Release of Emissions Inventory needlessly createsÂ deep confusion
We just hadÂ a replay of the confusion createdÂ following Governor Christie’s Feb. 22 budget address.Â Â
Recall that the Gov. went out of his way to bragÂ that he slashed DEP’ budget by 10%, a claim that was contradicted just 1Â hour later by DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, who issued a press release that said DEP’s budget had increased by 5.3% (see: Did Martin Pull a Schundler?).
To his business cronies, Christie wanted to appear a “fiscally responsible” budget hawk, particularly by starvingÂ the beastÂ at DEP. Yet, he and Bob Martin also wantedÂ to appear pro-environment.Â Â
It’s deja vu all over again -Â but this time Martin didn’t wait an hour. He appeared with the Governor. They want it both waysÂ again:
Last week, the NJ DEP issued a press release, announcing the release ofÂ a DEP Report on Greenhouse gas emissions during the calendar year 2008.
The lede of theÂ press release highlighted that greenhouse gas emissions were declining and claimed that NJ had actually met the Global Warming Response Act’s 2020 emissions reduction goals.
The DEP release wasÂ issued the same day Governor Christie stirred national controversy Â by announcing thatÂ he was withdrawing NJ from the 10Â northeast states’ Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
Here is DEP’s lede:
TRENTON – Statewide greenhouse gas emissions decreased by more than 8 percent in 2008, bringing New Jersey under 2020 emissions levels targeted by the State’s Global Warming Response Act (GWRA), according to a legislatively mandated report issued by the DEP today.
We’ll get to that alleged “legislative mandate” in a moment (see point #1 below), but at this point will noteÂ that itÂ implies some sense of independence between the release of the Report andÂ the Governor’s RGGI statement.
The same day DEP issued the emissions inventory,Â Governor Christie held a press conference - accompanied byÂ DEP Commissioner Martin. In addition to his RGGI statement, in an effort to have it both ways, the Governor issuedÂ aÂ dubiousÂ statement highlighting bullets about Christie’s “Commitment to Protecting NJ’s Environment” .Â
For national consumption, the NY Times coverage noted thatÂ Christie’sÂ withdrawal from RGGI was based onÂ thisÂ rationale:
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said the regional climate initiative â€œdoes nothing more than tax electricity, tax our citizens, tax our businesses, with no discernible or measurable impact upon our environment.â€
In NJ media circles,Â although Christie wonÂ praise for finally conceding that humans caused global warming (a scientific conclusionÂ he previously denied), a close reading of the text of the Governor’sÂ statement suggestsÂ just the opposite.
Instead of walking back his global warming denial, Christie actuallyÂ is using classic propagandaÂ techniques toÂ manufactureÂ false uncertainty about:
- the scientific consensus onÂ man made global warming (“we are at least part of the problem” – inference: we better figure out how much):
- theÂ urgency of the problem andÂ strength of the scienceÂ to support policy actions now (we are “just beginning to have a fuller understanding” - inference: guess we need to wait for more science to come in); and
- the existence ofÂ currrent NJ laws and policies to control greenhouse gas emissions (“put policies in place” – inference: putting in place policyÂ takes more time and we’re under no binding laws and policies now.Â Just like the New Normal, the past is not binding):
[Update: 6/6/11 – read this piece about risk versus uncertainty: “Risky Advice“]
Christie did all this by saying:
But when you have over 90% of the worldâ€™s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role itâ€™s time to defer to the experts. Climate science is complex though and weâ€™re just beginning to have a fuller understanding of humansâ€™ role in all of this. But we know enough to know that we are at least a part of the problem. So looking forward, we need to work to put policies in place that act at reducing those contributing factors.
So, moving right along, from a communications perspective,Â what’s up with theseÂ deeply conflicting messages on a key issue?Â Can emissions be declining, and yet RGGIÂ ineffective? What’s the relationship between RGGI and emissions reductions? What explains emissions reductions? How much is due to RGGI and how much doesÂ RGGI cost? What does the money go toward? Who benefits and who pays?
The Governor’s statement provided 4 reasons for killing RGGI (we will examine them in a subsequent post).
Getting back to DEP’s emissions inventory press release: Was DEP providing cover for the Governor byÂ balancingÂ the “good news” about emissions reductions with the bad Christie RGGI move? Did they expect more praise and cover from Pringle?
