The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions seeks to inform the design and implementation of federal policies that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Drawing from its extensive peer-reviewed published works, in-house policy analyses, and tracking of current legislative proposals, the Center provides research, analysis, and recommendations to policymakers in Congress and the Executive Branch. Read More
What is the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR)?
The Clean Air Act requires states to reduce pollution that is carried in the atmosphere and subsequently prevents other states from maintaining healthy air pollution levels, as established thorough National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) mandated by Sec. 110 of the Act. As part of a state’s NAAQS attainment plan, it must reduce pollution that would prevent other states from meeting standards for particulate matter (PM) established in 1997 and standards for ground-level ozone set in 2006. Of course, other rules ensure that downwind states are taking steps to reduce their own emissions. A sophisticated set of models was used to determine to what extent reductions in upwind pollution would be needed to improve downwind air quality.
The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) sets new standards for controls on power plants that cause much of the oxides from nitrogen (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) (which react and become ozone and fine PM, ozone, and PM that travel downwind and across state lines. These standards come in the form of an enforceable Federal Implementation Plan (FIP), which states can elect to replace with their own State Implementation Plan (SIP). These plans will use tradable air permits to reduce emissions.
EPA expects that after implementation of CSAPR, all but two areas currently in nonattainment (Houston-Galveston, TX and Liberty-Clairton, PA), will become attainment areas for these pollutants by 2014.
Who are the covered entities?
This rule will affect 3,632 electric generating units at 1,074 coal-, gas-, and oil-fired facilities in 27 eastern states and the District of Columbia. Each state has different required emissions reduction, and for some states, the reductions requirements are only applicable during the summer ozone season. Compliance can take many forms, including using low sulfur coal, increased maintenance, or technologies such as scrubbers, dry sorbent injection, and low NOx burners.
Image Source: EPA
What is the status of regulation?
The first rule related to the downwind transportation of these pollutants was the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), promulgated in 2005 under the Bush Administration. The scope of CAIR was similar to CSAPR, but had geographic and compliance differences. A 2008 court decision found CAIR to be unlawful and vacated the rule. EPA appealed the suspension of the rule, and the court agreed, with the stipulation that CAIR would be implemented as planned, starting on January 1, 2009, until EPA created a replacement.
In turn, CSAPR was proposed on July 6, 2010 and was the subject of three public hearings and three notices of data availability. The rule was finalized one year later on July 6, 2011 based on public comment solicited on data and models. Significant changes were made between the proposed and final rules, most notably, Texas was included in the final rule.
The first phase of CSAPR compliance was to begin January 1, 2012, for SO2 and annual NOX reductions and May 1, 2012, for ozone season NOX reductions. The second phase of CSAPR begins January 1, 2014 and increases the stringency of SO2 reductions in several states.
EPA has not yet determined how changes to the ozone NAAQS or particulate matter NAAQS in 2011 or beyond will impact compliance with CSAPR.
A Congressional effort to repeal CSAPR failed on a bipartisan vote in November 2011.
On December 30, 2011, the DC Circuit Court ordered a stay of CASPR and ordered that CAIR be implemented until judicial review of CASPR was complete. On August 21, 2012, the same court ultimately vacated CSAPR and ordered that CAIR be continued to be implemented until the rule is rewritten. The Administration announced a request for a rehearing of this ruling on October 5, 2012.
Read more from EPA on the CSAPR.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established in 1970 under President Richard Nixon with the mission of protecting human health and safeguarding the natural environment - air, water and land. Accordingly, EPA is the lead agency in implementing America's landmark environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. As a result of the regulation and enforcement of these laws, health and environmental indicators in this country have dramatically improved in conjunction with new innovations in cleaner technologies and economic growth.
Today, EPA is in the process of developing or implementing regulations that will put stronger environmental controls on pollution sources such as power plants, factories, and cars. These rules respond to legal requirements of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and other environmental laws. In some cases, new requirements are part of legislatively-mandated periodic reviews of pollution control programs. Other rules are being instituted on strict timelines as a result of evolving legislative mandates and court decisions.
