July 29, 2010
Time to Recharge and Gear Up to Protect EPA Authority
A week after Senate Democrats abandoned the work of limiting carbon emissions that are warming the Earth, leaders of the House and Senate introduced separate proposals to reduce the risk of deep ocean energy exploration and production, and advance energy efficiency and cleaner vehicles.
In Washington, some 350 environmental organizations, including the US Climate Action Network, issued a joint statement that made the essential point that rising carbon emissions are fostering an accelerating cascade of dangerous consequences for the environment and the American economy, and the work to change that would continue.
Both points gained fresh legitimacy in science and reality. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this week published State of the Climate 2009, which reported that air temperatures over land, sea-surface temperatures, sea level, ocean heat and humidity were all rising. Arctic sea ice, glaciers, and spring snow cover in the northern hemisphere were declining. And the past decade was the warmest on record.
Science and Reality
Meanwhile, an uncommon heat wave in Russia has led, said some reports, to hundreds of deaths from drowning. We also learned this week that phytoplankton, the microscopic plants that support all life in the oceans, are dying off at a dramatic rate, according to a new study from Dalhousie University in Canada.
It’s understandable that climate advocates who’ve worked so long to tee up federal action to cool the planet are at a spiritual ebb. Until December 2009, when the UN Copenhagen climate summit produced much less than anticipated, the idea of acting to limit carbon was on a roll. High points included 2007 Nobel Prizes for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s breakthrough science and for Al Gore’s astonishing work to elevate global warming to an international priority. They also included Barack Obama’s winning 2008 presidential election, and the formation of global online grassroots climate activism led by 350.org and TckTckTck, a project of the Global Campaign For Climate Action.
The Senate decision to drop climate from a comprehensive bill was the latest unmistakable signal that the burst of progress and optimism that led into Copenhagen was a political anomaly and that every step forward for the foreseeable future will be very hard work. The $5 billion in investments in clean energy and energy efficiency proposed this week in the Senate energy package help.
Climate advocates also are mindful of how the fossil fuel and utility industries, and their allies in Congress, are challenging the E.P.A.’s authority to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act. The Obama administration is using the law to soon produce dramatic reductions in carbon emissions in new vehicles, and is taking aim at large industrial polluters. Defending the agency and the law is shaping up to be the next big environmental clash in Washington.
Today, the EPA issued a formal rebuke to its critics who deny that climate change is real. The agency responded to petitioners who argued the agency’s finding late last year that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases endangered public health was scientifically flawed. The EPA, which based its regulatory action on the “endangerment finding,” said it found no scientific evidence to support the petitioners’ claims and “that climate science is credible, compelling, and growing stronger.”
Next week is August’s start, a good time for Washington’s environmental community to get out of town, take a break, recharge. Thank you to all of our colleagues fighting so hard at the frontlines of the climate crisis.
Until next week, take care, Keith Schneider