Thursday, December 20, 2012

Targets of climate scientist Mann's libel case seek dismissal

The legal arguments have begun in a court fight that pits renowned climatologist Michael Mann, whose work has been instrumental in establishing a historic basis for the scientific consensus that humanity is altering Earth's climate, against two conservative institutions.

Some of the defendants sued for libel by Mann in October have asked a District of Columbia local court to dismiss his lawsuit.

In papers filed Dec. 14, lawyers for the Competitive Enterprise Institute and one of its writers, Rand Simberg, argued that Mann cannot prove his claims.

They also asked the District of Columbia Superior Court to throw out Mann's case on the basis of a local ordinance that forbids the use of litigation as a tool to discourage political attacks.

Mann, the director of the Earth System Science Center at The Pennsylvania State University, alleges that CEI and Simberg libeled him by publishing a blog post that compared Mann to convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky. The blog post was later edited.

Libel is the doctrine of law that allows individuals to obtain financial compensation from the publisher of false statements that damage the individual's reputation. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution places limits on the circumstances under which such lawsuits can proceed and the conditions that have to be proven for the plaintiff to prevail.

Mann also sued National Review, a conservative magazine that re-published Simberg's blog post and added some additional commentary of its own. National Review columnist Mark Steyn wrote that Mann's work on the so-called "hockey stick" graph is a deceptive and accused his employer, The Pennsylvania State University, of hiding that behavior.

Mann's research leading to a conclusion that Earth's average atmospheric temperatures have risen dramatically over the past 50 or so years has been determined by at least eight separate investigations to be scientifically valid.

Despite the acknowledged scientific credibility of his work studying the history of Earth's climate, Robert Nagel, a law professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, believes Mann will have a hard time winning his libel case.

"The way the [U.S. Supreme] Court has divided up constitutional protections for defamatory statements, that means the plaintiff would probably have to prove knowing or reckless disregard for the truth," Nagel said. "That’s very hard to do. Even if he convinces the court that he is private figure, that he didn’t interject himself into the debate, he would have to show negligence. Those are difficult burdens to meet. Some of what he’s claiming about may be viewed by a court as either not statements of fact or not literal statements, something akin to a parody or an exaggeration."

The lawyers for CEI and Simberg argued that very point in the motions filed last week.

Nagel, who has written for National Review in the past, said that he is sympathetic to concerns that attacks like those published on and The Corner might have the effect of undermining public understanding of scientific knowledge.

"I doubt that those concerns are overblown," he said. "In fact, I think that scientists complaints in that regard are not a whole lot different from wider concerns that exist in terms of, say, political dialogue."

However, Nagel explained, that outcome may not be avoidable given a high bar to libel lawsuits constructed by the U.S. Supreme Court nearly 50 years ago in a case called New York Times v. Sullivan.

"The concern that we’re getting more false information out there, more sloppy reporting, just sort of worse information, I think it’s probably true that the modern changes in defamation law has had that effect in lots of areas," he said.

Nagel pointed out that he was not, in making that observation, referring specifically to the truth or falsity of the specific comments published by CEI and National Review.

Mann will have an opportunity to respond to the defendants' motion for an order dismissing the climatologist's lawsuit before the court rules.

His lawyer declined a request for an interview.

This graph, which resembles a hockey stick, shows a dramatic rise in Earth's average temperature since the middle of the 20th century. Courtesy Wikimedia.

NOTE: A slightly different version of this story appears on the website.

Monday, December 17, 2012

112th Congress might be first since 1966 to shun wilderness bills

The 112th Congress could become the first since 1966 to designate no acres anywhere in the United States for protection under the Wilderness Act.

There are currently 27 pending bills that would designate wilderness in 13 states, including five measures that would protect public land in California as wilderness, four that would designate additional wilderness in Colorado, four that would protect additional wilderness in New Mexico, and three that would add more acres in Oregon to the National Wilderness Preservation System.

“Some of the bills that are being held up are wilderness-only bills," David Moulton, the senior director for legislative affairs at the Wilderness Society, said. "Most of them are bills that combine wilderness with the protection of other uses."

Moulton explained that bills designating new wilderness are bottled up in the House Natural Resources Committee.

"Right now, the sitting chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, is so ideologically opposed to adding any wilderness to the preservation system that he refuses to allow bills through his committee," Moulton said. "So bills that have been proposed to protect wild areas in states represented by Republicans, where there’s broad support and [the bill is] introduced by a Republican, are going to the House Natural Resources Committee and dying there."

