January 31, 2014

In this Issue

STATE OF THE UNION: OBAMA HAILS 2014 AS ‘YEAR OF ACTION’

 

After a year of very few real legislative achievements in Congress outside of averting a politically self-inflicted federal government shutdown, President Obama cautioned that continued gridlock and inaction from the legislative branch during the second session of the current 113th Congress will spur unilateral action from the executive branch.

President Obama praised Congress for coming together on a budget that offers some relief for sequestration, and urged the body to move forward on administration proposals that create jobs and advance opportunity for Americans.

“Some [of my proposals] require Congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you.  But America does not stand still – and neither will I.  So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do,” said President Obama.

The president’s call to get the economy moving included a request for Congress to increase funding for scientific research.

“We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow,” said Obama.  “This is an edge America cannot surrender.  Federally-funded research helped lead to the ideas and inventions behind Google and smart phones.  That’s why Congress should undo the damage done by last year’s cuts to basic research so we can unleash the next great American discovery – whether it’s vaccines that stay ahead of drug-resistant bacteria, or paper-thin material that’s stronger than steel.”

President Obama also called on Congress to create jobs by passing several still pending infrastructure initiatives, such as new reauthorizations for a transportation bill and the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).

“We’ll need Congress to protect more than three million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer. But I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible,” said the president. The existing surface transportation reauthorization (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act) expires at the end of September. Both the House and Senate have passed a new WRDA bill and senior committee leaders have begun negotiating a final conference report for the measure.

The president touted the United States’ energy successes such as higher fuel efficiency standards for cars and investments in solar. While noting that these efforts have led to a “cleaner, safer planet” he maintained that more needs to be done to tackle the issue of climate change.

“Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth,” said President Obama.  “But we have to act with more urgency – because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods.  That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities, and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.”

President Obama also took the opportunity to address climate change skeptics. 

“Climate change is a fact,” said the president.  “And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.” His comments on climate got rousing applause from Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

The full address is available for listening and reading here.

AGRICULTURE: FARM BILL CONFERENCE REPORT INCLUDES WINS FOR CONSERVATION

On Jan. 27, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) unveiled the final conference report for a new farm bill reauthorization.

H.R. 2642, the Agricultural Act of 2014, renews federal agricultural programs through the end of Fiscal Year 2018 while implementing a number of consolidations and spending reductions to federal agriculture programs. The bill passed the House by a vote of 251-166 with 63 Republicans and 103 Democrats opposing. Opposition came from Democrats concerned with the food stamp cuts and Republicans who felt the cuts in the bill didn’t go far enough.

Similar to both the House and Senate farm bills, the bill consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13, largely by incorporating smaller programs into larger ones. A provision from the Senate bill, requiring farmers and ranchers to abide by basic conservation measures in exchange for federal subsidies for crop insurance on highly erodible land and wetlands, was included in the conference report as was a sod saver provision, which preserves native prairie through various subsidy reduction measures intended to discourage farmers from agricultural production on native grasslands. Similar to the Senate legislation, the bill also includes mandatory funding ($881 million) for renewable energy programs.

The bill includes new requirements for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board to examine farm policy regulations and increase public transparency. However, the requirements are considerably less restrictive than the “Sound Science Act” language in the House bill, which would have prevented federal agencies from issuing new regulations until a somewhat vague and lofty set of requirements were met in an attempt to ensure such regulatory efforts are science-based. Advocacy organizations and some congressional Democrats had complained that the provision’s language requiring federal agencies to favor data that is “experimental, empirical, quantifiable, and reproducible,” would exclude certain theoretical or statistical research.

The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (food stamps) is cut by $8 billion, a significant compromise given the $40 billion amount originally proposed by House Republicans, though roughly double what the Senate originally requested. Collectively, the bill includes $956 billion for food stamps, agricultural subsidies and various conservation programs. The reforms in the bill are projected to save $23 billion over the next 10 years.

The Ecological Society of America had joined several environmental organizations last fall in urging support for the farm bill’s conservation provisions. To view the 2013 farm bill conservation programs letter, click here. Additional information on the 2014 farm bill reauthorization is available here.

HOUSE: CLIMATE CHANGE ADVOCATE WAXMAN ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT

Congress will lose one of its most vocal proponents of legislative action to address climate change when House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) retires at the end of this year.

