How Climate Change Is Impacting the Arctic

Posted by Laura Sanders Thu, 01 Oct 2009 13:00:00 GMT

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and Clean Air-Cool Planet, in conjunction with the Royal Norwegian Embassy, invite you to a breakfast briefing to learn about the climate change impacts seen today in the Arctic. Climate change continues to grow as an issue of global concern, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a top priority for the Obama administration. Major international climate negotiations will take place in Copenhagen in December and a debate on comprehensive climate legislation is anticipated in the U.S. Senate this fall. These policy discussions come against a backdrop of rapid and continuing warming of climate in the Arctic as reflected by the shrinkage of the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice, and melting of glaciers and permafrost. At this briefing, top scientists from Norway and the United States will discuss the latest research in this vulnerable region and its implications. Speakers for this event include:

  • Nalan Koc, Director, Center for Ice, Climate and Ecosystems (ICE), Norwegian Polar Institute
  • Eugenie Euskirchen, Research Assistant Professor, Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks
  • Bob Corell, Chair, The Climate Action Initiative; Senior Advisor, Global Environment & Technology Foundation (GETF)

If current greenhouse gas emission trends continue, impacts are expected to become even more visible and intense. Reductions in carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases should serve as the backbone of the global effort to avoid the vast consequences of an even warmer world.

This briefing is free and open to the public. Breakfast will be served. No RSVP required. For more information, contact Laura Parsons at (202) 662-1884 or [email protected].

WonkLine: April 28, 2009

Posted by Wonk Room Tue, 28 Apr 2009 15:01:00 GMT

From the Wonk Room.

Although Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made it clear he “likes coal,” the Interior Department “said on Monday it will try to overturn a Bush administration rule that made it easier for coal mining companies to dump mountaintop debris into valley streams.”

As Arctic carbon dioxide levels are growing at an “unprecedented rate,” an “area of an Antarctic ice shelf almost the size of New York City has broken into icebergs this month.”

Speaking about the Waxman-Markey clean energy bill, Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) called for free pollution permits to petroleum refiners and Rep. G. K. Butterfield called for free pollution permits to electric distribution companies. These companies have given more than $375,000 to energy committee members in the first three months of 2009.

Greenland's Shrinking Ice Sheet: Images, Measurements, and Implications

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 09 Sep 2008 16:00:00 GMT

Many of the consequences of climate change such as warmer winters and shifting rainfall patterns are becoming increasingly apparent here in the United States, but it is in remote reaches of the planet that some of the most rapid and potentially catastrophic changes are occurring. Millions of cubic kilometers of water are locked up in Greenland’s ice sheet, and the data indicate that it is melting at an unexpectedly rapid rate. Substantial melting of Greenland’s glaciers would cause significant sea level rise, affecting the cities and populations that are concentrated near the coast. This briefing will highlight efforts to study changes in the Greenland ice sheet, capture both its beauty and demise and explore the consequences for U.S. citizens as well as people around the globe.

  • Brendan Kelly, Arctic Natural Sciences Program, National Science Foundation
  • James Balog, Extreme Ice Survey
  • Robert Bindschadler, Goddard Space Flight Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • Konrad Steffen, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado at Boulder
  • James E. Neumann, Industrial Economics, Incorporated

Limited Space Available

RSVP by Wednesday, September 3 to [email protected] or 202/872-4556. Please provide name, affiliation, phone number, and e-mail address.

Chukchi Lease Sale Goes Forward; Still No Polar Bear Decision from FWS

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 06 Feb 2008 16:46:00 GMT

Despite opposition from environmental organizations and Democrats in Congress, the Minerals Management Service is proceeding with its scheduled sale of offshore drilling leases in the Chukchi Sea at 9 AM Alaska time (1 PM EST). FWS chief Dale Hall failed to make the February 6 deadline despite his testimony to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last week that he was “pushing to get there.”

A Los Angeles Times op-ed penned last weekend by MMS director Randall Luthi, The Bear Necessities, defends the lease sale, claiming that “under the Marine Mammals Protection Act, the bear currently receives regulatory protections even stricter than those available under the Endangered Species Act.” This statement ignores the critical habitat provisions of the ESA which could prevent such actions as the lease sale.

Last week MMS officials sent a cease-and-desist order to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, who earlier published “a series of internal e-mails from current and former Interior scientists raising troubling questions about how badly environmental assessments of Arctic offshore oil development were skewed.”

The Alaska Wilderness League plans to live-blog the sale.

Update The sale has been completed, the 488 blocks selling for a total of over $2.6 billion.