Hastings, 71, issued a statement in Nov. 2011 that indicated skepticism about additional wilderness legislation, arguing that enough has already been set aside.

"The federal government already owns more lands than it can afford to properly manage," Hastings said. "We must make thoughtful and careful land-use decisions that reflect our country’s current economic situation, keep our lands healthy, and exemplify the importance of ensuring public access to public lands for multi-use purposes.”

The prospects for wilderness designations by means of a large bill that wraps many smaller proposals into one probably aren't any greater than they are for the individual wilderness bills, at least if Hastings' views carry the day in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.

In Jan. 2011 Hastings told the Seattle Times that the House Republican majority would not pass so-called omnibus land conservation bills.

Even if there were a reasonable chance for an omnibus bill to move through the House of Representatives before adjournment near the end of December, the Senate may find it difficult to find the time to take up such expansive legislation.

The chamber, like the House of Representatives, is intensely engaged in efforts to resolve the federal government's fiscal crisis.

"All I can say is that the Senate is an infinitely flexible place, so anything can happen," Bill Wicker, a spokesperson for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said. "But, at the same time, lame duck is a very challenging environment for all legislation."

Wicker was using the phrase commonly applied to the period in which the members of the Senate and House of Representatives meet that occurs between an election and the start of the next Congress.

The outlook is not uniformly bad for public lands legislation. A measure that would re-designate Pinnacles National Monument in California as a national park passed the House unanimously.

The House version of the bill does not designate any new wilderness. Instead, it would re-name the existing Pinnacles wilderness to honor a pioneer family from the area.

"Since all the land is already under the control of the National Park Service, it doesn’t add any costs," Adam Russell, a spokesperson for the bill's sponsor, U.S. Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., said.

A companion bill introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., that remains pending in the Senate would add an additional 3,000 acres of wilderness within the new national park.

Photo of Pinnacles National Monument courtesy Wikimedia.

Note: A version of this story also appears at

Friday, December 14, 2012

House Natural Resources Committee GOP membership set for 113th Congress

Four new faces, and an old one, will join the Republican majority on the House Natural Resources Committee when the 113th Congress opens next month.

Newly-elected U.S. Representatives Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Steve Daines of Montana, Doug LaMalfa of California, Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, and Chris Stewart of Utah will join the panel.

Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., will also re-join the committee after an absence during the current Congress.

It is not likely that any of the new members of the committee will change its existing orientation toward support of more lenient regulation of energy extraction activities. A look at the websites of all five of the newly-chosen GOP members indicates at least some degree of sympathy to that viewpoint.

The panel's chairman will continue to be Rep. Richard N. "Doc" Hastings, R-Wash.

The Democratic minority on the Natural Resources Committee in the new Congress may also include some new faces. However, a spokesman for the committee's Democratic members said the question of who will represent the party on the committee when it convenes in January is not yet determined.

It is not likely, however, that current ranking minority member Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., will be displaced from that slot.

The Natural Resources Committee will include 26 Republicans and 21 Democrats when the new Congress convenes next month.

Senate's majority Democrats name new members to committee on energy, natural resources

The U.S. Senate's majority Democrats have named two incoming members to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), in a statement released Wednesday, said that the Democratic Steering Committee for the chamber had assigned Sens.-elect Martin T. Heinrich of New Mexico and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii to the panel.

Heinrich, 41, defeated Republican Heather Wilson in November for the seat now held by Sen. Jeff Bingaman. A two-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Heinrich formerly served as New Mexico's natural resources trustee and a member of the Albuquerque city council.

While in the U.S. House of Representatives Heinrich served on the Natural Resources and Armed Services Committees.

Bingaman, 69, was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1982. He will retire from the chamber next month after serving for the past six years as chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Hirono will replace Sen. Daniel Akaka when the 113th Congress convenes on Jan. 3, 2013. A member of the House of Representatives since Jan. 2007, Hirono is a triple pioneer in the Senate. She is the first Asian-American female ever elected to the body and, once sworn in, will be the first senator born in Japan and the first senator who is a Buddhist.

Hirono, 65, was Hawaii's lieutenant governor between 1995-2003. During her three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives she did not serve on any committee with jurisdiction over environmental and natural resources policy matters.

