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CAFE and Presidential Politics
The Greens launched a major effort this year to block a freeze on the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards that require automobile manufacturers to keep their fleets average fuel economy at or below the CAFE cap. Each year since its inception Congress has forbidden a tightening of the standard.
The Green’s campaign was unsuccessful, however, as President Clinton failed to veto the measure as they had hoped. According to Jon Pepper in an article in the Detroit News (October 3, 1999), President Clinton avoided the veto in deference to "the faltering campaign of his pal Al."
According to Pepper, the Vice President has "learned that what he thought he understood about the science of global warming paled in comparison to his mastery of mathematics. When Gore started counting the votes in states where there were still plenty of automotive jobs, he needed more than all his fingers and toes."
It turns out that automotive jobs exist in Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Alabama, the Carolinas and Texas. "How Gore could lose those states and still win the election was shaping up to be a challenge that was even more difficult than his invention of the internet," wrote Pepper.
Pepper noted that Gore was further convinced by "Big Labor and its allies in Congress." UAW president Steve Yokich, Sen. Tom Daschle, House minority leader Richard Gephardt, and Michigan’s Democratic delegation all favored keeping the CAFE freeze in place.
Kyoto Politics At Government Forum
The 1999 Earth Technologies Forum featured speakers from government and business who expressed frustration over U.S. delay to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The Forum was sponsored by the U.S. Departments of State, Commerce, and Energy, the EPA, and the United Nations Environment and Development Programs.
Paul Stolpman with the EPA argued that "Critics of taking action on climate change promote the idea of climate change as an unproven theory. This is a diversionary tactic, not unlike the tactics use by critics of the Montreal Protocol. As with ozone depletion, we cannot let nay-sayers deflect us from the real policy debate. The real debate about climate change is not, and should not be, about whether it exists or not, but about what to do about it."
Rajendra Shende from the UNEP argued that Kyoto is a failure. The Montreal Protocol was a success because it has "ambitious, globally binding targets." Kyoto has "soft targets" which slow innovation, he said. "Montreal led to transfer of cutting edge technologies, Kyoto is leading to transfer of cutting corners and aged technologies."
Steve Harper of Intel argued that businesses that take actions to reduce energy emissions should be give credit for their efforts, even if those actions would be taken anyway in the normal course of business. Stolpman argued, however, that the smart companies are taking actions regardless of whether they get early action credits. He points to "voluntary partnerships" between EPA and business as successful examples of reducing emissions.
Others were less sanguine about the benefits of reducing energy use. Thomas Johansson of UNEP noted that Kyoto could cause significant hardship in poor countries. "Development will require a lot more energy," he said, "so a 5 percent reduction in emissions compared to 1990 actually may translate into a 50 to 90 percent reduction in emissions given economic growth" (Electricity Daily, Octobre 4, 1999).
Is CO2 a Pollutant?
Several years ago an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) memo was leaked which claimed that the EPA has the authority under the Clean Air Act (CAA) to regulate the emission of CO2, and listed various methods by which it could do so. That memo started a long-running controversy about the scope of the EPA’s power under the CAA.
In 1998, Rep. Tom Delay (R-TX), asked Carol Browner, EPA Administrator, to provide Congress with a legal opinion to support her claim about EPA’s authority to regulate CO2. The legal opinion was completed on April 10, 1998. On October 6, 1999 the House Subcommittee on National Economic Growth, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs and the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment held a hearing to further explore these issues. Gary Guzy, general counsel to the EPA told the subcommittees that according to the EPA’s legal opinion, it could regulate CO2.
Guzy noted that Section 302(g) of the CAA defines air pollutant as a "physical [and] chemical substance which is emitted into … the ambient air," qualifying CO2 for that distinction. He pointed out, however, that the definition isn’t sufficient to initiate regulatory activity by the EPA. The "pollutant" must also meet other criteria to be regulated. The EPA Administrator, for instance, must determine under section 109 of the CAA, which established the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), that the pollutant causes or contributes to "air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare," and must "result from numerous or diverse mobile and stationary sources."
Section 302(h) of the CAA states that "all language referring to the effects on welfare includes, but is not limited to effects on … climate," among other things. The EPA’s legal opinion also stated that, "While CO2 as an air pollutant is within EPA’s scope of authority to regulate, the Administrator has not yet determined that CO2 meets the criteria for regulation under one or more provisions of the Act." This is still the case, according to Guzy.
