Saturday, November 14, 2009

It might be a long winter for coastal homeowners

I am in West Virginia for a conference and have been watching storm footage from the Mid-Atlantic and Chesapeake Bay this week. This video from Nag's Head North Carolina shows that we should pay attention to Nor'Easters just as much as hurricanes. Extra-tropical storms often last for several days and occur over several tidal cycles, allowing waves to chew away at the coast as storm surge penetrates further inland. Hurricanes are few and far between in New England, but extra-tropical lows are a yearly occurance. We tend to think first of the destructive power of hurricanes which have often accelerated and have weakened by the time they reach us. This power is concentrated, but occurs over hours rather than days.

The Mid-Atlantic coast is now facing a winter with no sand reserve on their beaches to buffer further winter storm damage. What little sand has accumulated over the summer or has been replaced through nourishment is largely gone. Rows of houses have been lost, and the season has just begun. Millions of dollars of renourished sand has gone offshore (some of which will return with time). Estuaries, such as the Chesapeake and Narragansett Bay funnel wind driven water into their upper watersheds causing erosion of salt marsh and floodplains - problems not only for ocean facing beaches, but for rivers and coves as well.

Rhode Island needs to position itself to withstand prolonged winter storm events. Our work to protect and restore salt marsh and coastal buffers is incredibly important. We are also developing a living shorelines policy for Rhode Island to create buffers where shorelines have already been structurally hardened. We need room to retreat, but we also need to soften our edges. Look for more soon about our new program and read about living shorelines on this NOAA web page, and on this page from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Negotiating over climate gets increasingly desperate

Here is a very brief update from the saga of climate change politics over the last two days.
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel speakes to a joint session of Congress and pleads for action on climate change to silence from Republicans and cheers from Democrats.
  • EU leaders including the British Prime Minister call on the US to contribute to an aid fund for developing nations to adapt to climate change.
  • European Commission President meets with President Obama to ask for US action before Copenhagen - which will be a "defining moment" for world leaders.
  • At climate talks in Spain, a coalition of African nations boycotts talks until developed nations agree to significant cuts in carbon emissions.
  • In the US, Senate Republicans boycott the Environment and Public Works Committee mark-up session - threatening to walk out until the EPA gives them more economic analysis.
  • Senate Republicans are still absent from the EPW committee, delaying a final committee vote. The Senate Majority leader has pledged to do a full economic summary of the bill when it is ready for the Senate floor, but this has not and will not move Republican leaders.
  • The bill will not reach the Senate floor for several months and definitely not before December 7th (the start of international negotiations).
  • Africans have rejoined the conversation in Spain after assurances that developing nations would negotiate on carbon emissions.
  • Senators Kerry and Graham are meeting with Obama officials to get their position on nuclear energy - and may be ready to compromise with the nuclear and oil industries.
Where is the US, and will Obama go to Copenhagen? Sources say he will go, but may not agree to firm targets without the backing of Congress.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Legislative wrap up and update

RI General Assembly Wraps up its Session
The Rhode Island legislature finished up its business last week and passed several important environmental bills in the process. Congratulations must go out to all involved with the Coalition for Water Security which wrapped up four years of work on a comprehensive water management bill for Rhode Island, the Water Use and Efficiency Act. This bill will go a long way in supporting water conservation and efficiency, and will help water suppliers preserve their rate structures while conserving resources.

Rhode Island will now also have a salt water fishing license, a new federal requirement. The fees collected from the seven dollar license will be used for fisheries conservation, monitoring and public fishing access. The license program will aid the federal government in their monitoring work and will allow for easier data collection on recreational fishing.

The Green Buildings Act also passed the General Assembly. It will require the Department of Administration to create regulations that establish policies for a green building standard using either the US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, or similar standards. All new public buildings over 5,000 square feet will be required to be built to a green standard.

During the regular session, we scored another victory for the environment with the passage of the polluter fines bill which raises daily fines for polluters from 1 thousand to 25 thousand dollars a day. We will now look forward to the next session in January. Some issues that we know will come up again next year include CRMC reform and the Energy Independence and Climate Solutions Act. Read more on our Legislative Agenda page.

US Senate Climate Change Bill Markup
Today is the final day of markup for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to work on the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, the Senate version of a climate bill. This bill will then go to other Senate committees which will make their own changes. The bill has given rise to all the partisan politics and political bickering one could ever want to see. This morning, the Republicans on the committee have boycotted the markup session because they want to see more EPA economic analysis of the bill, even though the EPA spent 5 weeks reviewing over 300,000 pages of documentation about this bill and the House's Waxman Markey legislation.

In response to the Republican delay tactics of this morning, the Senate majority leader has pledged to have the EPA do another 5 weeks of analysis on the final bill when he marries all the versions from various committees into one piece of legislation that would go to the Senate floor. This will delay full Senate debate by at least seven weeks or more, which will most likely put a Senate vote after the first of the year, after an international climate treaty has been negotiated in Denmark. This will put much more pressure on the United States delegation to make concessions and pledge emissions cuts. The European Union pledged support to developing countries during recent meetings in Spain, so the United States will really need to step up during negotiations.