State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Climate News Roundup – Week of 8/23

Obama Administration Sides with Utilities in Case about Climate Change, The Washington Post

Environmental groups including the National Resources Defense Council are voicing their anger over the Obama administration’s support for utility companies in a legal dispute involving the regulation of greenhouse gases.   In 2004, eight state governments, New York City, and several land trusts sued the Tennessee Valley Authority and five utility companies over their use of fossil fuels, the emissions of which petitioners sought to regulate as a “public nuisance” for contributing to climate change.  Courts sided with the utilities in district court, but a panel of the 2nd Circuit ruled in favor of the governments and trusts.  The Obama administration has given its support to the TVA, stating that the EPA now has the legal authority to regulated greenhouse gases, and that the lawsuit is unnecessary.  The adminstration issued a brief stating that “EPA has already begun taking actions to address carbon-dioxide emissions … That regulatory approach is preferable to what would result if multiple district courts – acting without the benefit of even the most basic statutory guidance – could use common-law nuisance claims to sit as arbiters of scientific and technology-related disputes and de facto regulators of power plants and other sources of pollution.”  Utility companies have since praised the administration’s position.

Climate Change Center to be in the Lower 9th Ward, USA Today

The construction of a $3.2 million dollar climate change center has been proposed in New Orleans where visitors will learn about climate change and its consequences.  The location is indeed symbolic: it is planned to be constructed in the Holy Cross neighborhood, which was inundated with flood water when a levy broke during hurricane Katrina in 2005.   While the center would serve an educational purpose, it would also function as a community center and could include job training services, a restaurant, and grocery store.  It is due to open at the end of 2011.

Forests Transition as New England Warms, Scientific American

The denuding of the landscape in the Northeast United States has been underway for several years now, ever since an outbreak of hemlock woolly adelgid caterpillars began in 2006.  The insects, which are native to Japan, infest hemlock trees and strip them of their needles, sometimes in as little as a few weeks.  In the past, cold winters have kept in check the northward expansion of invasive species such as the woolly adelgid, but warming likely attributable to climate change has begun to significantly alter the ecosystem.  Indeed, Scientific American reports, some studies have found that the average winter temperature in New England has increased by as much as 4 degrees C since 1970.  The phenomenon of expanding insect populations related to warmer winters has been recorded elsewhere, with similar destructive impacts on local forests: in the Pacific Northwest, pine forests are being destroyed by the pine bark beetle, deer and earthworms are stripping forests in the Midwest of groundcover, and the South has already been hit by the hemlock woolly adelgid.

BP Frozen Out of Arctic Oil Drilling Race, The Guardian

Following the Macondo well disaster this summer in the Gulf of Mexico, BP has rescinded its attempts to begin drilling for oil off of the coast of Greenland.  The company announced that it was withdrawing its bids to win an exploration license from the government of Greenland, although both the bureau of minerals and petroleum and BP have declined from saying this was related to its troubles in the Gulf.  The area BP sought to drill in is a new discovery by British rival Cairn, and is part of a larger push of oil exploration in the Arctic that has come upon the heels of a US Geological Survey report last year that said that the wider Arctic region could contain as much as 90 billion barrels of oil and 50 trillion cubic meters of gas.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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