Saturday, April 25, 2009

Soot/Black Carbon: Quick Climate Fix?

The chief culprit in global warming is carbon dioxide. But recent studies show that black carbon - microscopic airborne particles commonly known as soot - is also a big factor. According to a recent study, black carbon may account for as much as half of Arctic warming. Along with deep cuts in CO2, curbing black carbon is crucial for slowing Arctic and global warming, and for averting catastrophic tipping points such as the melting of sea ice and the Greenland ice sheet.

Black carbon comes from diesel engines, industrial smokestacks and residential cooking and heating stoves. Most black carbon that falls in the Arctic comes from North America, Europe and Asia. Because black carbon air pollution is also a leading cause of respiratory illness and death, controlling emissions will save lives and improve health around the world. In India alone, black carbon-laden indoor smoke is responsible for over 400,000 premature deaths annually, mostly of women and children.

The direct absorption of sunlight by black carbon heats the atmosphere. When black carbon falls on snow and ice, it reduces reflectivity and speeds up melting. The good news: Because black carbon stays in the atmosphere for only days or weeks, moving quickly to expand existing technology can be an effective rapid response to slow warming, buying critical time to achieve reductions in CO2.

Starting April 28, the nations of the Arctic Council, including the United States, will meet in Tromso, Norway, where action to slow Arctic warming such as reducing black carbon will be a major focus. The U.S. and Europe must lead on this issue by committing to stricter standards at home for diesel engines and other sources of black carbon pollution, and by committing to increased financial and technological assistance to the developing world to reduce black carbon pollution from diesel, home cooking and heating and other sources.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will send a team to represent the United States at Tromso. While she was still in the Senate, she co-sponsored a bill on black carbon and visited the Arctic to see the devastating effects of climate change first hand. Now, as her team prepares for the Arctic Council Ministerial, we must let her and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson know we understand how important it is for the United States to lead the way.

Take action to Stop Soot. To send an e-mail message to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, click on the "STOP SOOT" tab at

Sunday, April 5, 2009

News Briefs -- 4.5.2009

Kansas Coal Plant Bill: Legislature OKs, But Veto by Gov Likely
AP -- 4/3/2009
A bill allowing two coal-fired power plants in southwest Kansas won final legislative approval Friday, but supporters failed again to generate the support they need to override an expected veto by the governor.

The bill goes next to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who objects to provisions that would overturn an October 2007 decision by her administration that prevented Sunflower Electric Power Corp. from building the plants in Finney County.

Rod Bremby, Sebelius' Secretary of Health and Environment, denied Sunflower an air-quality permit, citing the plants' potential carbon dioxide emissions. Sebelius also opposes provisions limiting the Secretary's power to regulate greenhouse gases linked by many scientists to global warming and preventing the secretary from using emergency powers to deny an air-quality permit in the name of protecting the environment or public health.

Those provisions are tied to others designed to encourage the development of wind farms and other renewable energy sources. The full report is here.

Obama climate plans face long route for passage
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Senate vote this week rejected an effort to put climate-change legislation on a fast track, making it harder for Congress to put limits on greenhouse gas emissions this year.

Democratic leaders and the Obama administration had floated the idea of using the federal budget to move cap-and-trade legislation through Congress. Making the plan part of the budget would enable it to pass with a simple majority.

But the Senate on Wednesday voted 67-to-31 in favor of a measure blocking lawmakers from attaching a cap-and-trade bill to the federal budget.

Democrats now will need 60 votes in the Senate to end a potential filibuster of any bill to create a system limiting greenhouse gas emissions and requiring industry to buy permits to release gasses blamed for global warming. The full report is here.

Discussion Draft of New Clean Energy Legislation Released
Chairman Henry A. Waxman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and Chairman Edward J. Markey of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee released a draft of clean energy legislation. The American Clean Energy and Security Act will create millions of new clean energy jobs, save consumers hundreds of billions of dollars in energy costs, enhance America’s energy independence, and cut global warming pollution. To meet these goals, the legislation has four titles:
  • A clean energy title that promotes renewable sources of energy, carbon capture and sequestration technologies, low-carbon fuels, clean electric vehicles, and the smart grid and electricity transmission;
  • An energy efficiency title that increases energy efficiency across all sectors of the economy, including buildings, appliances, transportation, and industry;
  • A global warming title that places limits on emissions of heat-trapping pollutants; and
  • A transitioning title that protects U.S. consumers and industry and promotes green jobs during the transition to a clean energy economy.
Link Waxman's Website is here.

DC Climate Bills Blooming like Cherry Blossoms
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) had a different idea on what to do about climate, and particularly with all the money the government might raise by putting a price on carbon.

Van Hollen has proposed a "cap and dividend" scheme. It's noteworthy because he's assistant to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and no slouch on energy and environmental issues, as co-chair of a House renewable energy caucus.

The emission targets vary slightly from the Waxman-Markey draft bill, but where Van Hollen's plan is different is that he would have the government give back to consumers the millions and billions raised by auctioning off credits or rights to emit limited quantities of greenhouse gases.

Under Obama's plan, roughly two thirds of the money raised through those carbon auctions would be returned in tax breaks. But Van Hollen's proposing to give all of it back, returning 100% of auction proceeds in the form of a monthly Consumer Dividend to every lawful resident of the United States with a valid Social Security number. See the full report at the Baltimore Sun blog.

Wind turbines could more than meet U.S. electricity needs
The Interior Department report, which looks at the potential of wind turbines off the U.S. coast, is part of the government's process to chart a course for offshore energy development.
Los Angeles Times -- 4/3/2009
Arlington, Va. -- Wind turbines off U.S. coastlines could potentially supply more than enough electricity to meet the nation's current demand, the Interior Department reported Thursday.

Simply harnessing the wind in relatively shallow waters -- the most accessible and technically feasible sites for offshore turbines -- could produce at least 20% of the power demand for most coastal states, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said, unveiling a report by the Minerals Management Service that details the potential for oil, gas and renewable development on the outer continental shelf.

The biggest wind potential lies off the nation's Atlantic coast, which the Interior report estimates could produce 1,000 gigawatts of electricity -- enough to meet a quarter of the national demand. The full report is here.

Offshore windpower is also feasible within the U.S. on the Great Lakes. Video discussing the possibility of Offshore Windpower on Lake Erie in Buffalo is here, presented by Dave Bradley.