Programs: Science and Policy
Science and Technology in Congress
On April 17, two years after the Supreme Court ordered a decision, EPA announced that automobile emissions endanger public health and welfare and therefore must be regulated under the Clean Air Act. EPA’s proposed endangerment finding states, "In both magnitude and probability, climate change is an enormous problem. The greenhouse gases that are responsible for it endanger public health and welfare within the meaning of the Clean Air Act."
EPA's proposed endangerment finding covers six gases - carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. EPA found high concentrations of these gases due to human activities have caused increases in average temperatures and other changes in climate. Impacts resulting from climate change cited by EPA include increases in drought, floods, heat waves, wildfires, sea level rise, and intense storms, as well as harm to water resources, agriculture, wildlife and ecosystems.
The draft endangerment finding now enters a 60 day public comment period. Once finalized, an endangerment finding triggers regulation under the Clean Air Act. Development of these regulations would be conducted through a separate rulemaking process, and no proposed rules are contained in the endangerment finding. The press release accompanying the finding notes the preference of President Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson "for comprehensive legislation to address this issue and create the framework for a clean energy economy," but EPA will be legally required to act in the absence of such a framework.
In July 2008, the Bush Administration had responded to the Supreme Court decision by releasing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) that outlined options for regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The document offered no definitive endangerment finding and merely requested comments on the proposed regulation, effectively pushing the decision to the Obama Administration.
-- Kasey White
Major Climate Bill Draft Unveiled in House
Opening what promises to be an intense debate in the coming months, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Edward Markey (D-MA) released a sweeping draft bill to address greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy, and climate change on March 31. Dubbed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, the 650-page draft was quickly praised by many in the environmental community.
The cornerstone proposal is a national cap-and-trade program, which would cap greenhouse gas emissions and create a market for tradable emissions permits (see FAQ's on Climate Change Legislation). The program would subsequently lower the amount of available permits each year to reduce emissions 3 percent below 2005 levels by 2012, 20 percent by 2020, 42 percent by 2030, and 83 percent by 2050. To track emissions, the bill directs EPA to establish a national greenhouse gas registry. EPA announced last month that plans are underway to develop just such a registry, but the Waxman-Markey bill would codify the program.
To support the cap-and-trade program, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) would report to Congress every four years on the latest climate science, drawing on information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and other agencies. NAS would also provide a technical assessment of international emissions reduction efforts and the potential for future action. Further, the bill calls for a National Climate Service within NOAA and a series of adaptation plans and assesments.
Much of the controversy over the program stems from concern about the economic impacts of an emissions cap. At a January 15 hearing before Waxman's Committee on Energy and Commerce, members of the business and environmental communities allied in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership urged quick passage of comprehensive climate legislation but warned of the need to give domestic businesses adequate incentives to remain in the U.S. Industrial leaders sounded a similar note at a March 18 hearing before Markey's Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, advocating the need for free emissions allocations, rebates, or other measures to mitigate the carbon cap's impacts on energy-intensive industry.
To help address these concerns, the Waxman and Markey bill would provide rebates to certain energy-intensive industrial firms facing competition from unregulated foreign competitors. Eligible firms would account for roughly 15% of emissions permits. The bill also sets aside a strategic reserve of 2.5 billion allowances to be released by EPA if energy prices rise more quickly than expected, and proposes "border adjustments" or tariffs on the carbon content of imported goods if American industry loses competitiveness because of the other measures in the bill. While many of these proposals originated from the business community, the community's overall support is still in question.
Apart from the 15% of permits reserved for energy-intensive industry, the question still remains as to how the remaining 85% of permits will be allocated and how the resulting revenues will be distributed. Some say the cap-and-trade program can only achieve effective emissions reductions if all permits are auctioned, while others argue that a portion of the permits should be distributed without cost to minimize the economic impacts.
A similar proposal contained in the Obama Administration's budget outline projects revenues of $650 billion from the sale of emissions allowances through 2019. Of these revenues, 80% or $525 billion would be used for tax rebates to offset higher energy costs, and the remaining 20% or $120 billion would be used for investment in clean energy technology, though it does not address how this investment would be allocated.
