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The Connection That Can’t Be Ignored: Sandy and Climate Change

If there’s any good news to come out of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, it’s that political leaders and the press are actually talking about climate change. At the end of a long campaign season with barely a mention of the issue, it’s a relief to hear some sane discussion of the issue based on the premise that global warming is real.

While climate scientists hesitate to attribute any single weather event to global warming, many agree that elevated temperatures and sea levels conspired to make this storm especially damaging. And the frequency of storms like Sandy, they warn, will only escalate as global temperatures rise.

We’ve collected, below, some of the most notable statements about the connection between Sandy and climate change, and what it means for the future:

  • Bloomberg Businessweek made the scene of a flooded NYC street its cover, carrying the news that global insurers are beginning to warn about the connection between climate change and extreme weather events. A Germany-based insurer reported that the number of weather-related loss events in North America has nearly quintupled over the past three decades.
  • The Center for American Progress reports that the United States experienced a record 14 extreme weather events that caused more than $1 billion in damage and there have been seven so far this year. Only five states were spared damage.
  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wasn’t mincing words on the topic. “Part of learning from this is the recognition that climate change is a reality,” he said Wednesday during a helicopter tour of the damage. “Extreme weather is a reality. It is a reality that we are vulnerable. There’s only so long you can say, ‘This is once in a lifetime, and it’s not going to happen again.’”

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Poll: Republicans Support Transpo Policies to Avert Climate Change, Too

Judging from the level of our national debate, you would guess we are a nation strongly divided on the issue of climate change. But you’d be wrong, according to a new poll from Yale University.

Americans favor transportation policies that would address climate change, such as increased transit and bike lanes, according to a new poll. Photo: http://www.greenchipstocks.com/articles/how-to-reduce-greenhouse-gas-emissions-from-us-transportation/1228 Green Chip Stocks

A representative survey of 1,010 adults found that 71 percent think that global warming should be a “very high,” “high” or “medium priority” for the president and Congress. Americans overwhelmingly support policy changes that would help address the issue, the poll found. Participants favored developing clean energy sources by a more than 9-to-1 ratio.

“We find very strong bipartisan support for a variety of climate and energy policies in this country,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change. “It runs contrary to what you might expect looking at, for instance, the current make up of Congress and the Republican candidates for president.”

Transportation and planning policies to avert global warming also enjoyed wide approval among survey participants: 77 percent said they support adding bike lanes to roads, and 80 percent said they support expanding public transportation service.

This was true even among self-identifying Republicans. Some 74 percent of Republican respondents said they supported bike lanes and 80 percent signaled their support for increased public transit availability.

Majorities also supported expanding mixed-use zoning, reducing sprawl and promoting energy efficient apartments over single-family homes.

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SFMTA’s Climate Action Strategy Will Require Broad Political Support

Image: SFMTA

San Francisco could be headed on a course toward transportation sustainability, granted it’s the politically popular thing to do.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) recently released its 2011 Draft Climate Action Strategy [PDF], laying out a progressive blueprint for how the city should tackle reducing its greenhouse gas emissions from one of their leading sources: driving.

“The Climate Action Strategy is a citywide plan, but since the SFMTA is responsible for the streets, arguably we have the biggest part in all of this,” said SFMTA Director Cheryl Brinkman.

Transportation makes up 36 percent of the city’s emissions, says the report, and 89 percent of that is from private automobiles. The SFMTA’s goal is to cut transportation emissions to half of 1990 levels by 2035 by reducing the current share of driving in half to a mode split of 30 percent of trips by car, 30 percent by transit, and 40 percent by bicycling and walking.

From parking regulations to transit-oriented development to complete streets, the plan recommends the most effective measures to take and perhaps most importantly, the political processes required to fund and implement them. But while the SFMTA staff and directors may seem mostly on board, support from other agencies will be crucial to cause a major shift in the city’s transportation and land use policies.

“We need to hold the line on our transit-first policy,” said Timothy Papandreou, SFMTA Deputy Director of Transportation Planning for the Sustainable Streets Division. “It’s something that we’ll continue to be challenged on, but that’s really our major policy move.”

