Archive | June, 2014

The President’s Climate Action Plan at One Year- A Retrospective

On June 25, 2013, President Obama released the President’s Climate Action Plan (CAP), signaling his Administration’s intent to make good on his promise to “respond to the threat of climate change” – with or without the cooperation of Congress. For the one-year anniversary of the CAP, Defenders has put together a retrospective showing the Administration’s progress on the three key pillars of the plan: 1) Cut Carbon Pollution in America; 2) Prepare the U.S. for the Impact of Climate Change, and 3) Lead International Efforts.

CUT CARBON POLLUTION IN AMERICA. The first major key of the CAP is on mitigating climate change. The President has proposed to cut U.S. Emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Progress to date on those proposals:

I.   Deploy Clean Energy

A.   Cut Emissions from Power Plants

1.    New Power Plants Rule  A proposal to reduce carbon pollution from new power plants came out in 2012, but was revised and re-issued on September 20, 2013. Coal-fired plants would be required to emit not more than 1,100 lb CO2/MWh gross over a 12-operating month period, or 1,000-1,050 lb CO2/MWh gross over a 7-year period. Natural gas would be limited to 1,000 or 1,100 lb CO2/MWh depending on their size.

2.  Existing Power Plants Rule   The Administration’s most recent initiative, proposed on June 2, 2014.  This rule will cut carbon emissions from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels by 2030. A hallmark of the plan is that it gives states tremendous flexibility in how to meet this threshold.

B.  Renewable Energy

1.   Renewable Energy Permitting.  The CAP envisions 20 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy on public lands by 2020. As of February 2014, the number stands at 14 GW. The CAP also calls for 3 GW on military bases by 2025, and the Department of Defense is on track to have between 1.4 and 2.1 GW deployed by 2018. The Administration is also taking steps to expand residential and municipal renewables and efficiency through financing, grants, building code changes, and technical support.

2. Expanding and Modernizing the Electric Grid.  In June 2013, the administration signed a Presidential Memorandum to streamline transmission siting review and permitting.

C.   Investment in Clean Energy Innovation

1.   Loan guarantee program for Advanced Fossil Energy.  $8 billion in loan guarantees available for projects” that avoid, reduce, or sequester anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.” Solicitation for applications was announced December 12, 2013.

2.  Quadrennial Energy Review Established by Presidential Memorandum on January 9, 2014, with the first review due January 31, 2015.

II.  Transportation Sector

A.    Fuel Economy Standards

1. Heavy duty vehicles (trucks & busses): Phase 1, requiring 20% reduction in fuel use by 2018,  was finalized in 2011. Phase 2 was announced in Feb 2014, with Notice of Proposed Rulemaking  expected in March 2015 and Final Rule targeted for March 2016.

2.    Passenger vehicles: A standard of 54.5 mpg by 2025 was finalized on 08/28/2012

B.    Advanced Transportation Technologies

1.   Research and development on next-generation biofuels

2.    eGallon electric vehicle operation cost info

3.   Broadening use of alternative fuel vehicles and other transportation options

III.  Cutting Energy Waste in Homes, Businesses & Factories

A.    Efficiency standards for appliances and buildings. 24 new standards have been set since 2009; anticipated effect of all standards is a cumulative reduction of 6.8 billion tons of CO2 emissions by 2030.

B.   Reducing barriers to investment in efficiency. The USDA rural utilities loan program is providing $250 million to finance efficiency improvements in rural communities (finalized December 5, 2013). Multifamily Energy Innovation Fund (2011) provides $23 million for upgrading the efficiency in affordable housing units.

C.    Better Buildings Challenge  was launched in December 2011; partners commit to 20% energy reduction. 190 organizations participating to date.

IV.  Reducing Other Greenhouse Gas Emissions

A.   Hydrofluorocarbons. The new fuel economy standards contain incentives for upgrading vehicle air conditioning systems. Also, the EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy program identifies and evaluates alternatives to ozone-depleting chemicals; several new compounds were deemed acceptable in May 2013.

B.   Methane. The Interagency Methane Strategy  to reduce emissions from multiple sources and improve measurement, was released on March 28, 2014. Collaborative efforts with agriculture, oil and gas industry are also underway. {update: on Jan 14, 2015, the White House announced new standards to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations}

C.   Preserving the Role of Forests in Climate Change Mitigation. The Administration is “working to identify new approaches to protect and restore forests. . .grasslands, and wetlands.”

V.  Leading at the Federal Level

A.   Leading in Clean Energy.  The President has set a goal of 20% renewables by 2020 for federal agencies, energy performance tracked through Strategic Sustainability Performance Plans.