Estimated reserves include 77 trillion cubic feet of conventionally recoverable natural gas (worth about $635 billion at $8/MMBtU) and 15 billion barrels of oil ($1.5 trillion at $100/barrel).

The winning bidders:
  • Shell (Netherlands, $2.1 billion)
  • ConocoPhilips (US, $506 million)
  • Repsol (Spain, $14.4 million)
  • Eni (Italy, $8.9 million)
  • StatoilHydro (Norway, $14.4 million – most Statoil & Eni bids were joint bids)

As StatoilHydro noted in its press release, “The area is considered a frontier area with no production or infrastructure as of today.”

Polar Bear Fate Heats Up

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 30 Jan 2008 23:05:00 GMT

Senate Hearing

In today’s Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s now-illegal delay in ruling whether polar bears are an endangered species, Sen. Boxer (D-Calif.) sharply rebuked the FWS director Dale Hall. She noted that the Alaska field office sent a recommended decision to Hall on December 14th of last year. Hall refused to discuss the recommendation, saying it would be “inappropriate” to discuss internal deliberations.

Hall gave as his only reason for the delay past the January 8 deadline the need to present a “high-quality” decision that responds in full to the voluminous public comments received. He stated that there was no significant scientific uncertainty in the endangerment posed by global warming to polar bears, the only reason for delay the Endangered Species Act permits. Under repeated questioning from Sens. Boxer and Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Hall said he wanted to present a decision, if possible, by February 6th.

Hall noted that in many ways the Marine Mammals Protection Act provides stronger protection than the Endangered Species Act for polar bears even if a finding of endangerment were made – a claim criticized by Andrew Wetzler of NRDC, who noted that the MMPA does nothing to protect critical habitat, the matter which would affect the planned sale of drilling rights in the Chukchi Sea.

MMS Speaks

On that front, Ben Gemen reports for E&E News that Minerals Managment Service director Randall Luthi said any delay of the scheduled February 6 sale of Chukchi Sea leases would prevent any oil-and-gas exploration in 2008. However, he also stated that the agency position is that:
there is no need for a delay, regardless of what FWS decides. He said that even in the absence of a listing, energy development is accompanied by several layers of environmental review and safeguards, including collaboration with FWS and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Kerry Moves to Block

Meanwhile, Sen. Kerry (D-Mass.) introduced legislation yesterday that would block lease sales in the Arctic until Endangered Species Act decisions are made on the polar bear and its critical habitat, mirroring Rep. Markey’s (D-Mass.) proposed legislation in the House.

Internal Emails Show MMS Staff Outcry

Finally, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has released over the past week communications from MMS scientists pleading with the political appointees to delay the lease sale (contrary to Luthi’s January 17th testimony) and DOI directives forbidding MMS scientists to consider the possible threat of invasive species from opening the seas to drilling.

The threats and protections for the polar bear

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 30 Jan 2008 15:00:00 GMT


Panel I
  • FWS Director Dale Hall
Panel II
  • Andrew Wetzler, Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Margaret Williams, World Wildlife Fund
  • Brendan Kelly, University of Alaska
  • Richard Glenn, Alaskan Arctic resident and sea ice geologist
  • J. Scott Armstrong, University of Pennsylvania Wharton School

Barrasso Once protection for the polar bear is finalized, agencies will be required by law to avoid jeopardizing the species. And the only way to do so is to reduce emissions.

10:22 Lieberman These species have inherent value. If I may go on a moment I was raised in a tradition, it says in the Bible that Adam and Eve have a responsibility to both work and protect the Garden and all that’s in it. We heard in a hearing nearly a year ago quite a remarkable accumulation of testimony. Mr. Hall identified a warming climate and the melting of sea ice as the primary reason polar bears are threatened as a species. 2/3 of the world’s polar bear population could be lost by the middle of the century. That could be a conservative projection. Some are troubled by the coincidence between the delay and the drilling leases.

10:28 Craig I’m just beginning to acquaint myself with this issue. I understand the climate change movement, the emotion involved in all of that, it’s difficult to predict the future. I’ve watched as various organizations have used the ESA as a wedge or a sledgehammer to shape human activities. I’m here to listen. I hope we don’t rush to judgment. History will only say, was it us, or was it Mother Nature? That is still an open question.

10:32 Mr. Hall We reopened and extended the comment period to allow the public to respond to the new USGS research. We expect to present a final decision to Sec. Kempthorne in the very near future. It is important to recognize that the polar bear is protected under several acts and treaties.

