EPA sets fuel efficiency hearing

David Shepardson | Detroit News

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to move quickly to consider a request by California and 13 states to impose a 30 percent reduction in tailpipe emissions by 2016 — a measure that would require automakers to dramatically boost the efficiency of light trucks and passenger cars.

The EPA has set a public hearing on the issue on March 5 and will take public comments through April 6.

The hearing comes on the heels of President Barack Obama’s decision last month to order the EPA to reconsider the Bush Administration’s decision to deny California and the other states a waiver under the Clean Air Act to implement new standards.

In a Friday notice about the public hearing, the EPA repudiated its prior denial saying it “significantly departed from EPA’s longstanding interpretation of the Clean Air Act’s waiver provisions and from the agency’s history.”

California had been granted more than 50 waivers over the past 30 years and never received a complete denial. California’s waiver would require automakers to boost fuel economy to a fleetwide 35.7 miles per gallon by 2016 and 42.5 mpg by 2020.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said the agency would conduct an “impartial review” of California’s request.`

“It is imperative that we get this decision right, and base it on the best available science and a thorough understanding of the law,” Jackson said.

Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, said that if the states get EPA approval, they would immediately put their requirements into effect with no changes in the ramp up until 2016.

The standards — drafted in 2004 — were supposed to begin with the 2009 model year.

“Nothing I saw changed the views that I had before is that there’s a lot of great technology that we need to bring on,” Nichols said in an interview this week after touring the Washington Auto Show.

The EPA said the agency is specifically seeking comment on automaker lead time.

California has said its requirements would reduce auto sales by 4.7 percent by 2020 because complying with the new standards would increase the average cost of vehicles. “Our standards are not the problem. Our standards are part of the solution if we do it right,” Nichols said.

Sue Cischke, Ford Motor Co.’ group vice president for sustainability, environment and safety, said the automaker would face significant hurdles in complying.

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Fires, floods pressure Australia govt on climate

James Grubel | Reuters

Australia’s deadliest wildfires increased pressure on the national government to take firm action on climate change on Monday as scientists said global warming likely contributed to conditions that fuelled the disaster.

At least 130 people were killed in wildfires, set off by a record heatwave in southern Victoria state over the past week days, while large areas of Queensland state remain flooded by tropical downpours.

Scientists said Australia needed to prepare for more extreme weather events due to global warming, while the Greens and environmentalists said the fires and floods proved the government needed to toughen its targets to curb Greenhouse emissions.

“It’s very clear, both globally and in Australia, there has been a warming trend since about 1950,” leading Australian climate scientist Kevin Hennessy told Reuters.

“In a nutshell we can say the heatwaves and the fires we’ve seen in Victoria recently maybe partly due to climate change through the contribution of increased temperature.

“Going forward, we anticipate there will be continued increases in greenhouse gases and that locks in a certain amount of warming, and in the case of southern Australia further drying, and this will increase the fire weather risk.”

Australia is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change because of its hot, dry climate, with the nation’s south in prolonged drought and temperatures tipped to rise by 3 degrees Celsius by 2050 across the tropical north and desert interiors.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has set a target to cut overall greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent by 2020, and will only cut further, to about 15 percent, if there is widespread international agreement on tougher action.

But Green groups want Australia, which creates about 1.5 percent of global emissions, to cut emissions by at least 25 percent by 2020 as an example to the developing world, particularly India and China, about the need to take firm action.

Greens climate spokeswoman Christine Milne said all Australians had been deeply touched by the fire tragedy and the increased risk of fires from global warming.

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Obama Bets Big on Biofuels

 

Ben Mack | Wired

Plug-in hybrids and electric cars get all the love in Detroit these days, but Washington isn’t giving up on biofuel. Uncle Sam is spending millions of dollars to find ways of turning everything from algae to lawn trimmings into fuel as President Obama promises to invest heavily in alternative fuels.

The departments of energy and agriculture will award $25 million to advance development of “technologies and processes” to produce so-called “next generation” biofuels that aren’t refined from food crops like corn. The announcement follows an agriculture department  promise to loan $80 million to Range Fuels, a Colorado company that produces ethanol from wood chips, so it can build a refinery in Georgia.

