Thursday, July 30, 2009

Energy Markets: Refinery Outages Can Have Varying Gasoline Price Impacts, but Gaps in Federal Data Limit Understanding of Impacts

This report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO-09-700) dated July 2009 argues that while some unplanned refinery outages, such as those caused by accidents or weather, have had large price effects, GAO found that in general, refinery
outages were associated with small increases in gasoline prices.

Large price increases occurred when there were large outages; for example, in the
aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. However, large price increases were rare, and on average, outages were associated with small price increases.

Factors influencing price volatility included whether the gasoline was branded—gasoline sold at retail under a specific refiner’s trademark—or unbranded—gasoline sold at retail by independent sellers.

Another factor that affected the size of price increases associated with
outages was the type of gasoline being sold. Some special blends of gasoline
developed to reduce emissions of air pollutants exhibited larger average price
increases than more widely used and available conventional gasoline,
suggesting that these special gasoline blends may have more constrained
supply options in the event of an outage.

Existing federal data contain gaps that have limited GAO’s and Department of
Transportation’s (DOT) analyses of petroleum markets and related issues.

Eutrophication: Sources and Drivers of Nutrient Pollution

This Report from the World Resources Institute dated June 2009 argues that nutrient over-enrichment of freshwater and coastal ecosystems, or eutrophication, is a rapidly growing environmental crisis.

Worldwide, the number of coastal areas impacted by eutrophication stands at over 500. In coastal areas, occurrences of dead zones, which are caused by eutrophic conditions, have increased from 10 documented cases in 1960 to 405 documented cases in 2008. In addition, many of the world’s freshwater lakes, streams, and reservoirs suffer from eutrophication; in the United States, eutrophication is thought to be the primary cause of freshwater impairment. Many of our largest freshwater lakes are entrophic, including Lake Erie (United States), Lake Victoria (Tanzania/Uganda/Kenya), and Tai Lake (China).

The increase in eutrophication is the result of human activities. Major sources of nutrients to freshwater and coastal ecosystems include wastewater, agriculture, and atmospheric deposition of nitrogen from burning fossil fuels.

Sustaining California Agriculture in an Uncertain Future

This report by the Pacific Institute dated July 2009 argues that California’s future is increasingly uncertain. Competition over limited water resources continues
and climate change is increasing climate variability. With existing technologies, management practices, and educational and institutional resources, we can reduce agriculture’s vulnerability to water supply constraints and improve its long-term sustainability.

The report concludes with a series of key political, legal, and economic initiatives that would promote more productive and, ultimately, more sustainable water management in California. One of the many challenges to studying water issues in California is the lack of a consistent, comprehensive, and accurate estimate of actual water use. The failure to accurately account for water use contributes directly to the failure to manage it sustainably. Efforts should be implemented immediately to improve our understanding of actual water use in the agricultural sector.

U.S.-China Memorandum of Understanding to Enhance Cooperation on Climate Change, Energy and the Environment

This Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and China provides for both countries to pursue areas of cooperation where joint expertise, resources, research capacity and combined market size can accelerate progress towards mutual goals. These include, but are not limited to:

1) Energy conservation and energy efficiency
2) Renewable energy
3) Cleaner uses of coal, and carbon capture and storage
4) Sustainable transportation, including electric vehicles
5) Modernization of the electrical grid
6) Joint research and development of clean energy technologies
7) Clean air
8) Clean water
9) Natural resource conservation, e.g. protection of wetlands and nature reserves
10) Combating climate change and promoting low-carbon economic growth

Investing in Our Future: The Economic Case for Rebuilding Mid-Atlantic Fish Populations

This report by the Pew Trust Environmental Group prepared by John M. Gates dated 2009 provides a new analysis of the potential economic benefits of rebuilding depleted fish populations in the Mid-Atlantic. The study estimates direct economic benefits by comparing status quo management scenarios with scenarios where populations would have been rebuilt by 2007.

For both commercial and recreational fishing sectors, rebuilding populations of black
sea bass, bluefish, butterfish and summer flounder by 2007 would have generated an
additional $570 million per year in perpetuity in direct economic benefits.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

EPA Chemical Assessments: Process Reforms Offer the Potential to Address Key Problems

This testimony by the Government Accountability Office (GAO-09-774T) dated June 11, 2009 states:

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) contains EPA’s scientific position on the potential human health effects of exposure to more than 540 chemicals.

In March 2008, GAO reported that the viability of the IRIS program is at risk because EPA has been unable to complete timely, credible chemical assessments or decrease its backlog of ongoing assessments. In addition, assessment process changes EPA had recently made, and other changes it was considering at the time of GAO’s review, would have further reduced the timeliness, credibility, and transparency of IRIS assessments.

