Posts Tagged ‘climate’

Sure. The guy with the neck tattoo knocks on the door to shovel snow when there’s four inches of fluffy powder. But he’s nowhere to be found when there’s nine inches of the wet stuff.  So, while the ibuprofen kicks in, here’s what we’re reading this holiday weekend:

— Frustration with the largely voluntary approach to saving the Chesapeake Bay finally boils over.  Does grassroots power need to be deployed more effectively? Bay Action Plan

— New guidance for “categorical exclusions” from NEPA review. Have we learned important lessons from a certain deep water oil drilling disaster? CPR Blog

— What does climate change look like? Here are the photos: Lost islands in the Chesapeake and dead and dying white pine in Yellowstone.

— Why do we love our communities? Polling shows it isn’t the economy, stupid. NRDC Switchboard. (Also, Legal Planet.)

— John Wesley Powell understood the western water rights battleground and had a solution (and a cool map) in 1890. If only…  AqueousAdvisors.

— Good news and bad news for non-profits like ours. The bad news is that a growing number of Americans don’t give anything at all to charity. The good news is that most Americans still plan to give something this season.

— Finally, totally awesome photos of earth from space!  USGS/EROS

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Our outstanding intern Jordin Jacobs informs us of legislation pending in Congress regarding electric vehicles. Both Senators Crapo and Risch are on key Senate committees that will consider S. 3442, The Electric Vehicle Deployment Act, written to jump start the operation of electric vehicles and development of the necessary infrastructure:

Our current transportation system accounts for 70% of our oil dependency. According to proponents, if the Electric Vehicle Deployment Act is passed, the U.S. would be on a path to having 75% of our car miles electric by 2040, thus reducing oil use by at least 6 million gallons per day.

This legislation would establish a select number of areas as electrification “deployment communities” in which incentives in support of electric vehicle purchases would be employed and development of charging infrastructure promoted, allowing all aspects of an electrified transportation system to be deployed at once.

To support the legislation, the Electrification Coalition has formed as a nonpartisan, not-for-profit group of business leaders committed to promoting policies and actions that facilitate the deployment of electric vehicles on a mass scale in order to combat the economic, environmental, and national security dangers caused by our nation’s dependence on petroleum.  The Coalition calls for interested Idahoans to send an e-mail to their U.S. Senators urging for a reduction in oil dependency through support of the Electric Vehicle Deployment Act.  They have an easy link to do so here.

UPDATE 7/21: The vote this morning in the Senate Natural Resources Committee was a strong bipartisan vote in favor, 19-4.  It is exceedingly rare to get such a strong bipartisan vote these days, especially on a proposal with a significant price tag. Although the four negative votes were from Senate Republicans, Idaho Senator Jim Risch voted in favor.

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The Rathdrum Prairie CAMP — short for Comprehensive Aquifer Management Plan — is currently being drafted by the Idaho Water Resources Board for the long-term management of our important local aquifer, the sole source of drinking water for more than a half million people. Jeff Briggs from our summer legal team files this report from the Rathdrum Prairie CAMP meeting being held in Coeur d’Alene today:

This morning I attended Dr. Venkataramana Sridhar’s talk on climate change related impacts expected to occur on the Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer.  Interesting was the fact that five different models are used to predict the range of water flow in the context of differing CO2 emission scenarios.  Depending upon the amount of CO2 discharged into the atmosphere, the climate could be expected to warm as little as .18 degrees Fahrenheit in a decade to as much as 9.7 degrees Fahrenheit.  The models generally predict a 4-5% increase in precipitation, although some predict a decrease.  Notably though, all five models in Dr. Sridhar’s study predict that peak flows will shift from May to April due to earlier snowmelt.

This study, to provide projections for the CAMP, has a long road ahead.  Although the present study is focused on natural flow variations related to climate change, additional studies will be needed to integrate how human land use patterns can have an effect on natural flow.  However, even without an increased intensity of land use, the projected natural flow variations provide an impetus to increase water storage and conservation efforts into the CAMP in order to ensure adequate water supply for times of groundwater recharge scarcity.

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The American Power Act, the energy / climate bill unveiled yesterdayby Senators Kerry and Lieberman (and not Graham), is a complex 900+ page bill that will attract a lot of discussion in the coming months.  There are pros and cons, of course, but at this point, it is mostly some really difficult legal mumbo-jumbo to wade through. The excellent folks at NRDC posted an outstanding “first reading” summary that we found extremely helpful but also somewhat troubling.  One of the problems NRDC identified is one that is likely to seriously impact us in North Idaho.