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Behind the Transport Industry’s Lament About the Senate Climate Bill

While transport reform advocates hailed last week’s long-awaited Senate
climate bill for
directing
an estimated $6 billion-plus towards local land use
planning and green infrastructure, state DOTs and construction interests
criticized the legislation — suggesting that the measure’s sponsors
could face stiff resistance from the transportation industry’s
mainstream despite making concessions to win over all sides.

gas_tax.jpgDoes the
Senate climate bill include a user fee? That depends on how the term is
defined. (Photo: Pop
and Politics
)

The central complaint raised by
mainstream transport players boils down to, as American Association of
State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) executive director
John Horsley put it in
a statement
, the Senate bill’s "preemption" of user-fee revenue
that historically has gone into the nation’s dwindling highway trust
fund.

"Congress can ill-afford to consider any legislation that" siphons
off money from the trust fund, which has required more than $30 billion
in replenishment from the general Treasury over the past 18 months,
Horsley said.

Stephen Sandherr, chief of the Associated General Contractors — a
backer of the
Senate effort
to bar the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from
regulating greenhouse gas emissions in the absence of congressional
action — echoed that sentiment in his
own statement
on the upper-chamber climate proposal.

"[B]y taking funds raised through the proposal’s new transportation
fees
and committing all but a small percentage to unrelated spending, the
legislation leaves our aging and inefficient roads, airways and transit
systems vastly underfunded," Sandherr said.

But does the Senate climate bill impose a user fee on
transportation fuel consumers? The text of the measure specifically
requires "each refined [fuel] product provider" to purchase emissions
permits from the EPA on a quarterly basis at a fixed price, with no
permit trading allowed. Horsley’s depiction of those charges as a "user
fee" relies on the considerable likelihood that oil companies and
refiners would pass on the cost of those emissions permits to consumers
in the form of higher gas prices.

In the meantime, how much of the revenue raised by the bill’s new
fuel permits would infrastructure receive?

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Streetsblog LA 7 Comments

Move to Delay California’s Greenhouse Gas Law Gaining Steam


Republican Gubernatorial candidates are only debating how best to delay the implementation of A.B. 32

Proponents of clean energy and environmental laws designed to reduce greenhouse gases had best not take the challenge to California's AB 32 too lightly. Backers of a ballot initiative that would "delay" implementation of the law until the state's unemployment level is below 5.5 percent for a full year look to have gathered enough signatures to put the measure to a vote this November. The coalition collecting signatures for the ballot measure is submitting its signature list for certification to state elections officials and The Sacramento Bee quotes one of the campaign's leaders as exclaiming, "We're headed to the ballot!" 

The affront to AB 32 is more than just a handful of out-of-state oil companies (like Texas-based oil firms Tesoro and Valero) and conservative activist organizations. Both major Republican candidates for Governor support some sort of delay for the legislation. In addition, the populist rhetoric fueling the campaign pitting over-reaching government against small business owners who are being strangled by over-regulation seems tailor made for a tea-party rally. Add to that the alarmist figures coming from the California Small Business Roundtable, which estimates that implementation of A.B. 32 will cost small businesses in California about $50,000 annually and would destroy more than one million California jobs and it wouldn't be surprising if more voters are swayed by the campaign.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who's reputation as a "Green" governor rests on this legislation's implementation, released a strong statement slamming the backers of the initiative:

The effort to suspend AB 32 is the work of greedy oil companies who want to keep polluting in our state and making profits. AB 32 will add jobs, create savings in energy costs and increase personal incomes. In fact, the highest job creation California is seeing right now is in our green economy. When I ran for Governor, I said if special interests tried to push me around, I would push back. That's exactly what I will do to these greedy oil companies.

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Kerry on Senate Climate Bill: Federal Gas Tax is Staying at 18.4 Cents

The several dozen transportation industry groups that raised
questions
about where the upcoming Senate climate change bill would
send proceeds from its new "linked fee" on carbon fuels can stop
worrying — because it looks like the legislation won’t contain any new
tax on motor fuels.

Sen_John_Kerry_Discusses_Partnership_China_NaObORtZBHul.jpgSen. John
Kerry (D-MA) (Photo: Getty)

As Sen. John Kerry (MA), the climate bill’s chief Democratic
author, told
Reuters
late yesterday:

"There is not even a linked fee. There’s not a tax,
there’s nothing similar."