Overall, EPA’s May 2009 IRIS assessment process reforms represent significant improvements and, if implemented effectively, would be largely responsive to GAO’s March 2008 recommendations.

The independence restored to EPA under the new process will be critical to ensuring that EPA has the ability to develop transparent, credible IRIS chemical assessments.Overall, the viability of the IRIS program will depend on effective and sustained management and oversight, especially given the number of factors that can impede the progress of IRIS assessments.

Great Outdoors America: The Report of the Outdoor Resources Review Group

This report by the Outdoor Resources Review Group dated July 2009 states that are multiple opportunities to bring about lasting change to enhance the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and offers the eight recommendations:

1. Congress should permanently dedicate funding for the LWCF at the highest historical authorized level.

2. To overcome fragmentation among multiple programs at multiple levels, geospatial
planning tools should be fully utilized to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and
transparency with which the LWCF and other public and private funds are spent.

3. Public and private organizations should aggressively promote recreation and nature
education for America’s youth so as to engage them early in realizing the lifelong
health and other benefits from participating in outdoor activities.

4. Federal, state, and local agencies should continue to promote and support privatesector stewardship through public-private partnerships, joint funding, extended tax benefits for conservation easements, and other incentives.

5. Federal and other public agencies, as the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are doing, should elevate the priority for regional- or landscape level conservation in their own initiatives and through partnerships across levels of
government, and with land trusts, other nonprofit groups, and private landowners to
conserve America’s treasured landscapes.

6. A new nationwide network of Blueways and water trails along rivers and coastal
waterways should be established through public-private partnerships among federal,
state, and local agencies, nonprofits and private landowners.

7. Any national program to reduce greenhouse gases should include funding to adapt
resource lands and waters to the ecological impacts of climate change.

8. Current structures and funding for outdoor resources are insufficient to meet the needs of a growing population.

Clean Water Infrastucture: Design Issues Funding Options for a Clean Water Trust Fund

This testimony by the Government Accountability Office (GAO-09-893T) dated July 15, 2009 states: GAO identified a number of options that could generate revenue for a clean water trust fund, but several obstacles will have to be overcome in implementing these options, and it may be difficult to generate $10 billion from any one option alone.

Wildland Fire Management: Federal Agencies Have Taken Important Steps Forward, but Additional Action Is Needed to Address Remaining Challenges

This Government Accountability Office Testimony (GAO-09-906T) dated July 21, 2009 states that:

The Forest Service and Interior agencies have taken important steps toward enhancing their ability to protect communities and resources by seeking to (1) make communities and resources less susceptible to being damaged by wildland fire and (2) respond to fire so as to protect communities and important resources at risk while also considering both the cost and long-term effects of that response.

Despite the agencies’ efforts, much work remains. GAO has previously recommended several key actions that, if completed, would substantially improve the agencies’ management of wildland fire. Specifically, the agencies should:

•Develop a cohesive strategy laying out various potential approaches for addressing the growing wildland fire threat.

•Establish a cost-containment strategy that clarifies the importance of containing costs relative to other, often-competing objectives.

•Clarify financial responsibilities for fires that cross federal, state, and local jurisdictions.

•Take action to mitigate the effects of rising fire costs on other agency programs.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hardrock Mining: Information on State Royalties and the Number of Abandon Mine Sites and Hazards

This Government Accountability Office testimony (GAO-09-854T) dated July 14, 2009 reports that the royalties the states assess often differ depending on land ownership and the mineral being extracted with the actual amount assessed for a particular mine depending not only on the type of royalty, its rate, and exclusions, but also on other factors, such as the mine’s location relative to markets.

Using a definition of abandoned that the GAO provided, states reported that there are at least 161,000 abandoned hardrock mine sites in their states, and these sites have at least 332,000 features that may pose physical safety hazards and at least 33,000 sites that have degraded the environment.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Energy and Water: Preliminary Observations on the Lnks Between and Biofuels and Electricity Production

This Government Accountability Office testimony dated July 9, 2009 (GAO-09-862T) explains that the effects of producing corn-based ethanol on water supply and water
quality are fairly well understood, less is known about the effects of the next
generation of biofuel feedstocks.

Water usage in the corn-based ethanol conversion process has been declining and is currently estimated at 3 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol, the amount of water consumed in the conversion of cellulosic feedstocks is less defined and will depend on the process and on technological advancements that improve the efficiency with
which water is used.