Some of the rules developed by EPA pertain specifically to greenhouse gases (GHGs). The most basic of these rules is the Congressionally-mandated Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule, which, since 2010, has required large facilities to collect and submit emissions data on GHGs. EPA is also responding to numerous relevant court actions, the most notable of which was Massachusetts v. EPA in 2007. As required by this Supreme Court ruling, EPA reviewed the state of scientific knowledge to determine whether GHGs contribute to climate change and therefore result in a threat to public health and welfare. The result of this review was its 2009 Endangerment Finding, in which EPA formally found that six key GHGs emitted from motor vehicles contribute to climate change, resulting in a threat to the public health and welfare. Given this Endangerment Finding, EPA was required under the Clean Air Act to regulate GHG emissions.
EPA undertook the first such regulation in the context of a wider May 2009 agreement with the auto industry, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the state of California (which was previously interested exercising its legal right to develop its own higher vehicle emissions standards), and several environmental organizations to create harmonized Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards and GHG emissions standards for car and light-duty motor vehicles from 2012-2016 at the Federal level, with California agreeing to adopt the Federal standards. EPA and DOT, working together again, finalized standards that would set emission and fuel efficiency requirements on heavy-duty vehicles in 2011. These require reductions of 7-20 percent from current emissions for vehicles manufactured from 2014-2018. In related action in the transportation sector, EPA has also been active in fulfilling Congress' 2007 mandate to update the Renewable Fuel Standards that requires gasoline and diesel fuel producers and importers to sell a certain amount of biofuels per year through 2022.
Under the Clean Air Act, once a pollutant is regulated under any part of the Act, (as was case with GHG emissions after the motor vehicle regulations were finalized in April 2010), a set of additional legal requirements are triggered for regulating the pollutant for other sources, including stationary sources, like power plants, refineries, and factories. Major new sources or modifications to existing sources become subject to the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) program and also require Title V operating permits require the use of emissions control technology. To comply with these new requirements, beginning in January 2011, the states, with EPA guidance, have been implementing New Source Review (NSR) programs that require the use of Best Available Control Technology (BACT) to reduce GHG emissions from certain large, stationary sources. This program will phase in additional large sources through 2016, according to the timeline established in EPA's Tailoring Rule.
Following a judicial settlement reached as a consequence of the Massachusetts v. EPA decision, EPA released proposed New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for GHG emissions from new power plants on March 27, 2012. It is expected to follow with proposed NSPS for GHG emissions from new and existing refineries. This standard requires facilities to reduce emissions to a certain level that is achievable using the best system of pollution control, taking other factors into consideration, like cost and is equivalent to the emissions rate in a new, highly efficient natural gas plant. Under the terms of the settlement, the NSPS for power plants was originally to be proposed by July 26, 2011 but was delayed through a negotiation between EPA and the plaintiffs. The NSPS for refineries was to be proposed on December 15, 2011 and has also been delayed. Under the court-approved settlement agreement, both the regulations are to be finalized in 2012, with the power plant NSPS due on May 26, 2012 and the refinery NSPS due on November 10, 2012.
Other forthcoming rules will affect the utility sector and, although they do not address GHG emissions directly, their implementation will affect the pollution control technologies and fuel choices of power plants in ways that will indirectly affect GHG emissions. One rule that has been finalized is the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), which requires the reduction of NOX, SO2, and particulate pollution from power plants that crosses state lines and makes it harder for downwind states to maintain healthy levels of air quality. EPA promulgated CSAPR after a court decision struck down EPA's 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) as a violation of Clean Air Act requirements, but CSAPR itself has been subject to a court-ordered stay and is undergoing judicial review.
Like the CAIR rule, the 2005 Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR) was also struck down by a court decision. The court ruled that CAMR did not abide by the legal requirements of the Clean Air Act that regulate mercury from power plants. A consent decree required EPA to establish rules on the deployment of Maximum Available Control Technology (MACT) for mercury and other hazardous air pollutants emitted from power plants (the Mercury Rule). The resulting proposed Mercury Rule was released in March 2011, and the final rule was released in December 2011.
Another significant rule that could affect the power sector in a few years would affect manufacturers and other sectors as well. EPA is required under the Clean Air Act to revise the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ozone according to the latest scientific information by 2013. (EPA had been planning to make the ozone NAAQS more stringent this year, given what the science is saying about the existing 2008 standard, but has been directed by the White House to wait until 2013.) Another regulatory effort that will have effects on all sectors is a result of a settlement agreement EPA reached with plaintiffs in a lawsuit to finalize acceptance of state regional haze plans or implementation of a federal plan by the end of 2012. These plans will improve visibility in national parks and certain other public lands by requiring pollution control retrofits on certain older facilities.
