On July 22, House Republicans released a draft of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. The bill primarily funds environmental agencies such as the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Forest Service.
The Interior and Environment appropriations bill is among the more controversial of the discretionary spending bills as the bill has jurisdiction over the funding of many Obama administration environmental regulatory initiatives that are unpopular with Congressional Republicans. House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Jim Moran (D-VA) briefly appeared at the hearing to give a statement calling the legislation “an embarrassment” and immediately left the hearing in protest. “We are going to continue to see these kinds of dramatic reductions as long as we keep trying to reduce the debt by cutting discretionary spending alone, rather than also tackling mandatory spending, which is the real driver of our debt,” warned Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID).
As with all non-defense discretionary appropriations bills put forward by the House for the coming fiscal year, the bill includes drastic cuts that assume budget sequestration continues through FY 2014. For many agencies, funding is reduced sharply even when accounting for the five percent across-the-board non-defense discretionary spending cuts enforced under sequestration in part because House Republicans are seeking to lessen sequestration’s impact on defense spending. Overall, the bill provides $24.3 billion in funding for FY 2014 for the aforementioned environmental agencies. This is $5.5 billion less than what was enacted in FY 2013 and still amounts to a $4 billion cut when accounting for the FY 2013 sequestration cuts.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a perennial target of conservative Republicans, would see its funding cut by 34 percent (a $2.8 billion decrease) compared to the pre-sequestration FY 2013 enacted level. The bill includes language prohibiting funding for EPA to clarify which national waterways fall under the regulatory jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.
The US Fish and Wildlife would also undergo a substantial cut. The agency is funded at $1.06 billion, a $401 million reduction (or 27 percent cut) from the FY 2013 enacted level.
The National Park Service would receive $2.3 billion in FY 2014 under the bill, a nine percent reduction from FY 2013. Nonetheless, the agency’s operating accounts for national parks would receive a $24 million boost compared to the existing FY 2013 post-sequestration level. This increase is intended to prevent national park closures, an aspect of sequestration that resonates with a large sector of the public.
The bill includes $989.3 million for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a $76 million reduction from the FY 2013 enacted level. The bill would also prohibit BLM’s Office of Surface Mining from funding a rule that would protect waterways from coal strip mining.
The US Geological Survey (USGS) would receive $967 million in FY 2014, a $101 million (nine percent) cut from the FY 2013 enacted level. USGS initiatives related to climate change, ecosystems and administrative accounts would be cut while mineral, energy development, water and mapping programs would be emphasized.
One of the very few increases in the bill is geared toward wildland fire initiatives for the US Forest Service. Overall, the bill would provide the agency $5.3 billion in FY 2014, an increase of $149 million over the FY 2013 enacted level. Most of the increase is directed toward wildfire prevention and suppression. In total, the bill includes $1.5 billion in emergency funding for wildfire mitigation efforts. The added funding would be paid for by rescinding unused funding for the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program.
The House bill is expected to differ substantially with the Senate, which plans to continue drafting all its spending bills under the assumption that sequester will not continue into Fiscal Year 2014. However, budget sequestration will only end when and if Congress takes legislative action to change the law that put sequestration into effect.
For additional information on the bill, click here.
The Senate on July 18, voted 59-40 to confirm Gina McCarthy as administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Republican Senators Lamar Alexander (TN), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Susan Collins (ME), Bob Corker (TN), Jeff Flake (AZ) and John McCain (AZ) voted for her confirmation. Joe Manchin (WV) was the lone Democrat to vote against McCarthy. McCarthy takes the reins from Robert Perciasepe, who has served as acting-administrator since Lisa Jackson stepped down in February.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who leads the key Senate committee with oversight over EPA, praised McCarthy’s extensive and bipartisan record. “With more than three decades of public service experience, Gina has a deep understanding that public health and a growing economy depend on clean air and clean water,” stated Chairwoman Boxer. “Gina McCarthy has worked for five Republican Governors and a Democratic President, and she will lead EPA in a way that protects the health and safety of the American people.”
