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Climate Issues: Domestic Developments, Copenhagen, and Views from Agriculture

Climate Issues: Domestic Developments

Stephen Power reported on Friday at the Washington Wire Blog (The Wall Street Journal) that, “As if the debate over climate legislation in the Senate weren’t complicated enough, here’s a new twist: Sens. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.) and Susan Collins (R., Maine) today introduced their own bill to cut emissions – one that’s a lot simpler to explain to voters than proposals that have advanced so far in Congress. It also plays off the anti-Wall Street mood that’s popular among members of both parties these days.

“The question is whether the latest bill will be any easier to pass.”

Mr. Power explained that, “Like the other bills, the senators’ proposed ‘Carbon Limits and Energy for American Renewal Act’ would require companies to hold government-issued permits in order to emit greenhouse gases. Over time, the government would issue fewer permits, bringing emissions down.

“But unlike those other bills, the Cantwell-Collins measure would give the vast majority of revenues raised under such a system -– 75% — back to consumers each month in the form of checks. In other words, there’d be no free permits for electric utilities, steel makers and other industries that got the bulk of the permits under legislation passed by the House of Representatives in June.”

Coral Davenport reported on Friday at CQPolitics.com that, “An influential bipartisan pair of senators unveiled a climate change measure Friday that is intended as an alternative to ‘cap-and-trade’ legislation, potentially complicating the dynamics of passing a global warming bill in the Senate.”

The CQ article stated that, “But Cantwell, Collins, and a small but growing number of other lawmakers — whose votes may be crucial to passing a climate bill in the Senate — say they are haunted by the nightmare of last year’s financial markets collapse. They fear a cap-and-trade system would create a new commodity market ripe for speculation that could cause volatile price spikes that would harm consumers and the economy.”

“Under the Cantwell-Collins plan, 75 percent of the revenue raised by selling emissions permits would go straight back to U.S. taxpayers in the form of monthly electronic payments made directly to their bank accounts. Cantwell’s office is expected to release a report Friday finding that under the plan, a typical family of four would receive tax-free monthly checks from the government averaging $1,100 per year, or $21,000 between 2012 and 2030.

“The remaining 25 percent would be spent on projects such as clean energy technology research and development,” Friday’s CQ article said.

Meanwhile, with respect to last week’s Environmental Protection Agency’s “endangerment finding,” DTN Editor-in-Chief Urban C. Lehner noted on Friday that, “I’ve been on record for some time predicting that in the end, like it or not, Congress will pass cap-and-trade. The threat of EPA regulation, my reasoning went, would prove decisive, prompting Senators on the fence to swallow hard and vote for the bill as the lesser of two evils.

“I still believe that, but I don’t see the endangerment finding as a game changer. For one thing, it was widely expected. And while it serves as a symbolic reminder of the threat of regulation, regulation is still just a threat.”

Mr. Lehner added that, “Opponents of the bill think they have answers to the threat. Some reckon they can sway Congress to take away the EPA’s regulatory authority. Some believe they can get the courts to reverse any eventual regulations.

“In my view, the opponents are kidding themselves. The Democratic leaders in both houses are committed to passing cap-and-trade; it’s inconceivable they’d allow Congress to take away the EPA’s authority. And any court challenge to future EPA regulations will face an uphill battle. The Supreme Court’s decision in the 2007 case Massachusetts vs. Environmental Protection Agency empowers the agency to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Having had its authority to regulate established, the EPA can expect most courts to defer to it in how to exercise that authority. The most a lawsuit is likely to achieve is delay.

Still, having discounted the EPA threat, the bill’s opponents aren’t likely to take the endangerment finding seriously. The open question is whether fence-straddling Senators will.”

Roll Call writer Matthew Murray reported today that, “Energy lobbyists agreed that the EPA’s decision to regulate greenhouse gases could change the Congressional landscape— and perhaps have a dramatic effect on some fence-sitting Senators. One energy lobbyist said that the White House’s intention with pursuing the regulatory route is to ‘prod the legislative process.’