Pressed
for clarification about the fee, Kerry then said, "certainly not the
way it was described previously, nothing like that." The Massachusetts
Democrat refused to elaborate.

Kerry was more direct in a response to the
Houston Chronicle
, stating: “The gas tax is 18.4 cents today, and
it’ll be that when this bill is passed.”  

His comments do not rule out the possibility of some charge on
carbon-based fuels remaining in the bill, but they cast significant
doubt on the scenario that Washington transportation watchers had feared
most: extra fees that oil companies would pass on through higher costs
at the pump, amounting to a de facto gas tax hike without guaranteed
revenue for road and transit projects.

The oil and gas industry had responded favorably to the prospect of
a predictable fee they could market as a response to climate change,
effectively shifting any negative consumer response onto Congress rather
than fuel producers. American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard
predicted
last month
that a carbon charge would "soften the reaction" among
his member firms to a national cap on greenhouse gases.

The challenge of addressing transportation emissions, which account
for about one-third of the nation’s total output, could end up pushing
the release of the Senate climate bill beyond its original Monday
deadline. Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC), the measure’s sole GOP backer so
far, told
CongressDaily
that Monday remains "the hope" but is not set in
stone.

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MTC Report Shows Dismal Future for Transit Operators

cost_to_run_small.jpgImage: MTC
The 2009 Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) Annual Report paints a sobering picture of funding crises at nearly every Bay Area Transit operator -- crises we've covered extensively on Streetsblog -- and sums up the situation bluntly: "There is no way to sugarcoat it: These are difficult, daunting days for public transit in the Bay Area."

The report rightly points to endemic land-use and auto-centric development problems in the Bay Area that make transit less attractive for many than driving: "The Bay Area's transit system operates under the difficult combination of unpredictable revenue sources and unsustainable cost structure on the one hand, and underpriced auto alternatives and insufficiently transit-supportive land uses on the other."

One of the more troubling aspects of the report, as KALW's Nathanael Johnson wrote on the Bay Area Transit blog, is that the picture is only going to get worse without a significant change in course. Operators have already cut service and raised fares, but new capital costs will add additional burden and farebox recovery rates aren't going up.

transit_deficits.jpg
"The MTC added up the projected budgets of the agencies and found that operating costs would exceed revenues by $8 billion over the next 25 years, while planned improvements (like new buses and the Warm Springs BART station) will require someone to dig up an additional $17 billion in spare change from under the couch," wrote Johnson.

The report also contends that transit operators have fallen short in performance. Since 1997, after adjusting for inflation, transit costs in the Bay Area have increased by 52 percent, while revenue hours of service increased by only 16 percent and ridership increased by only 7 percent.

"That is a terrible return on our regions' transit investment and it should cause us to think long and hard before committing future funds to such a low-yield strategy," the report concludes.

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‘Gas Tax’ Sounding Like a Four-Letter Word to the White House and Senate

Transportation groups of all shapes and sizes have been
concerned
that the Senate’s forthcoming climate bill could set back
the prospects for a federal transportation measure by imposing extra
carbon fees
on Big Oil — which would then be passed on to
customers at the pump, effectively increasing the gas tax for purposes
other than funding new infrastructure projects.

050217_lindseyGraham_hmed_4p.hmedium.jpgSen.
Lindsey Graham (R-SC) joined the White House in denying that his
forthcoming climate bill would feature a "gas tax." (Photo: MSNBC)

But
it looks like there’s no need to worry. The Obama administration
yesterday gave a statement to the Wall
Street Journal
that sought to lock down any attempt to associate
the Senate climate plan with higher fuel charges: “The Senators don’t
support a gas tax, and neither does the White House."

A spokesman for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the climate proposal’s
sole GOP sponsor, also denied that the bill would include a gas tax. The
bulk of the back-and-forth is a semantic battle that reflects how
politically poisonous a gas tax increase remains for both parties in
Washington.

But it may also suggest that Graham and his co-authors are moving
away from the carbon fee they had originally conceived. Graham described
the idea to
The Hill
last month as "an assessment on what they do in the carbon
world. They are creating a carbon product, they are going to pay a
fee." The cost of such a fee, he added at the time, would be partially
passed on to customers at the pump.

On the whole, the fact that the White House is already denying the
existence of a gas tax more than a week before the climate bill is set
to emerge may not bode well for its future (not to mention that of the still-stalled
six-year transportation legislation).

