Waxman vs EPA; Hansen vs Carbon

November 8th, 2007

Posted by: admin

Congressman Henry Waxman excoriated EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson yesterday for the agency’s approval of a new coal-fired power plant in Utah, charging that the move “is the climate equivalent of pouring gasoline on a fire.”

In his opening statement at the beginning of a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Waxman said, “The approval of new power plants without carbon controls is irresponsible; it is indefensible; and it is illegal.”

In charging illegal behavior by the EPA, Waxman must be referring to the Supreme Court Decision in April finding that the agency has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Never mind that the court did not exactly order the EPA to set mandatory limits. Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the petitioners ask EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles under §202 of the Clean Air Act? Last I looked, coal power plants were not mobile.

In any case, Waxman has been miffed since the EPA granted a permit in August for the new Deseret coal plant in Utah. “EPA didn’t require any pollution controls for greenhouse gases,” the California congressman said yesterday. “And it didn’t consider other alternatives, such as renewable energy sources . . . It’s as if the Supreme Court never ruled, and EPA never heard of global warming.”

While Stephen Johnson was being flayed in Congress, a new paper was arguing that coal-fired power plants not equipped with carbon sequestration technology must be phased out before mid-century if CO2 is to be kept below the magic 450 ppm. The paper, by Pushker Khareecha and James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has been submitted to Environmental Research Letters, and was posted as a pre-press article on the GISS Web site.

In their paper, “Implications of ‘peak oil’ for atmospheric CO2 and climate,” Khareecha and Hansen state that if estimates of oil and gas reserves by the Energy Information Administration prove accurate, atmospheric CO2 can be kept below 450 ppm, “provided that carbon capture and sequestration is implemented for coal and unconventional fossil fuels.” They argue that gains in efficiency are necessary to “stretch” conventional oil reserves, obviating the need to turn to liquid fuels from coal, tar sands, oil shale and other unconventional fossil fuels. And they suggest that “a rising price on carbon emissions is probably needed to keep CO2 beneath the 450 ppm ceiling.”

Kharecha and Hansen point out that their estimates do not take into account a variety of factors that could lead to higher atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide than their peak oil scenarios suggest. For example, the ocean’s ability to take up CO2 decreases as the amount of dissolved carbon goes up. Forests dying, permafrost thawing, and seafloor methane hydrates melting could add yet more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. And deforestation could exacerbate the situation still further.

The authors write:

“This suggests that society adopt a low limit on atmospheric CO2, which in turn implies that the putatively vast coal and unconventional fossil fuel reservoirs (figure 1) cannot be exploited unless the resulting CO2 is captured and sequestered. This conclusion does not depend upon details of the scenarios for fossil fuel use or upon the likely errors due to our approximation of the carbon cycle. Instead it depends largely on the fact that a substantial fraction—approximately one-quarter—of anthropogenic CO2 emissions will remain in the air more than 500 years (Archer 2005), which for practical purposes is an eternity.”

If you need any further convincing that leaving tar sands in the ground is on balance a good idea, check out Elizabeth Kolbert’s article in this week’s New Yorker. (Read an abstract here.)

Lastly, Thursday ended on a more light-hearted note with an apparent but unconfirmed and possibly contested winner in the Best Science Blog contest of the 2007 Weblog Awards. Early in the afternoon, I received an email forward from Andy Revkin about a supposed rush by supporters and foes of Climate Audit to essentially stuff the ballot boxes. In this wacky election, you could actually vote once every 24 hours. (Mayor Daley, Sr., would have been proud.) And allegedly, climate skeptics were rushing in to try to push Climate Audit over the top. But a last minute blitz from the other side apparently gave another blog, Bad Astronomy, a razor thin edge of 45 votes out of more than 54,995 cast. (In his Climate Audit blog today, however, Steve McIntyre claimed victory — perhaps before the final numbers were tallied.)

A recount is apparently in progress…

5 Responses to “Waxman vs EPA; Hansen vs Carbon”

  1. Tom Yulsman Says:

    A quick correction: I meant to say that Waxman’s hearing occurred Thursday, not yesterday. — T.Y.

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  3. lucia Says:

    Richard Daley Sr. would have been even happier to learn how to cast votes after the polls were closed using a ‘vote bot. The method of voting by ‘bot is explained at Science-Blogs@2007 Weblog Awards – Anatomy of a Break-In.

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  5. lucia Says:

    Darn! Does this strip urls?

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  7. lucia Says:

    Update: WeblogsAwards has officially decreed a tie for best science blog.

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  9. Tom Yulsman Says:

    All this just proves how patently absurd and utterly meaningless the Weblog awards are.