“But with double-digit unemployment plaguing the economy, the lobbyist said the private sector by early next year may already be giving lawmakers an earful about the additional costs of EPA regulation.”

Today’s article noted that, “One lawmaker apparently swayed by the EPA’s recent announcement is Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who previously has been skeptical of cap-and-trade legislation. According to a press report last week, Pryor said the EPA is making him reexamine his possible support of a Senate cap-and-trade bill.

“‘I’ve always been reluctant on cap-and-trade, but [the EPA ruling] might put that in a different light,’ Pryor said in a conference call, according to the Arkansas News.”

Meanwhile, Eric Zimmermann reported on Saturday at The Hill Online that, “Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) slammed Democratic climate-change legislation Saturday just as President Barack Obama prepares to trek to an international conference in Copehnagen.

“In the weekly Republican address, Blackburn said the Copenhagen summit could result in emissions mandates that ‘would destroy millions of American jobs and damage our economic competitiveness for decades to come.’”

Energy & Commerce Cmte. Ranking Member Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) appeared on C-SPAN’s Newsmakers program yesterday to “explain his Party’s stance on the climate change legislation in Congress and why some Republican members are opposing the current climate change conference in Copenhagen.”

To view this C-SPAN program, just click here, for a brief audio excerpt from yesterday’s show, just click here (MP3, 5:11))

Also yesterday, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) appeared on Fox News Sunday to discuss and debate “emissions, Copenhagen, the EPA and Climategate. They also discuss cap-and-trade and providing billions of dollars in aid to countries so they will slow down emissions.” To view this segment from yesterday’s show, just click here (12:58).

Darren Goode reported yesterday at the National Journal’s Copenhagen Insider’s Blog that, “At least 10 Senate aides arrived [in Copenhagen] Saturday morning, representing Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (Mass.) and fellow Democrats Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Arlen Specter (Pa.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Thomas Carper (Del.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and others, according to a jet-lagged Kerry aide. Friday saw the arrival of aides to Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Foreign Relations ranking member Richard Lugar, R-Ind.

House aides spotted so far include those for Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif.; select committee on global warming Chairman Edward Markey, D-Mass., and ranking member Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.; and Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash. More from both congressional chambers are also expected to be here.”

However, Brad Swenson noted on Friday at the Northwoods Politics Blog that, “Several sources reported earlier this week, including Washington, D.C.’s CQ-Roll Call, that [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi had invited [Rep. Collin] Peterson to go [to Copenhagen].”

But a brief e-mail Friday afternoon from Peterson spokeswoman Allison Myhre simply stated that ‘Mr. Peterson is not going to Copenhagen.’”

Climate Issues: International Developments (Copenhagen)

Juliet Eilperin reported in Saturday’s Washington Post that, “The U.N.-sponsored climate conference — characterized so far by unruly posturing and mutual recriminations — gained renewed focus Friday with the release of a document outlining ambitious greenhouse-gas reductions over the next 40 years, with industrialized nations shouldering most of the burden in the near term.

The text, which could provide the basis for a final political deal to regulate greenhouse gases, highlighted the remaining obstacles as much as it illuminated a path forward. But it was seen as an important advance in a negotiation that is running out of time, with more than 100 world leaders arriving in Copenhagen next week.

“Forged by a U.N. ad-hoc working group, the text is silent on how much money rich countries would give poor ones to cope with global warming over the short and long term. And it provides a range of options for the key questions, including how developed and major emerging economies would cut their carbon output, and what would be the upper limit of global temperature rise that policymakers would be willing to tolerate.”

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that, “U.S. delegate Jonathan Pershing said the draft failed to address the contentious issue of carbon emissions by emerging economies.

“‘The current draft didn’t work in terms of where it is headed,’ Mr. Pershing said in the plenary, supported by the European Union, Japan and Norway.”