Akaka, 88, is leaving the Senate after more than 22 years of service in the chamber. He also served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1977-1990. Akaka served in the U.S. Army during World War II.

Other Democratic members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during the 113th Congress will be (in order of seniority) Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Mark Udall of Colorado, Al Franken of Minnesota, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Wyden will take the gavel from Bingaman when the new Congress convenes.

The Senate's Republican caucus has not yet announced committee assignments for the 113th Congress.

Oregonian: Federal inter-agency committee supports grizzly hunting

A federal inter-agency committee tasked with planning the recovery of the grizzly bear said Thursday that it believes hunting of the species should be permitted once it is removed from the list of threatened and endangered species.

The Oregonian (Portland) has the story.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Montana judge halts wolverine trapping

A judge in Montana has blocked the trapping of wolverines in the Treasure State after environmentalists argued that allowing it would further imperil a species already at risk from climate change.

District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock issued an temporary restraining order against the state's wildlife management agency until a hearing on the merits of the lawsuit is held Jan. 10, 2013.

"There's a state law that says the state wildlife agency has to take action to prevent candidate species from being harmed," Matthew Bishop, a lawyer for Western Environmental Law Center who represents the environmentalists, said. "We're arguing that, by allowing trapping, they're making the situation worse, not better."

Bishop was referring to the wolverine's status as a species eligible for inclusion on the federal list of threatened and endangered species, but not included due to administrative concerns.

"The warranted piece of that is the science, the precluded part is more of an administrative decision that 'we're too busy,'" Bishop said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to classify Gulo gulo luscus as a candidate species was announced in Dec. 2010.

A federal judge in Montana has ordered FWS to announce by Friday when it will decide whether to list the wolverine under the ESA. The order sets a Jan. 18, 2013 deadline.

Leith Edgar, a spokesperson for FWS' regional office in Lakewood, Colo., said that he is not currently aware of any reason that the agency would miss the January decision deadline.

There are 300 or fewer wolverines in the entire nation, according to FWS, while about 400 breeding pairs are needed to assure continued genetic viability.

"No one knows how many wolverines there are in Montana," Bishop said. He explained that his clients are concerned that the state of Montana is authorizing trapping without any understanding of how the decision will affect the species.

"The state doesn't have any population data or any surveys to monitor the wolverine," he said.

One 2009 study indicated that there may be as few as 35 breeding wolverine individuals in the region that includes Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.

Dr. Kevin McKelvey, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service at its Rocky Mountain Research Station, explained that counting wolverines in the wild is a difficult logistical and financial challenge.

"It would be probably several million bucks to do it," he said.

 McKelvey said that an alternative approach to counting individuals that involves assessing the extent of habitat available to the species is not likely to be a reliable method of obtaining an accurate census.

"I wouldn’t do that myself because those numbers tend to be really errant," he said. " One problem is the area might be different from what you thought it was. Another one is they’re not everywhere where there’s habitat."

George Pauley, the wildlife management section chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, rejected a request for FWP data on wolverine numbers in the state and declined to comment on the method by which the agency counts them.

Aside from the species' population numbers, several studies indicate that the animal will be significantly affected as climate change proceeds. A 2010 paper showed that, as the snow upon which wolverines depend for dens melts earlier in the spring, the extent of the species' range will decline throughout the contiguous United States. The study projected that the animal would lose about a quarter of its range by mid-century.

Another study from 2011 indicates that climate change will cause fragmentation of the wolverine's populations and reduce available habitat by as much as two-thirds by the latter part of the century.

The problem, according to McKelvey, is that,while it's clear that ongoing climate change may harm the species, researchers have a difficult time figuring out the appropriate baseline against which to measure current climate change impacts on the wolverine.

"Thirty or fifty years out, significant declines in snow pack in these areas and, presumably, a decline in wolverines is likely," he explained. "The issue is muddled by the fact that we either wiped out, or came close to wiping out, wolverines in the lower 48 [states] by about 1930. Since that time, their population has generally expanded and, as far as we can tell, it’s still expanding."

Given the uncertainty about the extent of the population of wolverines in Montana, the impact of trapping on the species is not easy to determine.

“I really do think our game management agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and folks like that who have to make those calls, there's still uncertainty out there," McKelvey said. 

The Treasure State had set an annual trapping quota of five wolverines, according to a FWP webpage. The season was to run until Feb. 15.

