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Vol. II, No. 22

Cooler Heads Digest

Title

Vol. II, No. 22

Politics

EPA Lacks Authority to Regulate CO2

Following the completion of the Kyoto Protocol, Carol Browner, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), testified before Congress that the EPA possessed the authority to meet the targets set at Kyoto. She claimed that the EPA could, under existing law, characterize carbon dioxide as a pollutant and regulate it under the Clean Air Act (CAA).

A new report by the National Mining Association, CO2: A Pollutant? The Authority of EPA to Regulate Carbon Dioxide Under the Clean Air Act, analyzes the language, legal structure, and legislative history of the CAA to determine whether Congress intended for EPA to regulate carbon dioxide. The report concludes that Congress did not provide EPA the authority to regulate carbon dioxide. "Instead, Congress deliberately limited EPA’s endeavors in this area to non-regulatory activities," according to the report.

None of the CAA sections cited by the EPA as "potentially applicable" authorizes the agency to regulate carbon dioxide. The EPA’s legal analysis relies entirely on general language contained in the CAA. But, contends the report, such language "cannot defeat the specific intent of Congress." In 1990, Congress specifically debated and rejected proposals to allow EPA to regulate carbon dioxide. "Congress authorized EPA only to study certain greenhouse gases, not regulate them."

Finally, the report argues that even if Congress had intended to give such power to the EPA it would still need to show that carbon dioxide "causes harmful effects to the public health, welfare or the environment." The complexities of global warming and the "serious flaws in some of the fundamental evidence" would make it very difficult for EPA to support such a finding. For additional information contact John Grasser or Karen Batra of NMA at (202) 463-2651.

In a supporting study, the Greening Earth Society reviews "carbon dioxide’s effects on human health, welfare and the environment." The study finds that: "There is no direct effect of any anticipated level of atmospheric carbon dioxide on human health," and, "There is an overwhelming body of evidence that the direct effect of carbon dioxide on food production is highly positive." For instance, "Carbon dioxide is currently increasing the vegetative biomass of the planet and has increased agricultural production by 10 percent." The report can be obtained by contacting GES at (703) 907-6168.

Congress Boosts Green Funding

In a surprise move, Congress agreed to appropriate $193 million for the World Bank’s Global Environment Facility in the fiscal 1999 federal budget deal. The money, critics fear, may be used in part to induce the developing countries to participate in the global warming treaty inked in Kyoto, Japan. In addition, numerous environmental pressure groups, such as the World Wildlife Fund, contract with the GEF to implement carbon emissions reduction projects in the Third World.

The Senate had previously rejected any further funding for the GEF, and the House had voted to cut $47 million from the appropriation. But when the House and Senate met in conference committee, the massive increase was inserted as a provision to pay back "arrears," Cooler Heads has learned. The amount reflects the difference between what the Clinton Administration pledged and what the Congress actually appropriated during the past three years.

"It will help improve the tone of discussions in Buenos Aires by putting more money on the table for clean projects," according to Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists (The Washington Times, October 22, 1998).

Big Business Bids for Early Emission Reduction Credits

The President’s Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD) has sent President Clinton a set of principles that would give early credit to companies who voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One of the principles would give credit for "legitimate and verifiable measures that reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions relative to defined benchmarks," and calls for "all levels of government to lead the way in cutting emissions."

The PCSD, created in 1993 by President Clinton, is a commission that advises the president on "sustainable development, economic, environmental, and equity issues." The group is made up of representatives from industry, environmental groups and government officials. The letter to the President states that voluntary action "is justified entirely on its own merits because it will improve economic performance and will reduce local environmental pollution as well as greenhouse gases."

Steve Percy, chairman and CEO of BP America Inc. and co-chair the PCSD task force, said, "Even before any binding treaties or other requirements are in place, America’s businesses, communities, government agencies, and individuals need to get ready to tackle the challenge of climate change" (BNA Daily Environment Report, October 28, 1998).

Knollenberg Amendment Weakened

On October 21, President Bill Clinton signed the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act, 1999, which contains the Knollenberg amendment which bars the EPA from implementing the Kyoto Protocol before it is ratified by the U.S. Senate.

Already, however, the White House is seeking to turn the amendment into permission to regulate carbon dioxide. In a speech following the signing, Clinton stated, "I am pleased that the Congress modified the language in the Act concerning the Kyoto Protocol on global climate change and clarified what this language means in the Statement of Managers.

"In particular, the Congress made it clear that it does not intend to limit my Administration’s ability to carry out common-sense actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; its intent, rather, is only to limit funding that would implement actions called for solely under the Kyoto Protocol." (U.S. Newswire, October 21, 1998).

Economics

Emissions Trading No Solution

The Clinton Administration’s economic analysis of the costs of implementing the Kyoto Protocol rely heavily on the assumption that there will be unlimited emissions trading between the developed countries who are signatories to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Many have criticized this assumption in light of the resistance to emissions trading from the European Union. It may be, however, that even with a full-blown emissions trading system little if any cost savings would result.

On October 23, the Competitive Enterprise Institute sponsored an economics briefing for congressional staff and media featuring Robert A. Reinstein, President of Reinstein & Associates International, and the former chairman of Working Group III and of Working Group II of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Mr. Reinstein argued that even with full emissions trading there would not be enough emissions credits available to meet the demand. The demand for credits among OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries would be between 1.8 and 3.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, the largest part of which would come from the United States. The potential supply from non-OECD countries will be between 270 million and a little over 1 billion tons.