Reuters writer Alister Doyle indicated on Saturday that, “U.N. climate talks have made progress at the half-way mark but many of the toughest issues such as greenhouse gas emissions targets for 2020 are deadlocked, delegates said on Saturday;” while the AP added on Saturday that, “After a week of U.N. climate talks, some money is finally on the table and a draft agreement has been circulated. Now the really hard bargaining begins.

“The draft proposal was sent around Friday to the 192-nation conference, although it set no firm figures on financing or cutting greenhouse gas emissions. And the negotiations on sharing the burden are likely to still go down to the wire and await the arrival of the world’s leaders next week.”

Alessandro Torello reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “The United Nations proposed that rich countries pay to help poor ones curb pollution, while cutting their own emissions by at least 75% and possibly more than 95% by 2050 — a suggestion that heightened tensions between the U.S. and China over climate change.

“It isn’t clear that the Copenhagen summit will yield a binding agreement on nations’ efforts to combat climate changes. The U.N. document is the first official attempt to outline a substantive agreement from the summit.

“On Friday, negotiations continued for a fifth day of the 12-day conference, with ministers from a number of countries directly participating in the talks. The draft proposal is vague in key areas to be discussed late next week, when many world leaders arrive.”

And while the U.S. is reportedly “attempting to cut secretive deals at the international climate talks in hopes of shaping any final agreement,” the EU agreed “to commit $3.6 billion a year until 2012 to help poorer countries combat global warming, as they sought to rescue their image as climate change innovators and bolster the talks in Copenhagen.”

With respect to China, Bloomberg news reported on Saturday that, “Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao won’t sign any climate change agreement in Copenhagen unless African demands for compensation for the effects of global warming are met, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said.” Meanwhile, “Australia, the world’s biggest coal exporter, will be ‘pushing hard’ for an agreement on climate change at Copenhagen,” Bloomberg news reported yesterday. And The Wall Street Journal noted today that, “A Russian demand that it keep its huge surplus of emissions permits after they expire in 2012 is overshadowing global climate talks now under way in Copenhagen, with some observers saying it could hamper efforts to reach a deal and upset the global carbon market.”

Reuters news reported yesterday that, “More than 90 ministers had met informally, on their day off from official negotiations between 190 nations, to try to break an impasse between rich and poor over who is responsible for emissions cuts, how deep they should be, and who should pay.

There was a positive atmosphere, but the talks apparently achieved little beyond a consensus that time is running out.”

Matthew L. Wald reported today’s New York Times that, “The United States will contribute $85 million over the next five years to a $350 million effort by industrialized countries to help spread efficiency and low-carbon energy sources in the developing world, the energy secretary was expected to announce Monday.

“The secretary, Steven Chu, in Copenhagen for the climate negotiations, was also expected to announce that he was inviting his counterparts from around the world to the United States next year to a first-ever ‘clean energy’ meeting at the level of minister or cabinet secretary.”

Jim Tankersley reported in today’s Los Angeles Times that, “International negotiators are quietly making progress here on steps to reduce ‘stealth’ pollutants that contribute to climate change, including soot, refrigerants and methane gas, which together account for nearly as much greenhouse gas pollution as carbon dioxide.

“Carbon dioxide, of course, is the poster gas for global warming. Disagreements over how to reduce its emission from cars, factories and power plants have dominated the Copenhagen climate talks so far.”

Climate Change: Views from Agriculture

As the climate change conference in Copenhagen conference continues this week, Steve Baragona reported on Friday at the Voice of America Online that, “As climate negotiators meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, many scientists say that farmers around the world will have to adjust to more extreme temperatures, droughts and floods as a result of global warming. But in the United States, the nation’s largest farmers’ organization, the American Farm Bureau Federation, opposes any strong actions to counter climate change, either in Copenhagen or in the U.S. Congress.”

“The Farm Bureau is lobbying Congress to reject a pending climate change bill. Bob Stallman, president of the bureau, says the extra costs will make it harder for farmers to stay in business.