On Jan. 30, Rep. Waxman announced that the 113th Congress would be his last, ending a congressional career spanning 40 years. Waxman was the primary sponsor of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, comprehensive climate change legislation, which sought to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The bill passed the House in President Obama’s first year in office, but failed to gain traction in the Senate. Despite this legislative setback, Waxman remained a vocal proponent of the administration’s Environmental Protection Agency initiatives that sought to address climate change.

Waxman, along with Reps. Bobby Rush (D-IL), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ed Markey (D-MA) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), co-chair the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, founded in Jan. 2013. The task force seeks to raise public awareness of climate change and develop policy proposals to address the issue. The group has held hearings, issued written correspondence to federal agency officials as well as offered praise towards agency efforts that seek to reduce manmade greenhouse gas emissions.

Waxman has been a longtime leader on environmental issues in Congress. Prior to the Nov. 1994 midterms, which allowed Republicans to take control of the House, Waxman served as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health and the Environment.

Waxman is the latest in a host of senior House lawmakers to announce their retirements in recent weeks, including House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Jim Moran (D-VA), House Education and Workforce Committee Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA) and House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA). He served as Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee for two years prior to the Nov. 2010 Republican takeover of the House. 

A full listing of Members of Congress departing at the end of this Congress is available here.

INTERIOR: HOUSE DEMOCRATS URGE JEWELL TO PROTECT FEDERAL LANDS

On Jan. 24, House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) spearheaded a letter to Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell requesting that the president use his executive authority under the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments as a way to bypass Congress in ensuring the protection of federal lands.

“In today’s deeply partisan environment, it’s becoming nearly impossible for Congress to make critical conservation decisions,” the letter states. “The 112th Congress was the first Congress in 40 years that failed to permanently protect any of America’s treasured landscapes. The current Congress is on a path to repeat that abysmal record. There are 37 land designation bills sitting before Congress that have broad public support.”

The letter cautions that the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation has already held a hearing on legislation to restrict the president’s Antiquities Act authority to designate national monuments and cites the importance of protecting natural resources in historic sites to local communities and economic growth. “At National Parks alone, visitors spend more than $35 million per day,” the letter notes.

View the full letter, here.

WATER: CALIFORNIA STRUGGLES WITH RAMIFICATIONS OF RECORD DROUGHT

California state government officials are currently reviewing techniques to expand the state’s water supply and reduce water usage amid a record breaking drought.

The state has endured record low levels of precipitation throughout 2013 and into the opening weeks of 2014. This week, the US Drought Monitor recorded that 98 percent of the state was experiencing abnormally dry conditions. On Jan. 29, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced that it was closing the Carmel, Big Sur, Pajaro, and San Lorenzo rivers  to recreational fishermen to help maintain area fish populations. The closures would not apply to commercial fishermen.

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared an official drought emergency on Jan. 17, making his state eligible for federal government emergency funding assistance. Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) had issued a letter to President Obama requesting federal assistance to deal with the drought just prior to the governor’s declaration. The president subsequently informed Gov. Brown that it is coordinating a response through its National Drought Resilience Partnership (NDRP) with involvement from the US Department of Agriculture, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal agencies.

The water crisis has reignited a partisan debate about a San Joaquin River restoration program. On Jan. 29, Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) was joined by 14 California Republican House Members in introducing H.R. 3964, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act. The legislation would improve water delivery to Central Valley California communities by ending the San Joaquin River restoration program. The bill is strongly opposed by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Diane Feinstein (D-CA). Sen. Feinstein in a press statement asserted “The bill undermines state law related to Bay Delta restoration and endangered species. It overrides the court-approved San Joaquin River Settlement Agreement, which all parties involved still agree with. And it ends any possibility of a balanced solution to restore the Bay Delta.”

This week, the state of California also released its California Water Action plan, which includes goals to cut individual water usage, expand water storage capacity as well as improve groundwater management and flood protection. The state has already enacted a Water Protection Act, which mandates a 20 percent reduction in urban per-capita water use by the end of 2020.

View the California water action plan here. Information on the NRDP is available here. The Sen. Feinstein response to H.R. 3964 is available here.