B.   Leading in EfficiencyPresidential  Memorandum in December 2011 on energy efficiency contracting; integrating Green Button energy reporting into federal data portal.

PREPARE THE UNITED STATES FOR THE IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE. The second major element of the CAP is on preparing for impacts, also known as “adaptation” to climate change. Many of the elements of this part of the CAP are reflected in Executive Order 13653, “Preparing the United State for the Impacts of Climate Change,” which was released on November 1, 2013.

I.  Building Stronger and Safer Communities & Infrastructure

A.   Directing Agencies to Support Climate Resilient Investment. Section 2 of E.O. 13653 directs federal agencies to “modernize federal programs to support climate resilient investment” through inventory and reform of policies, funding programs, and other activities; progress on milestones is to be incorporated into Agency Adaptation Plans.

B.   State, Local & Tribal Leaders Task Force. Established by Sec. 7 of E.O. 13653, the Task Force consists of eight Governors, mayors and commissioners from 16 cities and counties in 14 states, and two tribal representatives. They are currently taking recommendations on “opportunities within existing Federal authorities that could be taken to remove barriers to and encourage resilient investments; modernize grant and loan programs to better support local efforts; and develop information and tools to better serve communities”

C.  Supporting Community Preparation. The CAP outlines initiatives that are ongoing through a number of agencies; for instance, the Department of Transportation highway vulnerability and resilience pilot programs, which are ongoing in 19 states in 2013-14. The Bureau of Indian Affairs assisting tribal preparedness with $600k in grants announced January 2014. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Progress Report for 2014 includes a section describing how EPA views climate change as a priority in its work with vulnerable communities. Finally, FEMA and DOE are building on lessons from Sandy on power and fuel supply restoration.

D.  Boosting Resilience of Buildings & Infrastructure. The CAP describes efforts through the agency Climate Adaptation Plans, which are emphasized in Section 5 of E.O. 13653, and a National Institute of Standards & Technology panel on disaster-resilience standards, which convened in April 2014.

E.   Rebuilding & Learning From Sandy. The Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy mentioned in the CAP was released as scheduled in August 2013. Restoration projects through Department of the Interior are ongoing, as is evaluation for the Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grants Program

II.  Protecting the Economy & Natural Resources

A.   Identifying Vulnerabilities of Key Sectors. The CAP mentions departmental vulnerability assessments for Energy and Agriculture.  Additional reports recently released or due in 2014 include Health, Transportation, Food Supplies, Oceans, and Coastal Communities.

B.  Promoting Resilience in Health Sector. Goal of this part of the plan include improving resilience at hospitals and training public health professionals on preparing for health consequences. Both objectives are mentioned in the HHS Strategic Sustainability Plan, but no more recent updates were found.

C.   Promoting Insurance Leadership. The CAP signals the Administration’s intent to convene the insurance industry and others to “Explore best practices for private and public insurers” to reduce climate risks, but it is not clear if this meeting has occurred.

D.   Conserving Land and Water Resources. The Administration has already released climate change adaptation strategies for Fish, Wildlife and Plants, Freshwater Resources, and Oceans. Section 3 of E.O. 13653 directs the major land and resource management agencies to “complete an inventory and assessment of proposed and completed changes to their land- and water-related policies, programs, and regulations necessary to make the Nation’s watersheds, natural resources, and ecosystems, and the communities and economies that depend on them, more resilient in the face of a changing climate”  These inventories are due “Within 9 months of” the release of the E.O. (i.e., August 1, 2014).

E.  Maintaining Agricultural Sustainability. The USDA Regional Climate Hubs mentioned in this section were launched in February 2014.  The Agricultural Water Conservation and Efficiency grants program managed by NRCS and Bureau of Reclamation last month announced the recipients of $6.3 million in projects to be funded this year.

F.   Managing Drought. The National Drought Resilience Partnership was launched in November 2013. Headed by USDA and NOAA, it also includes Interior, Army Corps, FEMA, EPA and Energy. Its web-based portal for drought information and recovery resources is at

G.  Reducing Wildfire Risks. In addition to expanding restoration efforts in forests and rangelands, the Administration in January 2013 also launched the Western Watershed Enhancement Project, which currently has project in five states to reduce wildfire risk near reservoirs and other critical water supply infrastructure.

H.  Preparing for Future Floods. Agencies are updating their flood risk reduction standards based on sea level rise projections, following the lead of the Hurricane Sandy rebuilding effort.

III.  Using Sound Science

A.   Developing Actionable Climate Science. “Actionable science” has been a theme of agency activities (see below), as reflected in the budget requests and program priorities of  USGS, NOAA, NASA, NSF, and USDA.

