Climate Issues; and Crop Insurance
Reuters writer Ross Colvin reported on Friday that, “U.S. President Barack Obama will attend the end of the Copenhagen climate change summit, a late change of plan the White House attributed on Friday to growing momentum toward a new global accord.”
The Reuters article indicated that, “The Obama administration has been encouraged by recent announcements by China and India, two other major carbon emitters, to set targets to rein in emissions and the growing consensus on raising cash to help poor nations cope with global warming, seen as a stumbling block to a new U.N. deal.
“Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen swiftly welcomed Obama’s decision, saying his attendance was ‘an expression of the growing political momentum toward sealing an ambitious climate deal in Copenhagen.’”
The change in plans, according to Washington Post writer Juliet Eilperin, had the impact of, “ratcheting up expectations that the United Nations-sponsored negotiations could produce a significant deal on global warming,” while the AP indicated that, “prospects for a political agreement at the [Copenhagen] event seem more likely.”
John M. Broder noted in Saturday’s New York Times that, “Administration officials still acknowledge that the meeting in Denmark will not produce a binding international treaty, as had earlier been hoped, but rather an interim political deal and a promise to reconvene next year to work toward a formal treaty. The White House said it believed that it was still possible to conclude a ‘meaningful Copenhagen accord’ in which all countries pledged to take immediate action to address climate change.”
Edward Felker and Amanda DeBard reported in Sunday’s Washington Times that, “John Podesta, president of the liberal Center for American Progress, called the president’s decision to attend at the end ‘a game changer.’ He added: ‘Commitments to reduce carbon intensity by both China and India have produced a burst of momentum in advance of next week’s U.N. summit in Copenhagen.’”
However, the AP reported on Friday that, “Even as he prepares to argue for action at the international climate conference, President Barack Obama is getting some reminders of the domestic political divide – and anxiety – over climate change.
“Twenty congressional Republicans, including the top House GOP leadership, sent a letter to the president Friday expressing their ‘grave concern’ that the U.S. delegation might commit to mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
“‘Only a treaty ratified by the United States Senate or legislation agreed to by Congress may commit our nation to any mandatory emissions reduction program,’ wrote the Republican lawmakers.”
Meanwhile, Stephen Power noted in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal that, “Mr. Obama’s decision to invest more of his time and prestige in the Copenhagen summit raises the stakes for him and the Democratic Party at home.”
Similarly, Politico.com writer Lisa Lerer noted on Friday that, “President Barack Obama is heating up his efforts on climate change, with decisions that have some Democrats in Congress starting to sweat.
“The announcement Friday that Obama is pushing back his appearance at the Copenhagen summit to its final weekend, the critical negotiating period, signals a willingness to pour significant political capital into his climate agenda – and raises expectations that the White House will reach agreements both internationally and at home.
“The impact of the scheduling change is magnified by expectations that the Environmental Protection Agency will finalize a key move toward regulating greenhouse gases, with the final release of its endangerment finding expected as soon as Monday.”
With respect to the EPA endangerment finding, Jeffrey Ball and Charles Forelle reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Officials gather in Copenhagen this week for an international climate summit, but business leaders are focusing even more on Washington, where the Obama administration is expected as early as Monday to formally declare carbon dioxide a dangerous pollutant.
“An ‘endangerment’ finding by the Environmental Protection Agency could pave the way for the government to require businesses that emit carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases to make costly changes in machinery to reduce emissions — even if Congress doesn’t pass pending climate-change legislation. EPA action to regulate emissions could affect the U.S. economy more directly, and more quickly, than any global deal inked in the Danish capital, where no binding agreement is expected.”
The Journal writers explained that, “Many business groups are opposed to EPA efforts to curb a gas as ubiquitous as carbon dioxide.
“An EPA endangerment finding ‘could result in a top-down command-and-control regime that will choke off growth by adding new mandates to virtually every major construction and renovation project,’ U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said in a statement. ‘The devil will be in the details, and we look forward to working with the government to ensure we don’t stifle our economic recovery,’ he said, noting that the group supports federal legislation.”
Today’s Journal article added that, “An EPA spokeswoman declined to comment Sunday on when the agency might finalize its proposed endangerment finding. Congressional Republicans have called on the EPA to withdraw it, saying recently disclosed emails written by scientists at the Climatic Research Unit of the U.K.’s University of East Anglia and their peers call into question the scientific rationale for regulation.
