This is crossposted from the newly launched Think Progress Wonk Room, which will be covering policy news from climate change to national security. The issues covered by Hill Heat writer Brad Johnson will enjoy deeper coverage at the Wonk Room, where he is now a full-time staffer.
The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility today highlighted the ethical conundrum facing scientists currently serving under Fish & Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall.
In addition, this month the Interior Inspector General opened a preliminary inquiry into whether Hall violated the code of conduct for repeatedly missing Endangered Species Act deadlines to list the polar bear, despite clear scientific guidance.
PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch asks: “How can we expect scientists to obey a code of conduct that their director ignores?”
The latest delay has also triggered a lawsuit from environmental groups.Allison Winter reports for E&E News:
The Interior Department’s internal watchdog said today it has begun a preliminary probe of the delayed polar bear decision.
Responding to requests from environmental groups, the Inspector General’s Office official said its preliminary review will determine if there is a need for a full investigation.
The Sierra Club, Alaska Wilderness League and four other organizations requested a review by Inspector General Early Devaney, claiming the delay violates the Fish and Wildlife Service’s scientific code of conduct and rules of the Endangered Species Act by allowing MMS to proceed with Chukchi lease sales.
The Alliance for Energy and Economic Growth (AEEG) (an industry coalition organized in 2001 to support the administration’s Energy Task Force efforts), the National Association of Manufacturers, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are hosting a series of state climate change dialogues in 2008 in Ohio, New Hampshire, Montana, and North Dakota, with Margo Thorning of the American Council for Capital Formation, a conservative corporate think tank. The first such forum was held in Manchester, NH on Wednesday, March 12.Jim Rubens, of the Union of Concerned Scientists attended the event. Below is his story of what transpired, a Hill Heat exclusive.
The American Council for Capital Formation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – fronting for coal, oil and the fossil-heavy utilities – last Wednesday road tested their forum on what they claim are the dire economic consequences of the Lieberman-Warner climate bill. It was train wreck I am certain they will not want repeated.
First, in response to a letter from 8 utility CEOs asking that exaggerations be removed from the Charles River Associates analysis forming the basis for the phony projections, lead ExxonMobil-funded economist Dr Margo Thorning announced that no specific impact numbers would be provided. We’d need to wait to see the new, even more slanted ACCF-sponsored study due to be released the next day.
Next, a couple of global warming denialists in the audience asked the Chamber rep why the nation’s business lobby was buying into the need for anything at all to be done, given that glaciers are growing worldwide, Mars is getting colder, etc. The response: the IPCC report is in, and attacking the science is no longer politically tenable. Subtext read in the facial expressions from the dais: we’d love to, but we’re stuck now fear mongering the economics of an American energy future of stable prices, domestic job growth, and intact Florida coastlines.
Next, Tufts economist Dr Julie Nelson asked Dr. Thorning whether the new ACCF-sponsored analysis would be any better than the CRA version, allowing peer review, disclosing assumptions, etc, like all the competing 25 climate-economy models which project only very modest impacts. Answer: an embarrassed no.
Next, yours truly asked Dr. Thorning whether the ACCF analysis – to correct the CRA’s failings – would model the costs of projected warming under the business as usual or baseline scenario at greater than zero, given that New Hampshire’s $650 million ski industry will be wiped out by 2100, or would assign a return greater than zero to stepped-up efficiency and conservation investments, or a value greater than zero for future energy technology innovation. Answer: another hang-dog faced no. Given the lack of data, there is no way to assign any number, she said.
I then asked Dr. Thorning whether it would therefore be fair to footnote the baseline scenario GDP and energy cost numbers, with a statement to the effect that the predicted cost of L-W is high because the baseline number is likely to be low, in that the cost of global warming under business as usual is greater than zero. She acknowledged some merit to that before quickly retreating from the room to work her cell phone.
