Provisions in the Waxman-Markey draft bill get us closer to ensuring climate policy is science-based


The Waxman-Markey discussion draft climate bill includes a provision calling on the National Academy of Sciences to perform periodic studies of emerging and projected climate change impacts to determine whether or not greenhouse gas emissions-reduction targets need to be adjusted.  While it is essential that climate change policies be based on good science, these provisions take much of what is, or should be, taking place under the Climate Change Science Program and to a lesser extent the Climate Change Technology Program and hand them over to the National Academy of Sciences.  Revitalizing and reforming these two programs would go a long way toward meeting the laudable goals and objectives outlined in the draft bill. 

post by Anne Polansky

We commend the House Energy and Commerce Committee under its new leadership with Rep. Henry Waxman as chairman for placing a high priority on the need for new climate change legislation.  Many of the ideas and provisions in the 684-page Waxman-Markey discussion draft indicate a sophisticated understanding by the Committee Members and staff of the issues we face.

In two previous posts, we summarized and commented on the adaptation provisions in Subtitle E of Title IV of the Waxman-Markey discussion draft.  Here we discuss a different section of the bill, establishing a mechanism for helping to ensure that targets and timetables for national and international greenhouse gas reductions are in line with current scientific findings. 

For the convenience of our readers, we have reprinted the relevant sections of the Waxman-Markey discussion draft at the end of this post.

Our main comment on these provisions is that they are over-reliant on the National Academy of Sciences, and under-reliant on federal programs already in place that, if revitalized and reformed, could accomplish much of what is called for in this draft version of the bill. 

The National Academy of Science (NAS), primarily through its National Research Council (NRC), has produced a number of highly useful, credible reports on various topics relating to global climate change.  Two recently published reports stand out as being particularly exceptional in terms of offering useful information and recommendations regarding the directions we need to go in to ensure that we produce credible, authoritative scientific knowledge about Earth’s climate system that is useful, usable, timely and relevant to decisionmakers. 

Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate  (see our recent post)

Restructuring Federal Climate Research to Meet the Challenges of Climate Change

The Academy has also recently launched a two-year, comprehensive study called “America’s Climate Choices”—see our recent post:  What do we need from the National Academy of Sciences “America’s Climate Choices” study?.  It will explore four main areas relating to mitigation, adaptation, climate science, and decision support. The Academy is soliciting input on the scope and topics to be covered by four expert panels:  it is quite conceivable that some of the requirements in these sections of the bill requiring estimates of GHG emissions trends and associated average global temperature changes and impacts, and GHG-reducing technology assessments, could be addressed in this report, also requested by Congress. 

More importantly, however, most of the requirements in Sec. 705, particularly in subsection (c) (see bill language below), are currently under the purview of the US Global Change Research Program codified by the Global Change Research Act (GCRA) of 1990, renamed the “Climate Change Science Program” by the Bush administration.  We refer in particular to the requirement in the GCRA for a national assessment of climate change impacts every four years.  Moreover, this bill, in Subtitle E of Part IV, creates a new requirement for impacts assessments with quadrennial reports required, with the difference that NOAA would lead these interagency assessments instead of the interagency structure currently in place under the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  (We question whether a NOAA-led comprehensive climate change impacts assessment is the appropriate approach; see our specific comments on this section). 

Other congressional committees—e.g. the House Science and Technology Committee, and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee—are currently drafting legislation that would amend the GCRA to revitalize and reform the USGCRP/CCSP to help ensure that this interagency program, in existence now for 20 years, meets our current needs for information and decision support as we navigate the difficult terrain that climate disruption will increasingly impose on society and the environment.  We would prefer to see this program take on the brunt of the tasks being assigned to the National Academy of Sciences in this bill, and give the Academy an oversight role, as is currently in place.  The two reports referred to above are excellent examples of the Academy’s high caliber capabilities and products; if the advice in these two reports were heeded and put into practice, our federal programs would be in much better shape to deliver the support we need going forward in a climate-disrupted world.  Are Energy and Commerce Committee staff meeting and talking with their counterparts in these other committees?  Given that this bill, as written, would likely be referred to multiple committees in the House, including the Science Committee, some early coordination might help to iron out disparities among these draft bills and allow for a more orchestrated, fully informed approach. 

We will be tracking the progress being made in all of the various congressional committees considering new legislation pertinent to our overall preparedness for climate change, and continuing to offer our ideas and suggestions for making the most of the taxpayer dollars going towards these most essential federal programs. 