While the cap-and-trade proposal has drawn the most attention, the bill contains several other provisions of interest. EPA and the Dept. of Energy would be tasked with devising a strategy to advance carbon capture and sequestration, including research into geologic storage sites and human health risks. EPA would also set standards for new coal plants and regulate other greenhouse gases not covered by the cap-and-trade program. The draft bill takes significant steps to promote clean energy adoption, alternative-fueled vehicles, energy efficiency, and a national smart grid (see policy briefs on Carbon Capture and Renewable Energy).
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has said she wants to pass the bill through both chambers by July, though House Republican opposition is likely to be strong. There is also a question as to whether a single package combining multiple climate, energy, and efficiency measures can pass the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said he believes an omnibus is possible, but other Democratic and Republican leaders have voiced a preference for handling the issues separately.
Reid has also said he ultimately expects a more "moderate" bill than the current Waxman / Markey draft. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is developing her own draft, but is reportedly watching the debate unfold in the House before unveiling her own proposal.
Waxman and Markey will begin hearings on the bill during the week of April 20th.
-- Matt Hourihan
Package of Energy Bills Advances Through Senate Committee
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee advanced a package of energy R&D and efficiency bills shortly before the April recess with broad bipartisan support. The bills will likely be merged into a single package for floor debate. The committee plans to debate more controversial energy bills, such as proposals for a renewable energy standard, in the coming months.
The draft Energy Innovation and Workforce Development language reauthorizes research and development (R&D) sections of The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-58). The bill is consistent with the America COMPETES Act in calling for a doubling of DOE’s Office of Science over seven years. The bill also authorizes a doubling of R&D programs in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Office of Electricity and Energy Reliability, Office of Nuclear Energy, and the Office of Fossil Energy over the next four years. This doubling would return R&D to peak levels achieved in 1978. The bill would create a "Grand Challenges Research Initiative" to integrate DOE's basic and applied research "to overcome critical challenges in Energy." The bill also includes workforce training initiatives, with an emphasis on geoscience programs and efforts to coordinate federal energy-related training programs
The Energy and Water Integration Act of 2009 (S. 531) increases research on the interdependence of energy and water and encourages more efficient use of both. The bill directs the Secretary of Energy to develop an Energy-Water Research and Development Roadmap to address water-related challenges to sustainable energy generation and production. In addition, the bill calls for a National Academy of Sciences Energy-Water Study to assess water use associated with developing fuels in the transportation sector, and the water consumed in different types of electricity generation. The bill contains provisions directing DOE and the Bureau of Reclamation increase water and energy efficiency in producing electricity and requires the Energy Information Administration to annually report on the energy consumed in water treatment and delivery activities.
The committee also passed two bills to encourage energy efficiency. The Restoring America's Manufacturing Leadership through Energy Efficiency Act of 2009 (S. 661) supports advanced energy efficiency technologies through financing mechanisms, grants, and R&D partnerships. The Appliance Standards Improvement Act of 2009 (S.598) strengthens the DOE appliance standards program and the DOE/EPA Energy Star program. It also establishes new standards for portable lights.
-- Kasey White
Much of the energy policy debate has centered on the creation of a national renewable energy standard (RES) - a requirement that utilities produce a set amount of electricity from renewable sources of energy. Proponents, such as Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), see the potential for a federally mandated RES to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create "green collar" manufacturing jobs, and reduce dependence on foreign sources of energy. Critics of an RES are wary of the cost and ability of states with differing resources to meet a national standard.
RES bills will be receiving attention in the both the House and Senate this spring. Markey's American Renewable Energy Act (H.R.890) would mandate electrical utilities' production include 6 percent from renewable sources in 2012, gradually rising to 25 percent in 2025, with up to 20 percent of the amount coming from efficiency measures. This bill has been incorporated into the larger American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, scheduled to be marked up over the next few weeks. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bingaman (D-NM) has released a draft bill that calls for 20 percent of electricity from renewable resources by 2021, with up to 25 percent of that total provided by efficiency measures, but debate in the committee continues. During a February 10 hearing Ranking Member Murkowski (R-AK) stated her concerns that a national standard would not work due to regional disparities of energy resources. South Carolina Public Service Commissioner David A. Wright agreed, and suggested that instead of a national standard, the federal government call for all states to adopt their own renewable standards. Thus far, 29 states have already established renewable standards.