FWS: PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY EXTENDED FOR PRARIE CHICKEN

On Jan. 29, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that it is reopening the public comment opportunity period for a proposed rule that would allow harm to the chickens if they were considered incidental in implementing a conservation plan in the states that constitute the animals’ native habitat: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

The harm exemption rule would only apply to the animal if it receives a “threatened” listing under the Endangered Species Act. FWS is expected to reach a decision by March 31. FWS is accepting comments both on the proposed harm exemption as well as the proposal to list the prairie chicken as a threatened species.

Information sought by FWS includes the historical and current distribution of the lesser prairie chicken, its biology and ecology, the occurrence of natural or manmade threats or information confirming lack thereof, what areas would be considered appropriate habitat for the species, and how the harm exemptions in the proposed rule would impact the species.

The new deadline to submit comments is Feb. 12, 2014. Information on the proposed rule and how to submit comments is available here.

Additional background on the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-Wide Conservation Plan is available here.

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

Introduced Jan. 29 by Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), the bill would improve water delivery to Central Valley California communities through ending the San Joaquin River restoration program. The bill has 14 original cosponsors (all California Republicans) and has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

Approved by House Committee/Subcommittee

On Jan. 27, the Energy and Commerce Committee approved the following bills:

H.R. 2126, the Better Buildings Act – Introduced by Reps. David McKinley (R-WV) and Peter Welch (D-VT), the bill would establish a set of energy efficiency practices for landlords and tenants in commercial buildings. It would award a “Tenant Star” certification for buildings that meet these standards. The bill was approved by voice vote. Companion legislation (S. 1191) has been introduced by Sens. Michael Bennett (D-CO) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH).

H.R. 3826, the Electricity Security of Affordability Act – the bill would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing regulations related to greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, essentially preventing the Obama administration from implementing a central component of its Climate Action Plan. The bill was approved by a vote of 29-19, largely along party lines. Democratic Reps. Jim Matheson (UT) and John Barrow (GA) joined all Republicans in supporting the measure.  Companion legislation (S. 1905) has been introduced by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and John Hoeven (R-ND).

On Jan. 28, the Natural Resources Committee approved the following bills. These bills were approved by voice vote or unanimous consent unless otherwise specified.

H.R. 163, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act - Introduced by Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI), the bill would designate 32,000 acres as federally protected wilderness at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan. Companion legislation (S. 23) has been introduced by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI).

H.R. 433, the Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), the bill would designate the Pine Forest Range Wilderness in Humboldt County, NV as federally protected land.

H.R. 2095, the Land Disposal Transparency and Efficiency Act – Introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), the bill would prohibit the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from acquiring additional land until it lists its land areas available for disposal in an online database. BLM opposed the bill, citing the language prohibiting it from acquiring land while expressing support for the public database provisions. The bill passed by a partisan vote of 24-17.

H.R. 2259, the North Fork Watershed Protection Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT), the bill would restrict mineral development in Montana’s North Fork Flathead watershed.

H.R. 2657, the Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the bill would require the Interior Department to sell for disposal 3.3 million acres of lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming identified in a 1997 Clinton administration report. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has opposed the bill, asserting that the information from the 1997 report is outdated and incomplete. BLM also noted that costly environmental reviews would need to be initiated before a parcel of land could be sold and asserted that the bill would be unlikely to generate significant revenues. The bill passed by a partisan vote of 23-19.

 

H.R. 3492, the River Paddling Protection Act – Introduced by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), the bill would prohibit the Department of Interior from banning “hand-propelled vessels” on streams and rivers in Yellowstone National Park and on lakes and rivers in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

Introduced in the Senate

S. 1961, the Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act – Introduced Jan. 27 by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Joe Rockefeller (D-WV), the bill would set new standards for above ground chemical storage facilities.

S. 1966, the National Forest Jobs and Management Act – Introduced Jan. 28 by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the bill would increase the capacity to harvest timber in national forests by outlining new forest management goals and placing additional limitations on National Environmental Policy Act reviews. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

S. 1973, the America INNOVATES Act – Introduced Jan. 29 by Sens. Chris Coons (D-CT) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), the bill would modernize and reform the nation’s national lab system. Specifically, it would direct the Department of Energy to implement best practices for national labs and increase flexibility to support applied research and development activities conducted by universities and nonprofits.


 Sources:  American Association for the Advancement of Science, California Resources Agency, ClimateWire, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Natural Resources Committee, Roll Call, POLITICO, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House  

 

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