Montana is the only U.S. state that permits hunters to trap wolverines.

Environmentalists filed the lawsuit in October after a previous petition aimed at convincing FWP to hold off on a trapping season failed.

Photo courtesy National Park Service.

NOTE: This story also appears on the website. Here is a link to it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Costa Rica bans sport-hunting

The Republic of Costa Rica, long known as a haven for biodiversity, has banned the hunting of animals for sport.

Reuters has the story.

Lawsuits challenging Wyoming wolf management pile up

Another lawsuit attacking the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's decision to grant Wyoming essentially unrestricted discretion in the way it manages the state's gray wolf population has been filed.

The complaint was filed Friday in federal court in Washington, D.C. by the Humane Society of the United States and the Fund for Animals. It follows a lawsuit filed Nov. 26 by a coalition of environmental groups in the U.S. district court in Denver and another case, also filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, by four prominent national environmental advocacy organizations.

"The agency's decision to strip Wyoming wolves of federal protection is biologically reckless and contrary to the requirements of the Endangered Species Act," Jonathan Loworn, an in-house lawyer for HSUS, said in a statement. "Wyoming's regressive wolf management plan is reminiscent of a time when bounties paid by state and federal governments triggered mass killings that nearly exterminated wolves from the lower 48 states."

FWS announced on Aug. 31 that gray wolf populations in Wyoming had fully recovered. The agency removed all gray wolves in the state from the list of endangered and threatened species and approved a management plan that commits Wyoming to maintaining 150 individuals and 15 breeding pairs within its borders.

Environmentalists were harshly critical of the agency's decision, predicting that it could lead to the extirpation of the wolf in Wyoming.

"Wyoming's anti-wolf policies take the state backward, to the days when wolf massacres nearly wiped out wolves in the lower 48 states," Jenny Harbine, an attorney at Earthjustice, a public interest law firm that frequently represents environmental and animal welfare advocacy organizations, said in a statement. "Our nation rejected such predator extermination efforts when we adopted the Endangered Species Act."

Harbine was referring to policies that overtly encouraged the mass slaughter of wolves and extirpated them from all of the nation except Alaska and parts of Minnesota.

The northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf was included on the list of threatened and endangered species in 1974.

FWS' decision to remove the gray wolf population in Wyoming from that list, and to delegate management authority to the state, followed the removal of gray wolf populations in Idaho and Montana from the list of endangered and threatened species via a "rider" to a budget bill enacted by Congress in 2011.

That legislation followed a court decision that negated a Bush administration effort to remove ESA protection from gray wolves in the northern Rockies.

website maintained by the state's Department of Game & Fish says that there were more than 300 wolves in the state at the time its management plan went into effect. At least 50 of those wolves have been killed since then.

They include one female who was the leader of a pack that frequented Yellowstone National Park's Lamar Valley and a common sight to tourists. She was killed by a hunter outside of the national park on Thursday.

U.S. Department of Justice lawyers have asked the federal district courts in Denver and Washington, D.C. to transfer the first two challenges to FWS' decision to approve Wyoming's wolf management plan to a federal court in Cheyenne.

Photo courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; photo by Tracy Brooks.

Monday, December 10, 2012

NOAA: 2012 is hottest year in American history

The year is not yet over, but already the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration is calling it the hottest in U.S. history.

In its most recent State of the Climate report, released today, NOAA's National Climactic Data Center said that December temperatures around the nation would have to average more than 1.0 degrees Fahrenheit less than the historic norm to change that outcome:
The January-November period was the warmest first 11 months of any year on record for the contiguous United States. The national temperature of 57.1°F was 3.3°F above the 20th century average, and 1.0°F above the previous record warm January-November of 1934. During the 11-month period, 18 states were record warm and an additional 24 states were top ten warm.
The report indicates that, for the U.S. as a whole, the average November temperature was more than two degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average. Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming experienced a November that was among the ten warmest on record in those states.

By contrast, NCDC said, much of the eastern and southern U.S., and the Ohio River valley, experienced a cooler-than-average November.

The month was also unusually dry. The national precipitation average was slightly more than half the historic norm, while the percentage of the contiguous United States in drought increased from October.

NCDC said that Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming have had the driest years in those states' histories.

By contrast, the Pacific Northwest, New England, and the Gulf coast region have had more precipitation than average this year.

