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August 2010

Featured Story

In July, the U.S. Senate abandoned for the foreseeable future long-standing attempts to pass comprehensive climate legislation with a cap-and-trade program to control heat-trapping gases. With a Whimper, New York Times, July 23, 2010, and Historic oil spill fails to produce gains for environment, Washington Post, July 12, 2010. Some reflections from RMCO: There is more than one way that our national government can do what needs to be done to ward off dangerous disruption of the climate. In the near term, at least, efforts must be stepped up to achieve the needed emission reductions in those other ways. 

The day after Senator Reid announced that the Senate would abandon climate legislation for now, the World Resources Institute issued Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the United States Using Existing Federal Authorities and State Action, which assesses scenarios for using federal authority to achieve emission reductions through a sector-by-sector approach and for pursuing regional cap-and-trade systems. A broad overview of approaches that states have underway is summarized in Regional and state interests may dominate future climate and energy policy, New York Times, July 26, 2010. And in Climate bill should top the Congress' to-do list, Congressional Quarterly Roll Call, July 26, 2010, Christine Todd Whitman, co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition and former administrator of EPA, and Tom Peterson, president and CEO of theCenter for Climate Strategies (CCS), make the argument that Congress should adopt a sector-by-sector approach. Peterson describes a recent CCS/Johns Hopkins University report identifying 23 major sector-based policies that states are pursuing and that, if implemented as part of national policy, could add as many as 2.5 million net new jobs and $134.3 billion to the economy by 2020 while holding down energy prices and reducing harmful greenhouse gases to meet national targets. Whitman describes a similar approach from her industry-based coalition's "Policy Roadmap for Clean Energy."

These other options avoid many of the obstacles that got in the way of the cap-and-trade approach. Even so, it will be as important as ever to continue informing people about the effects of climate disruption in order to build the consensus needed for meaningful action. The battle is not lost. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

News About RMCO and Partners

RMCO is pleased to welcome Rick McAllister to our staff as a Senior Fellow. Rick is a veteran of the biomedical profession, where he attained Ph.D. status as a professor and researcher at several universities. He is currently enrolled in the Master's sprogram in Mineral & Energy Economics (Economics & Public Policy concentration) at the Colorado School of Mines.

On July 21, RMCO submitted comments to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) on its draft Colorado River Water Availability Study (CRWAS) Phase I, on behalf of RMCO and some of the participants in our Water Adaptation Steering Committee -- representatives of Aurora Water, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, Denver Water, and the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado. RMCO also submitted our own separate comments. Both are here. RMCO and our steering committee partners agree that CWCB deserves a lot of credit for taking the initiative to directly assess the potential impacts of climate change on future instate water supplies, thereby advancing the state of the art for using climate modeling for such purposes. We expect that the Phase II CRWAS study will accomplish even more.

The City of Boulder's City Council decides this week whether to ask voters to approve renewal of a 20-year Xcel Energy franchise agreement, which in exchange for the utility's right to use city streets and rights-of-way generates $4 million in revenue. City staff, concerned that the agreement does not provide sufficient flexibility for clean fuel source options among other things, is recommending against renewal and instead for imposition of a temporary tax on the utility to replace the revenue. Boulder staff to council: Do not put Xcel franchise renewal on the ballot, Boulder Daily Camera, July 30, 2010. (Update: Coucil agrees, Boulder Daily Camera, August 3, 2010)

Boulder also plans to cut emissions of heat-trapping gases from 66 city facilities up to 15 percent by investing $12 million from a variety of funding sources in energy improvements. The City projects a 15-year payback period. Boulder to invest $12M to cut carbon emissions by 15 percent, Boulder Daily Camera, July 12, 2010.

New Belgium Brewery's Sustainability Director, Jenn Orgolini, is profiled along with the company and its recent installation of a PV array to power the bottling plant in the July/August issue of Solar Today.

News About Climate Action

National Policy

Forest Service shifts strategy to address changing climate, New York Times, July 21, 2010. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announces each forest and grassland will follow a roadmap to address climate change (a three-faceted agenda to assess vulnerabilities, engage employees and stakeholders, and undertake mitigation and adaptation management actions) and will track annual progress via a scorecard.

California seeks to lift federal block on energy-saver program, Los Angeles Times, July 14, 2010. The state is suing the federal government to stop its Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae housing finance programs from derailing PACE (property assessed clean energy) programs that allow property owners to finance solar panels and other energy-saving improvements through their property tax bills.

Regional, State, and Local Climate Policies

W estern Climate Initiative releases comprehensive strategy to address climate change and spur a clean-energy economy, press release, WCI, July 27, 2011. The Design for the WCI Regional Program, the culmination of two years of work by seven U.S. states and four Canadian provinces, lays the groundwork for a regional cap-and-trade program and other strategies to reduce greenhouse gases and lower energy costs, targeting a regional goal to reduce emissions to 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

Clean Energy

U.S. Departments of Energy and Interior announce site for solar energy demonstration projects in the Nevada desert, press release, Department of Energy, July 8, 2010. Plans are underway to turn a portion of the Nevada Test Site formerly devoted to nuclear weapons into a research laboratory to develop innovative solar energy technology.

Turbines too loud? Here, take $5,000, New York Times, August 1, 2010. Uncertainty about regulatory approaches to wind turbine noise levels drives one large company developing wind farms in eastern Oregon to offer property owners a check in return for a promise not to pursue claims against noise level exceedance. Also:

  • Arizona wind farm deal inked, Arizona Sun, July 23, 2010. A 99 megawatt wind farm near Williams would be the state's largest if state and federal permits are approved.
  • Vestas' Colorado plants to help build 190 wind turbines, Denver Post, July 22, 2010. A $1.2 billion order by Alta, a subsidiary of Terra-Gen Power, will generate 570 megawatts of power at four California wind farms Alta operates in California, and two of the three Vestas factories in Colorado will be involved.