On February 26, the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment held a hearing on the merits of national renewable energy standards and the potential ramifications for climate change legislation. Though many members supported the goals of a national RES, the subcommittee's ranking member Fred Upton (R-MI) viewed the bill as too narrow in focus and exclusive of other sources of energy, such as nuclear and coal with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), which could potentially expand the workforce while preventing greenhouse gas emissions. Other concerns expressed by members included the potential costs of implementing such a standard, the ability of the electrical grid to accommodate new renewable power, and the ability of states with limited renewable energy potential to affordably meet the standard.
Testimony from the witnesses covered a variety of issues related to the costs of expanding renewable electricity generation and the appropriateness of a national RES as a means to accomplish that goal. Representing the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Howard Gruenspecht explained that EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2009 projects renewable energy growth in the U.S. will represent 52 percent of all growth in electrical power generation by 2020 and 38 percent by 2030. With respect to concerns about the transmission grid expressed by members, he said that power storage technology and development of a smart grid could potentially accommodate intermittent energy sources like wind and solar.
Two witnesses representing state electrical utilities offered differing viewpoints on the value of a national standard. Ron Binz, of the Colorado Public Utility Commission, discussed Colorado's success at meeting its own renewable energy standard with only a 2 percent rise in electrical rates to customers. Stan Wise, the Commissioner of the Georgia Public Service Commission, was less optimistic about the potential for his state to meet federal standards, explaining that renewable sources such as wind and solar are far less plentiful in Georgia and that the state's utility customers would likely have to pay for renewable energy transmitted from other states.
Witnesses representing private businesses involved in renewable energy development were supportive of an RES. Dr. Ralph Izzo, Chairman and CEO of the Public Service Enterprise Group, which has been involved in renewable energy development in New Jersey, discussed New Jersey's success at incorporating wind and solar sources into its supply and cited future projects such as a proposed offshore wind farm near Atlantic City and placement of solar collectors on utility poles statewide. Edward Lowe, General Manager of General Electric's Renewables Market Division, expressed his support for a national RES by describing the market incentives provided by such a policy. Overall, he predicted that a national RES could potentially expand his company's workforce by 3,000 to 5,000.
Although many of the subcommittee's members expressed concerns about greenhouse gas emissions and the potential for an RES to help reduce emissions, the witnesses generally agreed that an RES is at best a compliment to a specific policy limiting emissions and merely lays the foundation for a less carbon intensive economy. Some also repeated concerns of members regarding the limited number of sources covered by an RES and suggested that a more inclusive policy could help defray the costs of compliance and reduce concerns about supplying reliable power to the grid.-- Lucas Adin, Phillip Chalker, and Kasey White
Without a FY 2010 budget request in place, House appropriators examined the current science of climate change and tools needed to advance it. One hearing by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science took place on March 19 with Dr. Susan Solomon, a senior scientist at NOAA and former cochair of Working Group 1 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Dr. Solomon highlighted well-established climate science findings, as well as topics needing additional research, such as how much carbon will be released from melted permafrost. Solomon also suggested additional research on sea level rise, as new data is showing that ice caps are melting faster than expected and may accelerate sea level rise.
Following discussions on impacts and research needs, committee members delved into policy questions. Ranking Member Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. Frank Culberson (R-TX) both favored increased investment in R&D instead of a carbon tax. They also voiced their support for sequestration research, with Rep. Culberson encouraging NOAA to conduct research on the potential for iron nanoparticles added to the ocean to increase plankton blooms and decrease CO2 and Wolf advocating tree growing programs.
The committee also held multiple hearings on March 18 to examine satellites needed for climate change research. Robert Bindschadler, NASA Chief Scientist, Laboratory for Hydrospheric and Biospheric Science, echoed Solomon's call for research and monitoring changes in ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica and their effects on sea level. He testified that NASA's satellites, including the ICESat satellite, allowed scientists to observe patterns of ice sheet thickening and thinning, as well the acceleration of deep outlet glaciers melts. Compton Tucker, NASA Senior Earth Scientist, testified that satellites provide high-spatial and high-temporal resolution, global observations of the atmosphere, oceans, and land that cannot be acquired by any other method. He cited the need for satellites that measure land use change, photosynthesis rate, and vegetation height to better understand the carbon cycle.
