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Volume 39, Issue 1 — January 2009


Climate Change Policy in the New Administration

by David J. Hayes

Editors' Summary:

The road to meaningful climate action at the federal level is a difficult one with many obstacles that will not be easily overcome. But while many focus on the tactical issues for achieving federal climate change legislation and international agreements that include the United States, the Obama Administration is likely to focus on building a clean energy economy that deploys America's copious renewable energy resources, dramatically improves the efficient delivery and use of energy through a "smart grid," and reduces reliance on Middle East oil by requiring more efficient fleets of cars and trucks that can utilize the next generation of biofuels and plug-in hybrid technology.

Presidential Leadership and the Challenge of Global Climate Change

by Joel A. Mintz

Editors' Summary:

Effective presidents can make significant progress in moving climate policy forward. Presidential scholarships suggest the next president should attract a top team of advisers, fashion a practical, workable program to address global warming, take the diplomatic initiative on the issue, coordinate his efforts with those of influential members of Congress, employ effective public persuasion, and carefully craft unilateral actions that will dramatize the climate change problem and take at least modest steps to alleviate it. While these steps may help the next president be effective at moving policy forward, there are still practical limits to presidential power that will limit the degree to which any president can tackle climate issues.

Legislating Carbon Caps: Five Unresolved Issues for the New Administration

by Gregory C. Staple

Editors' Summary: Federal cap-and-trade legislation is essential if the United States is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Five stumbling blocks that the incoming administration and Congress must address in order to get legislation are: the economic rationale for reducing greenhouse gas emissions as part of a clean energy-led economic recovery program; why reductions are best achieved by issuing a capped number of tradable emission permits; how permits will be allocated by the government and any associated revenues disbursed; which government agencies will administer the program; and how America's new plan will move the country toward the promised environmental goals.

A Bold New Ocean Agenda: Recommendations for Ocean Governance, Energy Policy, and Health

by Karen Hansen, Kathryn Mengerink, and Michael Sutton

Editors' Summary:

The United States has more ocean area under its jurisdiction than any other country. The new Administration, therefore, has every reason to place ocean concerns and opportunities high on its environmental and economic agendas. By reforming national ocean governance, ensuring that changes in energy policy consider ocean impacts, restoring U.S. leadership in marine research, and launching a national ocean health initiative, the new Administration will allow us to better safeguard the marine environment as well as U.S. economic and national security.

A Recovery Plan for the Endangered Species Act

by Donald C. Baur, Michael J. Bean, and Wm. Robert Irvin

Editors' Summary:

Efforts to reauthorize the ESA have been uniformly unsuccessful since the current authorization expired in 1992. Here are five steps the newly elected Administration can take to build a stronger and more effective ESA, even without reauthorization: (1) revitalize the listing priority framework; (2) promote recovery; (3) enhance incentives for habitat conservation on nonfederal lands; (4) address priority issues related to ESA §7(a)(2) consultation process and its prohibitions on jeopardy to species or adverse modification of critical habitat; and (5) increase funding for ESA implementation. By pursuing these administrative steps, President-elect Barak Obama can lay the groundwork for the eventual reauthorization of the ESA and a new commitment to conserving endangered species.

Ten Essential Elements in TSCA Reform

by Richard A. Denison, Ph.D.

Editors' Summary:

Congress enacted TSCA in 1976 to control risks from chemicals in commerce. It requires the government to review most new chemicals while they are being developed and it gives government the power to regulate chemicals already in or entering commerce if they create an "unreasonable risk" to health or to the environment. Yet current policy hinders government's ability to generate information and to act on such information when it indicates significant risk. This Article identifies 10 elements that can facilitate a shift toward knowledge-driven policies that motivate and reward, rather than impede and penalize, the development of information sufficient to provide a reasonable assurance of chemical safety. Adopting a more comprehensive approach that seeks to develop good information on most or all chemicals would allow us to select safer chemicals with confidence.

Chemical Regulation: Preparing to Address the Challenges Ahead

by Lynn L. Bergeson

Editors' Summary: There are increasing calls for significant reform of how chemicals are regulated in the United States. The advent of the European Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals system, rapid commercialization of nano-enabled products, increased consumer awareness, and proliferation of retailer initiatives have all fundamentally changed the chemical regulatory landscape. In order to navigate this new territory and to make any reforms meaningful, it is vital to understand the implications of both global and domestic chemical management programs, educate congressional staff about chemical management, and identify and agree to common principles upon which any reform efforts should be based.

TSCA Reform: Building a Program That Can Work

by Mark A. Greenwood

Editors' Summary:

The time for TSCA reform is basically now or never. The emerging framework of chemical management from other countries and U.S. states may or may not need to be steered in a new direction or aligned in a more systematic and coherent way by federal legislation. At some point, the policies and practice of the emerging chemical management system will settle into a new equilibrium, perhaps making congressional action a disruptive activity. If, however, there is consensus that federal reform would be beneficial, then it should only proceed with a clear agenda, provision of the necessary resources, establishment of risk-based priorities, protection of the ability to innovate, a balance of burden shifting, avoidance of the new versus existing chemical trap, and by addressing the role of states.


Mitigation and Adaptation for Ecosystem Protection

by Thomas Lovejoy

The Barack Obama Administration will take office at a moment when the world, and this country in particular, has lagged way behind in tackling the greatest environmental problem of all time: climate change. Global emissions now exceed the worst-case scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, and annual emissions of developing nations have begun to exceed those of the industrialized ones. The time is long overdue for U.S. leadership. Meaningful steps need to take place at home with cap and trade or some other form of legislation that elevates the price of carbon while cushioning the impacts for the less advantaged sectors of society. Such legislation needs to be coupled with serious investment in energy research and incentives for clean energy, including energy conservation and efficiency.

Climate change needs to be accorded an urgency and priority hitherto lacking. Ecosystem considerations support James Hansen's conclusion that greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations above 350 parts per million (ppm) are not safe. Current concentrations are 389 ppm. It is important to peak at as low a concentration as possible and then return rapidly to 350 ppm. In the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) this is referred to as mitigation, or reducing the amount of future climate change. The convention also references adaptation, which means enhancing the resilience of natural and human systems in the face of the climate change that is taking place and will take place.

A Time for Global Leadership-by Land, by Sea, by Air

by Bruce Babbitt

President-elect Barack Obama must tackle three major environmental and natural resource issues upon taking office: (1) global warming; (2) oceans policy; and (3) stewardship of our public lands.