“A robust biofuels industry – focused on the next-generation of biofuels – is critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing our addiction to foreign oil and putting Americans back to work,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.

The $25 million will finance projects focused on feedstock development, biofuel and biobased product development and biofuel development analysis. The goal is to create a wide range of “economically and environmentally sustainable” sources of renewable biomass that can be turned into fuel and cut greenhouse gas emissions at least 50 percent compared to fossil fuels, officials said.

“These grants will help support the development of a sustainable domestic biofuels industry by broadening the nation’s energy sources as well as improving the efficiency of renewable fuels,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

The production of ethanol derived from corn, soybeans and other crops has been blamed for everything from spiraling food prices to clear-cutting in the Amazon. But there is great hope for cellulosic ethanol and other fuels refined from non-food biomass because they nullify the food vs. fuel debate and other criticisms. Several airlines are developing algal fuels, each of the Big Three automakers offers “flex-fuel” cars that can run on ethanol and even super-luxury automaker Bentley is promising a biofuel-burning car.

Washington is funding more than R&D, however. During the last days of the Bush Administration, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer announced an $80 million loan to help Range Fuels build a new refinery. It is the first time the agency has guaranteed a loan to a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol refinery.

Range Fuels, which Obama visited in October, uses a thermo-chemical process called gasification to convert cellulose to ethanol. Production is slated to begin next year and will be ramped up in three stages, company CEO David Aldous told Ethanol Producer magazine. During the first stage, the refinery will convert 125 tons of woody biomass into fuel each day. That will climb to 625 tons daily and then 2,625 tons – at which point the refinery will produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually. All of the biomass will come from the surrounding timber industry.

“It’s located in the Milion Pines area of Georgia,” Aldous said of the refinery. “There is a very significant supply of wood waste in that area, hundreds of years supply for our plant.”

Europe: EC warned against possible devastating global warming

 

Reuters.com

European Commission has warned that global warming might be more devastating than previously thought and called on negotiators at global talks this year to remain open to deeper, more costly emissions cuts.

Mr Stavros Dimas European environment commissioner said that “This is almost certainly the last chance to get the climate under control before it passes the point of no return.” He made the warning as he unveiled a proposed European negotiating position for talks in December in Copenhagen on a successor to the Kyoto protocol.

He said that it would call for emissions from the aviation and shipping industries to be tackled, despite the fact that both sectors are seen suffering from global recession.

EU cited growing scientific evidence that emissions will have to be stabilized at lower levels than previously thought, possibly as low as 350 parts per million, compared to current levels of 380 ppm. It added that “It is imperative to secure an ambitious outcome in Copenhagen that leaves the door open for a lower stabilization level.”

Annual spending to cut global emissions would have to reach EUR 175 billion by 2020, with more than half of that in developing countries. But the report omitted plans described in an earlier draft for a USD 200 billion levy on rich countries between 2013 and 2020 to help poor nations agree concrete steps to cut emissions.

EC called on industrialized nations to cut their emissions to 30% below 1990 levels by 2020. All but the poorest developing countries should limit emissions to 15% to 30% below business as usual levels, with a rapid decrease in emissions due to deforestation.

Czech president says global warming is a Gore fallacy

 

Karachi News.Net

Czech President Vaclav Klaus has criticised climate change campaigner Al Gore, saying: ‘I don’t think that there is any global warming.’

Mr Klaus, in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, made the comments on the sidelines of the conference.

The 67 year old president, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, said he had not been given any statistical data to prove the Gore theories on global warming.

Referring to the former US vice president, a well-known global warming activist who attended Davos this year, Mr Klaus said he was sorry that Al Gore had not been willing to listen to any competing theories.

Mr Klaus said he was he was more worried about the reaction to perceived dangers of global warming than the consequences.

He said some global warming theories were alarmist and likely to be misused for radically constraining the functioning of the markets and market economy.