NCDC also said that the 12-month period that ended Nov. 30 was the warmest on record in the contiguous United States for all 12-month periods that have run from Dec. 31-Nov. 30. The period was also the sixth-warmest on record of all 12-month periods in U.S. recorded weather history.

Bureau of Reclamation to study Missouri-Colorado pipeline

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will issue a report this week that calls for construction of a pipeline to carry water from the Missouri River to the Colorado River.

The proposal would involve transferring more than half a million acre feet per year.

The New York Times has a report. The Denver Post first broke the story last week.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Energy agency report says US greenhouse gas emissions to be higher in 2040

A new report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration indicates that current efforts to lower greenhouse gas pollution in the country aren't likely to lead to a significantly lighter American impact on the planet's atmosphere.

The report, which was released this week, says that emissions of carbon dioxide will rise, relative to the current year, by 2040 after falling off slightly this decade.

However, the EIA projects that the share of U.S. energy production from coal - a principal source of carbon dioxide pollution - will continue to fall, as will the relatively small percentage of energy production from oil.

Nuclear power's portion of the national energy mix is predicted to be stagnant, while use of natural gas is expected to expand by tens of millions of metric tons per year. The net result is an increase in industrial energy consumption resulting in carbon dioxide emissions.

The contribution of transportation-related emission sources will decline by 94 million metric tons per year by 2035, the report says. EIA points to tougher fuel efficiency standards imposed recently by the Obama administration as the cause of the projected decline.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Worldwide carbon dioxide emissions continue to increase, new research shows

The world's emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide are continuing to rise and the pace of increase was greater in 2011 than in 2010.

New research released Sunday indicates that nations released about 9.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide last year, with the greenhouse gas reaching the highest level of concentration in the atmosphere on record.

The rate of increase in carbon dioxide emissions each year has averaged 3.1 percent between 2000-2011, according to the annual report released by the Global Carbon Project.

That pace of growth, if maintained throughout this century, would lead to an average surface air and water temperature increase worldwide of more than five degrees Celsius by the year 2100.

A temperature increase of that magnitude would far exceed the limit of a two degree Celsius increase agreed to by the planet's nations at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

"Each year of increased emissions makes a two degree target harder to achieve," Glen Peters, the lead author of the study and a senior research fellow at Norway's Center for International Climate and Environmental Research. "The only feasible way to keep below two degrees is global reductions in emissions and this can only happen if the top emitters in the developed and developing world have deep and sustained mitigation."

That is not occurring, at least in the developing world. Sunday's report indicates that carbon dioxide emissions in China and India continue to increase at a rapid pace.

Chinese carbon dioxide pollution of the atmosphere rose by 9.9 percent in 2011, a slight decrease from the 10.4 percent rate of increase in 2010, while India's contribution to the atmosphere's build-up of carbon dioxide increased by 7.5 percent last year.

Overall, developing countries contributed 58 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions in 2011. That's a huge increase from 1990, when they contributed only 35 percent.

China was responsible for 28 percent of the planet's carbon dioxide emissions last year, with sources in India  contributing seven percent.

Emissions in the United States and the European Community are still rising, but at a slower pace. The U.S. accounted for 16 percent of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions in 2011, with the EC's contribution at 11 percent.

An additional 2.6 percent increase in worldwide emissions is expected this year, with carbon dioxide emissions reaching a level 58 percent higher than they were in 1990.

"Limiting global climate change and all of its consequences is going to require aggressive actions to limit the use of fossil fuels," Gregg H. Marland, a research professor at Appalachian State University's Research Institute for Environment, Energy, and Economics and one of the scientists involved in the ongoing research documented in the paper released Sunday, said in a statement.

The paper appears in Nature Climate Change.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Interior department opens U.S. Atlantic coast for windmills

The Atlantic coast, or at least parts of it, will soon be dotted with windmills.

The Obama administration launched Friday an effort to lease more than a quarter of a million acres in federal waters off Virginia, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts for wind energy production. It is the U.S. government's first-ever lease of rights to use the outer continental shelf as a site for production of renewable energy.

Interior secretary Ken Salazar explained that the lease, which will affect about 278,000 acres, is part of the administration's commitment to an "all of the above" energy strategy.

"Wind energy along the Atlantic holds enormous potential, and today we are moving closer to tapping into this massive domestic energy resource to create jobs, increase our energy security, and strengthen our nation's competitiveness in this new energy frontier," Salazar said in a statement.