Below are the sections of the Waxman-Markey discussion draft relevant to this post:

Table of Contents (sections in bold are reprinted below):

Sec. 301. Short title.
Subtitle A—Reducing Global Warming Pollution
Sec. 311. Reducing global warming pollution.
‘‘Sec. 701. Findings and purpose.
‘‘Sec. 702. Economy-wide reduction goals.
‘‘Sec. 703. Reduction targets for specified sources.
  Sec. 704. Supplemental pollution reductions.
‘‘Sec. 705. Scientific review.
‘‘Sec. 706. Presidential response and recommendations.

Sec. 702 of the draft bill establishes targets and timetables for GHG emissions reductions:


‘‘The purpose of this title and title VIII of this Act is to reduce steadily the quantity of United States green-house gas emissions such that—

‘‘(1) in 2012, the quantity of United States greenhouse gas emissions does not exceed 97 percent of the quantity of United States greenhouse gas emissions in 2005;
‘‘(2) in 2020, the quantity of United States greenhouse gas emissions does not exceed 80 percent of the quantity of United States greenhouse gas emissions in 2005;
‘‘(3) in 2030, the quantity of United States greenhouse gas emissions does not exceed 58 percent of the quantity of United States greenhouse gas emissions in 2005; and
‘‘(4) in 2050, the quantity of United States greenhouse gas emissions does not exceed 17 percent of the quantity of United States greenhouse gas emissions in 2005.


‘‘(a) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this title, the Administrator shall offer to enter into a contract with the National Academy of Sciences (in this section referred to as the ‘Academy’) under which the Academy shall, not later than July 1, 2012, and every 4 years thereafter, submit to Congress and the Administrator a report that includes—
‘‘(1) an analysis of the latest scientific information and data relevant to global climate change;
‘‘(2) an analysis of the technological feasibility of achieving additional reductions in greenhouse gas emissions; and
‘‘(3) an analysis of the status of worldwide greenhouse gas reduction efforts, including implementation of Safe Climate Act and other policies, both domestic and international, for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, preventing dangerous atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, preventing a dangerous increase in global average temperature and reducing vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.

‘‘(b) EXCEPTION.—Paragraphs (2) and (3) of subsection (a) shall not apply to the first report submitted under subsection (a).

‘‘(c) LATEST SCIENTIFIC INFORMATION.—The analysis required under subsection (a)(1) shall—

‘‘(1) address existing scientific information and reports, including the most recent assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, greenhouse gas emissions trends identified by the Energy Information Agency, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, data from the Climate Change Science Program, data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, data from the Environmental Protection Agency including the Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory, and the European Union’s global temperature data assessment; and

‘‘(2) include a description of trends and projections for—

‘‘(A) global and country-specific annual emissions of greenhouse gases, and cumulative emissions produced between 1850 and the present, including—
  ‘‘(i) global cumulative emissions of anthropogenic greenhouse gases;
  ‘‘(ii) global annual emissions of anthropogenic greenhouse gases; and
  ‘‘(iii) by country, annual and cumulative anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases for the top 50 emitting nations;
  ‘‘(B) significant changes, both globally and by country, in annual nonanthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions including any accelerated and large scale releases of greenhouse gases from natural sources, such as from melting permafrost, large scale natural forest decline, or a decline in greenhouse gas absorption by the oceans;

  ‘‘(C) global atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, expressed in annual concentration units as well as carbon dioxide equivalents based on 100-year global warming potentials;

  ‘‘(D) major climate forcing factors, such as aerosols;

  ‘‘(E) global average temperature, expressed as seasonal and annual averages in land, ocean, and land-plus-ocean averages; and

  ‘‘(F) sea level rise;

‘‘(3) describe increased risks to natural systems and society that would result from an increase in global average temperature 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above the pre-industrial average, as well as any other temperature thresholds the Academy deems appropriate;

‘‘(4) assess the impacts of global climate change on—

  ‘‘(A) human populations, including impacts on public health, economic livelihoods, and human infrastructure, and displacement due to flooding;

  ‘‘(B) freshwater systems, including water resources for human consumption and agriculture and natural and managed ecosystems,flood and drought risks, and relative humidity;

  ‘‘(C) the carbon cycle, including impacts related to the thawing of permafrost and terrestrial and ocean carbon sinks;

    ‘‘(D) species, including impacts on species abundance, phenology, and distribution;

    ‘‘(E) oceans and ocean ecosystems, including effects on sea level rise, ocean acidity, ocean temperatures, the health of coral reefs, freshwater influx on ocean circulation, and other indicators of ocean ecosystem health;

  ‘‘(F) the cryosphere, including effects on ice sheet mass balance, mountain glacier mass balance, and sea-ice extent and volume;