“The spokeswoman said that the EPA is confident the basis for its decision will be ‘very strong,’ and that when it is published, ‘we invite the public to review the extensive scientific analysis informing’ the decision.
“EPA action would give President Barack Obama something to show leaders from other nations when he attends the Copenhagen conference on Dec. 18 and tries to persuade them that the U.S. is serious about cutting its contribution to global greenhouse-gas emissions.”
The Journal writers pointed out that, “An endangerment finding would allow the EPA to use the federal Clean Air Act to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions, which are produced whenever fossil fuel is burned. Under that law, the EPA could require emitters of as little as 250 tons of carbon dioxide per year to install new technology to curb their emissions starting as soon as 2012.
“The EPA has said it will only require permits from big emitters — facilities that put out 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year. But that effort to tailor the regulations to avoid slamming small businesses with new costs is expected to be challenged in court.”
In an article from Saturday, Wall Street Journal writer Ian Talley explained that, “According to a preliminary endangerment finding published in April, EPA scientists fear that man-made carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are contributing to a warming of the global climate. Senior EPA officials said in November the agency would likely make a final decision in December around the time of the summit.”
Mr. Talley pointed out that, “The announcement would also give President Barack Obama and his climate envoy negotiating leverage at a global climate summit starting next week in Copenhagen, Denmark and increase pressure on Congress to pass a climate bill that would modify the price of polluting,” and added that that, “The EPA declaration would also ratchet up the pressure on U.S. lawmakers to pass legislation that analysts say would cut emissions in a more economically efficient way. Although the House has passed a climate bill, movement of similar legislation in the Senate has faced much more resistance and passage becomes more difficult in an election year.”
In additional analysis regarding the Copenhagen talks, Andrew C. Revkin and John M. Broder reported in today’s New York Times that, “Just two years ago, a United Nations panel that synthesizes the work of hundreds of climatologists around the world called the evidence for global warming ‘unequivocal.’
“But as representatives of about 200 nations converge in Copenhagen on Monday to begin talks on a new international climate accord, they do so against a background of renewed attacks on the basic science of climate change.”
The Times article added that, “The debate, set off by the circulation of several thousand files and e-mail messages stolen from one of the world’s foremost climate research institutes, has led some who oppose limits on greenhouse gas emissions, and at least one influential country, Saudi Arabia, to question the scientific basis for the Copenhagen talks.
“The uproar has threatened to complicate a multiyear diplomatic effort already ensnared in difficult political, technical and financial disputes that have caused leaders to abandon hopes of hammering out a binding international climate treaty this year.”
Meanwhile, Guy Chazan reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “The head of a United Nations panel said it will investigate claims that scientists manipulated data about global warming, days before climate-change talks in Copenhagen.
“Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told the BBC the allegations were serious. ‘We certainly don’t want to brush anything under the carpet,’ he said.”
Lisa Lerer reported yesterday at Politico.com that, “A series of embarrassing e-mails stolen from a British climate research center last month has wreaked havoc in the obscure academic circles of climate science.
“Now Republicans hope the ‘climategate’ scandal will do the same to the Obama administration’s environmental agenda.
“Global warming skeptics believe that the correspondence, which shows scientists debating whether to manipulate scientific data to strengthen the case for man-made global warming, is a smoking gun that will change the dynamics of the climate debate. Activists also hope the purloined e-mails will derail Democratic climate negotiations on Capitol Hill and the upcoming international talks in Copenhagen.”
With respect to the Emails, The New York Times editorial board noted yesterday that, “No one should be misled by all the noise. The e-mail messages represent years’ worth of exchanges among prominent American and British climatologists. Some are mean-spirited, others intemperate. But they don’t change the underlying scientific facts about climate change.”
As the debate over climate science goes on, Jim Tankersley reported in today’s Los Angeles Times that, “When world leaders gather in Copenhagen today for negotiations on a new agreement to combat climate change, their success or failure will ride on economics, not environmental science.
“Theoretically, the two-week conference will focus on measures to limit emissions of the heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming. But the major debates will center on money: How could emission limits affect major industries and the jobs they provide? How could a new climate treaty reshape the global economic playing field?
“Those issues sharply divide some of the most important players at the conference, as they ponder the economic possibilities and pitfalls.”
