly between 30 to 40 percent of the food supply. In 2010, an estimated 133 billion pounds of food from U.S. retail food stores, restaurants, and homes never made it into people's stomachs. The amount of uneaten food in homes and restaurants was valued at almost $390 per U.S. consumer in 2008, more than an average month's worth of food expenditures.
Food waste the single largest type of waste entering our landfills – Americans throw away up to 40 percent of their food. Addressing this issue not only helps with combating hunger and saving money, but also with combating possible climate change-related impacts, according to EPA.
The goal of the U.S. Food Waste Challenge is to lead a fundamental shift in how we think about and manage food and food waste in this country. The Challenge includes a goal to have 400 partner organizations by 2015 and 1,000 by 2020.
As part of its contribution to the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, USDA is initiating a wide range of activities including activities to reduce waste in the school meals program, educate consumers about food waste and food storage, and develop new technologies to reduce food waste. USDA will also work with industry to increase donations from imported produce that does not meet quality standards, streamline procedures for donating wholesome misbranded meat and poultry products, update U.S. food loss estimates at the retail level, and pilot-test a meat-composting program to reduce the amount of meat being sent to landfills from food safety inspection labs.
Through its Food Recovery Challenge, EPA will provide U.S. Food Waste Challenge participants with the opportunity to access data management software and technical assistance (www.epa.gov/smm/foodrecovery/) to help them quantify and improve their sustainable food management practices.
To join the Challenge and learn more about USDA's activities and the activities of those who have already joined, visit: www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/index.htm.
This Food Waste Challenge was a coordinated initiative with World Environmental Day 2013 where this year's theme is Think.Eat.Save focusing on food waste and the related environmental impacts.
Today is World Environment Day (WED) and celebrations are going around the world to raise awareness about the need to protect natural resouces and the environment. This year's focus for WED is Think.Eat. Save related to the interconnection between food waste and environmental impacts. Below is a summary of food and related environmental statistics:
- 40% of food Americans have available to them goes uneaten. This equates to $165.6 billion in food is wasted each year.
- In the United States alone, consumers waste 10 times more food per capita than those in Southeast Asia.
- Reducing food losses by just 15% would mean enough food to feed more than 25 million people in America. Today 1 in 6 Americans lack a secure supply of food to their tables.
- 50% more food is wasted today than in the mid 1970s.
- 10% of the entire U.S. budget, 50% of land and 80% of water is utilized to get food from farms to fork.
- Throwing out ½ a hamburger equates to the same water usage as taking a 60 minute shower.
- Most of this nutrient rich uneaten food is thrown out and ends up in landfills becoming the second largest component of landfills, and the single largest component of municipal solid waste, where it accounts for almost 25% of U.S. methane emissions.
Celebrate today by learning more about the environmental impacts of food waste and what you can do to reduce your "foodprint" by visiting http://www.thinkeatsave.org
According to EPA, more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in municipal solid waste (MSW). In 2010 alone, more than 34 million tons of food waste was generated, with only three percent diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting.
How Can I Divert Food From Landfills?
Preventing food waste before it is created
Donating fresh, wholesome food to those in need
Feeding safe, fresh food scraps to animals like pig farms
Rendering fats, oils, and grease and turning it into products or biofuel
Turning food waste into a valuable soil amendment
Turning food waste into renewable energy and a valuable soil amendment
Why Divert Food Waste From Landfills?
Reducing the amount of food wasted has significant economic, social & environmental benefits:
- Reduce Methane From Landfills
- Reduce Resource Use Associated with Food Production
- Create A Valuable Soil Amendment
- Lower Disposal Costs
- Reduce Over-Purchasing and Labor Costs
- Receive Tax Benefits by Donating Food
- Feed People, Not Landfills
For more insights on the connection between environmental protection and food waste, visit EPA's website at http://www.epa.gov/waste/conserve/foodwaste/.
THINK.EAT.SAVE – Celebrate World Environmental Day June 5, 2013.
World Environment Day (WED) once again will be celebrated around the world this Wednesday, June 5th. The theme for this year's WED is Think.Eat.Save. Think.Eat.Save is an anti-food waste and food loss campaign that encourages you to reduce your foodprint. Given the enormous imbalance in lifestyles and the resultant devastating effects on the environment, this year's theme – Think.Eat.Save – encourages you to become more aware of the environmental impact of the food choices you make and empowers you to make informed decisions.
If food is wasted, it means that all the resources and inputs used in the production of all the food are also lost. For example, it takes about 1,000 litres of water to produce 1 litre of milk and about 16,000 litres goes into a cow's food to make a hamburger. The resulting greenhouse gas emissions from the cows themselves, and throughout the food supply chain, all end up in vain when we waste food.
In fact, global food production occupies 25% of all habitable land and is responsible for 70% of fresh water consumption, 80% of deforestation, and 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. It is the largest single driver of biodiversity loss and land-use change, according to WED's guidance materials.
WED is celebrated each year to raise awareness of the need to take positive environmental action. It is sponsored by the United States Environment Program (UNEP).
In recognition of WED, many of our blogs this week will address food waste, sustainable consumption and the environmental impacts of agriculture and food processing.
For more information about WED, visit UNEP website at http://www.unep.org/wed/.