B.  Assessing Climate Change Impacts in the US. The third U.S. National Climate Assessment was released on May 6, 2014. Covering observed and projected trends, impacts to sectors and regions, and response options, the NCA is the definitive guide to climate change in the U.S. With over 300 authors and input from thirteen agencies, the NCA represents the apogee of “actionable climate science.”

C.   Launching Climate Data Initiative. The Climate Data Initiative launched on March 19, 2014. It currently has tools for visualizing coastal flood risk, but will be adding additional sets of tools relating to human health, ecosystems, and other sectors.

D.   Providing a Toolkit for Resilience. Several of the tools mentioned in the CAP, such as the National Stormwater Calculator and the USGS’s Global Visualization Tool and National Climate Change Viewer, are already available. The Climate Data Initiative is creating a “one-stop shop” by tools from multiple sources and soliciting for more through its “Challenges” program.

LEAD INTERNATIONAL EFFORTS TO ADDRESS GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE.  International efforts described in the CAP are led through the State Department, and are described in detail at their Global Climate Change site.

Posted in Climate Change, Energy, Federal Policy1 Comment

Sage-Grouse in the Crosshairs

It’s “silly season” in Congress. It’s an election year and the legislative session is winding down, which means that certain legislators and special interests have begun to purposefully introduce nonsensical legislation in the House and Senate this summer as part of an endless game of Congressional politics. These bills are not intended to advance public policy, but to force a response from political opponents in an attempt to gain an advantage in elections back home.

Sage-grouse, the charismatic ambassador of the Sagebrush Sea, have recently become a target in this deceptive practice. More than a decade after being petitioned for listing, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will finally consider the sage-grouse for protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2015. The date certain for a listing decision has also prompted federal agencies and western states to engage in unprecedented planning processes to implement new conservation measures to protect the grouse.

Unfortunately, there are some in Congress who just can’t help but politicize wildlife conservation. This month, legislation was introduced in the House and the Senate, euphemistically named “Sage Grouse Protection and Conservation Act,” that would muck up the listing process for sage-grouse by allowing states to bar the federal government from even considering the species for protection for at least 10 years. This bill is bad for sage-grouse, bad for public lands, bad for stakeholders and bad government. Defenders of Wildlife has identified at least seven reasons why Congress should ignore it.

The legislation is bad for sage-grouse. The grouse is suffering from death by a thousand cuts—at least 26 land uses and related factors affect the species. Any Congressional effort to extend the current timeline would subvert the established science-based administrative process the Fish and Wildlife Service uses for determining whether a species warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act. Recent data indicate that sage-grouse populations continue to decline. Given the conservation challenges facing the sage-grouse, a listing determination is overdue.

The legislation is bad for public lands. If we don’t address sage-grouse conservation needs now, then saving the species from potential extinction – which includes conserving its remaining sagebrush habitat, much of which is on public lands – will be even more difficult, expensive and disruptive in the future.

The legislation is bad for landowners who want to work to improve habitat on private lands for sage-grouse, but need federal assistance to do so. Those funds may dry up if the sage-grouse listing decision is delayed for a decade.

The legislation is bad for stakeholders that would like certainty about sage-grouse conservation and the species’ status. Resource developers and landowners can better plan for their own activities in sage-grouse habitat when they know what will be required to protect and recover the species.

The legislation is unnecessary. Current planning efforts are on schedule to finalize conservation plans in time for the Fish and Wildlife Service to consider them in its listing decision in 2015. Resources, timelines and the incentive for these processes are hinged on the current decision deadline. The challenge facing these planning processes is not the need for more time, but greater resolve among federal agencies and western states to do what is required to conserve sage-grouse. The current decision date ensures continued federal and state commitment to conservation efforts.

The legislation is a beachhead for delaying any sage-grouse listing indefinitely. Will the Fish and Wildlife Service actually be allowed to consider the sage-grouse for listing after 10 years? Or will Congress delay listing again?

The legislation is a bad precedent. The Endangered Species Act has proven to be overwhelmingly successful in preventing the extinction of species since its enactment 40 years ago. Congress should allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to process species listing decisions under the act in accordance with the best available science. Some species have waited for more than 30 years for agency action. Congress should not further delay these scientific decisions by micromanaging the Endangered Species Act on a species-by-species basis, and undermining important administrative decision-making under the law.

Stay tuned, as we expect to see more silliness from this Congress before the session finally ends.


Posted in Imperiled Wildlife, Public Lands0 Comments

dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.