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Scientists Revive Debate in Canada
An open letter published in Canada’s National Post on June 4 urges Paul Martin, MP, Canada’s Prime Minister in waiting, to undertake comprehensive scientific consultations on the Kyoto Protocol when he takes office following Jean Chretien’s likely retirement. The letter was inspired by reports that Martin felt that Canadian ratification of Kyoto proceeded without adequate consultation with the provinces.
The letter was signed by 35 scientists, of whom 16 are Canadian. Tim Ball, for 28 years professor of climatology at the University of Winnipeg and one of Canada’s first climate scientists, coordinated the letter. Also among the signatories was Freeman Dyson, emeritus professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, who has expressed strong skepticism about climate modeling.
The letter criticized Prime Minister Chretien for acting to ratify the protocol on the basis of a “gut feeling.” It provoked a reply from the Minister of the Environment, David Anderson, published in the National Post on June 9. Anderson called the signatories “dead wrong.” He argued for Chretien’s “gut feeling” on the basis that there will never be absolute scientific certainty on climate change and so leaders need to act in order to avoid “analysis paralysis.”
Dr. Ball replied, “The real threat in all this is Mr. Anderson’s dogged determination to take draconian action on climate change without a proper assessment of the relevant science.”
The letter has been posted at www.sepp.org 
Administration Aids State AGs’ Lawsuit
On June 4, the attorneys general of Massachusetts, Maine and Connecticut filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency for refusing to initiate a process for regulating carbon dioxide emissions.
Their suit, naming outgoing EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman as defendant, seeks to force the agency to apply National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) to CO2 despite the fact that the Clean Air Act does not authorize regulation of CO2 or any climate-related programs.
According to Greenwire (June 4), the plaintiffs base much of their case on the idea that the EPA has “made clear its understanding of the possible scenarios that could result from unchecked carbon dioxide emissions. Specifically, the AGs point to the administration-approved Climate Action Report released last June that said recent climate changes ‘are likely due mostly to human activities’ and that predicted increases in temperature and weather variability could have serious negative ramifications, including major ecosystem transformations, diminishing water supplies, a 4-inch to 35-inch rise in sea levels and increased outbreaks of insect-borne diseases.”
Climate Action Report 2002 (actually issued in May) and the National Assessment on Climate Change have theoretically been disowned by the current administration, with the President stating that it was “put out by the bureaucracy.” However, various agencies continue to disseminate the documents on their web sites.
Christopher C. Horner, acting on behalf of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, has petitioned under the Federal Data Quality Act to have the document removed from further dissemination, but is meeting resistance from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (see article in the DATE issue). The State Attorneys General lawsuit illustrates exactly how this obstinacy is creating problems for the administration itself.
State Legislative Update: New York, Illinois, Oregon, and New Jersey
Legislative activity continues in many States aimed at curbing CO2 emissions. Activity is currently at its most intense in Illinois, Oregon, New York and New Jersey.
In Illinois, HB 2563 aims at directing marine and rail terminals to operate so that trucks do not idle with their engines running for more than 30 minutes, on pain of a $250 fine. The bill is currently with the House Committee on Rules. SB 0143 would create a renewable energy portfolio standard law. It is currently before the Senate Committee on Rules.
In New Jersey, AB 2095 would increase fines for non-compliance with the renewable portfolio standard up to $10,000 to $100,000. AB 3238 would make the adoption of an emissions portfolio standard for power generators mandatory. Current law already requires power generators to track emissions in lbs per MWh of SO2, CO2 and NOx. The bill is currently before the Committee on the Environment. AB 3491 would prohibit diesel trucks from idling at marine terminals, and is currently before the Committee on Transportation.
In New York, AB 04082 would adopt California’s vehicle greenhouse gas regulations by 2009. It has been through the Committees on Environmental Conservation and Codes and was amended in the Assembly during May. AB 05933 would set performance standards for NOx, SO2, CO2 and Hg, and has passed the Assembly. It is currently before the Senate Committee on Environmental Conservation.
Also in New York, AB 06428 would set an emissions standard for NOx, SO2, Hg and CO2 based on lbs per MWh generated. It would make a CO2 emissions cap permanent by 2007 that is seven percent less than 1990 levels and also establish a credit trading program. The bill passed the Assembly in March and is currently before the Senate Committee on Energy and Telecommunications. SB 00899 would set a clean energy requirement that 1.5 percent of each utility’s electricity supply comes from renewables, increasing by 0.5 percent each year until the requirement reaches six percent, after which it would increase by one percent annually until the requirement stands at ten percent. This bill is also currently before the Senate Committee on Energy and Telecommunications.
In Oregon, HB 2788 would impose a tax on each fuel supplier and utility based on the amount of carbon in fuels sold to consumers or used to produce electricity. It would also create a renewable energy resources account fund for development of renewable energy resources. The bill was introduced in March.
Mercury Numbers Look Shaky
On June 5, the Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change and Nuclear Safety held a hearing on the Clear Skies Act, S.485, that focused on mercury. Reducing mercury emissions has been seen as a potential indirect means of reducing carbon dioxide emissions because it could force utilities to close coal-fired power plants.
Incidental mercury reductions, which the EPA initially anticipated would produce a decrease of 22 tons by 2010, will actually result in a reduction of only 2 to 14 tons from its current level of 48 tons per year according to Dr. Randall Kroszner, acting chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors.
According to Dr. Larry S. Monroe of the Electric Power Research Institute, the Clear Skies Act’s mercury reduction scheme would reduce the fraction of the population above the reference dose for mercury by only 0.064%, at an estimated cost of 6 billion dollars.