From 2009 to the present, McCarthy has served as the administrator of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, which oversees EPA regulatory efforts on issues related to air quality, acid rain, ozone depletion and radiation. Prior to this post, she served as commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (2004-2009). In Massachusetts, she served within the administration of then-Gov. Mitt Romney as the undersecretary for policy within the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (1999-2003). She holds a joint Master of Science in Environmental Health Engineering and Planning and Policy from Tufts University.
Praising Robert Perciasepe and her predecessors, Jackson and Carol Browner, McCarthy outlined her agenda to advance “smart common sense pragmatic solutions” to environmental problems, including climate change, aging water infrastructure and chemical safety. EPA reported that her first day on the job included outreach to both government and non-government officials and entities, including “the League of Conservation Voters, Small Business Majority, Mocha Moms, Momsrising, AFL-CIO, Edison Electric Institute, National Farmers Union, Farm Bureau, Evangelical Environment Network, National Congress of American Indians, the US Conference of Mayors and ECOS, former EPA Administrator Jackson, State Department Secretary John Kerry, Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell and Energy Department Secretary Ernest Moniz.”
McCarthy’s confirmation comes shortly after EPA’s Washington, DC headquarters on Pennsylvania Ave. was renamed the William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building on July 17. The former president, on hand for the event, along with former administrator Browner, sought to highlight similarities between the environmental protection work during his administration and that of the Obama administration. Clinton also asserted that the economic progress achieved over the course of his time in office highlights that the economy can continue to grow amid stricter environmental rules that protect natural resources and the public health.
The public law providing for the name designation (P.L. 112-237) was signed in late Dec. 2012.
View Administrator McCarthy’s statement here.
View President Clinton’s remarks here.
On July 18, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee convened for a hearing analyzing the scientific evidence behind climate change. The hearing was entitled “Climate Change: It’s Happening Now.”
“The body of evidence is overwhelming, the world’s leading scientists agree, and predictions of the impact of climate change are coming true before our eyes,” asserted Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA). She then stated that what scientists explained would happen in testimony in past hearings—more frequent heat waves, and more intense tropical storms and hurricanes–are happening.
Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA) succeeded James Inhofe (R-OK) as the top Republican on the committee at the start of the current 113th Congress. He began his opening statement lamenting that there were no administration officials present to defend its climate change strategy. Chairwoman Boxer had previously stressed that this was not intended to be a political (or policy-focused) hearing, but one focused on hearing from experts on climate science. Ranking Member Vitter asserted that “scientific literature” confirms there are many significant influences causing climate change, including “solar activity, solar cycles, ocean currents, cosmic rays and greenhouse gases that occur naturally as well as those emitted from many countries including those who have no plans for regulatory change like China, India and Russia. These are factors impacting our climate over which we have little or no control,” he said.
“The most convincing thing about climate science is not how many scientists are part of the consensus, but how many different lines of evidence that consensus is built on,” stated Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who co-chairs the Bicameral Climate Change Task Force with House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA). Sen. Whitehouse asserted that Congress should be working to slow the causes of climate changes and “prepare for the changes we can no longer avoid.”
Witnesses testifying at the hearing’s first panel included Heidi Cullen, Chief Climatologist at Climate Central; Frank Nutter, President of the Reinsurance Association of America; Diana Furchtgott-Roth, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research; Robert Murphy, Senior Economist at the Institute for Energy Research and KC Golden, Policy Director at Climate Solutions.
Cullen asserted that “human-induced climate change” is causing more intense hurricanes as well as sea level rise that overall is putting more communities in harm’s way. She noted increasing heat waves are the number-one weather related killer and make wildfires and droughts more devastating, all with severe economic costs.
The second panel included scientists of varied opinions. Witnesses included Jennifer Francis, Research Professor at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University; Scott Doney, Director of the Ocean and Climate Change Institute at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Margaret Leinin, Executive Director at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University; Roger Pielke Jr., Professor at the University of Colorado’s Center for Science and Technology Policy Research and Roy Spencer, Principal Research Scientist with the University of Alabama – Huntsville.