Chairman David McIntosh (R-IN) argued, however, that the NAAQS "was designed to address local air quality problems not global phenomenon like the greenhouse effect." Furthermore, said McIntosh, "If EPA were to set a NAAQS for CO2 that is below the current atmospheric level, the entire United States would be out of attainment – even if every factory and power plant shut down. Conversely, if EPA were to set a NAAQS for CO2 that is above the current level, the entire country would be in attainment, even if CO2 emissions suddenly doubled." This suggests, said McInstosh, that Congress "never intended EPA to regulate CO2" under NAAQS.
According to James Huffman of Lewis and Clark Law School, the EPA does not have the authority to regulate CO2. He argued "that the CAA expressly identifies hundreds of substances subject to EPA regulation," and "that the only references in the CAA to carbon dioxide are in the context of non-regulatory activities."
Peter Glaser, a lawyer with the law firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon, seconded Mr. Huffman’s statement. "A review of the detailed regulatory provisions of the CAA reveals that none of them mentions carbon dioxide emissions or global warming." CO2 and global warming are only mentioned in non-regulatory contexts. Moreover, said Glaser, the only provision in the statute that mentions global warming "is accompanied by an express admonishment that it "shall not be construed to be the basis of any additional regulation under [the CAA]."
In addition the subcommittees heard from Dr. Patrick Michaels, a climatologist with the University of Virginia, who argued that any global warming that may occur as a result of greenhouse gas emissions would be small and mostly benign. Moreover, he argued that climate models have proven to be woefully inaccurate to date.
Dr. Keith Idso, a botanist and vice president of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, argued that the benefits of increasing atmospheric CO2 to the earth’s biosphere are tremendous. Dr. Christopher Field, a biologist from the Carnegie Institution, conceded that "atmospheric CO2 is essential for life on earth." He also argued, however, that too much CO2 may have adverse effects. A warmer climate, for instance, may eliminate the beneficial effects of rising CO2.
Dr. Idso responded that according to the scientific literature, CO2 provides even greater benefits when plants are stressed, including stress due to higher temperatures. Rather than eliminate the benefits of CO2, stressful conditions actually enhance its importance.
In related news, the Institute for Research on the Economics of Taxation has recently produced a monograph arguing that the EPA does not have the authority to regulate CO2 under the CAA. It will be available soon at www.iret.org .
The Cost of Kyoto Under Multi-gas Abatement Strategies
Several studies have been conducted to determine the costs of complying with the Kyoto Protocol. The conclusions of these studies have ranged from the Clinton-Gore Administration study that claims very little cost to studies conducted by private economic consulting firms that have estimated much higher costs.
A new study appearing in Nature (October 7, 1999) takes a look at abatement costs from a different angle. Whereas most studies have concentrated on the costs of meeting Kyoto targets by reducing CO2, the Nature study, conducted by researchers at MIT, takes into account the fact that participating countries can reduce multiple gases under the Kyoto Protocol.
The researchers rank the six different gases according to marginal abatement costs under the assumption that a country will begin their abatement efforts with lowest-cost options first, moving towards the higher-cost options until the target is met. They also look at three different scenarios; a CO2 target and control, a multi-gas target with CO2 control only, and a multi-gas target and controls. Whereas previous studies concentrated on the first scenario, the Nature study concentrates on the two latter scenarios.
According to the study, under the first scenario the U.S. emission target would be 571 megatons of carbon equivalent (MtC equiv.). The cost would be $187 per ton of carbon equivalent (tC equiv.). Under scenario two, the U.S. would have to meet a target of 650 MtC equiv. at a cost of $229 per tC equiv. Under scenario three, the target would be the same as scenario two at a cost of $150 per tC equiv.
The media has made much of this study and its claim that a multi-gas strategy would significantly reduce the costs of meeting the Kyoto target. It should be noted that the lowest cost option is still far greater than the costs estimated by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, which claims that abatement costs will be $14 - $23 per ton of CO2 abated.
Finally, the study assumes a 2.4 degree C rise in temperature over the next century under a business as usual scenario. The study argues that meeting the Kyoto target under the second and third scenarios will reduce the assumed temperature rise by about 17 percent or roughly a half-degree by the year 2100, although reductions in the poles may be much greater.
Are Tradeable Emission Permits the Solution?
Tradeable emission permits have been touted by the Clinton-Gore Administration as the path to cheap compliance with the Kyoto Protocol. Several studies have cast doubt on these claims, such as the study by the Energy Information Administration and a policy brief by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. A new study by Roy Cordato, an economist and holder of the Lundy Chair of Business Philosophy at Campbell University, takes a more fundamental look at the claims behind tradeable emission permits.
