February 28, 2014

In This Issue

WHITE HOUSE: OBAMA PROPOSES CLIMATE FUND AMONG ACTIONS TO ADDRESS DROUGHT

On Feb. 14, President Obama spoke in Fresno, CA regarding his plans to assist California amid its drought crisis. The president took the opportunity to relate climate change to the incident and discuss his latest proposal to address the issue.

“Scientists will debate whether a particular storm or drought reflects patterns of climate change,” said President Obama. “But one thing that is undeniable is that changing temperatures influence drought in at least three ways:  Number one, more rain falls in extreme downpours — so more water is lost to runoff than captured for use.  Number two, more precipitation in the mountains falls as rain rather than snow — so rivers run dry earlier in the year.  Number three, soil and reservoirs lose more water to evaporation year-round. What does all this mean?  Unless and until we do more to combat carbon pollution that causes climate change, this trend is going to get worse.”

The president’s upcoming budget will include a $1 billion climate resiliency fund for technology “to help communities prepare for a changing climate, set up incentives to build smarter, more resilient infrastructure,” said President Obama. The resilience fund would need to be approved by Congress to take effect.

The president announced immediate steps his administration is taking to address the drought. “First, we’re accelerating $100 million of funds from the farm bill that I signed last week to help ranchers,” said President Obama. “For example, if their fields have dried up, this is going to help them feed their livestock.”

The Obama administration has also dedicated $15 million, made available through USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, to hard-hit communities in California and other states coping with extreme drought. The president has also directed federal facilities in California to “take immediate steps” to conserve water. The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) has made $60 million available through The Emergency Food Assistance Program to food banks in the State of California to help families that may be economically impacted by the drought. 

The US Drought monitor reported this week that nearly three-quarters of the state of California was experiencing either extreme or exceptional drought, the latter being the worst condition. The percentage of the state under exceptional drought increased from 14.6 last week to 26.2 percent this week.

Additional information on the Obama administration’s drought response plan is available here.

SUPREME COURT: JUSTICES WEIGH EPA GREENHOUSE GAS REGULATORY POWER

This week, the US Supreme Court considered a case that may determine the scope of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulatory power over greenhouse gas emissions.

In Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, a coalition of state attorneys general and industry groups challenge EPA’s permitting process for industry “stationary sources,” including coal-fired power plants, chemical facilities and oil refineries. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is allowed to review permits to determine if necessary technologies that would help limit pollution are being used in the construction and powering of plants. Justices will determine if EPA’s existing authority includes setting permit requirements for stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases. 

In effect, a ruling in favor of industry will be narrow in scope in that it will not adversely curb EPA’s overall efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The ruling could, however, cause EPA to alter how it issues certain construction and operating permits for polluters as well as reexamine its regulatory proposals for facilities that emit greenhouse gases. Politically, it would also reinforce the sentiments of industry advocates in Congress who assert that the Obama administration’s EPA is overreaching in its efforts to address climate change.

The last major case dealing with greenhouse gas emissions, Massachusetts v. EPA (2007), dealt with motor vehicles. In that case, the court affirmed that such emissions could be regulated by EPA under the Clean Air Act.

Based on where the justices have seemed to position themselves ideologically during oral arguments, the decision is expected to be ruled by a 5-4 vote with Justice Kennedy potentially being the deciding vote.

Details of the case and a transcript of the oral argument are available at SCOTUS blog.

SENATE: SUBCOMMITTEE CONSIDERS ECONOMIC EFFECTS OF EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS

On Feb. 25, the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Oversight held a hearing entitled “Natural Resource Adaptation: Protecting Ecosystems and Economies.” The hearing was called by Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

In his opening testimony, Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren asserted that there were 11 weather events in 2012 that cost the US over $1 billion. Holdren noted that the cost of Hurricane Sandy was $65 billion and damages from drought totaled $30 billion in 2012.

“Scientifically, one cannot say that any single episode of extreme weather―no storm, no flood, no drought―was caused by climate change; but the global climate has been so extensively impacted by the human-caused buildup of greenhouse gases that many such events are being influenced by climate change,” said Holdren.

Republicans on the subcommittee took the opportunity to question agency officials on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulatory efforts to address climate change and promote clean energy sources, and how these efforts might impact wildlife. Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA) inquired whether clean energy sources that take up more land have more of an impact on endangered species. Subcommittee Chairman Whitehouse noted that FWS data suggests that wind power has a minimal impact on wildlife in comparison to buildings, pesticides, feral cats, habitat loss and hunting. 

Subsequent witnesses highlighted the impact extreme weather has had on wildlife areas. Doug Houghton, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association noted that Hurricane Sandy caused $64 million in damage to 35 wildlife refuges on the East Coast of the United States. Houhgton stated that for every dollar Congress provides to the Refuge System, $4.87 on average is returned to the local communities.

