Energy, Climate Programs Affected by Federal Government Shutdown

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Washington braced for a prolonged shutdown, the first in 17 years, this week after members of Congress failed to pass a budget. The closure has affected the workforce of many climate and energy programs.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for one, lost more than 90 percent of its employees, disrupting monitoring of air and water quality as well as potentially setting back efforts to advance the president’s climate plan. Only those dealing with events that would “imminently threaten the safety of human life or the protection of property” remain on duty. This could, as the National Law Review notes, affect the rule promulgation process for the EPA’s proposed standards for new power plants, released last month.

The Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Department of Energy will lose a chunk of their workforce, which could directly impact America’s capacity to drive global energy innovation the Christian Science Monitor suggests.

Other programs, such as the National Weather Service will continue operation. The shutdown would affect how employees carry out their work.

“We are restricted to ‘mission critical’ duties,” a National Weather Service meteorologist told Climate Central. “We aren’t allowed to engage the public in outreach activities (such as spotter talks or school talks), and we’re supposed to only include forecast-critical information on Facebook and Twitter accounts. Only emergency equipment maintenance is allowed, which means that routine maintenance is not. This will hamstring us in the future, either when the shutdown is lifted and the rush of delayed work hits or when equipment breaks because it is not being maintained properly.”

Wind Tax Credit under Debate

Meanwhile, lawmakers are divided over the extension of a wind tax credit. The credit is set to expire at the end of this year unless Congress votes to renew the 2.3 cent per kilowatt-hour credit. Without renewal, the incentive would be limited to energy projects that start construction before Dec. 31. The credit was extended at the beginning of 2013 as part of a deal to avoid sending the country over the fiscal cliff.

A congressional analysis suggested extending the tax credit for new wind farms for just one year would cost $6.1 billion over the next decade. Rob Gramlich, senior vice president for policy at the American Wind Energy Association, told the House Energy Policy, Health Care and Entitlements Subcommittee Wednesday that the credit would help diversify the country’s energy portfolio while driving down energy costs.

“This tax credit … drives over $20 billion of private investment annually and brings electricity to 15 million American homes,” said Gramlich. “Allowing it to expire … will move us away from further diversification of our energy portfolio, take away opportunities for consumers to save money, dampen domestic manufacturing and innovation and cause companies to hold off on investing in communities across America.”

IPCC Report Points Finger at Human Activity

At a meeting in Stockholm last week, a panel of the world’s leading climate scientists asserted that “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause” of global warming since 1950 and for the first time identified a carbon emissions ceiling for avoiding climate change’s worst effects.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), at the meeting, released a summary of its fifth assessment report stating, with at least 95 percent certainty, that people are responsible for warming oceans, melting ice and rising sea levels observed since the mid-twentieth century. The report authors warned that the carbon ceiling—the 2 degree Celsius target—when carbon dioxide emissions reach 1 trillion tons. This is likely to be broken in a matter of decades unless emissions reductions begin soon. They predict average temperatures would rise 2.6 to 4.8 degrees Celsius higher than today between 2080 and 2100, if carbon emissions continue unchecked.

Reactions to the report have been critical charging both best- and worst-case estimates of global warming are too conservative or that the models on which it is based are faulty. Others called it a “wake-up call” to governments and society about the role of humans in global warming and break down modeling projections contained in the study.

The report does directly address one issue raised by climate change skeptics: the slow-down in global temperature rise since 1998. While acknowledging this pause, the authors conclude that 15 years is not a long enough timescale to draw firm conclusions about it. According to the report, such short periods are influenced by natural variability and generally do not reflect long-term climate trends.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.