WCI Shows More Signs of Unraveling

88367460On Ground Hog Day, Arizona saw the shadow of regional carbon trading looming over it…and retreated.

In an executive order issued on February second but not widely reported until yesterday, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer rejected the regional cap-and-trade program known as the Western Climate Initiative (WCI).

In April of last year, Climate Watch first called attention to the apparent lack of momentum within the WCI, an agreement among 11 US states and Canadian provinces, in which Arizona was a founding partner.

In her order, Governor Brewer wrote that imposing cap-and-trade at this time would “cost investment and jobs in Arizona” and put the state at a “competitive disadvantage,” as industry would be forced to pay fees for their carbon emissions.

Arizona relies on coal for about a third of its electricity production (36% as of 2007, according to the US Energy Information Administration’s tally) and its renewable energy goals (15% by 2025) are less ambitious than California’s (30% by 2020). But Arizona also has a larger nuclear power component. Governor Brewer cited this in last week’s executive order, as part of the reason why Arizona’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions are “about one third less than the national average.” The Governor’s order affirms that Arizona seeks “pragmatic” approaches to climate change mitigation and implies that Arizona officials would rather wait and see what carbon regulation develops at the national level, than proceed with a regional plan.

The state’s move comes as several energy companies mount an eleventh-hour push for a national cap-and-trade program, which has languished in the Senate.

The WCI comprises both “partner” and “observer” states. The Brewer order says that Arizona will “continue to be a member of the WCI to ensure that Arizona’s unique perspective will be advanced,” but that the state will not implement regional cap and trade. As of this morning, Arizona was still listed on the WCI website as a “partner” and there was no mention of the action.

California officials have long said that while a regional carbon trading pact would be preferable, California could “go it alone” if necessary.

Thousand-Year-Old Trees Get a Growth Spurt

Bristlecone pine. Photo: US Forest Service

Bristlecone pine in the Inyo National Forest. Photo: US Forest Service

There’s a lot of history packed into a tree with more than 4,000 annual growth rings. Scientists who count them (dendrochronologists) have been able to learn a lot about the drought history of California and the West.

The Great Basin bristlecone pines that grow along the spine of the Sierra are the oldest living things on Earth–older, even, than the giant sequoias. Studying the uppermost trees, around 12,000 ft., researchers stumbled on a strange trend. The trees, legendary for their slow rate of growth, have been growing faster over the last 50 years or so, than at any time in the last three millennia.

If you missed it this week, Malcolm Hughes, one of the study’s lead researchers and a professor of dendrochronology at the University of Arizona’s Laboratory for Tree-Ring Research, spoke to NPR’s All Things Considered about the possible cause.

There’s more on the study in a recent post on the RealClimate blog.

You can see these astonishing trees for yourself in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest of Inyo National Forest–but you might want to wait until spring. The visitor center is not staffed between November and May and winter access is iffy at 10,000 feet. Worse yet, the original vistor center burned down in the fall of last year. The Forest Service is using a temporary (trailer) facility until a permanent one is rebuilt. According to the Forest Service website:

“…the visitor center is being designed to be a model of energy efficiency, utilizing the latest in “green” building practices.   According to Bristlecone Pine Forest Manager John Louth, some of the improvements that visitors will see will be a state-of-the art solar power system, updated exhibits addressing the impacts of global warming on the ancient trees, a small research library, a slightly larger theatre room and a fire/intrusion detection & suppression system.”