Other rules not related to the Clean Air Act are also affecting the power sector. For instance, the disposal of ash produced when coal is burned is governed by the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). EPA is considering regulating coal ash disposal for the first time under RCRA, following a massive 2008 coal ash spill in Tennessee and has solicited public comment on several regulatory options. The timeline for EPA release of a proposed standard for coal ash is the subject of litigation. In addition, the courts have remanded rules EPA proposed in 2005 and 2006 under the Clean Water Act for cooling water intake structures, an action that EPA has responded to by issuing a new proposed rule in March 2011, with a final rule expected in July 2012.
The industrial sector will also be impacted by upcoming rules. In response to litigation, EPA was required to establish rules on the use Maximum Available Control Technology for hazardous air pollutants emitted from industrial boilers (the "Boiler MACT" rule). It issued a final rule in March 2011, but then immediately ordered a reconsideration of the rule. EPA proposed modifications in December 2011 to be finalized by late April 2012. Also as the result of court orders, EPA was required to issue similar rules on hazardous air pollutant controls for the Portland cement manufacturers, and completed a final rule in September 2010. That rule also included a New Source Performance Standards and MACT rule for cement plants as required by court order.
All these regulations have been controversial, with opponents claiming that the costs imposed are harming our economy and costing jobs, and supporters arguing that the health benefits far outweigh the costs. Several Congressional bills, many of which have passed the House, have targeted these rules for delay or repeal. It is unclear, however, whether any of these bills will become law. See our Congressional section for information on current legislative action.
- Oil and Natural Gas Air Pollution Standards
- Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule
- Endangerment Finding
- Tailoring Rule
- New Source Review/Best Available Control Technology
- Greenhouse Gas Standards for New Power Plants
- Greenhouse Gas Standards for Refineries
- Federal Vehicle Standards
And other regulations:
The National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative (NEORI) released recommendations on February 28, 2012, to boost domestic oil production and reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions through the expanded use of enhanced oil recovery (EOR). NEORI is a coalition of industry, state, environmental and labor leaders convened by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and the Great Plains Institute. Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Congressman Mike Conaway (R-TX) welcomed the group’s recommendations at an event on Capitol Hill. Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT), Kent Conrad (D-ND), John Hoeven (R-ND), Richard Lugar (R-IN), and Congressmen Mike Conaway (R-TX) and Rick Berg (R-ND) released written statements of support.
- List of Participants in the Nationatl Enhanced Oil Recovery (NEORI) Initiative
- NEORI praised the introduction of bipartisan legislation to encourage American oil production using carbon dioxide. The bill adopts NEORI’s recommendations to modify the existing Section 45Q Tax Credit for Carbon Dioxide Sequestration. It was introduced Sept. 20 by Sen Kent Conrad (D-ND) with Sens. Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).
- Bloomberg editors mention NEORI recommendations in context of 2012 elections
- Eileen Claussen and Judi Greenwald have an in-depth conversation (read parts one and two) on the promise of carbon capture, utilization, and storage and CO2-EOR
- Judi Greenwald blogs from the CCUS Conference
- Judi Greenwald's Power Point presentation from the Permian Basin CCUS Forum
- Bloomberg editors endorse NEORI's production tax credit recommendations
- Press Release Announcing NEORI Recommendations
- Statements of Support from Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT), Kent Conrad (D-ND), John Hoeven (R-ND), Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Congressmen K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) and Rick Berg (R-ND)
- Statements of Support from Texas State Representative Myra Crownover, Vice-Chair, Energy Resources Committee (R) and Doug Scott, Chairman, Illinois Commerce Commission
- The Center's Judi Greenwald and Robert Baugh of AFL-CIO discuss NEORI's recommendations on E&E TV.
- Press Release Announcing the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative
- Statements of Support from Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY) and Richard Lugar (R-IN)
- Sens. Kent Conrad (D-ND), John Hoeven (R-ND), and Richard Lugar (R-IN) issue press releases on the EOR Initiative.
- The Center's Judi Greenwald and Bob Mannes of Core Energy discuss NEORI on E&E TV.
