Quick News 3 – Finally a Glimpse of Daylight

April 3, 2007

Bill Clinton never really acted on it although Al Gore was right in the house. George Bush deep-sixed it to the wrath of the world and eventually the Americans. The US continued being the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, causing massive, unregulated contributions to warming temperatures around the globe. These emissions, if continued, will have catastrophic impacts. A new IPPC report from the UN will provide details by April 6th 2007.

Since I started covering Global Warming about a year ago, a major point of mine was that Global Warming could be dealt with in the same manner that sulphur dioxide pollution was successfully reduced to acceptable levels in the 1970s. That reduction happened because Congress passed Clean Air Acts. Emissions dropped by more than 50% compared to the 1970 level. Acid rain and health issues became much more manageable in most parts of the world.

The current problem is that EPA, which led the sulphur reductions, refused to do the same for green house gases. EPA cites some smoke screen excuses. The real reason was that George Bush directed EPA to ignore the existing Clean Air Act. This was part of Bush’s general denial of Global Warming. That denial led not only to muffling EPA but also to the suppression of facts about Global Warming to both Congress and the American people. Recent house hearings disclosed this misinformation and the Administration’s blatant lies.

The issue of the EPA refusing to regulate CO2 using the Clean Air Act and its mandatory limits became a case before the US Supreme Court. The suit was brought by 11 states and a few cities. The complete case goes back to 1999. The Supreme Court heard the case in late November 2006. We now (April 2nd 2007) have a decision.

A Glimpse of Daylight

April 2nd, 2007, the Supreme Court of the US ruled in a split decision that EPA must enforce the Clean Air Act on greenhouse gases originating from auto emissions. The court further ruled that EPA cannot ignore its obligation to regulate greenhouse gases in general unless they have a scientific basis for doing so.

This decision, if acted on, is a major and frankly surprising step forward towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the US. It is a very well deserved step backwards for George W. Bush and his do-nothing policy on Global Warming. No doubt the Administration will play a game of resistance and delays but it appears the case is quite solid. Do or you will be sued.

The Sulphur Case of the 1970s

The US passed the Clean Air Act in 1963, followed by a major amendment in 1970. The 1970 Act was amended and extended several times up till 1990. Ronald Reagan did his best to ignore the Act. The Candidate Bush promised mandatory reduction targets for SO2, CO2, mercury and nitrogen oxide. The President Bush forgot that promise immediately after taking office. VP Dick Cheney is doing all he can to ROLL BACK the Clean Air Act as a favor to his buddies.

The 1970 law empowers EPA to establish and enforce emission standards for certain airborne pollutants. These standards were quite demanding and in some cases overly ambitious. The auto industry, for instance, required extensions due to technical and economic issues. The law has four main parts: 1) a national air quality standard, 2) a performance standard specifying limits for different industries and regions, 3) limits specific to cars (90% reduction of certain emissions), 4) rules for engaging states in the enforcement of the law.

At the time, acid rain was quite an issue, destroying forests, fresh water supplies and soils. Acid rain is largely caused by industrial emissions of SO2. Power plants and the pulp and paper industries are examples of SO2 polluters. These industries faced major capital expenses to reduce emissions to the set standards. Typical remedies are elaborate scrubbers attached to smoke stacks. These are expensive, both as capital investment and as operating costs.

Emission trading is a related scheme: a polluting facility is issued a license to emit a certain level of pollutants. Usually, after installing clean up equipment, the facility can sell the surplus part of the license. This is similar to CERs but with the important difference that the emission trading is not a subsidy from one nation to some non-regulated country. It is a US company to a US company trade.

The 1970 Act resulted in major reductions in many polluting emissions. SO2, for instance, turned almost immediately from a rapid increase in the ’sixties to an equally rapid decline, starting very soon after the Act was passed. SO2 emissions today are only 25% of what they would have been without the Act. The Act was expensive to industry but very friendly to the environment. Here is the impact on SO2 emissions:

US emissions of SO2 in the 1900s

SO2 emissions spiked in the 1940s, no doubt as wartime production of aircraft carriers and tanks took precedence over pollution. By the mid 1950s, SO2 emissions had returned to typical levels but started a rapid growth that peaked in 1970-73. Acid rain and general pollution that actually killed people caused the passage of the Clean Air Act amendment of 1970. The CAA imposed mandatory caps on SO2 emissions and an emission trading system soon followed. Many other countries, notably the UK, following the leadership of the US under, believe it or not, Mr. Richard Nixon, arch Republican.