Clean Air Act: Preliminary Observations on the Effectiveness and Costs of Mercury Control Technologies at Coal-Fired Power Plants

This testimony by the Government Accountability Office (GAO-09-860T) dated July 9, 2009 explains that substantial mercury reductions using mercury control technology systems commercially and in tests were achieved with all three main types of coal and on boiler configurations that exist at nearly three-fourths of U.S. coal-fired power plants.

2009 Sunscreen Guide

This report by the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization rates sunscreen products.

Identification of Priority Classes of Facilities for Development of CERCLA Section 108(b) Financial Responsibility Requirements.

This notice by the EPA under 40 CFR Part 320 [EPA-HQ-SFUND-2009-0265; FRL-8931-7]identifies hard rock mining as a regulatory priority. "EPA is by this notice identifying classes of facilities within the hardrock mining industry for which the Agency will first develop financial responsibility requirements under CERCLA Section 108(b). For purposes of this notice, hardrock mining facilities include those which extract, beneficiate or process metals (e.g., copper, gold, iron, lead, magnesium, molybdenum, silver, uranium, and zinc) and non-metallic, non-fuel minerals (e.g., asbestos, gypsum, phosphate rock, and sulfur)."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Two Recent Studies of Regional Differences in the Effects of Policies That Would Price Carbon Dioxide Emissions

This Congressional Budget Office document dated July 9, 2009 reports that two teams of experts—one affiliated with the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and one affiliated with Resources for the Future (RFF)—have estimated regional differences in the effects of policies that would increase the prices of fossil fuels in rough proportion to the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted when they are combusted, as would occur under a cap-and-trade program.

NBER’s analysis finds relatively small differences in the effect on households across
regions of the country (see Figure 1). In the analysis, increased expenditures account for the largest share of average household income (1.9 percent) in the East South Central region and the smallest share (1.5 percent) in the West North Central region. Most of the regional differences stem from differences in the amount of energy that households consume directly (such as gasoline, electricity, natural gas, and home heating oil) rather than indirectly (such as fossil fuels used in the production of food, clothing, and other items).

An analysis by RFF examines the effects of an emission price of $20.91 per metric
ton of CO2 using households’ expenditure patterns and income levels in 2006.2 The
analysis accounts for both regional variation in the consumption of goods and services and regional differences in the amount by which electricity prices would increase as a consequence of the policy. Using a model that incorporates changes in the supply of and demand for electricity, RFF estimates that the price of electricity would increase by as little as 7 percent in California and by as much as 27 percent in the Ohio Valley.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Alliance; Wester Resource Advocates, Western Watersheds Project, County of San Miguel, Colorado v. Dept of Interior

This compaint seeks to block the placement of electrical transmission lines over federal lands.

Climate Trade Change measures: Estimating Industry Effects

This Testimony by the Government Accountability Office (GAO-09-875T) finds that estimating the potential effects of domestic emissions pricing for industries in the United States is complex. If the United States were to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, production costs could rise for certain industries and could cause output, profits, or employment to fall. Within these industries, some of these adverse effects could arise through an increase in imports, a decrease in exports, or both. However, the magnitude of these potential effects is likely to depend on the greenhouse gas intensity of industry output and on the domestic emissions price, which is not yet known, among other factors.

Estimates of adverse competitiveness effects are generally larger for industries that are both relatively energy- and trade-intensive. In 2007, these industries accounted for about 4.5 percent of domestic output. Estimates of the effects vary because of key assumptions required by economic models. For example, models generally assume a price for U.S. carbon emissions, but do not assume a similar price by other nations. In addition, the models generally do not incorporate all policy provisions, such as legislative proposals related to trade measures and rebates that are based on levels of production.

Climate Change Trade Measures: Considerations for U.S. Policy Makers

This report to Congress by the Government Accountability Office examines how greenhouse gas emissions pricing could potentially affect the international
competitiveness of U.S. industries, and to examine trade measures being considered as part of proposed U.S. climate change legislation. The report shows that estimating these effects is very problematic and depends upon many variable both internal and external.

Bottled Water: FDA Safety and Consumer Protections Are Often Less Stringent Than Comparable EPA Protections for Tap Water

This Report (GAO-09-861T) of testimony from the Government Accountability Office argues that the FDA’s regulation of bottled water when compared with EPA’s regulation of tap water, reveals key differences in the agencies’ statutory authorities and that states’ requirements to safeguard bottled water often exceed those of FDA, but are still often less comprehensive than state requirements to safeguard tap water.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wildlife in a Changing World: An analysis of the 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

This International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) supplement to the IUCN Red Book covers the statistics behind the bare listing in the Red book and broadens the discussion to include ecological support for endangered and threatened species.