Jet fuel's future on the front burner, Denver Post, August 1, 2010. Near Denver, Rentech has successfully demonstrated that a synthetic jet fuel with lower emissions of heat-trapping gases that it has developed can be blended with standard jet fuels. Aviation is thought to generate 2 - 3% of the world's heat-trapping gases

Jet fuel's future on the front burner, Denver Post, August 1, 2010. Near Denver, Rentech has successfully demonstrated that a synthetic jet fuel with lower emissions of heat-trapping gases that it has developed can be blended with standard jet fuels. Aviation is thought to generate 2 - 3% of the world's heat-trapping gases.

Fossil Fuels

Controlling soot might quickly reverse a century of global warming, Wired Science, July 29, 2010. The latest in a series of studies finds that soot (which comes from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, the burning of wood or dung for fuel, burning of crop residue, and forest fires) in the atmosphere significantly warms temperatures by absorbing sunlight and can also accelerate snow and ice melt rates. Use of readily available soot-control technologies could be an effective strategy to complement control of heat-trapping gases, which generally take much longer to put in place and to realize the resultant cooling effects.

Transportation and Land Use

Stimulus funds give high-speed rail a kick in the caboose, Washington Post, July 22, 2010. A good primer describing the challenges that developers of a national network of long-distance high speed passenger rail service must take on.

Water Adaptation

Douglas County development picked for rainwater recycling project, Denver Post, July 22, 2010. The Colorado Water Conservation Board selects the Sterling Ranch development near Denver as the state's first legally permissible large-scale rainwater-harvesting project, enabled on a pilot basis by recently passed legislation. The developers plan to collect the amount of rainwater that does normally reach a stream in that basin by way of storm-drainage systems and rooftops and recycle it to water the community's lawns, gardens, and open space.

News About Climate Disruption

Heat

NOAA: Past decade warmest on record according to scientists in 48 countries, press release, NOAA, July 28, 2010. "(T)he scientific evidence that our world is warming is unmistakable," is the key finding of NOAA's State of the Climate in 2009, in which more than 300 scientists from 160 research groups in 48 countries contributed to analyses of 10 key climate indicators that all point to that finding. The report confirms that the past decade was the warmest on record and that the Earth has been growing warmer over the last 50 years. Highly recommended.

Water

More than one out of three U.S. counties face water shortages due to climate change, press release, Natural Resources Defense Council, July 20, 2010. Based on current rates of consumption and population growth, and on an ensemble of 16 climate models, a new report finds, in addition to the county shortages, that 14 states (8 of them in the West) face an extreme or high risk to water sustainability, or are likely to see limitations on water availability as demand exceeds supply by 2050.

Forests

Feds to Consider endangered status for whitebark pine , Associated Press, July 19, 2010. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announces that an endangered species petition filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council for the protection of whitebark pine warrants further investigation. FWS will take about a year to decide whether to list the species as threatened or endangered.

Beetles take bite out of whitebark, Casper Star-Tribune, July 22, 2010 and Whitebark pine ravaged throughout Yellowstone, Los Angeles Times, July 21, 2010. Aerial surveys of the Yellowstone ecosystem find that of 2.5 million acres of whitebark pine forests, fully 95% have been affected by mountain pine beetles and 82% have had significant (medium to high) mortality . The whitebark, a high elevation species that is a critical fall food source for grizzlies and important to stabilizing snowpack and other ecosystem functions, evolved without sufficient natural defenses to counter the unprecedented proliferation of mountain pine beetles no longer held in check by winter cold. In Natural Resources Defense Council lead staffer Louisa Willcox's blog about the report, she quotes retired U.S. Forest Service beetle expert Jesse Logan, "We've been saying that whitebark pine will be functionally lost in the ecosystem. I would say now that whitebark pine has already been functionally lost in much of the ecosystem." Highly recommended.

Fungus threatens Rocky Mountains' ancient bristlecone pines. Denver Post, July 23, 2010. As is so often the case, the effects of climate disruption on a species can come atop other stressors - a one-two punch that can be devastating. White pine blister rust, an exotic fungus that spread from Asia, has also attacked the Yellowstone whitebarks, as well as those of Glacier National Park, and ancient high elevation bristlecone pines in Colorado. 

Wildlife

Marmots thriving amid climate change - for now, Los Angeles Times, July 22, 2010. Researchers at a site near Crested Butte, Colorado, find that marmots emerged from their dens about one day earlier per year, or one month over the 33 year study period, increasing survival rates due to extended feeding season and a corresponding increased average weight prior to hibernation. But scientists caution that in the long term, the late summer droughts that are projected to arise from climate disruption could decimate food sources and ". . really nail the population." 


Support RMCO and this Newsletter

Help keep the RMCO Newsletter coming to your in-box. Please make a contribution to RMCO, using the "Donate" button at the top right of this page or by sending a contribution to our mailing address, in whatever amount you can afford, to help us continue to research, write, and deliver our monthly newsletter. Your contribution will also help with our other programs – our reports documenting the effects of a changing climate in the West, our work to reduce emissions and prepare for the impacts of an altered climate, and our support of local government climate programs. With your help, we can continue working to keep the West special by reducing climate disruption and its effects here. And your contribution is tax-deductible, too. Thank you!

Suggestions and comments are welcome!
Stephen Saunders, RMCO president: saunders@rockymountainclimate.org
Tom Easley, RMCO director of programs: easley@rockymountainclimate.org
Suzanne Farver, RMCO director of outreach: farver@rockymountainclimate.org
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