As described by NRDC, one of the major flaws in the bill is the “biomass loophole” which gives entirely too much credit and not enough protections when it comes to burning biomaterials for energy.  Those materials around here, of course, are our forests.  Here are NRDC’s (and our) concerns:

Closing the biofuels loophole.  The draft bill creates a large loophole for the carbon emissions from producing and burning biomass, significantly eroding the bill’s carbon pollution reductions. Covered firms are allowed to ignore carbon emissions from burning “renewable biomass” on the assumption that they are completely counterbalanced by carbon uptake when biomass is grown (Sec. 722).  In fact, carbon uptake falls short of combustion emissions for many fuel sources defined as renewable biomass, resulting in net carbon pollution. Not requiring allowances for this carbon pollution gives covered sources an economic incentive to switch to biomass, thus seriously degrading the bill’s stated carbon pollution reductions. Closing the biomass loophole is necessary to ensure the integrity of the bill’s emissions targets.   The bill’s definition of “renewable biomass” also lacks critical environmental sourcing guidelines to protect forests and other sensitive ecosystems (Sec. 700).  The definition provides absolutely no protection for private lands, inviting clearing or converting of sensitive wildlife habitat, old growth forests, and our last remaining native prairies.  Partial protections are included for some federal lands, including roadless areas, and wilderness study areas.  But many of the nation’s public forests remain exposed.  A proper definition would protect areas that are high in biodiversity and that serve as large carbon storehouses, such as mature and old growth forests.  It would also provide strong sustainability guidelines to ensure that bioenergy incentives do not drive increased carbon emissions, deforestation, forest degradation, or loss of wildlife habitat.    

We’ll be watching as the debate progresses, but plugging this loophole needs to be a priority.

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Human-caused pollution and meteorological conditions can combine such that our government needs to take immediate and decisive action to protect the environment and the public’s health.

Global warming? Not this time.

No, we took note of the “stagnant air advisory” for our region issued by the weather service, and the “burn ban” issued by Idaho DEQ.  And actually, since this happens with some frequency in our region, we thought we might look into what it really means.  

The weather advisory, for “elevations in Eastern Washington and the North and Central Idaho panhandle below 3000 feet,” is somewhat terse, but ominous-sounding in its advice: “An air stagnation advisory indicates that light winds and stable conditions are expected…and pollution has the potential to increase to dangerous levels. Persons with respiratory illness should follow their physician’s advice for dealing with high levels of air pollution.”

Although, at the moment, Coeur d’Alene air quality is still in the good range, St. Maries to the south, and Pinehurst to the east are indeed suffering air pollution levels in the moderate range for particulates. The advisory is in place until tomorrow morning (12/30) when a weather front should churn the air up a bit and clear out the smoky haze.

What does it mean? Particulate pollution refers specifically to the very small particles found in smoke that can be breathed deeply into the lungs where they can cause health problems. Moderate air quality means that the air is “acceptable” except that there may be “a moderate health concern for a very small number of people.” These health concerns, however, are no small matter. EPA notes that particulates are linked to increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing, or difficulty breathing; decreased lung function; aggravated asthma; development of chronic bronchitis; irregular heartbeat; nonfatal heart attacks; and premature death in people with heart or lung disease.

DEQ has the power to  issue a burn ban “when concentrations of air pollutants reach or exceed the health-based standards or limits established by state law or regulation.”  So, as a result, DEQ has issued a mandatory ban on outdoor burning for the entire North Idaho region until, probably, tomorrow. In some valleys, DEQ is also asking for a mandatory halt to residential wood heating unless it is necessary.

This reasonable regulation, based on science-based standards, to protect the environment and the public’s health, is pretty much what government is supposed to do. Right?

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Our friends and colleagues at Idaho Conservation League were recently successful in their efforts to get Idaho DEQ to regulate carbon emissions in an air pollution permit to be issued to a new “clean-coal gasification fertilizer plant” in Southern Idaho.  This is notable because it is the first such air quality permit in the nation. It’s obviously somewhat ironic, given the climate-skeptic and anti-regulation attitudes of many Idaho leaders, but when a $1.5 billion project comes to town, and it’s ready to go forward on carbon limits, then, well, the permit gets written.

The new permit limits carbon emissions to 58% of what might otherwise have been permitted in a comparable plant. U.S. EPA hasn’t yet issued rules on how greenhouse gases might be regulated in future permits, so this Idaho permit could be an example for power plants nationwide.

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Maybe getting a head start on Saturday’s “International Day of Climate Action,” a group of pranksters pulled a fast one on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce today, holding a fake press conference to announce the fake news that the Chamber of Commerce was changing its stance on pending global warming legislation in Congress.  The Washington Post reports quite the scene at the National Press Club with “two men in business suits shouting at one another, each calling the other an impostor and demanding to see business cards.”

UPDATE:  The video is here.

Recently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been under attack by its own membership for its hard-core opposition to the legislation, with high-profile companies like Apple and several big utilities quitting the Chamber, companies like Nike quitting the Chamber’s Board, and huge companies like Exxon, Shell, and GE expressly disclaiming or otherwise distancing themselves from the Chamber’s position. Several local Chambers of Commerce have taken different positions on climate change as well.

More locally, our friends at Idaho Conservation League and the Sandpoint Transition Initiative are holding a “Save Our Snow” rally this Saturday at 1pm at the Sandpoint city beach. The rally, along with others worldwide, will focus attention on the number 350 — as in parts per million — the level scientists have identified as the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere. We’re at 387 now.

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