- C2ES Climate Techbook - Carbon Capture and Storage
- C2ES U.S. State Policy Map - Financial Incentives for CCS
- Greenhouse Gas Accounting Framework for Carbon Capture and Storage Projects
- Carbon Dioxide Enhanced Oil Recovery (CO2-EOR): Factors Involved in Adding Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) to Enhanced Oil Recovery
Over the past few weeks, college students have been shedding light on the future of solar energy on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Out of 19 teams from around the globe and 10 energy performance and livability contests, one overall winner emerged at the recently held U.S. Department of Energy 2011 Solar Decathlon. The winning WaterShed home design, built by students from the University of Maryland, was inspired by the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. The house included a 9.2 kilowatt rooftop solar array and prominently featured storm water management and recycling components, such as a butterfly roof and pollution filtration.
Last year, Senator James Inhofe, a staunch opponent of EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, asked the EPA’s Inspector General (IG) to investigate the agency’s endangerment finding related to climate change. The IG’s report was released earlier this week, and its first sentence reads, “EPA met statutory requirements for rulemaking and generally followed requirements and guidance related to ensuring the quality of the supporting technical information.” In his statement on the report, Senator Inhofe translated that to, “This report confirms that the endangerment finding is ….. rushed, biased, and flawed.”
With the Northeast still reeling from the impacts of Hurricane Irene, the possibility of even more flooding was almost too much to comprehend. But last week the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee stalled and sent plumes of precipitation toward the Northeast, creating a replay of the floods a few weeks earlier. This time the area along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania and New York was in the bulls-eye. Since the ground was still saturated from Irene, this new round of flooding was worse, surpassing the previous record event set in 1972 when Hurricane Agnes dropped a torrential downpour on the area.
This Q&A orginally appeared on Singapore International Energy Week's website.
Q1. The Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. Do you see an agreement on its successor during negotiations at Durban later this year? Or is an extension of the Kyoto Protocol or a move to a transitional framework a more likely outcome?
Eileen Claussen: The Kyoto Protocol has played an important role in advancing climate change efforts in some parts of the world. Most notably, the European Union established its successful Emissions Trading System and other policies in order to fulfil its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. However, because developing countries are exempt from Kyoto's emission targets and because the United States has chosen not to join, the Protocol covers just one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Japan, Canada and Russia have made clear that they will not take on new binding targets post-2012 without commensurate obligations by the United States and the major developing countries, which are not prepared for binding commitments. Hence, there appears very little prospect of new Kyoto commitments being adopted in Durban.
While our ultimate aim should be a comprehensive and binding international climate framework, we must accept that getting to binding commitments will take time. The Cancún Agreements made important progress in strengthening the existing frameworks in the areas of finance, transparency, adaptation and technology. Further incremental progress in these areas will promote near-term action and will strengthen parties' confidence in one another and in the regime, thereby building a stronger foundation for a later binding agreement. At the same time, countries must continue strengthening political will and policies domestically. In Durban, parties should make concrete progress in implementing the Cancún Agreements--for instance, by establishing the Green Climate Fund and agreeing on stronger transparency measures--while affirming their intent to work toward binding outcomes.
Q2. Global GHG emissions increased by a record amount last year. Is the goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degree Celsius just a "nice Utopia" as IEA's Dr Fatih Birol put it?
EC: Long-term goals are tricky. On the one hand, they provide a rallying point to help focus attention and orient action, and a yardstick for measuring progress. On the other hand, they are meaningful only if they can be operationalized, and if interim efforts don't appear to be on track, people may be discouraged as a result and the will to act may actually weaken. In the case of climate, a temperature goal is appealing because it is easily related in the public mind to the core issue--global warming. But as a metric, it is several steps removed from the action that is needed: Reducing emissions. From a practical standpoint, a global emissions goal might be more helpful.
Countries' pledges to date clearly do not put us on the path to meeting the 2 degree goal. While achieving the goal is not yet out of the question, it would require a dramatic acceleration of efforts around the globe. The bottom line is that we know what direction we must go. Whatever our long-term goal--indeed, whether or not we have a long-term goal--the immediate challenge is the same: Ramping up our efforts as quickly as possible.
Q3. How much of an impact will the recent nuclear power crisis in Japan have on GHG emissions reduction?