10:36 Boxer Did your staff present a recommendation to you?

Hall Yes. I’m working to the proper modes to explain all the questions. It’s not just making the decision, it’s the Congress and public being able to understand. This delay is my responsibility.

Boxer I wouldn’t want that responsibility to be on my shoulders. Look at Mr. Johnson. He hasn’t given one ounce of paperwork to justify his decision. So there’s a precedent. According to Bruce Woods the completed decision from the Alaska field office was sent to HQ December 14th. What was the recommendation?

Hall It would inappropriate for me to discuss internal deliberations.

Boxer You do understand there is a lease sale?

Hall Yes.

Boxer Am I correct that you have not filed a notice for a delay due to significant scientific uncertainty?

Hall I delayed to get all the information together. The quality of the answer is important. We owe those public comments to be responded to.

Hall The vast majority of the public comments supported the science that would support a listing.

We did not believe that there was ample scientific disagreement to warrant using that clause of the Act.

Boxer Have you been in communication with anyone at the White House about the decision?

Hall No, ma’am. I notified the Secretary and the Secretary notified the President.

Boxer I hope you would reconsider this.

Hall I do not take this lightly. But I am committed to getting a high quality decision out there. I don’t want to overpush our staff.

Boxer Can you do it before February 6?

Hall That was our projected date. We’re pushing to get there.

Boxer If you need some staff assistants, we would help you. It would mean a lot to me.

Hall Our staff has worked very hard.

10:52 Lautenberg Did you say February 6 is not possible?

Hall No, we’re trying to make that goal.

Lautenberg Why don’t you make the recommendation that no driling should take place?

Hall It’s a lease sale exercise. Under that exercise our staff in Alaska did work with MMS.

Lautenberg You’re a person of some significant respect in the environmental community. You understand what you’re doing will make a difference how we approach the leases. We need your help to protect the situation.

Barrasso questioning.

11:00 Hall I don’t believe it’s possible for us to meet the legal standard to reach take for emissions done somewhere else on the globe. Right now the greenhouse gas discussions are from all sources. To be able to track something from the action to the effect we have to have the science that makes the bridge. We can’t get there today. When you reach into CAFE standards and industry and our homes we don’t know how to make that responsible for the loss of polar bears. That is the requirement under the law.

11:02 Lieberman You’re a life FWS person. Did you view the USGS survey as credible?

Hall We do. The conclusion was that 2/3 of the habitat they need would be gone.

Lieberman If polar bears are declared endangered, how would that affect the Chukchi lease sale?

Hall There would be a Section 7 consultation. If the lease sales went forward, then the next steps would be industry proposals and then we would consult under the laws.

Section 7 consultation says that no agency take action that may jeopardize the continued existence of a species.

Lieberman The MMS admits between 750-1000 oil spills are likely due to this lease sale. I believe the greatest threat is ice loss. But this is also a source of danger. Would you agree?

Hall Yes, I do.

11:07 Craig This is one senator who’s not going to tell you to rush the science. Take your time. Get the science right. I don’t want you to rush it to stop a lease sale. Some senators want to use this as a blocking tactic. There’s a process.

11:10 Klobuchar I must say I’m concerned. The first petition was made in February 2005.

Hall The standards for ESA and Marine Mammal Protection Act are very close. If it were listed under the ESA one of the first things we’d want to do is synchronize the ESA and MMPA actions.

I firmly believe we should consider the Arctic as an ecosystem. There will be winners and losers.

Warner I believe the polar bear should be listed as endangered.

11:52 Wetzler There is nothing in the MMPA that requires that critical habitat be protected as there is in the ESA.

Rep. Markey Introduces Bill to Block Alaska Drilling Pending Polar Bear Decision

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 17 Jan 2008 21:14:00 GMT

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) has released the text of legislation which, if enacted, would forbid the sale of off-shore drilling rights in the Chukchi Sea, which includes polar bear habitat, until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes its long-delayed determination whether the polar bear is endangered and what its critical habitat is.

At today’s hearing, FWS director Dale Hill made it clear that he recognizes that the polar bear is definitely losing habitat and has been delaying his determination to make it “clear”; he also stated, “We need to do something about climate change starting yesterday.”

Minerals Management Service Director Randall Luthi admitted that if the lease auction goes forward, it would be impossible to revoke the leases even if they are found to be in conflict with a later endangerment listing of the polar bear.

On Thin Ice: The Future of the Polar Bear 3

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 17 Jan 2008 14:30:00 GMT

Chairman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming will question members of the Bush Administration regarding the delay of a decision to list polar bears under the Endangered Species Act until after a controversial lease sale for oil drilling off of Alaska. The hearing will also feature experts on wildlife protection and oil drilling.

