Thursday, January 04, 2007

News notes: the new Congress sets up shop amid a heat wave, and more

It’s an auspicious day for the start of the new Congress. The thermometer in DC is expected to hit 60 degrees (about 17 degrees above “normal”) and the UK government’s weather forecasters predict 2007 will be the warmest year in recorded history. The threats from global warming have prompted yet another prominent local jurisdiction to limit greenhouse gas emissions (see more, below). And a new AP-AOL poll finds that 74% of respondents believe global warming will get worse.

You’d think all of this might be enough to prompt the new Congress to take swift and decisive action on global warming. But will it? Read on.

Congressional cyclone: Amid the whirlwind of action in the opening days of Congress, expect the introduction of various plans to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Among those expected to offer visionary plans: Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA). Other forms of proposed legislation are likely, including an updated multi-pollutant plan to be introduced by Senator Tom Carper (D-DE). Boxer, new chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, will hold a series of hearings to explore the issue.

But will the new Congress actually start voting on anything soon? Conventional wisdom was that there might be more talk than action in the coming weeks. But Environment and Energy Daily notes this morning a memo from new Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who promises the Senate will “address global warming” this spring. Keep your eye not only on Boxer’s committee but on the Senate Energy Committee, now chaired by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). And don’t forget former chair Pete Domenici (R-NM), who could be a very key player as this issue moves forward.

State and local governments are keeping the heat on. This week, Arlington County, Virginia (part of the Washington, DC metro area) announced it was going to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because action at the federal level has been so slow – up until now. It’s the latest action of its sort by state and local governments, and important because it’s happening literally in the backyard of many federal policy makers. It prompted a good editorial in today’s Washington Post.

Smog status: Several very key issues to watch at the US EPA: Perhaps foremost is the agency’s ongoing review of national clean air standards for ozone, or smog. EPA’s independent science advisers have unanimously urged the agency to toughen the standards, last revised a decade ago, because of new evidence that smog can not only make it more difficult to breathe, but can actually shorten one’s life. Up soon: an EPA staff assessment of the problem.

If EPA’s staff fails to go along with the recommendation of the independent advisers, it will show that Bush administration political appointees have censored them. (Several honest and important EPA career staffers have retired in recent days, including John Bachmann, a key player in these science reviews, and Richard Long, longtime head of EPA air programs in its Rocky Mountain region. For more on Long, see excellent piece in yesterday’s Rocky Mountain News.)

Mercury menace: A new study of mercury pollution identifies “hot spots” linked to coal burning electric power plants. The study by the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation, as reported in today’s BNA Daily Environment Report. This study is yet another piece of evidence that calls into question the industry-friendly Bush administration approach to mercury, while entails extensive “emission trading” and – as we predicted – “hot spots.” A separate report, in Inside EPA Weekly Report, says the Bush administration is seeking to stymie an international body’s investigation of the water pollution impacts of the Bush mercury strategy. Fancy that – the Bush administration seeking to muzzle a science-based inquiry! This one is definitely worth watching.

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