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NRDC Climate Center Director Speaks at RTI

By Eddy Ball
August 2008

Lashof, above, specializes in national energy policy and has testified on aspects of global warming and energy policy before several congressional committees. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Lecture host Jayanty said that he was gratified to see visitors from NIEHS and EPA at the event. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

David Resnik, J.D., Ph.D.
NIEHS Bioethicist David Resnik, J.D., Ph.D., was curious about the population growth assumptions in the NRDC analysis, noting that declines in growth, such as those several European countries are now experiencing, could impact what actually occurs by 2050. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

The lecture
The lecture was an informal event, with many attendees having lunch during the talk. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Daniel Lashof, Ph.D., director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) Climate Center, was the featured speaker at an Environmental Sciences Climate Change Seminar sponsored by RTI International on July 10. Lashof spoke to an audience of people from RTI, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and NIEHS, where researchers are particularly interested in the health effects of climate change. RTI ( NIEHS Senior Fellow R.K.M. Jayanty, Ph.D., was the host for the seminar, which was held in an auditorium adjacent to the RTI campus in Research Triangle Park.

Among its many advocacy activities, the NRDC ( Exit NIEHS performs or commissions analyses of proposed legislation to reduce emissions of heat-trapping pollutants. In his talk, "Renewable Energy and Economic Impact," Lashof reported on an assessment of the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act (S. 3036) substitute amendment. The assessment was conducted at the request of the NRDC by the International Resources Group (IRG) ( Exit NIEHS. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee sent this bill to the full Senate for consideration on May 21.

Lashof noted that the legislation and its associated costs, projected through 2050, were hotly debated on the Senate floor and in the media. Although the amendment had the support of a majority, a vote on June 6 to invoke cloture to halt debate failed to muster the necessary 60 votes, effectively killing the amendment for the 2008 term.

Despite the defeat of the amendment, Lashof said, "it certainly focused the attention of the Senate on climate in a way that had never happened before." He predicted that the amendment or something similar will be introduced again in 2009 and likely will pass, especially since both presidential candidates have expressed support for limiting emissions.

According to Lashof, the IRG analysis concluded that the economic impact of the Lieberman-Warner amendment provisions for setting a cap on U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases would actually be small compared to business as usual. The analysis was performed using a version of the U.S. national MARKAL model (US-NM50) originally developed by the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Research and Development. It found that the cost of increased investment in more efficient appliances, equipment and low-carbon technologies would be in large part offset by savings from reductions in use of carbon-producing fuels.

The key features of the proposed legislation included dramatic reductions in emissions:

  • Starting from 2005 levels, the bill progressively would cut emissions of carbon dioxide and four other global warming pollutants by 4 percent in 2012 to 71 percent in 2050.
  • Emissions of heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) would be cut more rapidly, declining from 2012 levels by at least 15 percent in 2020 to 70 percent by 2040.
  • Additional emission reductions would be achieved outside the cap by dedicating more than five percent of the emissions allowances to reducing emissions in the domestic agriculture and forestry sectors and to international efforts to reduce deforestation and increase technology cooperation.

"Most of the reductions come from the electric sector, " Lashof explained. "We also have some modest reductions in transportation.... We find a big contribution from renewable energy [such as wind, photovoltaic and concentrating solar power].... There is also a substantial reduction in conventional coal, mostly after 2030."

Interestingly, the IRG analysis did not find the "rush to natural gas" that some critics have predicted as a consequence of reducing emissions. Lashof also pointed to the potential of using carbon captured from coal to enhance oil recovery from existing fields, which he said may yield as many as 50 billion barrels of oil that are too expensive to recover currently and may ease the transition to alternative sources of energy for transportation.

Lashof said he is encouraged that the conversation about greenhouse gases has shifted from questions of whether climate change is actually a reality to questions about the best ways to go about addressing it. He is hopeful that legislation and incentives will encourage market forces to put more affordable alternatives in place sooner rather than later.

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