Several major industries were forced to invest heavily in cleanup equipment, mostly smoke stack scrubbers. It was expensive. It caused difficulties. Industry whined. Some obsolete plants closed. Did it cause serious damage to the economy? The answer is most assuredly no. Did it cause serious suffering? It definitely did not. Did it produce opportunities? Yes it did. Was industry in better shape afterwards? You bet.

Here is what happened. After 10 years of mandatory caps, emissions were down 17% compared to the 1970 level (upper percentages in the graph). The 1990 reduction reached 24% and today SO2 emissions are half the 1970 level. Compared to a case of continued increases in emissions at the trend rate of the 1960s (dotted yellow line in the graph), emissions were down 36% compared to such a “stay the course” trend. That extrapolates to 52% by 1990 and 76% today (lower percentages in the graph).

Those reductions are very close to what is required to eliminate the issue of Global Warming. Simply apply the same tools of caps and trade to GHGs. Question why this can’t be done. Write your Congressman, Senator, Deputy or Representative in the Bundestag, Congress, Senate, Sabha, Parliament, Diet, Folketing, Knesset, Eduskunta, Duma, Bundesrat, Seima, Assembly, Storting, Council, Riksdag or Politburo. Let’s get it done.

The SO2 situation is not identical to that of GHGs. Resolving GHGs and Global Warming is more complex. The SO2 issue was localized to relatively few and well defined industries. The villains of Global Warming cut through far more parts of society throughout the entire world. The SO2 spike in emissions largely lasted ten-fifteen years, not 250 years. The technology and economics are more complex in the case of Global Warming. Sadly, the political attitudes are far less proactive now than in the 1970s.

But no one can tell me it is impossible, crippling or unnecessary to take on and win the battle of Global Warming. All resources needed are present and accounted for: technology, science, R&D, political tools and structures, labor, experts, bloggers, champions, stakeholders, financial resources and real life organizations exist today. It’s just a matter of lightning the fire..

The Current Battle

The issue of the EPA refusing to regulate CO2 using the CAA and its mandatory limits is now a case before the US Supreme Court. The case is brought by 11 states and a few cities. The case goes back to 1999 and was heard before the Supreme Court in late November 2006. Transcripts from the hearing reveals total confusion, misunderstandings and an apparent unwillingness by the court to take on such a “complex issue”. Source: Slate and others.

Here is a piece of news that came in from Bloomberg late November 2006:

Nobel Laureates Pushing Bush to Act on Global Warming

[Nov 20 2006] Environmentalists concerned about global warming want the U.S. Supreme Court to turn up the heat on President George W. Bush.

The justices, taking their first plunge into the debate over emissions that scientists blame for increasing the Earth’s temperature, hear arguments Nov. 29 in a case brought by conservation groups and 12 states. Their goal is to force Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency to regulate so-called greenhouse- gas emissions from new cars and trucks.

Bush argues that the government needs more scientific evidence before it acts against such emissions. A victory for environmentalists in the case, which may scramble the court’s usual ideological lineup, would “light a fire” under the administration, says Carol Browner, who headed the EPA under President Bill Clinton.

Below is an extract from a letter to George W. Bush from Senators Boxer, Binganam and Lieberman:

[Nov 15, 2006] As incoming Chairs of three important Senate Committees on global warming, we seek your commitment to work with the new Congress to pass meaningful climate change legislation in 2007. The U.S. must move quickly to adopt economy-wide constraints on domestic GHG emissions and then work with the international community to forge an effective and equitable global agreement.

Scientists are now warning that we may be reaching a “tipping point” beyond which it will be extremely difficult, or perhaps impossible, to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

The recent elections have signaled a need to change direction in many areas, including global warming. If we are to leave our children a world that resembles the earth we inherited, we must act now to address GHG emissions.

