Readying itself for action on global warming legislation, the U.S. Senate Environment & Public Works Committee examined July 14 the role for the farming and forestry industries to provide emissions offsets under a federal carbon cap-and-trade program and the role of transportation in climate change and cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The two informational hearings came after the House passed a comprehensive climate and energy bill earlier this month and sent it to the Senate (Circuit, July 2, 2009) Federal global warming legislation promoting renewable fuels can provide economic opportunities for farmers, ranchers, and foresters, testified William Hohenstein, U.S. Department of Agriculture global change program director. “A well designed cap-and-trade program that includes a robust carbon offsets program could also provide significant economic opportunities for land owners and rural communities.” American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman acknowledged that a carbon cap-and-trade program could help some farmers, but stressed not all of them can take advantage of renewable energy opportunities or engage in carbon emissions offset projects. “We all use energy in our production. We know our costs will rise,” said Stallman. Nationwide, transportation produces 29 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. To help cut those emissions, the federal government earlier this year proposed a 35.5 mile per gallon standard for new cars beginning in 2016. Due to growing usage, however, the nation must cut the miles driven in vehicles to reduce greenhouse gases, Roy LaHood, secretary of transportation, told the committee. “Addressing vehicle miles traveled growth plays a key role in decreasing transportation related greenhouse gas emissions and should be included in overall efforts to prevent climate change,” he advised lawmakers. LaHood said that the Department of Transportation, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and EPA have formed a partnership to help reshape communities to reduce auto dependence through mixed use development, multimodal transportation, and smart community planning. * * * * The state’s greenhouse gas reduction law is estimated to cost small businesses an average of $50,000, according to a July 13 report by the California Small Business Roundtable. The report concluded that when AB 32, the state’s climate protection law, is fully implemented, the average annual loss in the small business contribution to gross state output would be $182.6 billion. The coalition, whose report was heavily criticized, called for suspension of AB 32. “The study completely ignores the well-known economic benefits of energy efficiency, assumes California-- the land of innovation--will never innovate, and arrives at unfounded conclusions that undermine its credibility,” stated Scott Hauge, president of Small Business California. Chris Busch, Center for Resource Solutions economist and policy director, said the author’s cost estimates “willfully ignore AB 32’s associated savings of more than $40 billion.” He added the report was “one more effort to confuse the issue and induce delay.” The report’s author, Sanjay Varshney, California State University, Sacramento, business administration college dean, said that the study’s cost analysis was based on the California Air Resources Board’s own findings, which revealed significant cost increases. * * * * Two business-related climate coalitions are on opposite sides of the federal energy bill as of this week. The more conservative and industry heavy U.S. Climate Action Partnership (which includes Pacific Gas & Electric) is at least partially against the bill. Another coalition, the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, (natural gas, renewable energy, and energy efficiency companies) still support the nascent legislation with placeholders for language change. * * * * A study published July 13 in Nature Geoscience suggests today’s best scientific predictions about global warming might be incorrect. Scientists at Rice University, the University of California at Santa Cruz, and the University of Hawaii found that climate models explain only about half of the heating that occurred during a previously well-documented period of rapid global warming. That period about 55 million years ago is known as the Palaeocene-Eocene thermal maximum, or PETM. “In a nutshell, theoretical models cannot explain what we observe in the geological record,” said oceanographer Gerald Dickens, study co-author and Rice Earth science professor. “There appears to be something fundamentally wrong with the way temperature and carbon are linked in climate models.” During the PETM, the amount of carbon in Earth’s atmosphere rose rapidly. For this reason, the researchers said that PETM is probably the best ancient climate analogue for present-day Earth. In addition to rapidly rising levels of atmospheric carbon, global surface temperatures rose dramatically during PETM. Average temperatures worldwide climbed by about 7 degrees Celsius--or 13 degrees Fahrenheit--over 10,000 years. Based on findings related to oceanic acidity levels during PETM, plus calculations about the cycling of carbon among the oceans, air, plants and soil, Dickens and co-authors Richard Zeebe of the University of Hawaii and James Zachos of the University of California, Santa Cruz, determined that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased by about 70 percent during PETM. The researchers noted that is short of the much discussed doubling threshold used in climate models today to project future temperatures. Upon scrutiny, the researchers found that the models could explain only about half of the warming Earth experienced 55 million years ago. Their conclusion, according to Dickens, was that something other than carbon dioxide caused much of the heating during the PETM. “Some feedback loop or other processes that aren’t accounted for in these models--the same ones used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for current best estimates of 21st Century warming--caused a substantial portion of the warming that occurred during the PETM,” he said. * * * * ExxonMobil July 14 entered an alliance with leading biotech company, Synthetic Genomics, to research and develop next generation biofuels from photosynthetic algae. ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company entered into the research and development alliance with the privately held company, which focused on developing genomic-driven solutions and was founded by genome pioneer, J.Craig Venter. Under the program, if research and development milestones are successfully met, ExxonMobil expects to spend more than $600 million, which includes $300 million in internal costs and potentially more than $300 million to SGI. * * * * When the bigwigs of environmental diplomacy sojourn to Copenhagen this December to strike a new greenhouse gas accord, at their disposal will be a fleet of 40 Volvos that run on ethanol made from straw. DONG Energy subsidiary Inbicon will provide the “second generation” fuel made by using enzymes supplied by Novozymes to convert the straw into fuel. Statoil will distribute the fuel to the cars. The companies say the fuel will cut carbon dioxide emissions 85 percent. The fuel will include a mix of 15 percent gasoline.