protect and defend our ecosystems

Date: 16-Feb-10
Country: US
Author: Maggie Fox

WASHINGTON – The coastal fog that gives San Francisco its romantic ambiance is thinning out, a boon to drivers but a real threat to the giant redwoods there, researchers reported on Monday.

It in unclear if natural climate variations or human activity is to blame, but the result could be the loss of trees, they reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Fog prevents water loss from redwoods in summer, and is really important for both the tree and the forest,” biologist Todd Dawson of the University of California Berkeley said in a statement.

“The coast redwood is the tallest living tree species and notably long-lived, with some individuals exceeding 2,000 years in age,” the researchers wrote in their report, available here

“If the fog is gone, we might not have the redwood forests we do now.”

Dawson and colleagues estimated the frequency of fog by looking at weather records, especially airport records dating back to 1951.

“Since 1901, the average number of hours of fog along the coast in summer has dropped from 56 percent to 42 percent, which is a loss of about three hours per day,” said Berkeley’s James Johnstone, who led the study.

The fog is caused by cool surface waters of the Pacific Ocean meeting warm air from the interior of California. It is held in place by an inversion, caused when cooler air is trapped closer to the surface.

“The data support the idea that Northern California coastal fog has decreased in connection with a decline in the coast-inland temperature gradient and weakening of the summer temperature inversion,” Johnstone said.

“As fog decreases, the mature redwoods along the coast are not likely to die outright, but there may be less recruitment of new trees,” Dawson added. “They will look elsewhere for water, high humidity and cooler temperatures.”

The coast redwood, known scientifically as Sequoia sempervirens, is naturally found in a very narrow band along the northeast Pacific coast.

The researchers found changes all the way down the coast from northernmost California to San Diego.

“Fog is clearly a dominant climatic factor on the California coast, and long-term reductions likely have and may continue to impact the water and carbon economy of redwoods and other coastal endemic species,” they concluded.

(Editing by Sandra Maler)

© Thomson Reuters 2010 All rights reserved

Date: 11-Jan-10
Country: US
Author: Richard Cowan

Beleaguered U.S. Climate Bill Seeks Obama Lift Photo: Shannon Stapleton
The Valero St. Charles oil refinery is seen during a tour of the refinery in Norco, Louisiana August 15, 2008.
Photo: Shannon Stapleton

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech to Congress could indicate how badly he wants a global warming bill, which opponents say will cost U.S. jobs and raise prices — a scary prospect for politicians trying to ride out a horrible economy in an election year.

Obama, who played a dramatic role in negotiating a nonbinding international climate change accord last month in Copenhagen, now faces a tough economic and environmental balancing act to win the climate change legislation in 2010.

Administration officials insist it can be done despite the political difficulties in an election year. “President Obama and this administration … expect that a comprehensive energy bill, which includes a climate portion, to be passed this year,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu told reporters Wednesday.

For that to happen, Obama must put a “job-creation focus” on the bill to build a U.S. economy that would run more on alternative energy than dirty-burning coal and oil, said Daniel Weiss of the Center for American Progress. “The more specifics the better” in the State of the Union speech, Weiss added.

On Friday, Obama announced new tax credits to encourage investments in clean energy development that he said would help combat climate change and create jobs.

“This initiative is good for middle-class families. It is good for our security. It is good for our planet,” Obama said.

A House-passed bill is floundering in the Senate, where Obama has to convince 60 of 100 members to back a bill.

In one area — government incentives for expanding nuclear power — Senate sources said progress has been made in closed-door talks in search of a “sweet spot” for a compromise on the legislation that they hope to pass in coming months.

Even so, Senate backers and environmentalists off Capitol Hill say they are uncertain of climate change victory in 2010.

Difficult negotiations are expected between senators who want to require industries to cut their carbon emissions and those who see a climate bill as a vehicle for also helping domestic producers of nuclear power and oil and natural gas.