Pielke, who acknowledged that human-caused climate change is unequivocal, asserted that while there has been an increase in heat waves and precipitation, there are “not presently” trends in increasing hurricanes, floods and droughts. He asserted that while some areas are experiencing less drought while other areas are getting drier, over 60 years there has overall been “no trend one way or the other” with regard to droughts. He also stated that there has actually been a decrease in hurricanes making landfall over the past century. “The idea that we’re in some sort of enhanced hurricane regime, it sets the stage for setting false expectations.”
Francis responded to Pielke’s comments, arguing that averaging drought trends over the entire area of the United States ignores significant regional differences regarding heat waves, droughts and flood trends. “If you average over the east being wetter and the west being dryer, you get no signal,” she said. She also asserted that, regarding hurricanes, focusing simply on hurricanes making landfall ignores the bigger picture that there have been many more hurricanes developing over the past two summers than in a typical year, yet few of them made landfall. Consequently, she asserted that the “statistics as presented there [by Pielke] present a rather misleading picture.”
View the full hearing, here.
On July 24, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee Subcommittees on Energy and Environment convened for a joint hearing examining the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) scientific processes in examining the potential for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to lead to groundwater contamination.
Republican majority members characterized the study as politically motivated. “Given EPA’s rush to judgment in Wyoming, Texas, and Pennsylvania, we should question whether the agency’s ongoing study is a genuine, fact-finding, scientific exercise, or a witch-hunt to find a pretext to regulate,” stated Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT). “Given this administration’s anti-fossil fuel, pro-environmental alarmism approach to energy, we need to be vigilant in ensuring that the agency does not put the regulatory cart before the scientific horse, threatening tens of thousands of good-paying jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development that have resulted from oil and gas production in recent years.”
Other members asserted that the EPA study should be more focused towards outlining what is more likely or “probable” as opposed to what could potentially happen with regard to the potential for drinking water contamination. “The study design is flawed and indicative of the agency’s characteristic outcome driven approach to hydraulic fracturing, where achieving desired conclusions takes precedent over basing those conclusions on the best available science,” asserted Energy Subcommittee Chairwoman Cynthia Lummis (R-WY). “In that vein, this study, intended to be a seminal and authoritative work on whether or not hydraulic fracturing impacts drinking water, is guided by a search for what is possible, rather than what is likely or probable.”
Full committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) sought to highlight the importance of preserving the nation’s limited water resources. “We need clean water as much as we need affordable energy options,” she said. “Our water resources are already stretched to support our industrial and agricultural sectors, and residential and commercial development. We cannot afford to contaminate the limited drinking water supplies that we have. It is in the best interest of everyone, especially the fracking industry, to resolve questions surrounding the fracking water cycle and the impact to groundwater and drinking water.”
Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamci (D-OR) asserted that the results could help states and localities that are still developing environmental safety best practices for fracking and also help allay drinking water concerns in local communities. “State and tribal leaders will need the results from the fracking study to formulate stronger policies to protect their water resources and the health of their citizens. And, hopefully, communities will have answers to the questions about drinking water safety that they have long been asking their state and federal leaders.”
Administration officials testifying included Fred Hauchman, Director of the Office of Science Policy within EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He maintained that EPA scientists are incorporating a wide variety of information through consultation from stakeholders, including industry, non-government entities and state and local entities, in their research for the study. He also maintained EPA’s commitment to a “thorough peer review” as well as various opportunities for public commentary.
Also testifying was Brian Rahm with the New York Water Resources Institute at Cornell University. While states should lead in regulating policy, there is the potential for minimum practices or “basic standards” that EPA could regulate nationwide in certain cases, said Rahm. He noted that many states may already meet those standards. “If common risks and cumulative impacts are found, which we are seeing some evidence of, that we really should consider, for example, regional, interstate or federal basic standards,” he said.
View the full hearing here.
On July 24, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) joined with Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in issuing a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting a study on the government’s capability in addressing gender bias in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.
“Given the importance of STEM related jobs, any bias limiting the progress of women in these fields threaten our country’s position as the leader in innovation and technology,” the letter notes. “Research has also shown that girls who grow up in an atmosphere supportive of women in the sciences will often go on to participate and succeed in STEM.”