This agreement by the G-8 nations in partnership with developing nations sets fortht he understanding that world temperature rise should not exceed 2 degrees Celsius by 2050. However, no short terms measures to assure such an outcome were agreed to.

Climate Change: The Role of the U.S. Agriculture Sector and Congressional Action

This report by the Congressional Research Service (7-5700) dated June 19, 2009 finds that the agriculture sector is a source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which many scientists agree are contributing to observed climate change and that agriculture is also a “sink” for sequestering carbon, which might offset GHG emissions by capturing and storing carbon in agricultural soils.

Congress is currently considering a range of climate change policy options, including GHG emission reduction programs that would either mandate or authorize a cap-and-trade program to reduce GHG emissions. In general, the current legislative proposals would not require emission reductions in the agriculture and forestry sectors. However, several GHG proposals would allow farmers and landowners to receive emissions allowances (or credits) and/or generate carbon offsets, which could be sold to facilities covered by a cap-and-trade program.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Coastal Sensitivity to Sea-Level Rise: A Focus on the Mid-Atlantic Region

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), produced this report that discusses the impacts of sea-level rise on the physical characteristics of the coast, on coastal communities, and the habitats that depend on them. The report also examines multiple opportunities for governments and coastal communities to plan for and adapt to rising sea levels.

Best Practice Approaches for Characterizing, Communicating, and Incorporating Scientific Uncertainty in Decisionmaking

This report from the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, also titled Final Report of Synthesis and Assessment Product 5.2, sets forth how uncertainty with regard to scientific understandings of climate change can best be transmitted in a fashion that understood by the great public.

Fact Sheet: Coal Combustion Residues (CCR) - Surface Impoundments with High Hazard Potential Ratings

This fact sheet by the Environmental Protection Agency list 44 coal slurry impounds that are highly susceptible to failure that could cause the loss of human life.

In response to an EPA information request on units handling wet or slurried CCRs, electric utilities have so far identified a total of 427 units managing slurried CCRs. Forty-four (44) of these units at 26 different locations have been assigned a high hazard potential rating, using the criteria developed by the National Dam Safety Program for the National Inventory of Dams. Hazard potential ratings are generally assigned by the State Dam Safety officials.

The National Inventory of Dams hazard potential ratings address the potential consequences of failure or misoperation of the dam. A high hazard potential rating indicates that a failure will probably cause loss of human life. The rating is not an indication of the structural integrity of the unit or the possibility that a failure will occur in the future; it merely allows dam safety and other officials to determine where significant damage or loss of life may occur if there is a structural failure of the unit. EPA’s assessment of the 26 facilities that have units with high hazard potential ratings continues to be an Agency priority. EPA has conducted on-site assessments, which are undergoing Agency review, at 11 of these facilities. The remaining 15 of these facilities have had state inspections within the past 12 months and EPA will be reviewing the reports from those inspections. EPA plans to make public the results of our assessments as soon as they are completed.

Comments on Draft Technical Support Document for Endangerment Analysis for Greenhouse Gas Emissions under the Clean Air Act

This document by Alan Carlin dated March 16, 2009 is based on a (Technical Support Document) TSD Draft of March 9, 2009 which were not included in the document purportedly because they were critical of the conclusions that supported of climate change theory and the need for the reduction of Greenhouse Gases.

The paper states "As of the best information I currently have, the GHG/CO2 hypothesis as to the cause of global warming, which this Draft TSD supports, is currently an invalid hypothesis from a scientific viewpoint because it fails a number of critical comparisons with available observable data. Any one of these failings should be enough to invalidate the hypothesis; the breadth of these failings leaves no other possible conclusion based on current data. As Feynman (1975) has said failure to conform to real world data makes it necessary from a scientific viewpoint to revise the hypothesis or abandon it (see Section 2.1 for the exact quote). Unfortunately this has not happened in the global warming debate, but needs to if an accurate finding concerning endangerment is to be made."

The Arctic Climate Change and Security Policy Conference

This Report produced by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace presents the The Arctic Climate Change and Security Policy Conference Final Report and Findings (December 1–3, 2008 at Dartmouth College Hanover, New Hampshire USA).

The report finds that the pace of change in the Arctic due to global climate conditions demands that greater attention be focused on the region, its needs and the issues surrounding its development over the near and intermediate term. The implications for U.S. citizens in the region and important U.S. security, economic, environmental, and political interests as a result of changes in the Arctic are profound.