Earlier this week, the Interior Department announced it would miss the statutory deadline to reach a decision on listing the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), saying it would take up to a month more to reach the decision. That would put the listing decision one day after the sale of oil drilling rights in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, scheduled for February 6th. The Chukchi Sea is a sensitive polar bear habitat.

In the most thorough study to date, the Interior Department determined that under current trends, disappearing sea ice would result in a two-thirds drop in the world population of polar bears resulting in the disappearance of polar bears from Alaska by 2050.

  • Mr. Dale Hall, Director, Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Mr. Randall Luthi, Director, Minerals Management Service
  • Dr. Steven Amstrup, Polar Bear Team Leader, U.S. Geological Survey
  • Ms. Jamie Rappaport Clark, Executive Vice President, Defenders of Wildlife
  • Ms. Deborah Williams, President, Alaska Conservation Solutions
  • Ms. Kassie Siegel, Director, Climate, Air and Energy Program, Center for Biological Diversity

10:22 am Sensenbrenner What’s the beef?

10:22 am Inslee The idea that the science isn’t clear on what’s happening in the Arctic is bizarre. The ice is gone. I want to ask a question about oil spills.

Luthi I don’t think we would be doing our jobs if we didn’t consider the possibility of a spill. The history has been different. The companies especially in north Alaska have been responsible.

Inslee If I told you there was a 33-51% chance of being run over a bus I think that would be significant. Your statement said there would be a 33-51% chance of a 1000 barrel oil spill.

Luthi Before the ESA kicks in, or if it does, we have worked with FWS very carefully.

Inslee I believe you are acting in willful ignorance of known science. I believe it is negligent in the extreme. You moved before the ESA determination was made. I find that totally disrespectful of the law.

Luthi What would be different would be one more layer of consultation under the ESA. The protections under the Marine Mammals Act are in many ways more strict.

10:29 Walden Do you have other endangered species listed where there is drilling?

Luthi The eiders, and a whale species I believe.

Walden Have you seen threats to these species or loss of life?

Luthi We have seen no blowouts, very small spills. To my knowledge there has not been a take or harassment of endangered species.

10:34 Larson Doesn’t Rep. Markey’s legislation make sense?

Hall Quite frankly, if I hadn’t made the decision to give ourselves more time it would have worked that way anyway. I’m never comfortable telling people what kind of laws they should pass.

Larson Given the record low summer sea ice this year what are you doing to understand the impact on polar bears?

Amstrup The work that we’ve done suggest that the changes in the sea ice have already negatively impacted the polar bears.

10:44 Hall The burden is on us and the science to determine a direct linkage between the take and the endangerment of the species. The science as it is today, even the IPCC information, would not allow us to segment out this particular set of emissions.

10:46 Cleaver Are you familiar with the USS Arizona? Went down in Pearl Harbor. Have you ever gone there to see the ship on the bottom? Each day when people go over it, the number one tourist attraction in Hawaii, oil is still bubbling up. Sixty years later. I watched it last week and realize the lasting impact of oil spills and what it does to the environment. I’m also wondering, do you think the FWS is strictly dealing with fish and wildlife, or does it get into ideological issues? Is it ideological or scientific or is it a mix of two?

Hall Over my 29 years with the FWS I can speak with some confidence that our employees try to be professional and responsible. As far as being ideological I believe that the vast majority of employees and myself believe we should be advocates for truth.

Cleaver So the polar bears, the habitat has been damaged.

Hall We’ve certainly lost 20%. We know the habitat is leaving us.

Cleaver So what’s the problem?

Hall It’s not just making a decision that’s important. It’s making it clear, and why. When I release a document with my signature.

Cleaver How much more habitat do we need to lose for this to be clear?

Hall We need to do something about climate change starting yesterday. We need to control greenhouse gases.

10:53 Amstrup The declines in sea ice predicted haven’t been as fast as what has actually occured.

Rep. Hall Can we quantify that?

Amstrup Yes.

Rep. Hall My constituents are coming out in overflow crowds to find out what they can do about global warming. We just passed a new energy bill to do some things. There are regional cap-and-trade systems being set up. Your statement that “no matter we do we will rely primarily on coal, oil, and natural gas.”

Luthi That comes from the Energy Information Agency. That’s what they tell us.

Rep. Hall You can draw a graph that project different outcomes depending on different policies we adopt. Do we spend billions of dollars getting oil from unfriendly and dangerous places or do we invest in new technologies?