Balancing the Economy and the Environment

Anthony Cefali | Gas 2.0

January is a good month. It’s a month that is the human symbol of starting over. Out with the old, in with the new. This January was particularly exciting for us here in the US, as we ushered in a new era of progressive politics with almost a little too much pomp and circumstance. But underneath the excitement lies a particularly disconcerting truth. We still have a nation to fix.

I like getting big things out of the way, so here it is. According to Susan Solomon, scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, once global warming sets in, it isn’t going away. The voice on NPR told me with such solemnity that I assumed that we had already lost the war with Global Warming. No matter how evenly I accelerated my car, it would no longer matter because the damage was done. Once I stopped hyperventilating I realized that there was more to the story, and the thoughtful voice informed me that the effects haven’t reached the point of no return yet. The oceans are currently padding the effects of global warming, holding it in check indefinitely. According to Solomon, the oceans will be able to hold off the siege of carbon dioxide for some time, but there are more immediate problems at hand.

According to Solomon’s study published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, not immediately curtailing our carbon emissions could create permanent dust-bowl conditions in the U.S. Southwest as well as the Mediterranean. I immediately thought of all the wonderful French wines I wouldn’t be able to try if that happened and subsequently panicked until I was informed that even this could take decades. I let out a nervous sigh of relief, knowing that this news just adds to the urgency of our battle for the atmosphere.

“We’re used to thinking about pollution problems as things that we can fix. Smog, we just cut back and everything will be better later. Or haze, you know, it’ll go away pretty quickly,” Solomon said of cleaning up our current mess. “People have imagined that if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide that the climate would go back to normal in 100 years.  What we’re showing here is that’s not right. It’s essentially an irreversible change.”

It’s still rather unsettling that we can’t get a better picture of what kind of time frame we’re working on here. Global warming isn’t exactly priority number one on everyone’s list, which is understandable considering our current economic meltdown. A Rasmussen Report as well as a Pew Research Center Pole taken around inauguration time showed a general cooling in global warming concern. Again, the current economic crisis calls for immediate attention, but how much longer will it be until global warming gets immediate attention?

Fortunately, we’re already beginning to see a drastic reversal of climate change policies as President Obama opened the door for states to regulate their own emissions (something California has been chomping at the bit to do). Of course I’m worried that global warming apathy will continue and lead to irreparable repercussions, but at the same time I’m optimistic. The Pew pole showed that in general, environmental issues are important to the American public, and that right now we’re just experiencing a lull. On the other hand the Rasmussen Report showed again that the American public is becoming increasingly divided along party lines, especially when dealing with the environment (21% of questioned Republicans believe that global warming is being induced by human activity).

President Obama has made it a priority of his to curtail global warming, and he hired an energy secretary who knows his science to prove it, but we can’t forget that our planet is our responsibility. No matter how many laws are enacted or how much reach the EPA is granted, it will still ultimately be up to us how far we allow global warming to go before it’s stomped out.

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Georgia: DeKalb County to Earth – Have we got a school for you!

 

Kristina Torres | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

It will be Georgia’s premier “green” school —- one of the first public schools in the state with a national certification for environmental construction and perhaps the only one with an environmentally themed curriculum.

DeKalb County’s Arabia Mountain High School opens Aug. 10, but officials are already working to get the sparkling new campus ready —- installation crews are putting on the final touches and a teachers job fair and parents’ meetings are scheduled this week.

Here’s a look at the school.

LOCATION

The campus sits in southeastern DeKalb near the Arabia Mountain national heritage area, which comprises thousands of acres of protected green space and is one of 37 federally designated heritage areas nationwide. On campus, easy access to miles of trails in and around the forested area is just past the practice football field behind the school building —- where deer are often spotted checking out their new neighbor.

CURRICULUM

All subjects will be infused with the standardized EIC curriculum —- which stands for using the Environment as an Integrating Context for learning. Simply put, all teachers will use the environment as a backdrop for their lessons. The curriculum, developed jointly among 16 state education departments, can be seen at http://www.seer.org.

The school also will incorporate small learning communities. Students will be divided among different programs, with students going to class within these programs for all four years. The concept has been around in various forms for many years but has regained favor as schools try to increase graduation rates and student performance.

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