The letter was spurred in part from a Yale University study that found that female undergraduates are perceived as less qualified for employment in STEM fields than their male counterparts by both male and female science professors in universities across the US. The letter requests that GAO update its last report examining gender participation in the sciences, published in 2004.
“Given that federal money supports about 60 percent of the research performed at universities, at a cost of $36.6 billion in 2011, in addition to more than $40 billion in intramural research and research at federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs), the government has a clear interest in addressing any bias or discrimination that exists in the agencies supporting the research and the universities and FFRDCs funded by such agencies.”
View the letter to GAO here.
The Yale study is available here.
On July 23, six Democratic Senators from Great Lakes states cosigned a letter to President Obama requesting prioritization of the Great Lakes region as the administration implements its climate action plan.
“This year, Great Lakes water levels reached historic lows severely hampering commercial shipping, jeopardizing recreational boating and fishing, devastating the tourism industry, threatening electric power generation, compromising water supply infrastructure and exacerbating problems caused by invasive species,” the letter notes. “While we are pleased that your climate action plan would help make communities more resilient to flooding, it is disappointing that low water levels and the Great Lakes were not once mentioned in your plan, nor addressing the impacts they cause to shipping and the economy, water and energy supplies, shoreline integrity and the environment.”
Signers of the letter include Sens. Richard Durbin (D-IL), Carl Levin (D-MI), Al Franken (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Charles Schumer (D-NY).
The full letter is available here:
Introduced in House
H.R. 2773, the Great Lakes Ecological and Economic Protection Act – Introduced July 22 by Rep. David Joyce (R-OH), the bill would formally authorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, created by President Obama in 2009 to address aquatic invasive species, toxics and contaminated sediment, nonpoint source pollution and other threats to the Great Lakes. It would also reauthorize the Great Lakes Legacy program, which supports the removal of contaminated sediments, and the Great Lakes National Program Office, which handles Great Lakes matters for the Environmental Protection Agency. The bill has been referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and serves as a House companion bill to S. 1232, which was introduced in the Senate last month by Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL).
Considered by House Committee/Subcommittee
On July 23, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulations considered the following bills:
H.R. 163, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act – Introduced by Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI), the bill would designate over 32,500 acres of wilderness within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan as a component of the National Wilderness Preservation System.
H.R. 361, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act – Introduced by Rep. David Reichert (R-WA), the bill designates 20,000 acres of land in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in the state of Washington as a component of the National Wilderness Preservation System.
H.R. 433, the Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), the bill would designate 26,000 acres of the Pine Forest Range Wilderness in northwest Nevada as a component of the National Wilderness Preservation System.
H.R. 706, the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park Establishment Act – Introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), the bill establishes the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park in Massachusetts and Rhode Island as a unit of the National Park System.
H.R. 908, the Green Mountain Lookout Heritage Protection Act – Introduced by Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA), the bill would allow Green Mountain Lookout, a historic fire tower, to remain in the Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington state in response to a federal district court order for its removal.
H.R. 1025, the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area Act – Introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), the bill would establish the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area within Napa, Lake, Mendocino, Solano, and Yolo Counties in California.
H.R. 1808, the Maine Coastal Islands Wilderness Act of 2013 - Introduced by Rep. Michael Michaud (D-ME), the bill would designate more than 3,000 acres of wilderness on islands off the coast of Maine as components of the National Wilderness Preservation System.
On July 25, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing on the following bill:
H.R. 2728, the Protecting States’ Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act – Introduced by Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), the bill would require the Department of Interior to refer to state regulations concerning all issues related to hydraulic fracturing.
On July 25, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs considered the following bills:
H.R. 2158, the Expedited Departure of Certain Snake Species Act -Introduced by Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs Subcommittee Chairman John Fleming (R-LA), the bill would amend the Lacey Act to bar the importation of the Burmese python, Indian python, Northern African python, Southern African python, and Yellow anaconda.
H.R. 358, the Strategic Response to Asian Carp Invasion Act - Introduced by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) the bill would require the US Fish and Wildlife Service, in coordination with the US Army Corps of Engineers, the National Park Service and the US Geological Survey (USGS), to lead a multi-agency effort to slow the spread of Asian Carp in the Upper Mississippi and Ohio River basins and tributaries.
