NY Times Accuses White House of Censoring EPA Report
In a front-page story on June 19 and an editorial the following day, the New York Times accused the White House of partisanship and censoring science during the normal editing process of the State of the Environment report unveiled on June 23. The administration had moved to correct certain statements about the state of climate change science. In response, the EPA deleted the section on climate change entirely.
Much of the criticism centered on two issues. First, the replacement of the sentence “Climate changes has global consequences for human health and the environment,” with the statement, “The complexity of the Earth system and the interconnections among its components make it a scientific challenge to document change, diagnose its causes, and develop useful projections of how natural variability and human actions may affect the global environment in the future. Because of these complexities and the potentially profound consequences of climate change and variability, climate change has become a capstone scientific and societal issue for this generation and the next, and perhaps even beyond.” The NY Times summarized this alteration as “replacing statements about the risks of global warming with remarks that stress uncertainty.”
Secondly, the paper criticized the administration for deleting references to the National Assessment on Climate Change, a widely discredited document that relies on models that have been proven to have no better predictive power than tables of random numbers.
Jeremy Symons of the National Wildlife Foundation, was quoted as charging that “Political staff are becoming increasingly bold in forcing agency officials to endorse junk science.” This would seem to refer to the White House adding reference to the recent study by Willie Soon et al. that found worldwide evidence of extensive natural temperature variation during recorded history and beyond.
The Times pointed out that the Soon study had been “partly financed by the American Petroleum Institute,” but neglected to point out that 90 percent of the study’s funding came from three government agencies - the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, NASA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. New York’s paper of record did not address the question of whether leaving out reference to the Soon study might have been regarded as censorship.
Energy Bill Update
Since the beginning of June, the Senate has passed eight amendments to S. 14, the comprehensive energy bill. Two, numbers 840 and 860, were sponsored by Senators Domenici (R-N.M.) and Bingaman (D-N.M.), and re-authorized Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding. Two, Bingaman no. 867 and Alexander (R-Tenn.) no. 880 were adopted to ensure the availability of natural gas and to instruct the Secretary of Energy to report on natural gas supplies and demand.
Others included an amendment by Sen. Boxer (D-Calif.) to promote the use of cellulosic biomass ethanol from agricultural residue, and an amendment sponsored by Domenici for the elimination of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE - an additive used to increase oxygen in gasoline) from the fuel supply, and an amendment sponsored by Mary Landrieu (D-La.) aimed at reducing dependence on foreign oil, which passed 99-1, with Jon Kyl (R-Az.) being the lone dissenter who realized oil prices are set in a global market.
Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and John Sununu (R-N.H.) proposed an amendment to strike the provision relating to deployment of new nuclear power plants. The provision allows the government to aid in the creation of new power plants through loan guarantees and purchase agreements. Wyden and Sununu claimed that the provision amounted to $16 billion of high-risk loans. Their amendment was defeated on June 10, 48-50.
The Senate will probably take up the energy bill again some time in late July. Sen. Domenici, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has expressed determination to make the deals necessary in order to pass the bill before the August recess. There have also been persistent rumors that Senate Democrats intend to drag out debate until next year.
Automakers Oppose Hydrogen Target
At the Energy Efficiency Forum in Washington in mid-June, automakers claimed that California’s zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) program should be a warning to law-makers to avoid future mandates on fuel alternatives. Toyota, DaimlerChrysler and General Motors were referring to the California Air Resources Board’s change in policy, switching from an electric vehicle mandate to one focusing on gas-electric hybrids and then fuel cell-powered vehicles. The failure of the electric vehicle mandate is blamed on high and rising costs and very low consumer demand.
One specific piece of legislation with which automakers disagree was Sen. Byron Dorgan’s (D-N.D.) bill, which would require hydrogen fuel cell vehicle accumulative sales reach 100,000 by 2010 and 2.5 million by 2020. GM and other automobile manufacturers are already trying to find ways to sell hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by lowering costs and improving performance, but are still having problems with storing the fuel.
Also at the forum, U.S. EPA Administrator Christie Whitman spoke about the Climate Leaders Program, which added 11 partners, making the total 41. The Climate Leaders Program is a voluntary initiative on climate change aimed at reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. Environmentalists are unhappy with the program, claiming that the goals are too low. (Greenwire, June 13).
New Zealand Considers Gas Tax
As part of its effort to reach its Kyoto targets, the New Zealand government is planning to introduce a tax to help pay for research into livestock emissions of methane and nitrous oxide, which account for more than half of the country's greenhouse gases.
The tax will be paid by the country’s farmers, and is expected to cost them NZ$8.4 million (about US$5 million at current exchange rates). The levy will take the form of a 9 cent tax on each of the country’s 46 million sheep and 72 cents on each of the nine million cows.
Farmers are resisting the move. Federated Farmers President Tom Lambie told Reuters, “This decision is yet another example of the government's desire to act in the wider public interest but expecting rural New Zealand to pay for its largesse.” (Reuters, June 19).
EU Agrees on Trading Scheme
The European Parliament and the EU’s member governments have reached agreement on the content of an emissions trading scheme. The agreement will be incorporated into a bill currently before the Parliament, which is expected to be approved at its second reading the week beginning 30 June, after which it will become law following formal adoption by the EU Council of Ministers.
EU member states extracted the concession from the parliament that they will not be subject to a quantitative cap on the amount of allowances they can distribute. They are restricted in issuing “no more than is likely to be needed” for the “strict application” of national emissions allocation plans. For the initial 2005-2008 trial period, this must also be “consistent with a path towards achieving or over achieving” Kyoto Protocol targets.
