Sunday, March 11, 2007

Word from DC: "All climate, all the time"

Last week I was in Washington DC with a number of other State Geologists on our semi-annual rounds of meetings with federal agencies, congressional committees, and NGO’s to find out what is happening that will affect the geoscience profession and our individual states. It’s also a chance to offer input on legislation and the appropriations process which is in full swing now.

One thing we heard repeatedly is that it’s “all climate change, all the time,” as a senior official in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy told our group. He said the arguments about the validity of climate change are over and the focus is on what to do about it.

In addition, Kraig Naasz, president of the National Mining Association, told us that climate change now appears to be at the top of the domestic policy agenda of the new Congress. NMA members include many of the nation’s largest coal mines, which goes principally to burn in power plants for electricity. About 51% of US electricity comes from burning coal and thus is a major source of CO2 emissions. Capturing the CO2 from the power plant smokestacks and separating it out from the other flue gases could be challenging and costly. Then there’s the problem of what to do with all that CO2 once you capture it.

The leading solution is thought to be geologic sequestration – permanently burying the CO2 in deep geologic units, most likely by pumping it down well bores into porous sedimentary layers. There are a number of test projects underway in the US and internationally to assess the technical challenges and costs in doing this at a large scale. Plus there is the question of whether the CO2 will stay trapped underground or leak back into the atmosphere.

Answers to these questions will have a profound effect on the electric power industry and thus the coal industry.

A couple of years ago, AZGS participated in one of seven regional partnerships among geological organizations across the country to gather subsurface geologic information into digital database to identify the testbed targets for CO2 sequestration projects. While Arizona was not chosen for one of the pilot projects, I expect that in the near future, we will be looking closely at the geology in the areas around our existing coal-fired power plants for plausible disposal sites of their CO2 emissions.

Geological sequestration is widely talked about as the likely best method to deal with CO2 disposal so expect to see geologists playing a larger role in what has become the hot topic (pun intended) in the Capitol.

The American Geological Institute's Government Affairs Program sent out a nice collection of links to the recent climate change report and federal legislative actions:

IPCC’s summary for policymakers entitled "Climate Change 2007: The
Physical Science Basis" is available on their web site at:

An archived webcast of the House Science and Technology Committee
hearing on “The State of Climate Science 2007” is available from the
committee web page:

The Republican Policy Committee global warming primer is available at

The full text and summaries of each bill is available from Thomas:

The Bingaman-Specter Discussion Draft on Global Warming Legislation is
available from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee web
site at:

The Dingell-Boucher Letter is available from the House Energy and
Commerce web site at

Also see AGI Government Affairs web page on Climate Change for more
summaries of hearings and other actions.

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