You’re talking about a potential of $100 billion from a $500 million lease.

Luthi The MMS takes very seriously its responsibility to get fair market value.

11:02 Markey What would be the effect of an oil spill be on polar bears?

Amstrup It would depend on the oil spill, but the effect of oil on polar bears in the wild is to kill them.

Markey Would you object if Sec. Kempthorne decided to allow Mr. Hall to make his decision before you were allowed to make the Chukchi sale?

Luthi He is my boss.

Markey We have political players confronting a scientific decision and the chief decisionmaker is Sec. Kempthorne. All he has to do is say, let’s use common sense, and recognize that extinction is forever, and make that decision before we send the oil and gas companies out. Mr. Kempthorne is to blame. In the end, man can adapt but the bear cannot. When the ice is gone, man cheers for new drilling opportunities, but the bear starves and dies.

11:07 Inslee This could result in a suicide squeeze for the polar bear. If the leases are made before the designation, you cannot terminate the leases legally, can you?

Luthi We cannot terminate the leases, no.

Inslee I can’t believe an agency would issue this document saying there’s a 33-51% chance of a major oil spill not taking into account existing technology.

Hall We update the statistics based on new technology. The data reflects the past history. We used the best available information at the time.

Second Panel

11:18 Siegel There is still time to save the polar bear. A first step is to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. We need to also immediately reduce greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide, but also methane and black carbon.

11:21 Williams We must delay the Chukchi lease sale. We must provide funding for polar bear study. We must reduce greenhouse gases. Congress would never make a decision without this kind of information. It is the worst kind of irresponsible.

11:29 Clark There are numerous factors that support listing polar bears under the ESA. Number one is the unequivocal loss of sea ice due to global warming. It would fly in the face of the precautionary principles of the ESA for the Interior to take advantage of its own delay in the listing to develop gas and oil drilling.

Alaska Drilling Sale Announced Before Polar Bear Endangerment Decision

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 03 Jan 2008 17:29:00 GMT

The U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) will hold its first federal Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas lease sale since 1991 on February 6. It is leasing nearly 46,000 square miles in the Chukchi Sea off the northwest coast of Alaska, with estimated conventional reserves of 15 billion barrels of oil. Waters within 25 miles of the coast are excluded from the lease area. This announcement comes just six days before the January 9 deadline for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether to list the polar bear as endangered because of the global-warming induced decline of Arctic sea ice, some of which covers the Chukchi Sea.

The MMS believes that environmental concerns will be sufficiently addressed by its stipulations, which do not consider the effects of climate change:
The sale area will not include nearshore waters ranging from about 25 to 50 miles from the coast, which includes the near-shore “polynya” through which the bowhead and beluga whales, other marine mammals, and marine birds migrate north in the spring, and in which local communities subsistence hunt. Leases issued from the sale will include stipulations to address environmental effects that may occur because of exploration and development of the area’s oil and gas resources. These stipulations call for protection of biological resources, including protected marine mammals and birds and methods to minimize interference with subsistence hunting and other subsistence harvesting activities.

Environmental organizations are livid. The World Wildlife Fund published a series of statements from Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Audubon, and indigenous activists condemning the threat to the polar bear and other marine life from the planned sale.

In the fine print of its final notice of sale, the MMS does note:
Lessees are advised that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to list the polar bear (Ursus maritimus) as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and has initiated a comprehensive scientific review to assess the current status and future of the species. The FWS anticipates making a decision in early 2008 on whether to list polar bears under the ESA. Please refer to for additional information. If the polar bears are ultimately listed under the ESA, then MMS will consult with FWS under Section 7 of the ESA, and may be required to apply additional mitigation measures on OCS activities to ensure appropriate protection.

Update: Sierra Club has launched a letter-writing campaign to “chill the drills” in what it calls the “Polar Bear Seas”.

NOAA Arctic Report Card

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 15 Nov 2007 00:15:00 GMT

  red square   Atmosphere
red square   Sea Ice
yellow square   Greenland
yellow square   Biology
yellow square   Ocean
yellow square   Land
Warming and mixed signals

NOAA has recently debuted a new website, Arctic Report Card 2007, summarizing the state of environmental changes in the arctic, linking each section with the detailed reports from NOAA researchers. Their summary:

Collectively, the observations indicate that the overall warming of the Arctic system continued in 2007. There are some elements that are stabilizing or returning to climatological norms. These mixed tendencies illustrate the sensitivity and complexity of the Arctic System.

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