And, many Republicans are working hard to cast doubt on claims the climate change bill will create jobs.

Within the next few weeks, Senator Lisa Murkowski could force a Senate vote to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon emissions as a fallback if more comprehensive climate legislation is not enacted.

“This is a vote about the economy, not about the climate — whether these regulations will harm the economy,” said a Senate Republican aide.

If Murkowski, whose state of Alaska is a major oil and gas producer, manages to get a strong vote, even if less than needed to pass her measure, some undecided Republicans and Democrats could have second thoughts about voting later this year on a more comprehensive climate bill.

SENATORS SEEKING COMPROMISE

Despite all the hurdles, a bipartisan group of senators is forging ahead on a bill to cut carbon emissions by utilities, refineries and factories over the next four decades by 17 percent from 2005 levels.

Senator John Kerry, who is leading the effort, expects to be recovered from surgery and back in Washington when the Senate reconvenes on January 20, to huddle with independent Senator Joe Lieberman and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, according to a spokeswoman. The two are key to winning support from moderates and conservatives.

One Senate staffer said 17 pro-nuclear senators have had input into what could become a major provision of the bill aimed at luring Republican votes. “That part (nuclear power) ironically is in fairly good shape at this point.”

While nuclear power plants do not emit the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, the industry has been weighed down by prohibitively high construction costs and controversy over nuclear waste storage.

Expanding domestic oil and gas drilling is another important goal for Republicans and that component of a climate bill is “still 100 percent in flux,” said the Senate source.

While producing more oil and gas here will do nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it would reduce dependence on foreign oil and potentially lure Republican votes.

On the sidelines of the U.N. climate meeting in Copenhagen, Kerry left open the possibility that the core of the climate bill could be scrapped. That is the “cap and trade” system for reducing carbon emissions through ever-dwindling pollution permits that could be traded on a new exchange.

A carbon tax and a “cap” without the “trade” component are among possibilities. But for now, Kerry, Lieberman and Graham are sticking with cap and trade, aiming to quell nervousness over the scheme by including tougher market controls.

(Editing by Jackie Frank and Bill Trott)

© Thomson Reuters 2010 All rights reserved

Date: 30-Dec-09
Country: CANADA
Author: John McCrank

TORONTO – Quebec will become the first province in Canada to adopt California’s strict auto emissions standards, the province’s environment ministry said on Tuesday.

The new rules will come into effect on January 14 and will impose increasingly stringent limits on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from cars and light trucks made between 2010 and 2016 that are sold in the province.

Emissions from vehicles will be cut by about 35 percent over the four years, from 187 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer for passenger vehicles to 127 grams per kilometer by 2016, Charles Larochelle, assistant deputy environment minister in Quebec, said in an interview.

“In Quebec, 40 percent of our GHG emissions are from our transportation sector, so it’s quite an important sector if we want to get some reductions in our greenhouse gases,” he said.

Quebec first announced its plan to adopt the California emission standards two years ago, but was waiting for legal wrangling between the state of California and automakers to be resolved before it officially got on board.

Fourteen other U.S. states have also adopted the California plan, including Vermont, Maine, and New York state, all of which border Quebec.

The United States is looking at a national strategy to reduce carbon emissions, and the Canadian government has said it will probably tie itself to the U.S. plan.

(Editing by Peter Galloway)

© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

Date: 20-Nov-09
Country: US
Author: Belinda Goldsmith

Global Warming, 9/11, Obama Top Words Of The Decade Photo: Reuters
A villager walks through a partially dried reservoir in Yingtan, Jiangxi province October 29, 2009.
Photo: Reuters

LOS ANGELES – Concerns over the environment and terrorism have not only affected how people lived in the past decade but also their language, with “global warming” and “9/11” topping a list of the most used words of the 2000s.

The Global Language Monitor, which uses a math formula to track the frequency of words and phrases in print and electronic media, said “Obama” came third in the list with the surname of U.S. President Barack Obama used as the stem for other words.