The issue is that the US EPA refuses to act on its responsibility to impose mandatory limits on CO2 emissions as regulated in the Clean Air Act. A case is brought before the US Supreme Court by 11 states and a few cities. The case goes back to 1999 and was heard before the Supreme Court in late November 2006. Transcripts from the hearing reveal total confusion, misunderstandings and an apparent unwillingness by the court to take on such a “complex issue”.

Under previous administrations [Clinton] the EPA did enforce these very same regulations [on CO2]. Now [under George W. Bush] they are saying they aren’t required to use this authority.

“The Supreme Court’s first public discussion of global warming was, in large part, an inquiry into the opportunity — or lack of it — to bring a lawsuit to try to force the government to promptly address the problem (the ’standing’ issue)”.

Chief Justice John Roberts—whose distaste for the baby penguins, the polar ice caps, and anything else ….characterizes the scientific reports in this case as “spinning out conjecture on conjecture”.

Scalia shoots back that he’s not a scientist, laughing, “That’s why I don’t want to have to deal with global warming, to tell you the truth.”….Justice Antonin Scalia asked, “When is the predicted cataclysm?”

The EPA’s argument, presented by Deputy Solicitor General Gregory Garre, quickly sounds very familiar. 1) I can’t clean it up; 2) Even if I could, I don’t want to clean it up; 3) You can’t make me clean it up; and 4) China is making an even bigger mess.”

Roberts chimes in that even if the United States reduces its own emissions, it would be irrelevant if China doesn’t regulate its own greenhouse gasses. Scalia wants reassurance that a “reduction by two and a half percent in carbon dioxide … would save two and a half percent of the coastline.”

Garre insists that there is a “likely connection” between greenhouse gases and global warming but that “it cannot unequivocally be established.”…. argues that carbon dioxide is not a “pollutant” within the meaning of the Clean Air Act.

“A decision dismissing the case on standing grounds is a real possibility.”

Now, in February 2007, the Democrats control Congress. They understand how the political might of Global Warming can undermine the power of the Bush administration. Some Republicans are sufficiently concerned about reelection and the miserable ratings of Bush to express support to some Global Warming issues. Here are samples:

The new House Speaker: Nancy Pelosi created the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming to hold hearings and recommend approaches to mitigate the effects of global warming. “The science of global warming and its impact is overwhelming and unequivocal.”

The hearings: “White House officials micro manage the government’s climate programs and control what scientists are allowed to tell the public”; “It appears there may have been an orchestrated campaign to mislead the public about climate change,” ; “The Bush administration routinely imposed their own views on the reports of climate change scientists.”; “Press releases about the findings of climate change studies had been delayed, altered and watered down.” ; “In one instance the potential consequences of climate change was entirely deleted from a report to Congress.”

Candidate Politics – 1: “This is a problem whose time has come,” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., proclaimed. “This is an issue over the years whose time has come,” echoed Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said “for decades far too many have ignored the warning” about climate change. “Will we look back at today and say this was the moment we took a stand?”

Candidate Politics – 2: “John McCain, the current front-runner for the GOP’s 2008 presidential nomination, is co-sponsoring legislation that would cut U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions by two-thirds by 2050. Two of his co-sponsors are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Running for cover: Republicans are racing to voice their support for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Even corporate leaders are calling for mandatory caps, recognizing the problem’s gravity and fearing that state action will create a patchwork of confusing regulations hurting the bottom line.

That sounds quite good, doesn’t it? But several months later, not much changed. Hopefully the Supreme Court decision will fire up the stagnated efforts of Congress. We will have to see but the lame efforts so far are bothering.

Here Are Additional Posts on Global Warming

Thank you – Karl


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One Response to “Quick News 3 – Finally a Glimpse of Daylight”

  1. fencer said

    Hi Karl,

    There’s a meme going around called The Thinking Blogger Award, and I’ve given you one, by the authority vested in me…

    You have to go to my site (http://fencer.wordpress.com)and see whether it’s a blessing or a curse!

    Regards

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