Recommendations for the three future ACCF fora: be sure to have credible economists and clean energy and efficiency experts and developers in the room. Call them on every false, exaggerated and unsupported statement. Talk about what American entrepreneurs are doing right now in the states where the fora are held to make the American economy stronger while reducing the risks of future climate change. Make sure the media is present to witness it.
EPA administrator Stephen L. Johnson has taken significant heat from environmental groups, state officials, and Congress for his December denial of California’s Clean Air Act waiver request to enact AB 32 to regulate tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions (and the February release of his justification). Congressional investigations, though stonewalled repeatedly by Johnson, have revealed that unanimous staff recommendations to approve the waiver were overturned by the administrator.
The Supreme Court decision Mass. v. EPA, which compelled the agency to make a decision on the waiver, also required the agency to make an endangerment finding as to whether greenhouse gases pose a threat to human health and if so, to issue motor vehicle regulations. On Wednesday Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.)’s Oversight Committee investigation revealed that Johnson in fact attempted to issue an endangerment finding and motor vehicle regulations in December, but was evidently overruled by the White House and Department of Transportation. Johnson is still being unresponsive to Waxman’s investigation, as well as the one newly opened by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) of the Global Warming Committee.Late Wednesday night, the EPA issued new smog regulations, lowering the public health (primary) and public welfare (secondary) standards to 75 parts per billion from 84 ppb. The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin revealed that the EPA scientific panel was overruled in its recommendation to establish a much lower seasonal secondary standard to protect plantlife during the growing season:
Nearly a year ago, EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee reiterated in writing that its members were “unanimous in recommending” that the agency set the standard no higher than 70 parts per billion (ppb) and to consider a limit as low as 60 ppb.
She goes on to note that on March 6, the Office of Management and Budget’s Susan E. Dudley sent a letter to the EPA asking them to consider the effect of a too strict regulation on “economic values and on personal comfort and well-being,”. EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus C. Peacock replied that “EPA cannot consider costs in setting a secondary standard,” with the cutting retort: “EPA is not aware of any information that ozone has beneficial effects on economic values or on personal comfort and well being.”Today Eilperin further revealed that President Bush personally stepped in at the last minute to block the EPA’s intended secondary standard.
The president’s order prompted a scramble by administration officials to rewrite the regulations to avoid a conflict with past EPA statements on the harm caused by ozone. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement warned administration officials late Tuesday night that the rules contradicted the EPA’s past submissions to the Supreme Court, according to sources familiar with the conversation. As a consequence, administration lawyers hustled to craft new legal justifications for the weakened standard.
Tomorrow morning, the House Select Committee on Global Warming and Energy Independence will be holding a hearing on the implications of Massachusetts v. EPA nearly one year later. Chairman Edward Markey (D-MA) plans to question EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson on why he’s delayedaction on the EPA’s remand (which might result in another lawsuit). Committee members will also hear from a panel that includes Kansas Secretary of Health and the Environment Roderick Bremby, who made national headlines this fall by utilizing his legal authority under state law to deny permits for two new coal-fired power plants—citing the growing scientific consensus surrounding warming-related impacts and the Court’s ruling in Mass v. EPA to justify his landmark decision.
The hearing WILL NOT be broadcast online (though it is being videotaped), but Warming Law will be in attendance and might be able to liveblog the proceedings, and will report back later regardless. We’ll be particularly noting whether any members decide to take up the "common sense questions" proposed today as talking points by the Heritage Foundation, which hyperbolically warns that an endangerment finding for CO2 would require the EPA [to] completely de-industrialize the United States." Heritage and the Competitive Enterprise Institute—which has similarly argued that an EPA global warming program would amount to "policy terrorism"—have actively taken credit for Johnson’s recent decision to suddenly halt work on an endangerment finding.