The hearing was the first attended by new committee member Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) who filled a vacant seat on the committee left by former Sen. Max Baucus, recently appointed by President Obama to serve as the US Ambassador to China. Sen. Markey took the opportunity to express his support for climate change resilient infrastructure as well as investment in solar and other clean energy initiatives.

Markey is also a member of Sen. Whitehouse’s Senate Climate Action Task Force, a group of 18 Senators working on initiatives to address climate change. The task force was formed by Whitehouse in Jan. 2014.

View the full hearing here.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: EFFORTS TO CURB WILDLIFE TRAFFICKING GARNER BIPARTISAN SUPPORT

On Weds. Feb. 26, the House Foreign Affairs Committee convened for a hearing entitled “International Wildlife Trafficking Threats to Conservation and National Security.” The hearing garnered bipartisan concern among lawmakers on the need to protect endangered species from poaching and smuggling.

“Future generations will judge our response to this crisis. If we want a world still blessed with these magnificent species, we need creative and aggressive action, working with source, transit,      and market countries to confront this challenge,” stated Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) in his opening remarks.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) emphasized the importance of this issue to national security, stating that terrorists are using wildlife trafficking to fund their activities.

House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations Ranking Member Karen Bass (D-CA) noted “international wildlife trafficking is not only a security and conservation issue, but it also undermines the stability and development of many African nations. Throughout the continent, recent spikes in poaching [have] caused instability by providing funds for illicit activities, spreading violence and hurting the nation’s ability to develop indigenousness and local sources of revenue through wildlife tourism.”

Witnesses included US State Department Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Assistant Secretary Kerri-Ann Jones, US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, US Department of Justice Environmental and Natural Resources Division Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert Dreher. The three cited the administration’s “National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking,” announced earlier this month.

Advances in weaponry and technology have increased poaching capability. Witnesses expressed a desire for more funding and enforcement mechanisms to penalize wildlife traffickers.

“Strong enforcement in the United States is not enough however. As the national strategy recognizes, wildlife trafficking is a global problem that requires a global solution,” noted Dreher. “For that reason, the Department of Justice has for many years worked closely with other federal agencies to help foreign governments build their capacity to develop and enforce their own wildlife trafficking laws.” Chairman Royce expressed receptiveness to working with the administration on legislation to advance these efforts.

For additional information on the Obama administration’s wildlife trafficking strategy, click here. To view the full hearing, click here.

 

HOUSE: SENIOR LAWMAKERS DINGELL, HOLT LATEST TO JOIN 2014 RETIREMENT WAVE

Over these past several weeks, two longtime advocates for federal investment in science and environmental protection announced their retirement.

On Feb. 24, Rep. John Dingell, who holds the record for longest serving Member of Congress, announced he would not be pursuing a record 30th term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Dingell was first elected in a 1955 special election to serve out the remainder of his father’s term, John Dingell Sr. (D-MI).

As a long-term environmental advocate and member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Dingell had a hand in helping pass a number of landmark bills including the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Wilderness Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Dingell chaired the Energy and Commerce Committee through the most of recent decades in which Democrats controlled the House, ousted shortly after the Nov. 2008 election by Rep. Henry Waxman, also retiring this year.

On Feb. 18, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), announced that he would not be pursuing a ninth term in Congress. Rep. Holt, a Ph.D. physicist, has been a strong advocate for science. He currently serves as co-chair of the Congressional Research and Development Caucus along with Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), also retiring this year. He also co-chairs the Historic Preservation Caucus, the Biomedical Research Caucus and serves as Vice Chair of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition. He was a reliable attendee at most congressional functions related to science, including the Coalition for National Science Funding Exhibition, which the Ecological Society of America has often participated in.

Rep. Holt served as Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. During his time on the committee, he was active in investing offshore energy development and hydraulic fracturing issues seeking ensure impacts on ecosystems and wildlife are taken into account in the promulgation of such initiatives.

 

KEYSTONE PIPELINE: INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT CLEARS STATE DEPT OF CONFLICT OF INTEREST

A recent report from the US State Department’s independent Office of Inspector General (OIG) concluded that the agency fully adhered to its conflict of interest standards in choosing a contractor to develop the finalized environmental review of Keystone XL pipeline.  

“Based on the information provided and interviews conducted, OIG found that the process the Department used to select [Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM)] to help prepare the Keystone XL SEIS substantially followed its prescribed guidance and at times was more rigorous than that guidance,” the report concluded. “The Department’s published guidance provides a general outline for the contractor selection process, and Department personnel managing the process drew on their previous experience to implement the process.”