EC: It is still too early to know what impact the Fukushima disaster will have on energy choices and greenhouse gas emissions around the world. The most dramatic example is the recent decision by Germany to completely phase out nuclear power. While many in Germany believe that the gap can be filled by renewable energy and improved energy efficiency, others are deeply concerned that the country will deepen its reliance on coal, making it impossible to achieve its ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals.
Other countries must assess for themselves the implications of Fukushima for their energy futures. For those countries choosing to continue or deepen their reliance on nuclear power, the tragedy clearly offers lessons for improving safety. Given the continued growth in energy demand projected in the future, particularly in developing countries, it is difficult to imagine that we will be able to meet the world's energies needs and simultaneously meet the climate challenge without continued reliance on nuclear power. It is therefore imperative that we continue striving to enhance safety and solve the issue of long-term waste disposal.
Q4. Technology is seen as a key enabler to achieve low emissions growth. In your opinion, what are the top three technologies available today that can make the biggest impact?
EC: There are thousands of technologies available today that could make a huge impact with the right policy support, such as a price on carbon. But the problem, at least in the US today, is that it is unclear when such policy support will be forthcoming. So I will pick my top three based on the ones that need the least additional policy support to make a contribution, either because they yield multiple economic benefits beyond climate, or because they benefit from existing policy drivers.
a. Batteries in cars. Batteries can be used in vehicles in a variety of ways. While a battery-only vehicle may only be able to fill a niche market, hybrid vehicles that run on either gasoline or electricity will likely have broader appeal, and start-stop batteries, which turn off the gasoline engine while a vehicle idles, can be applied to just about any vehicle, achieving modest per-vehicle reductions that add up to significant reductions fleet wide. The combination of new US standards for fuel economy and GHG emissions and electric utility interest in selling electricity can drive battery costs down. The potential emission reductions are enormous, but they depend on cleaning up the electricity grid.
b. Information technology. IT can enable dramatic GHG reductions, for example through energy efficiency (e.g. smart buildings that turn on lights and HVAC when they're needed and turn them off when they're not), substituting videoconferencing for travel, and using wireless communication to optimize transportation routing for people and goods. Convenience and time savings are such powerful drivers of IT that it needs little incremental policy support.
c. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) using CO2. CCS is technically available, and potentially a game changer, enabling us to continue to use fossil fuels but with very low CO2 emissions. CO2-EOR is already economic using naturally occurring CO2, and is close to economic using captured CO2. With very little policy support, EOR using captured CO2 could yield some near-term emission reductions while driving CCS costs down, thereby enabling enormous emission reductions in the future.
Q5. Energy efficiency has long been touted as the lowest hanging fruit to address the energy and climate change challenges. Many Asian countries have announced ambitious targets to cut their energy and carbon intensities. For example, as part of its 12th Five-Year Plan, China has indicated that it aims to cut energy intensity by 16 percent and carbon intensity by 17 percent in the next five years. Do you think Asian countries are doing enough? What more can they undertake to help combat climate change?
EC: Efficiency improvements that generate more economic output with less energy input are important for a variety of reasons, including energy supply security, pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction, and improvement of livelihoods. Countries such as Korea, China and India have taken significant measures to improve efficiency, with the result that the energy intensity of their economies has been lowering over the past decade.
Many energy efficiency measures are classified as "low hanging fruit," meaning the energy savings and other benefits they produce far outweigh the cost of investing in them. Asian countries are currently focusing on exploiting these low hanging fruit, notably in the industrial and power sectors, as well as in appliances and equipment, and large commercial and public buildings. Eventually, achieving additional energy savings will require more expensive investments, and targeting more difficult sectors, such as small and medium enterprises and households.
Asian governments will need to adjust policy tools to meet these new challenges. Policy certainty and appropriate price signals are important to ensure the efficiency improvement potentials of current investments are maximised. One way of providing these is through cap-and-trade type systems, such as those being considered or developed in China, India and Korea. This will also require the phase-out of subsidies that artificially decrease energy prices and encourage consumption rather than conservation. Though progress is slow, several Asian countries have taken or are taking steps in this direction as well.
Limiting the growth of or reducing energy consumption is, of course, essential. However, shifting to less carbon-intensive sources of energy is equally important in the medium to long term. As such, many Asian countries should also be commended for investing in developing less GHG-intensive energy sources.