“‘Our margins are really thin, in terms of our bottom line, and any additional costs have to be absorbed by the farmer because we can’t pass on those costs to consumers directly,’ he says.”

Friday’s article added that, “But other farmers disagree. The National Farmers Union, a smaller farmers’ group, supports action on climate change. President Roger Johnson says the science is convincing. And he doesn’t think a climate change bill would hurt farmers nearly as much as climate change will, through droughts, floods and other extreme weather.”

Chuck Harvey reported on Saturday at the Capital Press Online that, “Carbon emissions legislation in both houses of Congress could make fruit and vegetable prices unpalatable for many Americans, choke government efforts to improve nutrition programs prioritized under the new farm bill and force replacement of large chunks of farmland with forests.

“That is the belief of Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. Stallman, speaking at the California Farm Bureau annual meeting in Anaheim Dec. 7, addressed proposed Senate and House bills aimed at reducing carbon emissions, Waxman-Markey HR2454 and the Kerry-Boxer Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act in the Senate.”

The article added that, “He said the federal legislation, if approved, would boost food costs by about $33 billion by 2020 and $51 billion by 2030.

“‘That is why we need your support for Farm Bureau’s national campaign to defeat federal climate change legislation,’ Stallman told the audience. The campaign is called ‘Don’t Cap Our Future.’

“At the consumer level, annual food costs would increase by about $2,300 per household, Stallman said.

“Stallman warned that under the House bill, as much as 17 percent of U.S. land used for food production would be idled and planted in trees. And trees planted would not necessary be fruit or nut trees.”

Reuters news reported on Saturday that, “Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said on Saturday farmers worldwide must be rewarded for fighting global warming, for example using carbon markets which would add to public climate cash.

“Vilsack was speaking on the fringes of U.N. climate talks which have traditionally focused only on cutting carbon from power plants and factories rather than from farms or forests.”

The article noted that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture has lobbied for a market approach to reward U.S. farmers for cutting carbon emissions. They would be able to sell carbon offsets to polluters under a draft U.S. climate bill.

“‘Farmers need incentives,’ said Vilsack. ‘It will be important and necessary for the private sector to be fully and completely engaged in this. That’s why it’s important to create incentives, markets that function.’”

A news release issued on Saturday by USDA (“Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Highlights Role of Agriculture in Climate Change”) stated that, “Beyond the impact on the globe’s food supply and the livelihood of agricultural producers, agriculture must play a role in mitigating climate change. Globally, agriculture is responsible for about 15% of emissions and deforestation is responsible for about 17% of emissions. It is difficult to see how greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere can be stabilized without actions to address emissions and carbon sequestration on agricultural and forestlands.”

A news release issued late last week by USDA (“Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Discusses Link Between Climate Change and Global Food Security at Copenhagen Climate Change Talks”) stated that, “Agriculture is highly vulnerable to climate variability, and climate change – higher temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, and more frequent extreme events like droughts and flooding –threatens to reduce yields and increase the occurrence of crop failure.

“Climatic stresses could have real consequences on food production, dramatically affecting the yields of staple food crops, resulting in scarcity and threatening people’s livelihoods particularly in developing countries.”

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported on Friday (link requires subscription) that, “Policymakers may fixate on carbon credits and offsets, but farmers could also see crop gains from using no-till practices to build organic matter in the soil, a Nobel Prize contributor on climate change said at the DTN/The Progressive Farmer Ag Summit.

“Jerry Hatfield, director of the National Laboratory for Agriculture and Environment for USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, told farmers the income stream for commodity producers will come from the benefits of building up organic matter in the soil. A 1 percent increase in organic matter, which can take three to five years to build, can translate into a 16-bushel-per-acre increase in production, or $64 an acre at $4 per bushel of corn.”

At his blog on Saturday, Mr. Clayton also reported that, “As negotiators try to hammer out a new international climate change agreement in Copenhagen, Copa-Cogeca emphasized the positive contribution that EU agriculture and forestry can make to fighting climate change if the right policies and incentives are in place.”

Keith Good