The parliament also conceded that auctioning of emissions allowances could remain voluntary, despite its earlier insistence on the guaranteed sale of at least a small portion. During the initial period, up to five percent may be auctioned, with 10 percent from 2008. There is a promise of harmonized EU auctioning of allowances “after 2012.” The parliament did win its wish for limitation of an opt-out clause during the initial phase to individual installations rather than whole industry sectors.
Environmental New Service reports that inclusion of other sectors and other greenhouse gases beyond carbon dioxide remains optional, though there is a stronger commitment for the addition of the chemicals, aluminium and transport sectors when the European Commission reviews the law at the end of next year.
The spokesman for the parliament’s Greens, Dutchman Alexander de Roo, expressed the hope that the agreement would “put pressure on the Russian Duma” to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The protocol cannot come into force until either the US or Russia ratifies it. (ENS, June 25).
Alberta Has the Energy U.S. Needs
Ralph Klein, the premier of Alberta, Canada, described his province's vast hydrocarbon resources in a speech in Washington, D. C. on June 25. The possibility that the Kyoto Protocol could limit future use of these resources was not raised by Klein or in any of the questions from reporters at the lunch, which was sponsored by the Edison Electric Institute, U. S. Energy Association, and G. F. Energy. The premier did mention that Alberta's energy resources, although enormous, would eventually run out.
Alberta has proven reserves of 176 billion barrels of oil. The rest of Canada has less than 3 billion, the U. S. has 22 billion, and Mexico has 13 billion barrels. Approximately two thirds of Alberta's reserves are contained in heavy oil sands.
Klein described technological advances that have made production from oil sands economically feasible in the last few years. He said that 32% of Canada's petroleum production came from oil sands in 2002. The provincial government expects this to grow rapidly as $50 billion is invested in oil sands development in the next 15 years.
Alberta also has huge reserves of natural gas, coalbed methane, and coal. Currently, the province supplies 14% of the gas consumed in the U. S. Klein said that increased supplies from Alberta were only part of the answer to the increasing demand for gas in the U. S.
Hydrogen Poses Risks to Ozone Layer
A report in the June 13 issue of Science entitled “Potential Environmental Impact of a Hydrogen Economy on the Stratosphere” suggests that hydrogen fuel cells could pose environmental risks.
The study theorizes that systems of molecular hydrogen (H2) production, storage, and transport will almost certainly involve some of the hydrogen escaping into the atmosphere. Current losses suggest that 10-20% of all H2 will escape, which implies that if all oil or gasoline combustion technologies were replaced with hydrogen fuel cells, anthropogenic H2 emissions would increase four to eight times.
The researchers suggest that the H2 would move up to mix with air in the stratosphere, where it would oxidize to form water vapor. This would result in a cooling of the lower stratosphere and would also enhance the chemical practices that destroy ozone. A fourfold increase in the amount of H2 in the stratosphere would lead to a stratospheric temperature decrease of about 0.25° C and ozone depletion of around five percent. These effects would rise to a 1° decrease and over 15 percent depletion with a sevenfold increase in H2.
The researchers also suggest that an increase in water vapor in the mesosphere could lead to an increase in noctilucent clouds, potentially affecting the earth’s albedo.
Atmospheric Mercury Declining
A new study published in Geophysical Research Letters (May 22) has found that total gaseous mercury levels have declined since their peak in the early 1980s. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry measured mercury levels in eight locations in both hemispheres as well as eight trans-Atlantic cruises over the course of more than twenty years. The study found that total gaseous mercury levels have declined since their peak in the early 1980s. The findings correlate well with earlier research that found decreasing levels of mercury deposition dating back as far as fifty years.
The study called into question the reliability of mercury models, saying that either “the area of man-made to natural emissions (including re-emissions) has been underestimated or the natural emissions undergo large temporal variations.” If the discrepancy were natural, it would indicate a far greater degree of natural fluctuation than previously believed.
Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
A June 17 story in the Independent of London was headlined, “Global warming may wipe out a fifth of wild flower species, study warns.” The actual study (published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), however, suggested rather less.
The scientists looked at the effects of increased temperature, CO2, precipitation, and nitrogen on a small patch of California meadow, divided into plots of approximately one square yard. They found that under certain conditions, including increases in all four factors, the average number of forb species in the plots (small flowering plants like buttercups) decreased from about 4 to 3.2 over three years. This did not mean that the plots became less diverse, however, as other plant species took their place, leading in some cases to an increase in biodiversity.
The study’s authors acknowledged that not all areas would respond to the effects of climate change like California meadows, something that did not make it through to the Independent’s coverage.
Global Warming Caused Permian Mass Extinction, Researcher Warns
A new book from Michael Benton, head of earth sciences at Bristol University in England, suggests that the mass extinction at the end of the Permian era, 250 million years ago was caused by a global warming of about 6° C. When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time suggests that a series of volcanic explosions caused a runaway greenhouse effect that led to the death of the vast majority of the species alive at the time.
Professor Benton told the Press Association: “The Permian crisis nearly marked the end of life. It's estimated that fewer than one in 10 species survived. Geologists are only now coming to appreciate the severity of this global catastrophe and to understand how and why so many species died out so quickly.”
An advisor on the science behind the award-winning TV series Walking with Dinosaurs, Professor Benton is also the author of the Encyclopedia of Awesome Dinosaurs. (Sydney Morning Herald, June 20).
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