Amidst such boasts of outside influence on EPA, Markey’s counterpart on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the indomitable Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), has started investigating the White House’s apparent interference in short-circuiting an endangerment finding. In a letter sent to Johnson today, Waxman notes on-the-record conversations with senior EPA officials that—combined with Johnson’s public statements up through the last couple of weeks—depict a process that was suddenly halted as it neared completion:
Multiple senior EPA officials [cited directly in this letter] have told the Committee on the record that after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, you assembled a team of 60 to 70 EPA officials to determine whether carbon diioxide emissions endanger healt hand welfare and, if so, to develop regulations reducing CO2 emissions from motor vehicles. According to these officials, you agreed with your staff’s proposal that CO2 emissions from motor vehicles should be reduced and in Decemer forwarded an endangerment finding to the White House and a proposed motor vehicle regulation to the Department of Transportation…
The senior EPA officials who spoke with the Committee did not know what transpired inside the White House of the Department of Transportation or what directions the White House may have given to you. They do know, however, that since you sent the endangerment finding to the White House, "the work on vehicle efforts has stopped." They reported to the committee that the career officials assigned ot the issue have ceased their efforts and have been "awaiting direction" since December.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chair of the Oversight Committee, and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chair of the global warming committee, today jointly introduced the Moratorium on Uncontrolled Power Plants Act of 2008 (H.R. 5575).
The bill, if enacted, would require any new coal plant constructed before the U.S. implemented a strong greenhouse gas emissions reduction program to have state-of-the-art carbon-capture-and-sequestration (CCS) technology.
From the bill text, the CCS technology would have to capture “not less than 85 percent of the total carbon dioxide produced by the unit on an annual average basis and permanently sequesters that carbon dioxide” and the emissions reduction program would have to require requires “immediate and significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions across the economy and increases the reductions over time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.”
This target is considerably more stringent than that of Lieberman-Warner (S. 2191), which calls for an approximately 60% reduction below 1990 levels by 2050, though at the minimum of the IPCC-recommended 80-95% reduction (Box 13.7 in the Fourth Assessment Report, p. 776).
Update: This bill would implement one of Al Gore’s legislative recommendations.
Sixty days have now passed since January 8, 2008, when the U.S. Department of the Interior failed to meet its legal deadline to determine whether the polar bear is endangered by global warming, triggering a joint lawsuit over this latest delay from the Center for Biological Diversity, NRDC, and Greenpeace, pursuant to the notice of intent filed in January.
In the intervening months, U.S. Fish and Wildlife director Dale Hall took responsibility for the delay, but two weeks ago he told House appropriators that the decision had been given to Dirk Kempthorne, Secretary of the Interior, for final review.
In addition, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chair of the House global warming committee, today introduced legislation to block further activity in the lease sale area. This legislation, which does not yet have a bill number, is a revision of his proposed legislation from January, before the lease sale took place. The amended legislation would now prevent the Secretary of the Interior from authorizing any “related activity (including approving any seismic activity, offering any new lease, or approving any exploration or development plan)” until an ESA determination and critical habitat designation is made.
E&E News’s Darren Samuelson reports in a pair of stories that the House of Representatives is moving forward to introduce companion legislation to the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act (S. 2191), the cap-and-trade legislation wending its way through the Senate. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), whose Energy and Commerce Committee has jurisdiction, told steel industry officials last week that he plans “to release one or more draft global warming bills for comment by mid-April.”Samuelson also reported that Rep. Markey, chair of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and a strong ally of Speaker Pelosi, has been meeting with “alternative energy producers, labor groups, financial market officials and industry representatives” to craft legislation.
Rep. Markey is preparing to send a report directly to Pelosi with proposals to address climate change or offer amendments when the House Energy and Commerce Committee holds a markup on a major piece of climate legislation, sources on and off Capitol Hill said today.
Markey said: “I think you should do the best you can each year. I do. And we have a real chance this year. If there’s an epiphany that occurred at the White House, then there we are with a chance to make history.”
Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) I know that you all have talked some about the alarming loss of common birds in our country. Alarming it is. I almost can’t believe it. The numbers that I’ve seen are absolutely atrocious. And one thing that I’d like to explore with you real quick, the Audubon Society has stated that the cause of the dramatic decline of birds is the outright loss of habitat due to poor land use, the clear-cutting of forests, the draining of wetlands and sprawl. Now, in light of such a stinging indictment as that, how does the administration justify a 70 percent cut in land acquisition?