Dr. Richard Bucher, on behalf of W.L. Gore and Associates, the makers of GORE-TEX fabrics, reported a breakthrough by his company in using their synthetics to capture mercury at rates higher than any commercially available products. According to Bucher, “Coal burning trial results . . . indicate mercury capture rates consistently in excess of 90%.” However, the technology is still in the testing stage and may not be available to power suppliers for years.
Greenspan Testifies on Economics of Natural Gas
Prices of natural gas have risen dramatically as a result of environmental regulations that prohibit drilling in many areas and limit infrastructure development, according to witnesses testifying before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on June 10. The availability and price of natural gas is of interest because most strategies for reducing carbon dioxide emissions assume large-scale fuel switching from coal to gas.
The American Gas Association’s representative, Carl English, cited land access restrictions as the greatest difficulty in lowering prices that have more than doubled on average since July 2000. Jeffery R. Currie on behalf of Goldman Sachs requested public investment in infrastructure projects to reduce volatility, which has rocked the chemical industry, but was contradicted by Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan.
Greenspan urged a market-based resolution to the problem and advised the committee to allow the free market greater access to world markets of liquefied natural gas as a way to reduce prices.
The Fed chairman assured members that LNG technology has grown to be very reliable and safe over the past decades. Currently only one percent of America’s natural gas supplies comes from overseas, but according to Greenspan the potential for growth in world natural gas markets is vast.
Utilities Back Emissions Caps
A coalition of eight electric utilities, energy investors, and environmentalist groups has urged the Federal Government to back mandatory caps on CO2 emissions. Their report, Electric Power, Investors, and Climate Change: A Call to Action, argues that greenhouse gas emissions will inevitably be regulated in the US, and that companies benefit by knowing when and how they will be limited. Furthermore, the current “patchwork of regulations and continued uncertainty” discourage investment and limit growth in the energy sector. Mandatory caps are seen as the answer to this uncertainty.
The utilities involved in the consortium stand to gain over their competitors if mandatory caps are introduced. They include: Calpine, the world’s largest producer of geothermal energy; Con Edison, the New York City utility which has divested itself of its generators in accordance with New York regulations and has recently asked FERC to “institute programs aimed at preventing unreasonably high energy prices and ensuring that consumers are protected from potential market abuses by power generators and marketers;” and KeySpan, a New England based utility which also has significant holdings in Canadian natural gas production.
The utilities’ report may be found on the web at www.ceres.org/newsroom/press/electricrecs.htm 
Earth Greening Rapidly Since 1980
Something remarkable happened between 1980 and 2000. Researchers from a variety of institutions published a study, funded by NASA and the Department of Energy, in the June 6 issue of Science that found that, “Global changes in climate have eased several critical climatic constraints to plant growth, such that net primary production increased 6% … globally.” The Amazon rain forests accounted for 42 percent of the observed increase in plant growth.
The Christian Science Monitor (June 6) related how unexpected this result was: “The surprise was twofold. The growth rate far exceeded what most scientists expected. Many models indicated that additional growth in the tropics would be minimal, given the fairly constant temperatures from one season to the next. In addition, many researchers had held that any increased productivity in the tropics would largely be driven by a rise in atmospheric CO2 rather than changes in climate itself.”
The scientists found that this increase was not necessarily due to the direct impact of increased take up of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2 fertilization). According to Roger Highfield, writing in London’s Daily Telegraph (June 6), “In general, where temperatures restricted plant growth, it became warmer; where sunlight was needed, clouds dissipated; and where it was too dry, it rained more. In the Amazon, plant growth was limited by sun-blocking cloud cover, but the skies have become less cloudy. In India, where a billion people depend on rain, the monsoon was more dependable in the 1990s than in the 1980s.”
Commenting on what the study means for claims about deforestation, the lead author, Dr Ramakrishna Nemani, of the University of Montana, told the Telegraph that “the role of deforestation may have been overplayed a bit,” although he added that he felt that current forests ought to be preserved. Other team members expressed cautionary notes about the study, noting that the sustainability or otherwise of increased vegetation growth had not been assessed.
However, the most interesting comment on the study from one of its authors came from Dr Charles Keeling, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who told the Telegraph that, “The 36 per cent increase in global population, from 4.45 billion in 1980 to 6.08 billion in 2000, overshadowed the benefits that might have come from increases in plant growth.”
Hazy Aerosol Picture Continues
Confusion appears to reign over what the various recent reports on aerosols mean for the debate over global warming (see the past two issues). New Scientist (June 4) reports that “top atmospheric scientists got together, including Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen and Swedish meteorologist Bert Bolin, former chairman of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” at a workshop in Berlin in late May to assess the implications of Anderson et al.’s Perspectives piece for Science magazine, which cautioned that the sulfate aerosol cooling effect may be greater than models predict.
The Perspectives piece had said that this might mean either that the earth’s temperature is more naturally variable than thought or that the climate is more sensitive to forcing than thought. The Berlin workshop settled on the latter, and produced the prediction that, when sulfate aerosol production wanes, the earth might warm between 7-10° C based on the IPCC’s worst-case scenario. Readers may remember that the worst-case scenario is based on the assumptions that the entire world will raise itself above the current economic output levels of the United States, population will continue to increase rapidly, and there are no major technological advances.
New Scientist admits that the calculations on which these dire predictions were based were “back-of-the-envelope” figures. Despite this extreme uncertainty, Will Steffen of the Swedish Academy of Sciences was quoted as saying that, “The message for policy makers is clear: ‘We need to get on top of the greenhouse gas emissions problem sooner rather than later.’”
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