Reinstein also touched on some of the administration’s other assumptions. The Clinton Administration claims, for example, that much of the reductions can be achieved easily and cheaply by increasing energy efficiency. It argues that many energy saving technologies are available and waiting to be taken advantage of. Reinstein pointed out, however, that energy prices were higher in years past, making investments in energy efficiency even more profitable than they are today, yet the investments weren’t made.

Rent Seekers Eye Profits From Kyoto

Many businesses have boarded the global warming bandwagon in anticipation of securing profit from government policies (known as rent seeking) to reduce carbon emissions. In a recent Washington speech, utility analyst Leonard Hyman with Salomon Smith Barney unabashedly promoted this notion. A sophisticated carbon dioxide trading system could be a cash cow for some businesses in a market that could reach a value of $13 trillion by 2050, claims to Hyman.

"Think of the trading opportunities in a market of that size," he said. "Think of the new technologies required to help people lower their CO2 output in order to cash in on permit sales. Think of the surveillance, metering and compliance needs . . . The United States has the leadership position in almost all of the skills required to make this market work. Isn’t this an opportunity for American financial and technological firms?" (The Electricity Daily, October 16, 1998)

Adaptation is Still the Best Policy

So far the debate on what to do about global warming has focused almost exclusively on reducing energy use. The Kyoto Protocol sets greenhouse gas emission targets for the participating countries. Other options are available, however, if global warming were to occur. In an article in Nature (October 22, 1998) several British researchers argue that "we should . . . be thinking seriously about how we can best adapt to climate change."

Martin Parry, et. al., argue that even if the Kyoto Protocol is fully implemented it will only reduce the amount of warming by only 0.05 degrees C by 2050. And even if the participating countries reduced emissions by a massive 20 percent, warming would be reduced by only 0.1 degrees C by 2050. "These minor reductions in the expected warming mean that the projected impacts of change are barely affected," say the authors.

Though the authors call for an international agreement on adaptation, another avenue along these lines would be to reduce the barriers in government policies which slow down or prevent individuals from adapting to changing conditions. The authors argue that to "ignore adaptation is both unrealistic and perilous."

Science

North America Absorbing Carbon

One of the biggest mysteries in the global warming debate is the disappearance a large amounts of man-made greenhouse gases. Humans emit 7.1 petagrams of carbon dioxide each year. It is estimated that about half enters the atmosphere, 2 petagrams go into the oceans and 1.1 to 2.2 petagrams are absorbed by plants. What happens to the remainder is still unknown.

A new study in Science (October 16, 1998), however, argues that North America absorbs 1.7 petagrams of carbon per year, much more than previously thought. If true this means that not every gram of carbon released in the United States and Canada enters the atmosphere, but many are absorbed by the newly detected sink.

The researchers used data on carbon dioxide levels taken from 1988 to 1992 at 63 ocean-sampling stations. They plugged the data into two computer models, one which estimates ocean uptake and release of carbon dioxide, the other which estimates the how carbon dioxide is distributed by wind currents. What the researchers found is that carbon dioxide levels slightly decreased from west to east across North America even though levels were expected to increase as a result of fossil fuel emissions. This suggests a large North American sink.

The study is being criticized in some quarters, however. Inez Fung, a climate modeler with the University of California at Berkeley, argues that the models "could be off by just a little bit, and you get a very different conclusion." Others point out that the study period includes the Mount Pinatubo eruption, a period where cooler and wetter conditions increased carbon uptake. Other studies trying to measure carbon uptake by sinks have come up with different results.

According to one of the team members, Jorge Sarmiento of Princeton University, part of the reason why other studies have failed to find such a large sink is that they "missed a lot of forest regrowth on abondoned farmland and formerly logged forests in the east fertilized by CO2 or nitrogen pollution, and that they fail to account for carbon stored in soils and wetlands."

Another study in the same issue of Science finds that South American tropical forests account for about 40 percent of the missing sink. While preliminary and contradictory, these studies suggest that much is still unknown about the carbon cycle. As stated by Heimann, "the most obvious conclusion" would be that "there’s no need for the U.S. and Canada to curb emissions."

Antarctic Ice Cap is Not Shrinking

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that a warming planet will cause the world’s glaciers to melt and raise sea levels to potentially dangerous heights. A new study published in Science (October 16, 1998), however, shows that the Antarctic ice cap is not melting as a result of global warming. Measurements taken by remote sensing satellites show that on average the height of the ice cap is changing by less than 1 cm per year

There seems, however, to be an unspoken rule among warming proponents that good news must be reinterpreted as bad news. Instead of evidence against global warming, these findings suggest that the consequences of global warming may be worse than believed, according to Professor Duncan Wingham of the University College London, who led the research.

Since the sea level is currently rising by 1.8 cm per decade, one would expect the Antarctic ice cap to have shrunk by 5 cm to account for the observed sea level rise. This must mean that global warming is causing greater thermal expansion than expected. Global warming, concludes Wingham, will cause sea levels to rise by one meter over the next century, entirely due to thermal expansion (Financial Times (London), October 16, 1998).

 

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