Posted by: mstermitz | June 26, 2009

House Debating Climate Bill

A House vote is possible today, June 26 on the Waxman-Markey Bill, one of the highest profile pieces of environmental legislation in the country’s history. Debate on the 1,200 page bill began this morning and continues at the time of this post. The centerpiece of the Bill and the debate continues to be the reduction in CO2 emissions (17% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 83% by 2050 from 2005 levels) and the cap and trade program. Like most legislation, the goals and means of achieving them are the result of compromise negotiations and as such represent less rigor than many (including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) would prefer, but of course far more than the status quo, which is nothing.

Much of the debate will center on whether this legislation would put the U.S. at global economic disadvantage. Even without the passage of this Bill, or maybe especially if it does not pass, the U.S. is likely to endorse and participate in global strategies that it heretofore has shunned. It seems unlikely, especially since the greenhouse gas reduction measures in this Bill are less not only than the IPCC recommendations, but some U.S. states, that U.S. companies will be inordinately disadvantaged solely because of Waxman-Markey.

This link will take you to live video coverage of the debate provided by C-SPAN.

Posted by: mstermitz | June 25, 2009

President Weighs In On Climate Bill

President Obama today spoke from the White House, urging passage of the massive federal climate change bill, and focusing on the message that it would create new green collar jobs. As the AP just reported, the President and Congressional Democrats are apparently worried the bill at this time lacks the votes necessary for passage.

The 1,000+ page proposed legislation, the “American Clean Energy and Security Act,” (or the Waxman-Markey bill), seeks reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, and institutes a wide-ranging cap and trade program to control nearly all air discharge permits for greenhouse gas emissions. Under the program, some credits for discharge permits would be auctioned off, but the vast majority would be given away.

The fate of this groundbreaking legislation is uncertain and within the next few days could include anything from outright rejection to passage as is, to further modification. There is no doubt EPA has received and is undertaking new direction on the climate change front that will include some form of greenhouse gas regulation, but that will of course be limited to the arena of administrative regulation, which will have neither the legal nor political force that an act of Congress would provide.

Posted by: mstermitz | June 25, 2009

Work Continues On Federal Climate Bill

[Originally posted 5-15/09]
New details are being added to the Waxman-Markey discussion draft bill on climate change regulation. Our earlier post (“Carbon Auction Maybe”) noted the marked absence of provisions governing, for example, a cap and trade system that has been both touted by the Obama administration and generally expected by the public. Those provisions are now apparently being negotiated and included into the draft bill.

Today’s Reuters report describes the ongoing evolution of what is sure to be at least the foundation for significant climate change legislation:

For months, Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee have been in negotiations with themselves as Republicans refused to consider any “cap and trade” program to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The result is a bill that tries to dampen the short-term impact on companies and thus energy prices. For example, the retooled legislation would lower the price of future pollution permits that industry would have to buy, give more rewards for companies that take added steps to corral carbon emissions and give some firms a couple decades to fully transition into the program.

The chairman of the committee, Representative Henry Waxman, said his panel will debate and pass the bill by the end of next week. That would clear it for other House panels to consider before a debate by the full House, probably by August.

The legislation faces more uncertainty in the Senate.

New details drew criticism from environmental groups. Union of Concerned Scientists President Kevin Knobloch said the bill needed strengthening to ensure it “yields the green jobs and consumer savings that the public deserves.” The organization criticized alternative energy standards for utilities that were less aggressive than envisioned.

But under the House Democrats’ compromise, electric utilities could get up to $100 billion in bonus carbon pollution permits, if they capture and store greenhouse gas emissions, Boucher told reporters. He has been a negotiator on the bill.

The legislation would also allow U.S. companies to offset up to 2 billion tons of emissions by funding green projects in the United States and other countries, Boucher said.

At this point it would be very hard to predict the sort of cap and trade or carbon credit regime that will emerge after both House and Senate debate. What is probable is that landmark climate change legislation will be enacted by Congress in the relatively near future.

Posted by: mstermitz | June 25, 2009

CEQA & Climate Change Guidelines

[Originally posted 5-15-09]
On April 13, 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger’s Office of Planning and Research published for comment proposed revisions to the California Environmental Policy Act (CEQA), to be used in evaluating greenhouse gas as part of the determination whether a project that requires government approval may have a significant environmental effect. The revisions in their entirety can be found here, in a redline version of CEQA Guidelines showing the proposed changes.

The proposed changes were mandated by the California Legislature in AB-97, with a January 1, 2010 deadline for final adoption. Attorneys representing either project proponents or opponents will find much to ponder in these changes, which leave no doubt as to their magnitude:

A lead agency may consider the following when assessing the significance of impacts from greenhouse gas emissions on the environment:
(1) The extent to which the project may increase or reduce greenhouse gas emissions as compared to the existing environmental setting.
(2) Whether the project emissions exceed a threshold of significance that the lead agency determines applies to the project.
(3) The extent to which the project complies with regulations or requirements adopted to implement a statewide, regional, or local plan for the reduction or mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. Such regulations or requirements must be adopted by the relevant public agency through a public review process and must include specific requirements that reduce or mitigate the project’s incremental contribution of greenhouse gas emissions. If there is substantial evidence that the possible effects of a particular project are still cumulatively considerable notwithstanding compliance with the adopted regulations or requirements, an EIR must be prepared for the project.

Areas that promise to be both the most difficult to work through during project development and to have the most potential for litigation, include section 15130 – evaluating greenhouse gas emissions in the context of cumulative effects; and section 15126.4 – mitigation. For example, the mitigation section is admirably explicit, but potential for disagreement certainly exists in interpreting whether proposed off-site mitigation measures meet the standard “of a reasonable plan of mitigation.”

There is an express link between these CEQA provisions and California’s landmark AB-32 climate change regulations, providing that any CEQA analysis should evaluate “the extent to which the project could help or hinder attainment of the state’s goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020 as stated in the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.”

These far-reaching changes to CEQA will also be watched closely by attorneys with federal NEPA projects, as California is ahead of the federal government in promulgating guidance on folding climate change into existing environmental statutes.