“Bailout” was listed fourth after the bank bailout was one of the first acts of the financial crisis, “evacuee” came fifth in the wake of Hurricane Katrina devastating New Orleans, and “derivative” featured fifth.

“Google,” “surge,” “Chinglish” meaning a hybrid of Chinese and English, and “tsunami,” after the 2004 Asian disaster that left 230,000 people dead or missing, followed.

“Looking at the first decade of the 21st century in words is a sober, even somber, event,” said Paul JJ Payack, president of The Global Language Monitor.

“For a decade that began with such joy and hope, the words chosen depict a far more complicated and in many ways, tragic time. Nevertheless, signs of hope and renewal can be found in the overall lists.”

Payack said the top phrase of the decade was “climate change” followed by “financial tsunami” and “Ground Zero.”

Technology’s impact on the past decade was reflected in the list with “Twitter,” the micro-blogging site, one of the most used words while “blog” and “texting” featured on the list.

Hollywood continued to flex its muscle, with “slumdog” from the Oscar-winning film “Slumdog Millionaire,” referring to child inhabitants of Mumbai slums, making its mark in global languate. U.S. comedian Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness,” defined as truth that comes from the gut not books, came in at No. 25.

(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

Date: 28-Oct-09
Country: US
Author: Steve Holland

Obama Announces $3.4 Billion In Grants For Smart Grid Photo: Jim Young
President Obama takes a tour of DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in Arcadia, Florida, October 27, 2009.

Photo: Jim Young

ARCADIA, Florida – President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced $3.4 billion in grants to help build a “smart” electric grid meant to trim utility bills, reduce blackouts and carry power generated by solar and wind energy.

It was the largest award made in a single day from the $787 billion stimulus package approved by Congress. The White House said the award will create tens of thousands of jobs while upgrading the U.S. electric grid.

Republicans have heavily criticized the stimulus as wasteful spending that has done little to reduce America’s 9.8 percent jobless rate.

The grants, which range from $400,000 to $200 million, will go to 100 companies, utilities, manufacturers, cities and other partners in 49 states — every state except Alaska.

Obama made the announcement after taking a tour of an array of 90,000 solar panels that line a grassy plain of cow pastures deep in the muggy heart of Florida, apparently more panels than there are people in Arcadia.

Obama, doffing his suit coat against the heat and humidity, told a crowd the program was an important investment in the types of clean energy he would like to foster in the United States to wean the country off carbon fuels.

He said the grants would go to private companies, utilities and cities and were aimed at creating a “smarter, stronger and more secure electric grid.”

“At this moment, there’s something big happening in America when it comes to creating a clean energy economy,” Obama said.

Carol Browner, Obama’s top adviser on climate change and energy issues, told reporters that the current grid system was outdated and dilapidated.

“Not only do we need to make the current system bigger and add more watts, but we need to make it function better,” she said.

“MORE THAN A FACE-LIFT”

The grants will not be used to build new power lines, but improve the capabilities of the electrical system. “I would say it’s more than a face-lift,” Browner said.

The money will pay for about 18 million smart meters that will help consumers manage energy use in their homes, 700 automated substations to make it faster for utilities to restore power knocked out by storms and 200,000 smart transformers that allow power companies to replace units before they fail, thus avoiding outages.

The winning companies have secured an additional $4.7 billion in private money to match their government grants, creating $8.1 billion in total investment in the smart grid.

One of the winning companies is Constellation Energy’s Baltimore Gas and Electric Co, which will receive $200 million in grants to add to $250 million in private funds to deploy a smart meter network for all of its 1.1 million residential customers.

Constellation Energy chairman Mayo Shattuck said the new technology would put the country on the brink of the “greatest transformations of the electric grid ever.”

“This technology allows consumers to have the opportunity to reduce their bills and it allows utilities to increase their efficiency,” Shattuck said.