The Pew Center's September 2011 newsletter highlights a new intiative focused on expanding carbon dioxide enhanced oil recovery, a new brief on international climate assistance, the lessons we can learn from Hurrican Irene, and more.
Researchers must make a stronger case for funding in the face of a perfect storm of budget cuts and eroding political support, says Jay Gulledge.
This op-ed appears in Nature magazine.
By Jay Gulledge
The current U.S. debt crisis sets the stage for a potential tipping point in federal science spending. The ideology that government-sponsored science is crucial to the well-being of society has eroded along with the cold-war security agenda, which embraced and fortified science for decades. Meanwhile, science has been pulled repeatedly into political clashes on cultural issues. Against this backdrop, the global economic crisis portends a decade-long reduction in federal budgets. To avoid a permanent retraction of government support for research, the science community must be more strategic and aggressive in conveying the value of its work to society and in gaining robust support from politicians.
US federal science spending has long been rooted in the national security agenda. The National Science Foundation (NSF) was established shortly after the Second World War “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense”. NASA was established less than 10 months after the Soviets launched Sputnik 1 in 1957, in a frenzied response to the Soviets’ early lead in developing ballistic missiles. Through the decades of the cold war, support for science straddled party lines.
But, after the fall of the Berlin wall, the United States stood as the sole great power and shifted its strategic emphasis from establishing scientific superiority to cultivating democratic movements in the developing world. The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks reinforced this shift: security analysts believed that Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the main US enemies, would be defeated by winning hearts and minds, not by building a better mouse trap.
The erosion of the cold-war security doctrine therefore removed the bipartisan backstop to science funding. The quest for economic competitiveness might reasonably have replaced it, but has not done so. For example, the America COMPETES Act, passed in 2007 and reauthorized in 2010 by Democrat-run Congresses, planned to expand the NSF’s budget from US$6.6 billion in 2008 to $8.1 billion in 2010, but appropriators froze NSF budgets in response to the economic crisis. The current Republican-led House of Representatives is unlikely to support the increase of science budgets. Representative Ralph Hall (Republican, Texas), the recently installed chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, has said that the America COMPETES Act is “just too heavily drowned in money”.
Add to this the ‘culture wars’ that have gripped the United States for some time. They split the nation into two camps along divisive issues such as abortion, gun control and gay rights. In recent decades, some of the most contentious issues have put science in the crossfire, from evolution to tobacco health effects, stem-cell research and most recently my own area of expertise — climate change. This year, an informal survey of US Earth-science teachers found that climate change was second only to evolution in evoking protests from parents and school administrators (S. Reardon Science 333, 688–689; 2011).
These divisions threaten science budgets. Hall has expressed doubts about the scientific evidence for human-induced climate change and recently sponsored an amendment to the 2011 spending bill to stop the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from spending money to set up a national climate service; the bill passed with support from 227 Republicans and 6 Democrats.
In the midst of all this, the debt-ceiling deal — formally the Budget Control Act of 2011 — has the potential to administer a massive shock to science budgets. The law requires non-defence discretionary spending (which includes science funding) to be cut by $917 billion over the next ten years, an average of 15 percent per year. On top of this, an automatic trigger will reduce spending on defence and on social entitlements — the sacred cows of Republicans and Democrats, respectively, if by the end of the year Congress cannot agree on ways to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next decade. The two parties will therefore be strongly motivated to cut non-defence discretionary budgets as much as possible.
Whether future Congresses will soften the impact of the debt-ceiling deal depends on the pace of economic recovery, the evolution of the culture wars, and the public’s perception of the return on taxpayer investment in research. The scientific community can directly influence the last of these, but it needs a coherent strategy to do so. Like industry, it needs to document its net value to society and flaunt it. Unfortunately, through decades of cold-war complacency, the scientific community has developed a culture that runs counter to doing this.