Do the Christie folks think they can have it both ways? Or was this incoherent chaos anÂ intentional move to baffle the media and public by creating a plausible cover story?
Let’s firstÂ look at the media dynamics.
Predictably, the DEP press release on the emissions inventory Report prompted criticism from Jeff Tittel of Sierra Club, who also questioned the timing of its release, comparing it to discredited George Bush tactics:
“This report is the environmental equivalent of George Bush landing on an aircraft carrier with a sign that says ‘Mission Accomplished,’ ” said Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club’s New Jersey chapter. “The data makes no sense.”
The DEP press office fired back, with anotherÂ in what has become a pattern of increasingly harsh attacks on Tittel:
“The study speaks for itself. It’s just a factual report,” said DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese. “Jeff Tittel can criticize all he wants, but this study was prepared by DEP scientists who are viable, credible professionals who put the numbers together as required by the Legislature. The numbers are legitimate and valid.”
We agree with DEP on one point -Â yes,Â DEP scientists and staff are credible.Â But the DEP Commissioner and Press Office are not.
Shame on them for timing the release of this report to provide Christie RGGI cover and thenÂ hidingÂ political spinÂ behind the reputations of DEP professionals.Â
That too is a page out of Bush mediaÂ playbook. Bush shamelesslyÂ hid behind the troops. He did this to dodgeÂ criticism of Bush’sÂ bad decision to go to war in Iraq.Â Critics were marginalized and attacked asÂ unfaithful toÂ the troops fighting his foolish war (this explainsÂ all theÂ obligatory “Support the Troops” crap. The modern roots of thatÂ go back to Nixon administrationÂ lies about hippies spitting on Vietnam Vets as they returned to the US. But I digress).
Moving on to the technical front,Â IÂ reviewed and will focus today of the emissions inventory Report (I intend toÂ write a policy piece about Governor Christie and the RGGI issues in a subsequent post).
My intent here is not to get into the increasingly petty he said/she said DEP press office squables or toÂ defend Tittel (he’s more than capable of that), but to illustrateÂ how DEP Press Office is hiding behind and spinning the data in the DEP staff emissions inventory Report.
1. The timing is Suspect
The DEP Report releases data from 2008 – which leads to the obvious question of “why was it released now?”.
The timing of the release is highly suspected of political motives, for at leastÂ the following reasons:
- The Christie RGGI withdrawal press conference. RGGI is one ofÂ 3Â major components of NJ’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategy.
- Section 7 of the GWRA requires DEP to submit biennial reports (i.e. every 2 years), starting in January 2009. According to DEP’s May 2011 Report,Â the last biennial report was completed in November 2009 and included estimatedÂ greenhouse gas emissions for years 2005 through 2007.Â The next biennial ReportÂ was due in January 2011, but couldÂ be expected in November 2011, Regardless, it shouldÂ include emissions for years 2007 – 2009. So why was this Report issued in May 2011Â and limited to 2008 emissions? Why is DEP moving to an annual Report when the law specifies biennial reporting?
- According to Appendix A of the DEP report,Â the 2008 electric sector in state emissions “data were downloaded from the Department’s database through WebIntelligece onÂ May 19, 2010“. That was over 1 year ago – does it take over a years to format that data in a Report? What explains the delay?Â
2) The Press release is selective andÂ misleading with repect to attaining Global Warming Response Act Goals
The DEP staff report correctly notes that the GWRA has two very different emissions reduction goals: a 2020 target and a far more stringent 2050 target. Yet the DEP press release selectively mentions only the 2020 target. ThisÂ cherry pickingÂ misleadinglyÂ implies that the Act’s requirements areÂ met.Â As Tittel said: “Mission Accomplished“.
The DEP staff Report noted that we have a long way to go in meeting GWRA goals. Here is what the Report actuallyÂ says. But you wont find theseÂ key findingsÂ in the DEP Press Office spin:Â Â
The Statewide greenhouse gas limit for 2050 is 80 percent less than the 2006 level of Statewide greenhouse gas emissions, or 25.4 MMTCO2e. To achieve this limit, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced approximately 101.5 MMTCO2e compared to 2006 emissions. The 2008 releases are 124.9 MMTCO2e, approximately 99.5 MMTCO2e above the 2050 limit.Â
3) Emissions inventoryÂ reliesÂ on EPAÂ emissions factors, not actual emissionsÂ - This obscuresÂ the fact that Christie killed DEP’s proposedÂ greenhouse gas emission monitoring and reporting rule
The DEP Report is basedÂ - and heavily reliant on – fuel use dataÂ from the Energy Information Administration and various EPA greenhouse gas emissions factors, not actual emissions data.