The OIG did find that the State Department process could improve its public discloser and include more documentation to minimize potential misperceptions.

“The Department’s partial disclosure apparently created misperceptions that ERM had not provided all required information to the Department and that ERM and the Department were attempting to conceal conflicts of interest,” the report stated. “Those misperceptions might have been avoided had the Department explained its partial disclosure as part of a more comprehensive approach to disclosing information regarding its conflict of interest review.”

While pipeline proponents used the opportunity to once again call on the president to approve the pipeline, environmental advocates and some congressional Democrats asserted that the inspector general report was too narrow in scope, criticizing the State Department’s overall process as flawed. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) has sent a letter requesting the Government Accountability Office to review the State Department’s contractor selection process. In December last year, Rep. Grijalva spearheaded a letter to President Obama signed by 24 House Democrats that expressed conflict of interest concerns with the State Department’s environmental review.

The inspector general report is available here. The Rep. Grijalva letter is available here.

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: NMFS TO WEIGH PROTECTIONS FOR MARINE MAMMALS

On Feb. 21, the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced it was considering federal protected status for several dolphin and porpoise species in the New Zealand region.

NMFS is considering threatened or endangered listings under the Endangered Species Act for the Hector’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori), the harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), the eastern Taiwan Strait subpopulation of the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis), and the Fiordland subpopulation of the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus).

Public comments must be submitted by April 22, 2014. For additional information, click here.

CURRENT POLICY

Passed House

H.R. 2804, the All Economic Regulations Are Transparent Act – Introduced by Rep. George Holding (R-NC), the bill would require the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs to publicly post information on a rule from a federal agency for six months before it could be allowed to go into effect.

The comprehensive bill also incorporates provisions from several other regulatory bills introduced by House Republicans that would add several dozen procedural requirements to rulemaking processes and require new analyses of a federal agency rule’s indirect economic impact on small businesses and other affected entities. The bill passed the House Feb. 27 by a vote of 236-179 with 10 Democrats joining all Republicans in supporting the measure.

The Democratic-controlled Senate is not expected to act on the bill, which the Obama administration opposes. View the White House statement of administration policy on H.R. 2804 here.

Considered by Senate Committee/Subcommittee

On Feb. 27, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power held a hearing on several water bills:

S. 1419, the Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Act of 2013 – Introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the bill would reauthorize the Department of Energy’s research and development programs related to marine hydrokinetic power through Fiscal Year 2017.

S. 1771, the Crooked River Collaborative Water Security Act of 2013 – Introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the bill would modify the boundary of the Crooked River in Oregon and set requirements for applications for hydropower development at the state’s Bowman Dam.

S. 1800, the Bureau of Reclamation Transparency Act – Introduced by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the bill would require the Bureau of Reclamation to publicly report on its repair needs every other year.

S. 1946, to amend the Reclamation Safety of Dams Act of 1978 to modify the authorization of appropriations – Introduced by Sen. Wyden, the bill would remove spending caps for construction projects that improve the safety of Bureau of Reclamation dams. 

S. 1965, to amend the East Bench Irrigation District Water Contract Extension Act to permit the Secretary of the Interior to extend the contract for certain water services – Introduced by former Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), the bill would permit the secretary of the Interior to extend the East Bench Irrigation Contract contract for certain water services.

S. 2010, the Bureau of Reclamation Conduit Hydropower Development Equity and Jobs Act – Introduced by Sen. John Barasso (R-WY) the bill would ease the process of lease issuance of power privileges for nonfederal hydropower developers to build projects on eleven Bureau of Reclamation managed areas. Companion legislation (H.R. 1963) has been introduced by Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT).

S. 2019, the SECURE Water Amendments Act of 2014 – Introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), the bill would raise the authorization limit for the WaterSMART program. The bill would also make activities related to drought planning and response eligible for its grants and authorize the US Geological Survey to make grants to state water agencies to develop data on water availability and use. The provisions of the bill will collectively help develop a uniform national assessment of water availability and use.

S. 2034, the Reclamation Title Transfer Act of 2014 – Introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), the bill would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to establish a program to facilitate the transfer to non-federal ownership of certain Bureau of Reclamation projects or facilities.

Passed Senate

H.R. 2431, the National Integrated Drought Information System Reauthorization Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), the bill would authorize $13.5 billion for the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) through 2018. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent on Feb. 25. It had passed the House earlier this month by a vote of 365-21. The president is expected to sign the bill into law.


Sources: ClimateWire, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee, the Hill, House Foreign Affairs Committee, the National Journal, National Wildlife Refuge Association, POLITICO, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US News and World Report, the Washington Post, the White House  

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