Risky business. Moody’s Corporation has purchased a controlling stake in a firm that measures the physical risks of climate change, the latest indication that global warming can threaten the creditworthiness of governments and companies around the world.
The rating agency bought a majority share in Four Twenty Seven, a California-based company that measures a range of hazards, including extreme rainfall, hurricanes, heat stress, and sea-level rise, and tracks their impact on 2,000 companies and 196 countries. In the United States, the data covers 761 cities and more than 3,000 counties. (New York Times)
Almost unanimous. The scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming is likely to have passed 99 percent, according to the lead author of the most authoritative study on the subject and could rise further after separate research clears up some of the remaining doubts.
Three studies published in Nature and Nature Geoscience use extensive historical data to show there has never been a period in the last 2,000 years when temperature changes have been as fast and extensive as in recent decades.
It had previously been thought that similarly dramatic peaks and troughs might have occurred in the past, including in periods dubbed the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Climate Anomaly. However, the three studies use reconstructions based on 700 proxy records of temperature change, such as trees, ice, and sediment, from all continents that indicate none of these shifts took place in more than half the globe at any one time. (The Guardian)
Help needed. FERC is creating a new division to help review an increasing number of LNG applications. The Division of LNG Facility Review & Inspection will have 20 employees based in Washington DC, and another eight employees based in Houston — the U.S. energy hub — working out of a new regional office. (Daily Energy Insider)
It’s always good to have goals. The House Energy and Commerce Committee announced its goal to get the U.S. to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with a plan to introduce a comprehensive climate package by the end of the year.
Democrats said the goal marks the beginning of a legislative process to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Few details were offered about how they would achieve the ambitious target.
Lawmakers, however, stressed that the process would be a unifying effort that complements the work of other committees and of supporters of the Green New Deal, the nonbinding resolution that calls for a 10-year economic mobilization to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
“I don’t want to give you the impression that we’re not trying to incorporate ideas that came from those who support the Green New Deal,” Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) told reporters at a news conference. “What we’re really trying to do here is come up with a united front that’s driven by the scientific community.”
The net-zero-by-2050 target comes from the most recent U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which found that the world would have to hit that goal to keep warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. (E&E News)
The stated hope of Democrats on the Committee is to have Republicans as well as Democrats on the legislation.
Progressive climate hawks are already opposed to the 2050 date. It’s a problem that has surfaced multiple times about other policy proposals. Their target date is 2030-35.
Progressives inside and outside of Congress are going to be troublesome for moderate Democrats. The simple fact is that any legislation Republicans and moderate Democrats can agree to is not going to be aggressive enough and not just for Representative Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) but for the Sunrise Movement, the Youth Climate Movement, Justice Democrats, et al.
What the Committee comes up with is likely to be at least predictive of the direction the Democratic platform committee will be going in as part of the 2020 national convention.
A load of crop. A report by the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service warns climate change could mean more years of brutal weather conditions that hamper farmers’ ability to plant crops. That could mean higher costs for federally subsidized crop insurance, the Wall Street Journal reports. “The report… found that if greenhouse gases are allowed to continue to increase, U.S. production of corn and soybeans — which are more susceptible to extreme heat during the growing season — could decline as much as 80 percent in the next 60 years,” per the report. “As a result, corn and soybean prices would skyrocket in that period, as would the cost of crop insurance. According to the study, the cost of crop insurance to the federal government could rise to $7.6 billion a year for corn and $3.3 billion for soybeans. By comparison, the USDA has spent roughly $300 million on insurance for the 2019 crop year as of July 15.” (Washington Post)
A sticky situation—what? A group of environmental activists superglued themselves to the walls of the U.S. Capitol tunnels to urge lawmakers to act on climate change. “Due to the climate emergency, Congress is shut down until sufficient action is taken to address the crisis,” read placards worn by some of the demonstrators organized by a group Extinction Rebellion. “We’re blocking this doorway because Congress isn’t taking the climate crisis seriously,” an activist said in a video posted by the group. Demonstrators said they wanted lawmakers to vote on legislation by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) that would declare a climate emergency. “Several Democratic lawmakers, including Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib (MI) and Elijah E. Cummings (MD), thanked the demonstrators as they passed by, [group spokeswoman Kaela Bamberger] said. The offices of the three lawmakers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.” (Washington Post)
A taxing moment. A group of Democrats introduced another carbon fee-and-dividend bill amid a flurry of activity on the issue this week on Capitol Hill.
Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) announced the “Climate Action Rebate Act,” which aims to reduce greenhouse gas pollution 55 percent over 2017 levels by 2030. Representative Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) introduced a companion in the House.
Representative Francis Rooney (R-FL) is also planning to float his own $30-per-ton tax on carbon, with revenues used to slash payroll taxes.
Rooney and Coons have endorsed various other carbon pricing proposals in the past, but their two new bills underscore the strategy for carbon pricing backers — to put as many proposals on the table as possible and see where Republicans will bite.