ThisÂ reliance on emissions factors not only injects uncertainty into the inventory, but is masks the fact thatÂ Governor Christie killed DEP proposed emissions inventory monitoring and reporting rule, which would greatly improve the inventory by providing real actual emissions (see:Â Â Â CHRISTIE SHREDS NEW JERSEY CLIMATE CHANGE PROGRAMS â€” Kills Emission Reporting, Diverts Green Energy Fund & Defunds Climate Office
4)Â Alleged emissions reductions are exceeded byÂ the 5%Â undertainty factor,Â adjustments in methods, and dubious assumptions
The DEP Report estimatesÂ that 2008 emissions are 124.9 MMT, down from 2007 by 11 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent.
This 11 MMT estimate is transparently Â qualified with this caveat in a footnote toÂ the staff Report:
All numbers are estimates; uncertainty of totals is likely in range of plus or minus 5 percent.
Thus, a 5% uncertainty factorÂ Â is about +/- 6.2 MMT, or more than half of the estimated 2008 reductions. The estimatesÂ should have been provided as a range, not a numeric value, e.g. as Â 118.7 – 131.1 MMTÂ (+/- 6.2)
The DEP press release reports a numeric value and lacks this caveat. ThisÂ elidesÂ uncertainty and therebyÂ misleads about the accuracy and reliability of the inventory’s estimates.
Furthermore, the 2008 Report is based on various adjustments in methodology. The changes all have the effect of reducing emissions. For example,Â changes in methods result in reductions of 3.5 MMT for forest sequestration.
Thus,Â uncertaintly and changes in methods may actually account forÂ LARGER than reported emissions reductions. Actual real emissions may have increased.Â
5) Â Adjustments to methodology from prior inventories clouds results and underminesÂ trend analysisÂ Â
The DEP Report transparently concedesÂ this set of problems and attemtps to address it – the DEP press release does not.
6) There is selective and biased adjustments, all of whichÂ lower emissions butÂ ignore increases in emissions
Importantly, theÂ DEP estimates that significant emissions reductions may have occured due to fuel switching from coal to natural gas. Yet the Report fails to consider that EPA recently revised its GHGÂ emissions factors for natural gas, making them essentially the same as coal. (see: Climate Benefits of Natural Gas May Be Overstated)
Use ofÂ EPA’s current revised natural gas emissions factors very likely wouldÂ signifciantly increase estimated electric sector and total emissions.Â
7) forest sequestration estimate is not fully documented and contradicted by forest loss and land development data
The DEP report estimates thatÂ carbon is being “sequestered” in forests and soil – and that this has increased since 1990.
Yet, for many years,Â NJÂ has been losing 15,000 – 20,000 acres per year to development - including forests, wetlands, farms, vegetation, and soils that store carbon.
I don’t have the expertise or time to review the Rutgers study and DEP’s very confusing Appendix A “explanation” of this apparently glaring conflict, so let’s just say is injects serious doubt intoÂ the land clearing emisions (1.7 MMT) and sequestration estimates (7.6 MMT).
8. Electric sector fuel switching to natural gas estimateÂ not documented and ignores EPA’s increase in emissions factors for natural gas
Natural gas emission factors are far too low – see point #6 above.
9)Â Garbage incineration emissionsÂ reduced by 60% basedÂ on a dubious assumption
DEP subtracts 60% of garbage incinerator emissions (0.5 MMT) resultingÂ from burning of paper on the highly dubious assumption that paper is manufactured from trees harvested in sustainable forests.Â Right.
10)Â conflict and possible error in forest sequestration data reported in Appendix A
Table 1 (page 4) estimates forest carbon sequestration at -7.6 MMT, but Appendix A seems to report -4 MMT. Either I’m reading this wrong or there is an error.
Aside from delving into the weeds to raise these technical issues,Â the larger problem is that the simultaneous release of a DEP press releaseÂ - whichÂ conflicts with Gov.’s conclusionsÂ for RGGI withdrawal -Â needlessly creates nothing but deep confusion.