The 432 square miles covered by the leases are expected to produce a fraction of the power potential of wind along the eastern seaboard. According to a 2010 report produced by the environmental advocacy organization Oceana, wind power generated off the Atlantic coast could supply almost half of the electricity needed by 11 states in the region.

The economic benefits may be substantial, too. The Oceana report projected that production of the same quantity of power as is generated by wind in Europe would cost about $36 billion less than reliance on fossil fuels while generating between 133,000 and 212,000 jobs.

The U.S. government is not as sanguine about the advantages of wind energy, but nevertheless predicts significant benefits.

The major obstacle to increasing electricity production from wind energy is high capital costs. In fact, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a wind power facility's levelized cost of electricity is higher than that of a plant that burns fossil fuels.

The capital costs are higher for an offshore wind energy production plant than for a similar facility built on land.

Friday's auction covers an area of about 164,750 acres off the Massachusetts and Rhode Island coasts and another area of about 112,800 acres.

The areas leased off the coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island are about ten miles out to sea and are expected to produce enough electricity for 700,000 homes, The area leased off the Virginia coast, which will be developed about 23 nautical miles away from the shore, is expected to generate a similar amount of power.

The U.S. was, as of 2009, the world's leading producer of wind energy. However, the country produced only two percent of its electricity from that source during 2009, making it a distant follower of Denmark, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, and Germany. Each of those nations obtained at least seven percent of their domestic electricity needs from wind turbines.

Legislation enacted in 2005 authorizes the Interior department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to lease offshore waters for renewable energy production.

The Interior department will award the leases in 2013.

California holds first U.S. auction of carbon dioxide emission rights

California took another step forward in its innovative program to mitigate emission of heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere earlier this month as it held the first-ever sale of carbon dioxide pollution permits in the nation.

The auction, which occurred Nov. 14 in Sacramento, resulted in a modest price for the right to pollute the air.

According to data released by the state's Air Resources Board, bidders will pay $10.09 for each metric ton of the greenhouse gas they emit. The minimum bid was $10.

California's leading air pollution regulator said she is pleased with the results, notwithstanding the relatively low price paid by the 71 participants.

"The auction was a success and an important milestone for California as a leader in the global clean tech market," Mary D. Nichols, chairwoman of the agency, said in a statement. "By putting a price on carbon, we can break our unhealthy dependence on fossil fuels and move at full speed toward a clean energy future. That means new jobs, cleaner water and air - and a working model for other states, and the nation, to use as we gear up to fight climate change and make our economy more competitive and resilient."

The sale of the carbon allowances for 2013 generated only a little more than $233 million and not much of that money will be kept by the state.

"Some of the allowances are consigned with us from the utilities," Dave Clegern, a spokesperson for the agency, said. "The money that comes from that goes back to the utilities, in a form worked out by the [Public Utilities Commission], as a buffer for ratepayers. The rest goes into the California Air Pollution Reduction Fund."

The California Legislative Analyst's Office has said that it expects state coffers to swell by an average of billions of dollars per year as the auction program reaches more and more of the polluters in the nation's most populous state.

Whether or not that estimate is accurate, it is likely that the price of the required pollution permit will rise as the state's groundbreaking AB 32, a wide-ranging 2006 law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the nation's most populous state, ratchets down the ceiling on facility emissions.

The likely downward impact on California's future accumulation of greenhouse gases excites the environmental advocacy community, notwithstanding the financial return the first effort generated.

"We had the benefit of learning from others like the European Union and have been able to put together a really great program that creates a market incentive for innovation and reducing carbon," Emily Rayna, a spokesperson for Environmental Defense Fund, said. "This is an exciting time in California."

The state's business community does not seem to be so thrilled. The California Chamber of Commerce sued the state on the day before the auction in an effort to prevent repetitions of the event. The litigation did not seek to enjoin the Nov. 14 auction but does argue that requiring companies who must comply with air pollution limits to pay for permission to pollute is an unauthorized tax or an illegal fee.

Rayna said that environmental advocacy organizations are not worried about the Chamber of Commerce's move.

"We don't anticipate that further auctions will be stopped because of this lawsuit," she said.

Those future auctions will occur on a regular basis during the next eight years. The next one is scheduled for Feb. 2013.