Coons said he’s still looking for a Republican co-sponsor in the Senate and plans to introduce an amended version of the legislation if he finds one.
He’s also been shopping for a GOP partner to reintroduce the Senate version of the “Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act,” H.R. 763, the bipartisan legislation Rooney and Representative Ted Deutch (D-FL) have sponsored in the House with backing from Citizens’ Climate Lobby and other centrist advocacy organizations.
The new legislation would put a fee on emissions starting at $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent, rising by $15 annually, or more if emissions reduction targets aren’t hit.
Most of the revenue — 70 percent — would be distributed as a monthly dividend to households making less than $150,000 a year, while the remainder would be invested in developing clean energy technology and in infrastructure, including the Highway Trust Fund. (E&E News)
There are a growing number of carbon tax bills being proposed—none of which have any chance of passing this year.
Notwithstanding all of the lawmakers proposing to tax carbon, there is little evidence to suggest that voters will ever be approving of this type of policy.
Senator Coons has offered the best way to think of the crop of carbon tax legislation: “Long-term, part of what we’re doing here is putting out ideas and then seeing what the response is.”
Capture and no release. A pair of proposals related to carbon capture technologies emerged today in the latest sign of Capitol Hill’s interest in boosting an area seen as critical in the fight to reduce global carbon emissions.
The first measure, a bipartisan bill from Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), looks to strengthen Department of Energy research and development activities into the capture of emissions from industrial sources, like concrete and other manufacturing plants.
Some 30 percent of domestic emissions stem from industrial sources. The federal government’s attention so far has been on research and development into power-sector and transportation technologies.
“Industrial sources are responsible for a stubbornly large share of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.,” Whitehouse said in a statement. “This legislation would unlock solutions to make American industrial companies more competitive internationally while reducing their carbon footprint.”
At the forefront of the policy changes, the bill would direct the creation of a new DOE Industrial Emissions Reduction Technology Development Program.
The legislation would also direct DOE, in coordination with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, to establish a new advisory council to map out funding opportunities for developing technologies that could reduce emissions for industrial processes. (E&E News)
A low-down shame, indeed. A group of coal miners afflicted with black lung disease met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday as part of an effort to convince lawmakers to restore a higher excise tax on coal companies to help fund their medical care, but several said the meeting left them discouraged.
McConnell, the Republican leader who represents Kentucky, gave no assurances about the excise tax and left without answering questions or offering details, several of the miners who attended the meeting said.
“We rode up here for 10 hours by bus to get some answers from him because he represents our state,” said George Massey, a miner from Harlan County, Kentucky who spent two decades in the mines and is on disability. “For him to come in for just two minutes was a low-down shame.” (Reuters)
Can’t see a thing. Senators from both sides of the aisle are backing a bill to strengthen the public’s ability to obtain government records, seeking to counteract recent changes that make it easier for the Trump administration to withhold information.
The new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) bill introduced Tuesday directly challenges both an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) policy implemented earlier this year and a June Supreme Court ruling. (The Hill)
They don’t even listen to each other. EPA has allowed at least one small petroleum refinery to temporarily sidestep biofuel blending requirements. When the Energy Department didn’t agree with that decision, Energy Secretary Rick Perry told Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA).
Grassley, the Senate’s leading advocate for ethanol, released the letter he received from Perry yesterday.
Grassley, who has been critical of EPA for granting exemptions, seized on the letter as evidence that EPA ignores advice from DOE. The renewable fuel standard calls on EPA to consult with DOE on exemptions but gives EPA authority to make the decision. (E&E News)
If I were president. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) outlined what her administration would do to fight climate change. Her proposal measures up with many 2020 rivals, though she differs in some key areas on how to address rising emissions.
Gillibrand, like many other candidates, wants to neutralize nationwide carbon emissions by 2050. She also set a target to achieve net-zero electricity emissions within a decade. Her plan would tax and phase out fossil fuels while tightening regulations. Many of those efforts, e.g., closing the “Halliburton loophole,” which exempts fracking operations from drinking water standards, would require help from Congress. Gillibrand also wants to boost the green jobs sector with prevailing wages, union protections, and training to transition fossil fuel-dependent workers into emerging clean technology fields.
The Senator proposes to fund her plan with a $52 per metric ton carbon tax, spending the $200 billion of annual revenues on renewable energy, and a separate fossil fuel “excise tax” to generate $100 billion per year for projects to adapt to climate change. Like other candidates, she’d also end tax incentives for fossil fuel companies. (Politico)
Lawmakers pass water. The House passed legislation yesterday to require the Department of Energy to focus more research projects on water conservation.
The bill from House Science, Space and Technology Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) would encourage research into technologies that would minimize the use of water in energy production and encourage states and the federal government to cooperate in studying the “energy-water nexus.”