"So Much For Kerry-Graham-Lieberman Global Warming Gas Tax?" the
press office of Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) tweeted.

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Study: Clean-Car Subsidies Alone Can’t Meet White House’s Climate Goals

Government subsidies for hybrid and electric cars, while "politically seductive," will fail to achieve the Obama administration's national pollution-reduction goals if they are not coupled with a significant increase in fuel prices, according to a new study by Harvard University researchers.

The team at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs used U.S. Department of Energy economic models to evaluate six possible outcomes for Washington's newly reinvigorated push for a 17-percent cut in U.S. emissions by 2020, in keeping with President Obama's pledge at the global Copenhagen climate talks.

Five of the Harvard team's six outcomes assumed a future carbon price of $30 per ton (higher than the price envisioned in the House-passed climate bill) that rises over time, with other tweaks added to the system, including continued government tax credits for hybrid and electric vehicles, an immediate 50-cent hike in the gas tax, and more increases in auto fuel-efficiency standards.

The researchers concluded that taxpayer-funded clean-vehicle credits "are expensive and not particularly effective at reducing CO2 emissions, at least in the near term." In order to trim transportation's 30-percent contribution to total U.S. emissions, the Harvard team recommended an all-of-the-above approach:

[O]ptions now being discussed in Congress cannot by themselves achieve the significant reductions in the transportation sector needed to meet the Obama administration’s targets for total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The most effective policy for reducing CO2 emissions and oil imports from transportation is to spur the development and sale of more efficient vehicles with strict efficiency standards while increasing the cost of driving with strong fuel taxes. Without addressing both, CO2 emissions from the U.S. transportation sector will continue to grow.

Of course, higher gas taxes are as anathema to politicians as clean-car subsidies are alluring -- which is leaving green groups wary of a bipartisan Senate proposal to include a new motor-fuel fee in climate legislation. The oil industry has said it prefers a new carbon tax on fuel because companies can more easily pass on the costs to consumers, attributing the resulting gas-price hikes to congressional climate action.

From the Harvard researchers' perspective, however, expensive fuel is merely a means to an end.

"A fundamental insight from this study," they concluded, "is that if one wishes to reduce U.S. CO2 emissions or net petroleum imports from the transportation sector during 2010-2030, consumers cannot continue to drive more and more each year ... in this study, higher fuel prices are the mechanism to reduce vehicle-miles traveled."
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Texas Oil Companies Fund Measure to Repeal CA Climate Law

3_5_10_pollution.jpgAir pollution over the Inland Empire. Photo: DanDC/Flickr

(Editor's note: This is the first of two stories by Streetsblog LA Editor Damien Newton on efforts to delay implementation of California's groundbreaking climate legislation.)

In 2006, the California Legislature passed, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed, Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32), a landmark law that requires the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. 

The legislation was the first of its kind in the United States and set a precedent numerous states have followed subsequently. For transportation reformers and environmentalists, AB 32 is important legislation that could still be a "game changer" in the way California thinks about transportation.

Thanks to a coalition of pro-business Republicans and the oil industry, however, there is a strong push to place a measure on this fall’s ballot to postpone the implementation of AB 32 objectives. Critics of the climate bill cite the current economic crisis as a valid reason to delay trying to clean California’s air. Assuming opponents of AB 32 can gather a minimum of 433,971 valid signatures to qualify their measure for the November ballot, voters will be asked to vote to "delay" the implementation of AB 32 until the state unemployment level dips below 5.5%.

While former Gubernatorial candidate and current Congressman Tom McClintock and Assemblyman Dan Logue, the figureheads in the anti-AB 32 campaign, aren’t members of the oil lobby, a recent New York Times article revealed that oil giants Tesoro and Valero have funded the anti-AB 32 measure on the ballot. Neither firm will either confirm or deny their involvement.

Steven Maviglio, of Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs took exception to the idea that AB 32 is bad for the economy, saying the new ballot measure would be the culprit in damaging the bottom line, particularly in the clean technology field. "This initiative would destroy the clean energy economy," he said. "There's more than $5 billion in venture capital, 3,000 businesses and 45,000 people employed in Clean Tech. This would take a wrecking ball to the only flourishing part of the economy."

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