  ‘‘(G) extreme weather events, including effects on intense precipitation, tropical cyclones, and severe heat waves;

  ‘‘(H) agriculture and forest systems, including effects on potential growing season, distribution, and yield; and

  ‘‘(I) any other indicators the Academy deems appropriate; and

‘‘(5) in assessing risks and impacts, use a risk management framework, including both qualitative and quantitative measures, to assess the observed and projected impacts of current and future climate change, accounting for—

  ‘‘(A) both monetized and non-monetized losses;

  ‘‘(B) potential nonlinear, abrupt, or essentially irreversible changes in the climate system;

  ‘‘(C) potential nonlinear increases in the cost of impacts;

  ‘‘(D) potential low-probability, high impact events; and

  ‘‘(E) whether impacts are transitory or essentially permanent.

‘‘(d) TECHNOLOGICAL INFORMATION.—The analysis required under subsection (a)(2) shall—
  ‘‘(1) address existing technological information and reports, including the most recent reports by the Department of Energy and the International Energy Agency;
  ‘‘(2) assess the current and future projected deployment of technologies and practices in the United States that reduce or limit greenhouse gas emissions, including—
  ‘‘(A) technologies for capture and sequestration of greenhouse gases;
  ‘‘(B) technologies to improve energy efficiency;
  ‘‘(C) low or zero-greenhouse gas emitting energy technologies;
  ‘‘(D) low or zero-greenhouse gas emitting fuels;
  ‘‘(E) biological sequestration practices and technologies; and
  ‘‘(F) any other technologies the Academy deems relevant; and

‘‘(3) assess and compare the emissions reduction potential, commercial viability, market penetration, and deployment of the technologies described in paragraph (2), including—
  ‘‘(A) an assessment of the need for additional research and development, including publicly funded research and development;
  ‘‘(B) an assessment of the state of commercial deployment, including, where appropriate, a comparison to the cost and level of deployment of conventional fossil fuel-fired energy technologies and devices; and
  ‘‘(C) an assessment of the existence of any substantial technological, legal, or market-based barriers to commercial deployment.

‘‘(e) STATUS OF GREENHOUSE GAS REDUCTION EFFORTS.—The analysis required under subsection (a)(3) shall address—
‘‘(1) whether the programs under Safe Climate Act and other Federal statutes are driving sufficient United States greenhouse gas emissions reductions to meet the emissions reduction targets in section 702; and
‘‘(2) whether United States actions, in concert with international action, are sufficient to avoid—
  ‘‘(A) atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations above 450 parts per million carbon dioxide equivalent; and
  ‘‘(B) global average surface temperature 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius)  above the pre-industrial average, or such other temperature thresholds as the Academy deems appropriate.

Based on the analysis described in subsection (a)(1), the Academy shall identify actions that could be taken to better—
‘‘(A) characterize changes in the earth-climate system and impacts of global climate change;
‘‘(B) inform decision making and actions related to global climate change;
‘‘(C) mitigate risks to natural and social systems; and
‘‘(D) design policies to better account for climate risks.
‘‘(2) TECHNOLOGICAL INFORMATION.—Based on the analysis described in subsection (a)(2), the Academy shall identify—
  ‘‘(A) additional emissions reductions that may be possible as a result of technologies described in the analysis;
  ‘‘(B) barriers to the deployment of such technologies; and
  ‘‘(C) actions that could be taken to speed deployment of such technologies.

‘‘(3) STATUS OF GREENHOUSE GAS REDUCTION EFFORTS.—Based on the analysis described in subsection (a)(3), the Academy shall identify—
  ‘‘(A) the quantity of additional reductions required to meet the emissions reduction tar global greenhouse gas emissions needed to avoid the identified concentration and temperature thresholds.

‘‘(g) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS.—There are authorized to be appropriated to carry out this section
such sums as may be necessary.


‘‘Not later than July 1, 2017, and every 4 years thereafter
‘‘(1) the President shall direct relevant Federal agencies to use existing statutory authority to take appropriate actions identified in the report submitted under section 705 by the National Academy
of Sciences in the previous year and to address any shortfalls identified in such report; and
‘‘(2) in the event that the National Academy of Sciences has concluded, in the most recent report submitted under section 705, that the United States will not achieve the necessary domestic greenhouse gas emissions reductions, or that global actions will not maintain safe global average surface temperature and atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration thresholds, the President shall submit to Congress plan identifying domestic and international actions that will achieve necessary additional greenhouse gas reductions, including any recommendations for legislative action.

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