Stephen Power and Ian Talley reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “The top U.S. climate negotiator said in an interview Friday that developing countries will have to make their emissions pledges ‘transparent’ to outsiders and that the Obama administration isn’t ready to follow Europe’s lead in specifying how much money rich nations should contribute over the next decade to help poor countries respond to climate change.
“The comments by Todd Stern, U.S. climate envoy, point to potential areas of friction at a two-week United Nations conference on climate change that begins Monday in Copenhagen and is expected to involve representatives of more than 190 countries.”
The Journal article noted that, “Mr. Stern’s reluctance to offer specifics on the U.S. negotiating position at Copenhagen highlights the political bind the Obama administration finds itself in as it tries to bring about a global agreement to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases. The U.S. Senate, preoccupied with health-care legislation and debate over U.S. policy in Afghanistan, has put off a vote on legislation to cap U.S. emissions until next spring. That move has constrained Mr. Obama’s ability to predict how much money the U.S. could contribute to a long-term financing package for the developing world. Legislation passed by the House of Representatives earlier this year would raise money for such assistance by requiring U.S. companies to pay for the right to emit greenhouse gases.”
And the AP reported today that, “Yvo de Boer, the U.N.’s top climate official, said on the eve of the 192-nation conference that despite unprecedented unity and concessions, industrial countries and emerging nations need to dig deeper.
“‘Time is up,’ de Boer said. ‘Over the next two weeks governments have to deliver.’
“Finance – billions of dollars immediately and hundreds of billions of dollars annually within a decade – was emerging as the key to unblocking an agreement that would bind the global community to a sweeping plan to combat climate change.”
In more detail with respect to agriculture and climate change, House Ag Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas indicated at his blog on Friday that, “This week the Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Energy, and Research held two important hearings to learn more about the economic impact of climate change legislation. Despite the fact that the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed the Waxman-Markey climate change bill last June – a bill that I voted against—this is only the second time Members of the Agriculture Committee have had the opportunity to explore specifically the economic impact of climate change legislation on the agriculture sector.
“Witnesses at the hearing included the chief economist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as members of academia. They highlighted and discussed various studies that have been completed on the costs of cap and trade on the agriculture industry.”
Rep. Lucas noted that, “During the hearing, Dr. Joseph Glauber from USDA said, ‘there is no question that agriculture is an energy intensive sector… [and] agriculture will be hit by higher energy costs.’ Another witness, Dr. John M. Antle from Montana State University, testified that the current economic studies ‘have tended to under-emphasize the costs of adaptation’ for farmers. Dr. Patrick Westhoff from the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute added that ‘the House-passed legislation would raise energy costs and this would translate into higher farm production expenses.’
“It is expected that higher energy prices and higher operating costs will decrease farm income anywhere from $5 billion to $50 billion per year.”
On the other hand, an update posted on Friday at the Ag Mag Blog (The Environmental Working Group) indicated in part that, “On Dec. 2, 2009 USDA Chief Economist Joseph Glauber testified before the Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Energy and Research of the House Agriculture Committee. He described a further economic analysis that refined and expanded on USDA’s preliminary estimates. Dr. Glauber’s testimony makes it clear that the costs that a cap-and-trade bill would impose on agriculture are still closer to pocket change than to the devastating increases claimed by farm organizations and their Congressional patrons.”
Reuters news reported on Friday (article posted at DTN, link requires subscription) that, “The U.S. Agriculture Department proposed on Friday to reduce overhead payments in the federally subsidized crop insurance system and to revise risk-sharing terms with insurers to promote coverage in under-served areas.
“The changes are part of a first draft of a proposed agreement with insurance companies to govern crop insurance. The government began discussions months ago with a goal to conclude a new Standard Reinsurance Agreement in early 2010.
“USDA said it wants to protect farmers from higher costs, rein in its expenses and improve access to crop insurance.”
A brief audio report from USDA’s Daily Radio News Service indicated on Friday that, “A new Standard Reinsurance Agreement now in draft form, may improve coverage and cost savings within the federal crop insurance program.” To listen to this brief recap, just click here.
Bloomberg writer Alan Bjerga reported on Friday that, “The USDA’s proposal is ‘very expansive’ and includes wider-ranging changes than the industry expected, said David Graves, manager and secretary of the American Association of Crop Insurers, an industry group based in Washington. Graves said companies would need more time to examine the offer before suggesting changes, adding that insurers will be meeting with USDA officials in Kansas City on Dec. 10 to discuss the plan.”