An institution representing the U.S. science community is needed to undertake a broad, ongoing, quantitative assessment of the overall contribution of science to society and the economy and communicate these effects to the public and politicians through the media and other channels. As ever, the contribution to national security is a good place to start. Neutralizing today’s threats — terrorism, biological and chemical weapons, nuclear proliferation, and cyberwarfare — is an intensely scientific undertaking. Social sciences are needed to tackle joblessness, food and energy insecurity, financial disruptions and climate-change-induced destabilization of developing countries. Economic development, cost savings through innovation and efficiency enhancement, environmental quality, mental health and happiness are all affected by scientific research and development.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science is the traditional home for such cross-cutting efforts, and its work is laudable. But the ongoing public misunderstanding of science shows that the established approaches are inadequate.
There are signs of new ways of thinking. In March, the American Geophysical Union hosted a gathering of the presidents and top administrators of 17 US scientific societies and research consortia, from a broad spectrum of fields, to discuss how they might cooperate to improve public understanding of climate science — a unique and remarkable effort that should be expanded.
At the same time, science institutions need to enhance their value to society by incorporating socioeconomic benefits into their missions. Although some branches of academies already embrace this role to some extent — medical, law and engineering schools, for example — basic-science and social-science schools traditionally eschew it. In part this is because the production of social benefits is scantily rewarded. In the words of Anthony Janetos, director of the Joint Global Change Research Institute at the University of Maryland in College Park, at a 2009 meeting of the Center for a New American Security in Washington DC: “Nobody asks me, ‘How many policy decisions did your work inform?’ Instead they ask, ‘How many papers did you publish and how much grant money did you raise for the institute?’” Both should matter.
Peer-reviewed publications, research grants, and professional impact should remain the core metrics of success in academia. But the remit should be broadened so that recognized publications include assessment reports and science-based articles in public-policy, interdisciplinary, and business journals. Recognized grants should include those from mission-oriented agencies, foundations, and non-governmental organizations. And recognized impact must include influence on government, business, and civil-society decision makers.
The drive for international superiority during the cold war passively nourished a wide spectrum of sciences, the true value of which manifested in an array of benefits outside defence. In today’s chillier strategic and political climate, the scientific community must work hard to enhance and advertise those benefits. Those in academia who worry about the erosion of curiosity-driven science should have a greater fear: the erosion of science in general.
Jay Gulledge is the Senior Scientist and Director of the Science and Impacts Program at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, and a Non-resident Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
This op-ed appeared in CQ Researcher.
By Jay Gulledge
The risk of extreme weather is rising because of climate change. In the United States, long-term trends show an increasing number of heat waves and heavy downpours and longer, more destructive droughts and wildfires. Climate models simulate these same trends when scientists examine the effects of increases in global warming’s main ingredient – greenhouse gases.
Risk is the best way to understand the link between climate change and extreme weather. Just as smoking and high cholesterol are risk factors for heart disease, natural cycles and global warming are risk factors for extreme weather. This year’s weather impacts have been particularly severe because multiple risk factors are aligned: A long, intense La Nina – a temporary cool period in the equatorial Pacific Ocean that is associated with extreme temperatures, droughts, and flooding in other parts of the world – is occurring at the same time we are experiencing the warmest decade in at least 130 years. The big difference between these risk factors is that natural cycles come and go, whereas global warming increases over time as atmospheric greenhouse gases grow, constantly adding more weather risk to the climate system.
Escalating weather impacts are cutting deeply into the economy. The world’s largest re-insurance company says the number of weather- and climate-related disasters worldwide more than doubled over the past 30 years. Economic losses attributable to weather variability run $485 billion annually. Several multi-billion-dollar events have occurred this year, including Texas’ worst single-year drought, the Mississippi floods, and Hurricane Irene, which is expected to rank among the ten costliest hurricanes in U.S. history. As the weather becomes more volatile, economic risk will continue to grow.
As recent weather events teach us more and more about our vulnerabilities, the taxpayer-funded National Flood Insurance Program is already $18 billion in debt. Because most of the damage from Hurricane Irene is not privately insured, this financially-strapped program is under pressure once again. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is running out of money to respond to disasters, even as Congress bickers over how to refill the coffers.
Flood insurance is the federal government’s second-largest fiscal liability after social security. Ignoring rising climate risk will only allow these hidden costs to suck up more taxpayer money. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to changes already under way bends down the risk curve, just as exercise and medical insurance lower health risks. If we don’t take these steps, our children and grandchildren will inherit a more dangerous and costlier climate.
Jay Gulledge is the Senior Scientist and Director of the Science and Impacts Program at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.