Passing H.R. 34 has been a focus for Johnson since she took over as chairwoman earlier this year. The House cleared it by voice vote. (E&E News)
He flicked his what? Many science advocates and past leaders of EPA’s expert advisory panels say the panoply of executive orders and guidances President Trump and his EPA admin-istrators have issued over the past 2 ½ years will dissolve as soon as a new president with a different philosophy enters the Oval Office. The types of actions ordered included sidelining critical scientists, changing how the benefits of rules are evaluated.
“All of these things collectively have been very damaging,” said Christopher Frey, a former chair of EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) who served on its Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) until 2018. “But they’ve been done by a flick of the pen by the administrator, and another administrator could flick their pen and do away with that.” (E&E News)
Plastics now portend a different kind of future. Nearly 300 environmental groups filed a legal petition urging EPA to ban the discharge of plastic pollution from industrial plants and update portions of the Clean Water Act to avoid future contamination.
The groups said EPA data shows petrochemical plants dumped 128 million pounds of pollutants into U.S. waterways in 2018. Of that, 77,859 pounds included some of the most toxic pollutants, like dioxin and benzene.
“It’s appalling that the plastic industry is filling our waterways with plastic pellets and toxic chemicals under antiquated regulations,” Julie Teel Simmonds, the Center for Biological Diversity attorney who authored the petition, said in a statement.
The petition argues EPA needs to update the Clean Water Act to protect water and public health better.
The petition urges EPA to make changes under the Clean Water Act that would stop plastic pellets and other plastic materials from being discharged in stormwater and wastewater, update the effluent limitations guidelines, and eliminate “toxic priority pollutants” at new facilities. (E&E News)
Sun of a beach. Water at a large swath of U.S. beaches is contaminated and could make swimmers sick, according to a study released today.
The study by Environment America Research and Policy Center and Frontier Group found nearly 60 percent of 4,523 beaches tested last year had unsafe pollution levels.
The study examined fecal bacteria levels at beaches in 29 coastal and Great Lakes states and Puerto Rico.
Bacteria problems have become widespread. For example, all 19 beach sites sampled in Illinois exceeded EPA’s safe limits for fecal bacteria. At a Cook County beach, bacteria levels were found to be at unsafe levels for 38 days.
Nationally, 2,620 beach sites exceeded the EPA margin of safety at least once last year, the study said. A total of 871 beaches had to be closed. (E&E News)
We need it. President Trump invoked a Korean War-era law to secure supplies of rare earth minerals that China has threatened to cut off in retribution for tariffs.
The White House issued a series of Defense Production Act determinations classifying various technologies made from the group of 17 obscure elements as “essential to the national defense.”
China supplies 80 percent of the world’s rare earth minerals and processes all the ore produced at the only American rare earth mine — the Mountain Pass project in California. In May, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited a rare earth magnet factory, hinting it could be the next product affected by Trump’s simmering trade war. (E&E News)
As you sue, so shall you reap. A federal judge ruled that a climate liability case can continue to be tried in Rhode Island, dealing a blow to the oil and gas companies that wanted the case heard in what could have been a friendlier-setting: federal court. “The ruling will allow Rhode Island prosecutors to continue to bring charges against 21 oil and gas producers including Chevron, Shell, and BP as the state tries to get the companies to help pay for damages caused by climate change.” (The Hill)
The Rhode Island case is one of a group based on common law torts, i.e., an act or omission that gives rise to injury or harm to another and amounts to a civil wrong for which courts impose liability.
The cases are similar in nature to the tobacco cases of the 1990s–the core issues being what did you know about the harms being caused, and when did you know it.
The dilemma in these cases is really about the impracticality of making oil companies pay the trillions of dollars in damages caused by an act that the federal government essentially sanctions—the refinement, sale, and use oil and gas. You can also lump in coal.
Most of the judges in these cases readily admit that climate change is real and caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
The damages would likely bankrupt every oil and gas company and wreak havoc on the economy.
Ultimately, it’s up to the executive and legislative branches of government to do the right thing.
More days for the condor. The California condor — the largest flying bird in North America — is back from the brink of extinction. “In 1982, when just 22 California condors were left in the world, and the species’ obituary was being written in advance, scientists captured the remaining population to breed the scavenger birds in captivity,” The Washington Post’s Reis Thebault reports. “Nearly four decades later, a consortium of government agencies and nonprofit groups announced a miraculous milestone: 1,000 California condor chicks hatched since the official rescue program began.” (Washington Post)
It’s good to know it’s still possible to bring species back from near extinction.
I fear the window won’t stay open much longer for other species.
You forgot the elephant in the room. The EPA announced that it signed a “memo of understanding” with a nonprofit conservative student group, called the American Conservation Coalition, to enhance environmental education in schools.
“EPA is proud to work alongside ACC to inspire the next generation of environmental leaders and advance solutions to today’s pressing environmental challenges,” EPA Administrator Wheeler said.
Although Coalition is visiting Capitol Hill this week to lobby Republicans to pursue legislation to address climate change, Wheeler failed to even mention climate change as a shared challenge in his statement. (Washington Examiner)
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