Cordato assumes, for the sake of the study, that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s predictions of global warming are true. He argues that for claims about emission trading to be true several things must be known. First, the costs and benefits of global warming must be known. "To be certain of the costs and benefits," says Cordato, "we must know how the resources that would have to be shifted to avert global warming would be used if no action were taken, and how people would value those resources in their alternative uses."
He further argues that, "We must be able to guess the choices and gauge the feelings of people not yet born, living during a period 50 to 100 years from now and beyond. There is no scientific way to determine this information; it is beyond our knowledge." The report will be available soon at www.iret.org .
Ice Sheet Retreat is Natural and Inevitable
Proponents of the global warming hypothesis argue that the retreat of polar glaciers supports their views. Others disagree, arguing that the melting of glaciers cannot be tied to manmade global warming and are likely a result of natural processes. A new study in Science (October 8, 1999) supports the latter view.
According to the study, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) has retreated 1300 km since the last glacial optimum 20,000 years ago. A complete collapse of the WAIS would cause sea level to rise by 5 to 6 meters. For the last 7,500 years, the grounding line of the WAIS has retreated approximately120 meters per year, and, according to the study, "recent measurements indicate that the grounding-line retreat is continuing at about the same rate." If the retreat continues at the same rate the "complete deglaciation will take about 7,000 years."
The study’s authors conclude, "We suggest that modern grounding-line retreat is part of ongoing recession that has been under way since early to mid-Holocene time. It is not a consequence of anthropogenic warming or recent sea level rise. In other words, the future of the WAIS may have been predetermined when grounding-line retreat was triggered in early Holocene time. Continued recession and perhaps even complete disintegration of the WAIS within the present interglacial period could well be inevitable."
The study supports arguments made at the Cooler Heads briefings for congressional staff and media. Both Dr. David Malmquist of the Bermuda Biological Station for Research and Dr. S. Fred Singer of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, argued that sea level rise is primarily a natural process.
Global Warming May Lower Sea Levels
Last week we reported on Fred Singer’s Cooler Heads briefing to congressional staff and media where he argued that on decadal time scales there is an inverse relationship between global temperatures and sea levels, due to sea surface evaporation that transports moisture to the polar ice caps.
Now, Dr. John Bratton of the US Geological Survey argues that global warming could cause sea level to fall for an entirely different reason. Dr. Bratton argues that temperature rise would cause the melting of "clathrates" which are "sea-floor crystals of ice which enclose gases such as methane." When these crystals melt, the gas escapes leaving a hole that could cause sea levels to fall by as much as 25 meters. Dr. Bratton estimates that sea level will fall by about 1.5 meters due to this phenomenon.
Dr. Bratton says that the expected fall in sea level from clathrate melting "is of the same order of magnitude as those associated with the thermal expansion of the oceans, melting of non-polar ice and melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet" (BBC News, October 7, 1999).
Isle of the Dead: The Death Knell of Global Warming?
Generally accepted estimates of sea level rise over the last century has been about 18 centimeters. This number has been arrived at using various direct measurements and proxy data. A new data point, however, threatens to challenge the current estimates. In 1841, the famous Antarctic explorer Captain Sir James Clark Ross, for whom the Ross Sea is named, and Thomas Lampriere, an amateur meteorologist, marked the mean sea level in the rock face of a small island known as the Isle of the Dead (used as a burial ground for dead convicts). The position of the mark was based on three years of sea level observations.
The mark was recently rediscovered and is now thirty centimeters above mean sea level, suggesting a large fall. According to John Daly, who maintains the website Still Waiting for Greenhouse, "when we look at the Ross-Lempriere 1841 bench mark, one thing becomes crystal clear: There has been no sea level rise this century – none at all."
Others have argued that something else may be responsible for the apparent discrepancy. David Pugh of the Southhampton Oceanographic Centre agues that the mark was a high water mark, not a mark of the mean sea level (BBC News, October 6, 1999). But Daly argues that Captain Ross explicitly stated on several occasions that it was a mean sea level mark. Even assuming that it is a high water mark, the current high water level is 30 to 36 centimeters above mean sea level or at the same level as the mark, meaning that at best there has been no sea level rise.
Other causes for the apparent fall in sea level have been suggested, such as tectonic uplift or a "blip" in the data during the time the mark was struck. These other causes, even taken together, would only account for a fraction of the sea level drop indicated by the mark, however. For further details see www.vision.net.au/~daly/ .
THE COOLER HEADS COALITION
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