H.R. 709, the Upper Mississippi Conservation and River Protection (CARP) Act - Introduced by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the bill would grant additional authority to the US Army Corps of Engineers to control the Asian Carp invasion in Minnesota.
H.R. 1818, Polar Bear Conservation and Fairness Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the bill would allow the importation of polar bear hunting trophies as long as the polar bear was legally harvested before Feb. 1997.
H.R. 2463, Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act – Introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), the bill would expand the range of target practice facilities.
Approved by House Committee
On July 24, the House Natural Resources Committee approved a number of bills concerning energy development and limits on public land and wildlife refuge designations, including the following:
H.R. 586, the Denali National Park Improvement Act – Introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the bill authorizes the Secretary of Interior to make certain improvements to Denali National Park in Alaska. The bill was approved by unanimous consent.
H.R. 638, the National Wildlife Refuge Review Act of 2013 - Introduced by Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs Subcommittee Chairman John Fleming (R-LA), the bill prohibits the Secretary of Interior from establishing new national wildlife refuges without first garnering approval from Congress. The bill was approved 22-12.
H.R. 1394, the Planning for American Energy Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO), the bill would require the Interior Department to develop a four-year strategy for the development of onshore energy that includes production targets for hydrocarbons, coal, critical minerals, helium and renewable energy. Opponents of the bill claim it would compromise the Bureau of Land Management’s multi-use mission by prioritizing energy development over other land-use activities, such as recreation. The bill was approved 27-14.
H.R. 1459, the Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act – Introduced by Public Lands and Environmental Regulation Subcommittee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), the bill would require a National Environmental Policy Act review prior to designation of a national monument. The bill was approved 26-14.
H.R. 1965, the Federal Lands Jobs and Energy Security Act – Introduced by Energy and Minerals Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-CO), the bill seeks to expedite drilling projects, declaring a project approved if the Secretary of Interior has not made a decision within 60 days. The bill was approved 27-14.
H.R. 2197, the York River Wild and Scenic River Study Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), the bill would designate segments of the York River for study for potential inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The bill was approved by unanimous consent.
A full listing of measures approved is available here.
H.R. 697, the Three Kids Mine Remediation and Reclamation Act – Introduced by Rep. Joseph Heck (R-NV), the bill would approve a land deal between the federal government and the Henderson Redevelopment Agency in Nevada that would involve clean up of the Three Kids Mine in Henderson, Nevada. The bill passed the House July 22 by voice vote.
H.R. 2218, the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), the bill would increase flexibility for states to create their own coal ash disposal programs as long as they follow minimum federal guidelines. Democrats contend the legislation would jeopardize the safe disposal of coal ash. The bill passed the House July 25 by a vote of 265-155 with 39 Democrats joining all but two Republicans in supporting the bill.
Introduced in the Senate
S. 1294, the Tennessee Wilderness Act – Introduced July 15 by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the bill would designate as wilderness, certain public land in the Cherokee National Forest. The bill has been referred to the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee as well as the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
S. 1301, Oregon Eastside Forests Restoration, Old Growth Protection and Jobs Act of 2013 – Introduced July 16 by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR), the bill would provide for the restoration, protection and management of eastside forests in the state of Oregon. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
S. 1344, the Arctic Research, Monitoring and Observing Act – Introduced July23 by Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK), the bill expands the authority of the Arctic Research Commission to make research grants. The bill has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
S. 1347, to provide transparency, accountability, and limitations of Government sponsored conferences – Introduced July 23 by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), the bill would cap the amount that can be spent at a government conference to $500,000 and establish new travel and attendance limitations for government employees. Among its provisions, the bill limits agency spending to one conference each year for each outside group. It also prohibits agencies from paying for travel expenses for more than 50 employees for any conference occurring outside the US. It also The bill has been referred to the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. The bill has four original cosponsors: Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Jeff Chiesa (R-NJ), Michael Enzi (R-WY) and Kelly Ayote (R-NH).