The White House will act fast to get the money into the economy, with the funds expected to be in the accounts of the winning companies within 60 days. The projects themselves will last 12 to 36 months.

BGE customers can use the meters to view their electricity use in real-time, allowing them to run appliances when there is less demand on the grid and power prices are cheaper.

Sempra Energy’s San Diego Gas and Electric Co subsidiary will get $28.1 million on top of the $32 million it plans to spend to connect 1.4 million smart meters.

(Editing by David Storey)

Date: 27-Oct-09
Country: US
Author: Richard Cowan

Senate Democrats Set Climate Bill Industry Permits Photo: Lucas JacksonA layer of smog can be seen above Manhattan through the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York, May 21, 2009.
Photo: Lucas Jackson

WASHINGTON – Democrats in the U.S. Senate will push climate change legislation that would grant, initially at no cost, pollution permits to an array of industries, similar to legislation passed by the House of Representatives last June.

Details unveiled by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee show the Democratic bill would allocate about 30 percent of the free pollution permits to local electric distribution companies and another 5 percent to merchant coal firms. The grants are intended to smooth their transition to cleaner fuels while protecting consumers against price increases, and would mostly phase out by 2030.

An analysis by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that under the Senate bill, consumers would be hit with only “slightly” higher costs than the House bill’s impact, which has been estimated at $80 to $111 per year.

“We’ve reached another milestone as we move to a clean energy future,” said Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer.

Boxer is working with Senator John Kerry to advance the legislation in the Senate, where it faces staunch opposition from most Republicans and many moderate Democrats.

Other free industry permits outlined by the Senate Democrats include: 9 percent for local natural gas distribution companies; and 4 percent for energy-intensive manufacturers in the steel, cement, paper, glass and other industries in 2012 and 2013, rising to 15 percent in 2014 and 2015.

Electric utility customers would get about 35 percent of the free allowances to help compensate them for the higher costs of energy as utilities move away from burning cheap and highly polluting fossil fuels like coal.

The Alliance to Save Energy applauded the provisions, saying they put needed resources into energy efficiency as part of a broad program to reduce U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases associated with global warming.

COST TO CONSUMERS

Kerry and Boxer, both Democrats, introduced their legislation on September 30, but some key details were just now being unveiled, including how carbon pollution permits would be allocated to industry and EPA’s assessment of the cost to consumers when industry is forced to curtail its use of fossil fuels like oil and coal.

At the core of the Senate and House bills is the creation of a “cap and trade” system that would lower carbon emissions from smokestacks over the next four decades.

Companies would be allowed to trade on the open market an ever-dwindling number of pollution permits for each ton of carbon they release into the atmosphere.

The House-passed bill calls for a 17 percent emissions cut by 2020, from 2005 levels, while the Senate bill is more ambitious at 20 percent. Neither bill is as aggressive as some passed by other developed countries, including the EU.

Some of the new Senate provisions were aimed at picking up support from senators representing coal-producing and farm states. For example, the committee said the bill would now stimulate the development of technologies that would allow the burning of less-polluting coal.

When the initial legislation was unveiled nearly a month ago, it drew a quick rebuke from Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, a leading coal-producing state.

President Barack Obama wants significant progress in Congress on climate legislation ahead of an international meeting on the environment in December in Copenhagen.

But with Congress mostly focused on a controversial healthcare reform effort and support for climate change legislation uncertain in the Senate, the Copenhagen summit is likely to start without clear carbon-reduction goalposts in the United States.

The United States is among the world’s top producers of carbon emissions and its progress setting pollution-reduction goals is seen as key to success in Copenhagen.

Most U.S. Republicans have criticized legislation mandating cuts in carbon emissions, saying it would eliminate jobs, encourage more companies to relocate factories abroad and significantly raise consumer prices.

The EPA analysis, however, said both the House and Senate bills would have a relatively small cost impact on consumers.

The Environment and Public Works Committee will hold three days of hearings next week on the bill and will attempt to approve the measure sometime in November.

