CLIMATE CHANGE ROUNDUP: New EPA Brass Plans to be CA-Fed Intermediary

By Published On: January 29, 2010

The new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 9 hopes to advance climate change efforts by working with California and dovetailing the state’s work on a carbon cap-and–trade market with federal efforts. The goal is “to thread together a tapestry that makes sense,” said Jared Blumenfeld, administrator of U.S. EPA’s regional branch that covers California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii, and the South Pacific Islands. The state-federal collaboration includes “learning from what’s happening in California,” he said January 26. Blumenfeld ties moving to a less fossil fuel-intense economy to cleaning up disadvantaged communities and creating employment. For example, weaning the Navajo tribe off coal production is dependent and synonymous with job creation, he insisted. The 2,250 MW coal-fired Navajo Generating Station is the fourth largest source of nitrogen oxides in the U.S., and the source of 1,000 jobs, according to Blumenfeld. “These jobs are tied to old problems,” he warned. Turning that around requires policy goals that set the framework for transitioning to a sustainable economy and environment, the new EPA executive said. Advancing clean energy objectives could be used as a carrot and stick. Blumenfeld noted, for example, that San Francisco used energy crisis-era settlement funds to train solar installers. Subsequently, the city required solar developers to hire those trained in the underserved communities. Blumenfeld said he wants to see an expansion of EPA’s energy efficient label for appliances said to consume at least 20 percent less energy than set standards. EPA partners with the Department of Energy on the “Energy Star” program. The program has come under scrutiny for its methods of assessing efficiency. Last week, for instance, a U.S. district court upheld striking an Energy Star label for 40,000 LG refrigerators (Circuit, Jan. 22). Blumenfeld noted that the EPA’s proposed rules for limiting tailpipe emissions from light trucks with model years 2012-16 is expected to be released in March. (California has similar state vehicle tailpipe standards.) Next in line for federal carbon regulations are stationary sources. What threshold would be applied is undecided, but according to Blumenfeld, it is likely to be higher than California’s threshold, which applies to facilities that produce 25,000 metric tons a year of carbon dioxide or more. * * * * * California Air Resources Board members expressed fears that a proposed carbon cap-and-trade program could face an uphill battle in the year ahead. “It’s going to be a difficult political year,” said Air Board member John Balmes, M.D. Air Board member Daniel Sperling said cap-and-trade has become “the lightning rod of concern” about environmental and energy policies in both the state and the nation. The board members voiced their views after hearing a presentation January 28 on the staff’s draft proposal for a carbon cap-and-trade program. Air Board chair Mary Nichols noted that it may be challenging for the state to go forward with a carbon market on its own. Staff indicated it planned to link California’s carbon market--planned for adoption by the Air Board late this year and implementation in 2012--to other states and Canadian provinces that are part of the Western Climate Initiative. However, staff admitted that California is likely to be the only of seven U.S. states that are part of the initiative ready to go by 2012. The other initiative members likely to be ready are three Canadian provinces: British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec. Next up in the Air Board’s cap-and-trade effort is a long-awaited economic study on the likely impacts of its plan for cutting greenhouse gases under the state’s climate protection law, AB 32. A draft could be released next month. The Air Board plans to vet it at its March meeting. * * * * * A public health working group plans to recommend that the state analyze the health impacts of a carbon cap-and-trade program to look at how the incidence of disease may change. During a meeting January 27, an interagency working group of staffers from the California Department of Public Health and the Air Resources Board discussed how to perform the study. Among the health indices they expect to cover are how respiratory, heart, and lung ailments may change under a cap-and-trade program. For instance, by reducing the operation of fossil-fueled power plants to cut greenhouse gases, smog-forming and toxic air pollution also might decline, leading to better respiratory and cardiovascular health. Changes in toxic emissions and air pollutants associated with carbon cap-and-trade also could change the incidence of cancer and birth outcomes, according to a working group paper discussed at the meeting. The group noted that urban forestry projects that create carbon offsets could make it more pleasant to walk in neighborhoods. This could reduce diabetes and obesity. Other health changes could include reduced heat-related illness, according to the group. * * * * * The California Department of Forestry January 27 was sued for approving 15 projects to clear cut forest lands and allegedly failing to evaluate the projects’ climate change impacts. The Center for Biological Diversity brought suit in seven different state superior courts over logging projects proposed by Sierra Pacific Industries, which would cut down over 5,000 acres of forests in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade regions. “Properly analyzing, and ultimately reducing, the carbon emissions from forestry are essential if California’s efforts at addressing greenhouse emissions are going to be effective,” stated Brian Nowicki, the Center’s California climate policy director. The center claims the department approvals of the clear cutting proposals violate the California Environmental Quality Act and the Forest Practice Act. The forestry department claimed that trees would grow back on the company’s lands over a century, resulting in carbon neutral logging. It is generally agreed that forests absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere via photosynthesis and store it in the trees, shrubs, and soil. Sierra Pacific’s website states since 1991 its forests have sequestered 70 million metric tons of carbon, which is the equivalent of taking 12.8 million cars off the road. The Department of Forestry is responsible for approving logging plans on private land in California and ensuring they comply with CEQA. Elizabeth McCarthy & William J. Kelly

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