Witnesses and members discussed current satellites' diminishing capabilities and the need for future funding to ensure continuous satellite data sets. Tucker testified that continuity in data is critical to monitor regional impacts of climate change, but un-replaced satellites and equipment will cause many projects to have gaps in data.
Dr. Richard Anthes, President of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, echoed these concerns and testified on the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences study, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond, and noted funding has thus far been inadequate to implement their recommendations. Chairman Mollohan (D-WV) stated that his committee, through the stimulus allocated $74 million dollars for climate instrument repair and $150 million for new satellites.
Mollohan said that agencies need better organizational structures, a sentiment echoed by Rep. Ruppersburg (D-MD), who encouraged greater collaboration between NASA, NOAA, the CIA and DOD. Anthes explained the reasons behind clashes between NASA and NOAA: "The two agencies have responsibilities that are in many cases mismatched with their authorities and resources: institutional mandates are inconsistent with agency charters; budgets are not well matched to needs; agency responsibilities are not clearly defined; and shared responsibilities are supported inconsistently by ad hoc mechanisms for cooperation."
Rep. Mollohan questioned the impact of the loss of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite (OCO), which crashed into the ocean after liftoff earlier this year. The OCO would have measured CO2 exchange at the ocean surface and regional CO2 flux. Both Berrien Moore, Executive Director Climate Central, and Anthes supported NASA's plan to determine if the next OCO should be identical to the previous one or enhanced. The satellite, ASCENDS, that would have replaced the OCO will not be launched for 8-12 years.
Yet another hearing on the topic by the subcommittee focused on satellite data collection programs. Witnesses Thomas Karl, Director of the NOAA National Climatic Data Center, and Tony Busalacchi, Chairman, Joint Scientific Committee, World Climate Research Programme, said that data collected from satellites needs to be more widely distributed. They highlighted difficulties in creating standards for data dissemination, including differing needs of organizations and researchers and the fact that much of the paper data is still being digitally converted.
-- Phillip Chalker
Underground Carbon Dioxide Sequestration (RL34218)
Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-13748-5)
Restructuring Federal Climate Research to Meet the Challenges of Climate Change (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-13173-5)
Sustainable Critical Infrastructure Systems: A Framework for Meeting 21st Century Imperatives (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-13792-8)
Measurement, Reporting, and Verification in a Post-2012 Climate Agreement
Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Beyond Carbon Financing: The Role of Sustainable Development Policies and Measures in REDD
World Resources Institute
Alternative Approaches to Cost Containment in a Cap-and-Trade System
Resources For the Future
Forests for the Future: Family Planning in Nepal's Terai Region
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Flexibility in the Timing of Emission Reductions Under a Cap-and-Trade Program
Congressional Budget Office
Building a Sustainable Energy Future
National Science Foundation
Mark Your Calendar:
AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy
30 April - 1 May 2009
Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, Washington DC
The AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy will examine the political and economic outlook for science and technology in 2009. The symposium will also include discussion of energy and international climate policy, integrity in science, and the future of science journalism.
First Annual Hitachi Lectureship at AAAS
April 23, 2009 3:30 pm Coffee; 4:30 pm Lectures; 6:30 pm Reception
AAAS Auditorium, 1200 New York Ave., NW, Washington DC
This lecture will feature an address by Dr. Koizumim Hitachi Ltd., on "The Frontier of Mind-Brain Science and Its Practical Applications." Dr. Thomas Woolsey a world-renowned neurobiologist will speak on “Brain Science: The Ultimate Frontier.”
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After studying 30 years of satellite data and field experiments in the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP), researchers determined that biological productivity in the region has been affected by changes in ice cover. Researchers found that productivity in the northern WAP has decreased due to melting sea ice, which has caused more clouds to form and blocked sunlight from plankton. The exact opposite has happened in the southern portion of the WAP. The ice-cover, which is still solid, has kept the skies clear. Combined with the Antarctic Current increasing in strength and bringing in more nutrients, plankton have flourished. Penguins and other large organisms have followed the plankton in an effort to find areas high in nutrients and biological productivity.Montes-Hugo, Martin, et al., "Recent Changes in Phytoplankton Communities Associated with Rapid Regional Climate Change Along the Western Antarctic Peninsula," Science 13 March 2009: Vol. 323. no. 5920, p. 1401.