Several other Senate committees are also reviewing climate change legislation and might not finish this year.

(Editing by Todd Eastham)

Date: 22-Oct-09
Country: US
Author: Richard Cowan

U.S. Climate Bill Prospects Photo: Jonathan Ernst
Energy Secretary Steven Chu answers reporters’ questions during the 2009 Reuters Washington Summit in Washington, October 20, 2009.
Photo: Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration will press ahead with climate control legislation, despite difficult odds of passage before December’s international summit on global warming.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu told the Reuters Washington Summit that he was putting in long hours on climate issues and believes there was “a reasonably good possibility” that the U.S. Congress could deliver legislation reducing carbon dioxide emissions in time for the Copenhagen meeting.

“Look, I’m still going to be optimistic and say there is a chance that there will be a bill that the Senate and House have agreed upon that goes before the president before Copenhagen,” Chu said.

But Senator John McCain, who wants to rejuvenate nuclear power in the United States to help reduce carbon pollution, said there’s been no progress and he accused Democrats of being “beholden” to environmentalists who oppose an expansion of the industry.

“I’d like to see one concrete commitment on the part of the administration and Democrats,” McCain told the Reuters Washington Summit on Wednesday.

Instead, the conservative Republican who unsuccessfully ran for president against Barack Obama last year, complained that Nevada’s Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository has been defunded and no plans were in the works for recycling spent fuel, while loan guarantees to build new plants were insufficient.

But Chu said an effort was being made to provide new government help for the nuclear industry, including possibly expanding the $18.5 billion loan guarantee program for expanding nuclear power generation.

Conservative Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close friend of McCain’s, announced this month that he would work with leading Democrats to fashion a climate change bill he could vote for. Since then, Chu has followed up with him.

Scientists blame carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels for global warming and more severe storms and droughts. December’s meeting in Copenhagen is an attempt to bring deep reductions in the world’s carbon emissions, building on the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012.

CAP AND TRADE

While enactment of a U.S. climate bill would boost the trust of developing nations in Washington’s intentions in Copenhagen, it wasn’t just McCain challenging Chu’s optimism.

“I don’t think we’re going to have cap and trade” enacted this year, Senator Charles Grassley told the Reuters Washington Summit. He was referring to the mechanism Obama and his fellow Democrats in Congress want to create to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Under cap and trade, a huge new system for trading an ever-declining number of carbon pollution permits would be created. Many Republicans and moderate Democrats in Congress fear the regime would result in higher energy prices. And some lawmakers fear the creation of a new Wall Street casino at a time when Americans are still angry over investor excesses that touched off the deep recession.

Instead of a domestic climate change bill, Grassley said there should be an international deal that would force developing countries like China and India to take carbon-reduction steps along with developed countries such as the United States.

“People of good faith say the U.S. ought to pass a bill to set a standard for the rest of the world and the rest of the world will follow along. But if the rest of the world doesn’t follow Uncle Sam, we soon become Uncle Sucker,” Grassley said, citing job-loss fears if manufacturers move factories abroad to get unrestricted amounts of cheaper fossil fuels.

Ethan Siegal of The Washington Exchange, a private firm that tracks Congress and the White House for institutional investors, saw Congress eventually taking a less ambitious course — one that many experts say will not come close to effectively addressing climate change problems.

He predicted a “down-sized energy bill next year” that could be a combination of tax credits for alternative energy sources, more offshore oil drilling and steps to promote nuclear energy.

If Congress fails to enact a climate change bill by December, as is widely expected, Chu said the United States can still show up in Copenhagen and point to climate control progress made this year.

Besides passage of a climate bill by the House of Representatives, Chu mentioned the $80 billion included in an economic stimulus law for investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy, along with new rules forcing car companies to build more fuel-efficient autos.

“It’s quite clear the United States is very serious about decreasing its carbon footprint,” Chu said.

(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro, editing by Anthony Boadle)