Hall I don’t know.
The Audubon Society analysis found that many common U.S. birds species have collapsed in recent years, some by at least 80 percent. In addition, the Society has identified 218 U.S. bird species at risk “amid a convergence of environmental challenges, including habitat loss, invasive species and global warming”.
Former Deputy Interior Secretary Julie MacDonald interfered with the Endangered Species Act listings of several of those at-risk: the Greater Sage Grouse, Gunnison Sage Grouse, Southwestern bald eagle, Southwestern willow flycatcher, Sacramento splittail and the recovery plan of the Northern spotted owl
Despite earlier reports that the Senate was considering inclusion of the oil-for-renewable package (H.R. 5351) in its budget reconciliation, as the budget markup begins today, the filibuster-proof strategy has been taken off the table.The National Journal reports:
While a Senate budget resolution is going to set aside $13.4 billion over five years for these renewable and efficiency credits – some of which expire this year – it merely signals that the issue is one of the priorities for Senate Democrats and does not forward debate over how to pay for those credits. . . a spokesman for Reid said he will not resurrect an energy tax debate until after lawmakers come back from the upcoming two-week Easter recess.
The Journal also reports that Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) has been tasked by Majority Leader Reid to attempt to find further Republican votes to establish a veto-proof majority for the package.CQ Politics points to Sen. Landrieu as objecting to using reconciliation:
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu , D-La., for example, is against using the process to pass renewable-energy tax breaks if they lead to tax hikes on oil and gas companies.
Sen. Landrieu cast a deciding vote against the oil-for-renewable tax package during the 2007 energy bill debate.
EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson seems unable to step foot on Capitol Hill to talk about his 2008 budget without getting a ton of questions about California’s waiver denial and EPA’s much-delayed response to Massachusetts v. EPA. Today’s NY Times carries an editorial explaining how the two are linked, citing and drawing out Georgetown Professor Lisa Heinzerling’s observation that EPA’s waiver denial may have inadvertently committed it to an endangerment finding)
The barrage of questions continued yesterday, courtesy of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and her Appropriations subcommittee. Hill Heat live-blogged the hearing and revealed that Johnson isn’t just personally overwhelmed by all the legal pressure and questioning—he’s explicitly citing it to justify his delayed reaction to the Supreme Court’s remand. To wit, Johnson repeated the claim—previously made when he announced to a House subcommittee that he’d be "taking a step back" from the enandgerment finding to weigh industry’s “concerns”—that his delay is partly justified by a series of petitions and appeals that California and environmental groups have filed in the last several months, seeking the regulation of CO2 emissions from ships, aircraft, off-road vehicles, and new coal-burning power plants under federal jurisdiction.
Each of these actions was largely motivated by EPA’s delay in making an endangerment ruling, and each covers areas that would be affected by such a determination. In other words, Johnson is claiming that in order to respond to legal maneuvers motivated by his hesitancy to act…he must delay action even longer. While this deflection doesn’t carry any legal consequences, another part of Johnson’s insistence that this decision requires an expansive amount of time—perhaps until the end of the Bush administration, as advised by the Heritage Foundation, which also takes credit for inspiring Johnson’s rationale—actually highlights the imminent possibility of yet another lawsuit against EPA.
At issue: Johnson flat-out refused to set a target date yesterday for completing the decision-making process, and would not answer whether any of his staff was even working on the enandgerment evaluation (as opposed to a "myriad of issues" that they are tackling). The latter answer led Senator Feinstein to argue, based on what she’d evidently been hearing from other sources, that no one other than Johnson himself is weighing the issue.
The legal coalition responsible for initiating Mass. v. EPA will likely beg to differ with this exhaustive process, having notified the Administrator last month that it was prepared to sue over unreasonable delay if Johnson didn’t provide a firm target date by February 27—last Wednesday. Stay tuned…