The Peak Oil Debate

This article by Laurel Graefe in the November 2009 issue of the Federal Researve Bank of Atlanta's Economic Review (Volume 94, Number 2, 2009) finds that a "number of factors cloud the energy outlook: Estimates of remaining resources are typically given as a range of probabilities and are thus open to interpretation. Variations also occur in estimates of future oil production and in the ways countries report their reserve data.

The lack of a common definitional framework also confuses the debate. The author provides definitions of frequently used terms, delineating types of reserves
and conventional versus nonconventional resources. She also discusses how technological innovations, government policies, and prices influence oil production.
Regardless of the exact timing of peak oil production, the world must address
the challenge of adapting to a new model of energy supply.

Perhaps the world would be better served, the author notes, if the peak oil debate could be more solution-oriented, focusing on discovering the best way to transition to a world with less conventional oil rather than locking horns about discrepancies in terminology."

Clean Water Infrastructure: A Variety of Issues Need to Be Considered When Designing a Clean Water Trust Fund

This Government Accountability Report (GAO-09-657) dated May 2009 that in designing and establishing a clean water trust fund, stakeholders identified three main issues that would need to be addressed: how a trust fund should be administered and used; what type of financial assistance should be provided; and what activities should be eligible to receive funding from a trust fund.

Estimated Changes in Revenues and Direct Spending under H.R. 2998

This Congressional Budget Office document sets forth the U.S. budgetary impact of the "Cap & Trade" bill as recently passed by the House of Representatives. This bill now must be passed by the Senate.

Communities Tackle Global Warming: A Guide to California’s SB 375

This publication by the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) dated June 2009 is a guide to California’s Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act, or SB 375, the nation’s first legislation to link transportation and land use planning with global warming.

The report claims that locating homes closer to jobs and transportation choices creates walkable communities and can improve quality of life, reduce commute times and cut millions of tons of global warming pollution. It also features a photo simulation of how communities could come alive after mixed-use development and improved street design bring pedestrian activity into the area."

Agencies of Change: Exploring Institutional Reform at the FCC and the FERC

This program is given as part of the ABA Annual Meeting (registration for individual programs is available) and will take place at Friday July 31, 2009 8:30 – 10 am
at the Gold Coast, Bronze Level, West Tower Hyatt Regency Chicago, IL.

The program description is:

A look ahead to explore possible changes at the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission under the new Administration. A panel of experts will discuss institutional reform at both agencies, including potential modifications to their organization, structure, and processes, and the impact of such changes on communications and energy regulation.

Energy Alternatives and Incentives for Clean Energy

This program is offered as part of the ABA Annual Meeting (registration for individual programs is available) will take place at Thursday July 30, 2009
2:00 – 3:30 pm at Columbus Hall AB, Gold Level, East Tower Hyatt Regency Chicago, IL.

The program description is:

This session will focus on a group of practitioners who are dedicated to the development of the nation's alternative energy resources to meet America's domestic energy demands in an environmentally responsible manner while reducing the nation's dependence on imported energy sources and stimulating state and national economic development – all in a challenging and ever-shifting regulatory environment.

The Panel will share their thoughts on trends/ developments in specific environmental regulatory programs that intersect with alternative energy projects, specifically recent trends in regulation for nuclear, wind, and solar permitting and site assessment. Further, there will be a discussion regarding tax incentive programs specifically geared towards alternative energy projects. Finally, the panel will round out with “real life” experience of the Illinois Power Agency (“IPA”) and some of the issues that the IPA faces in meeting the mandatory "cost effective" renewable energy component of centralized energy purchases.

The Antarctic Treaty System and Beyond: Global Science Diplomacy in Action

This CLE program offered as part of the ABA Annual Meeting (registration for individual programs is available) may also be titled "Antarctica – What Does the Future Hold?" will be held on Thursday July 30, 2009 3:45 – 5:15 pm at Columbus Hall AB, Gold Level, East Tower Hyatt Regency Chicago, IL.

The program description is:

Antarctica - a cold, forbidding place with no indigenous or permanent residents - is a continent without formal nation-state governance as we typically think of it. Yet seven countries assert claims, some overlapping, to parts of the continent. The Antarctic Treaty System (“ATS”), a series of treaties and other binding rules, is the only “regulatory” system in place attempting to deal with the governance of the continent and to prevent the misuse of Antarctica for strategic or resource purposes.

With the increasing global demand for a diminishing pool of resources, the question of the optimal governance system for Antarctica presents an interesting launch point for this engaging discussion of law, science, and diplomacy. Specifically, panelists will explore the viability of the ATS and discuss alternatives to provide better environmental protection for the continent.